The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
What is this?
Negative human emotions - regret, bitterness, shame - are the source of all curses that infest the world and hide in everyday life, leading to death in the worst cases. Yuji Itadori, a particularly strong young man, attempts to save a friend from a curse, only to wind up consuming the special grade "Finger of Double-Sided Lodging" curse. With this curse now sharing his body, he is mentored by the curse expert Satoru Gojo to transfer to the Tokyo Metropolitan College of Arts and Science, which specializes in curses. Only a curse can eliminate another curse, and Yuji's career as a cursed person who must exorcise curses has now begin.
How was the first episode?
I figured Jujutsu Kaisen, like most of the shows Crunchyroll pushes obsessively, wouldn't be for me. I'm not really into body horror or most action-driven work. I generally prefer my anime a bit slower and quieter, like character pieces or romantic comedies. I'm one of those obnoxious people who loudly trumpets about cult shows like Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū and Planet With while turning my back on populist shonen hits like Black Clover or the isekai du jour.
But damn if this premiere did not blow me completely away.
Much of the appeal came from the episode's solid emotional grounding. Much of the episode's screentime is devoted to Yuuji's relationship with his crotchety grandfather, who is in a long-term stay at the hospital, which he spends terrifying the nurses and hectoring his grandson. Perhaps it's because I'm dealing with a dying relative myself right now, but their relationship – expertly expressed through their body language and conversations, the kind of conversations where one party knows they don't have much time left – resonated deeply in my heart.
Yuuji himself is a great protagonist. He comes across as lazy and laid-back, but he's a total sweetheart who cares about his friends. He doesn't act out of a desire for power or some kind of hot-blooded principle, but because of his grandfather's last words to him. He just wants to goof around with his friends in the occult club, and if he can protect those friends, he will.
But the visuals… oh, the visuals. Never before have I seen such a lavishly animated and storyboarded TV anime. The characters move through natural body language with an expressive fluidity that is just unmatched. The action is well-choreographed, and storyboarded for maximum excitement. Every frame is a thrill, and even the tiniest motion is a source of joy. It's not just in the action segments, either; if this were all grimdark I wouldn't be on board, but the episode is front loaded with some great sight gags, both in the foreground and in the background.
It all fits together like a puzzle. The animation, story, script and characters all work together to enhance each other, creating something more than the sum of its parts… and the sum was already very high.
So yeah, watch Jujutsu Kaisen, even if it doesn't sound like your thing. Even if you don't like it, you'll get to experience some of the most competent, confident animation ever to grace your screen. Give it a try.
MAPPA and director Sunghoo Park may have burned me badly with the trainwreck that was The God of High School, but Jujutsu Kaisen has already redeemed them, and in less than a week to boot. That has to be a record turnaround, but I had suspicions that Jujutsu Kaisen might be able to pull of such a feat. Not only has the source material come highly recommended to me, but I will watch literally anything that has Hiroshi Seko's named attached to it at this point. My faith was rewarded big time with this premiere. It manages to pack more high-quality character and story development into a single episode than The God of High School was able to in…well, ever.
Outside of the slick visuals, Park's always confident direction, and the seasonally appropriate levels of spook that Jujutsu Kaisen has to offer, this premiere impressed me the most with how strong its fundamentals are. Instead of throwing as much spectacle at us as possible, this premiere spends the proper amount of time establishing its creepy atmosphere and intriguing premise, and it doesn't forget that we have to actually care about the characters above all else. While Fushiguro's investigation of the missing Ryoumen Sukuna Curse gives us an idea of the conflict and stakes that Jujutsu Kaisen will be dealing in, we also get to see our hero Yuuji goofing around with his buddies in the occult club, casually setting world records like it ain't even a thing, and tending to his isolated and terminally-ill grandfather at the hospital. This show understands that, if you're going to have a somewhat airheaded but well-meaning superhuman as your protagonist, he needs to make up for the lack of originality with personality.
