Jujutsu Kaisen and Impermanence

I’ve been thinking about Jujutsu Kaisen a lot lately. Its well-wrought characters, captivating action, and spectacular visuals are all worthy of the praise they continue to receive. Yet, those elements are not strictly what I find myself thinking about. While they certainly play into what makes the show so phenomenal, what most strikes me is its keen sense of how its characters both belong in and become into its world, cinematically and narratively. And nowhere does Jujutsu Kaisen demonstrate this self-understanding better than in its second ending. By capturing the candid impermanence of youth and the simple joys of friendship in ways both poignant and profound, Jujutsu Kaisen grants us a window into the day-to-day lives of its characters while reminding us that we, too, will eventually give those same days up.

Backed by the achingly gorgeous “give it back” by Cö shu Nie, Jujutsu Kaisen’s second ending (hereon called “Give it Back”) is a remarkably subdued affair. Through clips filmed vertically on Itadori’s phone, the ending follows what the show’s central cast might get up to when they aren’t exorcising curses. Drawing on the ever-serious Fushiguro’s sleeping face, Nobara as she buckles under the weight of far-too-many shopping bags, and the loveable Panda pretending to eat his friends all embody the playfulness of adolescence. Snapshots of youth, these clips are equal parts quaint, sweet, and sad. There’s an underlying transience to this nostalgic depiction, and it largely comes from what it accompanies.

Jujutsu Kaisen’s second half has mostly focused on one arc pitting Itadori and the crew from Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School against Kyoto Prefectural Jujutsu High School. As with most multi-episode battle arcs, it’s an adrenaline rush of action, visual spectacle, and character development. Most importantly, there are stakes: the Kyoto students want to kill Itadori and, thus, the cursed being inhabiting his body. Each pairing and subsequent conflict feels grounded, each blow a desperate attempt at self-assertion, each knockback a crucible for growth. Which makes “Give it Back”’s unobtrusive nature stand out all the more. As we watch the characters we’ve grown to love fight for their and their friends’ lives, we also watch them exist in a world fundamentally not built for them.

“Give it Back”’s snapshots of youth are imagined, unreal glimpses into a world already lost to these adolescents reckoning with ideas far bigger than them. The backing track sings of loneliness, of warm tears begetting a longed-for dream, one already out of reach. It’s melancholic, and the ending frames it as such. Frequent lens flares, visual noise, and shifts in focus reinforce the ephemerality of the figures filmed. The aforementioned vertical filming style feels claustrophobic yet comforting. It’s intimate — like you’re looking over your friend’s shoulder at the video they just filmed of you doing something worth remembering. Warm colours dominate the frame, highlighting the sincerity of Jujutsu Kaisen’s characters, the genuine bonds they share evoked through actions, through blocking emphasizing closeness. There’s a solace, no doubt, in watching something entirely plausible yet wholly unreachable.

Not all of “Give it Back” is framed as a vertical video, however. A late-autumn path to a shrine, a familiar shelter defined by its vending machines, and a couple of desks near a classroom window are presented in full-frame, strangely empty but recognizable, nonetheless. As the track swells to a climax, these scenes change. Now, our cast sweeps that same path, gathers organically by the vending machines, and chats idly at the desks. The visual tone changes, too; they now invoke the warmth of the vertical scenes. Those once-empty spaces become alive again, defined by who maneuvers within and around them. We fill those spaces with each other, asserting ourselves in a world pushing back against us. It feels reachable again, like these moments are just beyond the horizon. The backing track reflects this, declaring, “Hold your hand so we don’t lose our way” (roughly translated). Even if these moments are imagined, the bonds within them remain tangible.

The primary space “Give it Back” returns to is that of a beach, our cast hanging out and playing around while Itadori films. Like with the path to the shrine, it’s autumn; our characters are bundled in jackets, their breath visible. While an off-season visit does grant them plenty of room to fool around, it also reminds us that this is not where they belong right now. Shots shrink the cast in favour of the ebbing and flowing waves, lazily threatening to cast them out to sea. The beach is the space they will never fill, the waves the world pulling them back. It’s a concise and compelling conveyance of the fleetingness of youth, the overwhelming beach leaving the camera unfocused on Jujutsu Kaisen’s central cast. It’s a reassurance that life and the bonds within it are resilient, eminent, and dynamic, yet an understanding of impermanence, of the lightness of being.

Itadori knows all this, too, filming as an attempt to capture whatever memories he can while he can. His conflicted expression while looking at his phone tells us as much.

And then his friends call him over. The frame breaks: cast against a sublime sky, Itadori pauses, that lightness becoming grounded again. He joins his friends, laughing and smiling as the camera focuses on him, Fushiguro and Nobara, the sea blurred behind them. For now, at least, things are okay. We know it won’t last forever, but ephemerality isn’t something to fear; no, it’s something to embrace. It’s what gives our lives purpose, whether that’s fighting curses or grabbing a drink with friends. The backing track pleads, “Give it back,” an assertion of self through reaching backwards to move forwards, against the waves that threaten to swallow us. Against the frame that binds us, we get it back by embracing what we cannot grasp.

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