by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
“Narrow-minded” is an episode that proves what I've been saying about Jujutsu Kaisen from the beginning: A bit of style, personality, and heart all go a long way towards turning what otherwise might have been a dull retread of a story into an entertaining experience. After Nanami and Mahito take just a couple of minutes to wrap-up their stalemate brawl, the rest of the episode is devoted to Yuuji and Junpei bonding with one another over an impromptu bro-date at Junpei's place. It isn't at all difficult to see where this is headed: Yuuji's commitment to being a generally decent and cool dude is enough to sway Junpei ever so slightly from his dark path as Mahito's apprentice, and while it is genuinely sweet to see Junpei so flustered at having made his first ever genuine friend, he's obviously being built up as a rival and nemesis for Yuuji. The show doesn't introduce Junpei's cool, lackadaisical mother for nothing, after all; the woman is practically riddled with death flags from the moment she is introduced.
Still, the laid-back hangout time between Junpei and Yuuji works, both because Yuuji is impossible not to find at least a tiny bit endearing in most circumstances, and because the two really do seem like they make a great pair. That is evident just from the fact that they can get so much conversational mileage out of how they both agree that Human Earthworm 2 is the best entry in that splatter-movie franchise. The whole point of making them such fast friends is obvious but effective: To make it that much harder for Yuuji to overcome his inner turmoil when he will eventually have to take on Junpei as an agent of the Cursed Cohort (Cursed Commandos? Coalition of Curses? I'm trying out some nicknames — let me know what sticks).
That's literally the point, too. Mahito and Getou explain as much when they conveniently recap their master plan together: They planted one of Sukuna's Fingers on Junpei to lure a deadly curse into his home, which resulted in his mother's horrible death and set Junpei on the path to exact bloody revenge on the schoolmates that he believes to be responsible. When Yuuji inevitably comes to Junpei's school to stop the massacre, he won't be able to take Junpei down without making another costly pact with Sukuna, which is a key step in their goal of supplanting humanity with Curses. So, when Junpei ends up donning his dead mother's jacket and going on the killing spree, just as Mahito and Getou wanted, you do register the tragedy of it all. That's the key difference between a pointless rehash of old cliches and tropes, and a really fun rehash of old cliches and tropes: Getting the audience to care.
My only major gripe with how Jujutsu Kaisen handles Yuuji and Junpei's friendship and fallout is the pacing of it. “Narrow-minded” plays like two or three episodes' worth of an A-story that have been crammed into just this one, with all of the additional subplots and side-content completely cut out. I feel like I would have appreciated Junpei's turn to the Dark Side even more if his friendship with Yuuji got spread out over more time, maybe with some more time spent back at Jujutsu Tech in between. It's been weeks since we've seen the rest of the cast, for one, and I also wasn't a huge fan of how the second half of the episode went back to the well of using some voice-over narration and a couple of fade-out shots to skim through important scenes that warranted more attention. We don't actually see Junpei discover his mother's body, for instance, or any of the time after that where Junpei fully commits to killing the bullies at his school with his new Curse powers, save for the one flashback to when Mahito manipulates Junpei into believing someone else planted the Evil Finger that got his mom vivisected. It's an editing shortcut that JJK has used before, but this is the first time it has made the story feel rushed and sloppy.
As payoff for Junpei's introduction into Jujutsu Kaisen's overall plot, though, “Narrow-minded” mostly works, in a way where you recognize the function and goals of the choices the show is making, even when it is clear that they could have been executed a little better. Now that all of the Curse's dominoes have fallen into place, Yuuji is going to have to make some difficult choices, and I doubt any of them will involve the cheesy horror movie marathon that our boy was probably hoping for.
Odds and Ends
• No extra skit after the credits this week, and that's probably a good thing. Watching Gojou try to lure Nanami into more of his dick-joke traps would have perhaps been too much of a tonal shift coming after all of this downbeat material.
• The Human Earthworm movies are clearly a riff on the Human Centipede movies, and the bits of in-universe footage we see are aping the style and tone of those flicks, too. There's no accounting for taste, obviously, but damn, I seriously have to question these boys' taste if the trash-oeuvre of Tom Six is their go-to reference for horror cinema.
• On the topic of cinema: I continue to be surprised with how many times Jujutsu Kaisen has made overt pop-culture references without going the usual anime route of fudging the names and images to avoid running afoul of Japan's outmoded Fair Use restrictions. We've had references to Jennifer Lawrence, The Lord of the Rings, and now this week we get a shout-out to Wilson from Cast Away. Twenty-year-old Robert Zemeckis movies are not the first cultural touchstones that I would expect a pair of Japanese Zoomers to bond over, but I'll take it!
Jujutsu Kaisen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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