I don't think Yuuji is a great hero for a horror-action genre piece like this because he's a seemingly unstoppable badass; I think he's a badass because his heroism and desire to do good in the world feels genuine, so I want him to do reckless crap like rush headfirst into a nest of eldritch horrors to rescue his new friends, or swallow a rotting demon finger that is very obviously an affront to all that is good in the natural world. His grief over his grandfather feels very real, and he has come away from this pain with the firmly-held belief that nobody should die getting smother-groped to death by a fleshy hell spawn from the world of the damned. It sure doesn't hurt that his subsequent demon smackdown is fun as hell to behold, and the resulting possession by aforementioned demon finger sets up all manner of fun battles and conflicts down the line. Jujutsu Kaisen has got me hook, line, and sinker, and it's the premiere to beat this fall, so far as I'm concerned.
As somebody who's caught up with the Jujutsu Kaisen manga, I kind of forgot how oddly-paced this opening scenario is. There are the hallmarks of your typical supernatural shonen action series – the fresh-faced protagonist, the dark and mysterious outsider who recognizes something strange in him, the spooky enemies in the “curses” that they must exorcise – but among all that is mixed a slightly more offbeat character piece that twists in and out of mesh with the rest of the story.
The key to all this is Yūji Itadori, our hero, and possibly the dumbest boy alive. He's a good boy, all told, who just wants to manage his high school life and make time to visit his cantankerous grandpa in the hospital. He's got your expected shonen hero energy, but mixed with just enough stubbornness to feel like a real teenager too, and the central moment of this premiere is when his grandfather suddenly, quietly passes away during his visit. In just a few moments, with barely any dialogue, JJK communicates a lot about both characters, their relationship, and at once captures the eerie mundanity of death. And then immediately after that we get a lengthy explanation of curses and Jujutsu Sorcerers and a whole host of supernatural gobbledygook that feels totally disconnected from the current emotional stakes.
It's odd, and I expect if JJK loses people that'll be where it happens. What follows is certainly an entertaining and impressive action sequence, and the big twist at the end being caused by our hero eating a cursed human finger like a dog finding a scrap of bacon is pretty funny. But the combination of these different elements makes for an odd, sometimes disparate viewing experience. Having read the manga, I can say that JJK definitely improves as it goes along, but also that oddness never totally goes away. At the same time, the emotions surrounding his grandfather's death end up tangling around Yūji as his motivation to get really involved with the supernatural action, and that's a damn solid way to get the audience invested in your hero.
But if nothing else the anime team are putting their best foot forward throughout it all. There are dozens of flourishes, slick animation cuts, and just cool and interesting shots scattered throughout all this, especially once the big bad shows up in its closing seconds. JJK is in possibly the best hands it could ask for in an adaptation, and if you're in the mood for some gross, spooky, or just plain weird (did you spot Panda in the OP? Just remember that Panda is not a panda.) shonen action, this is almost certainly going to be your bag.
The first episode of Jujutsu Kaisen has all of the style and flair that one would expect from a Weekly Shonen Jump title, only in this case it is applied to dark mysticism and body horror. The result is an energetic story with a surprising amount of charm for something grounded in horror-story elements.
Most of that charm factor gets credited to protagonist Yūji Itadori, who is one of the most likable shonen action protagonists to come along in a while. He may look like a delinquent, but he has a laid-back, low-key style all his own, one that respects a crotchety, dying grandfather, values friends, and isn't outwardly fazed by much; to use Black Clover as a reference point, he is practically the anti-Asta. At least some of the credit here has to go to prolific seiyuu Junya Enoki, who gives him a kind of matter-of-fact delivery style which doesn't require Yūji to get overly excited about anything. The angle that he seems to be settling into by the end of the series – that everyone deserves a “proper” death, not one where they get consumed by monsters – is also an interestingly different one, and the episode does properly lay the groundwork for him developing that attitude.
The first episode shows an appreciable comedy angle, with jokes often playing out in the background rather than being the focus. However, what's going to draw in and keep viewers is how it handles its supernatural and action sides. The monster designs shown so far are satisfyingly grotesque and creepy, as are body modifications like the extra eyes which sprout on Yuji's face after he swallows the cursed finger. The animation of the monster scenes, courtesy of studio MAPPA, is quite sharp, especially the well-articulated scenes where Yūji flies in and lands blows on a monster. The presentation and musical support also ramp up the excitement factor quite well. This is helmed by the same director responsible for The God of High School, but I already like what I see in this series much more than what I saw in the first episode of that one.
I don't know if I will watch any more of this, but it looks like it should be a solid action offering for fans of supernatural action fare.
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