by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
I will admit that I only just recently noticed Junpei being depicted as a classmate and friend of Yuuji's in Jujutsu Kaisen's OP — unlike the ED, I tend to skip it, most weeks — but we can totally count that as an act of epic trolling on MAPPA's part, right? Because Junpei definitely doesn't make it out of “To You, Someday” in one piece, on account of getting transmogrified by Mahito in one last ditch effort to push Yuuji over the edge. It's a cruel and sad end for a character who lived a sad life at the hands of a cruel world, and to Mahito's credit, Junpei's death does spark a fire of rage in Yuuji's heart. It remains to be seen whether or not the Curse will end up regretting how well his plan worked.
”To You, Someday” is one of those odd anime episodes that functions both as climax and setup at the exact same time; the first half of the episode is all about Yuuji Squaring off with Junpei, but once that fight ends and Yuuji's sights get set on Mahito, the action-story of the episode basically starts from scratch. This is, after all, Yuuji's first proper encounter with Mahito, and it wouldn't make for much of a Big Bad Battle if Yuuji was able to take the curse on all by his lonesome. So, after an admittedly rousing bit of bloodletting on the part of both combatants, Nanami enters the fray to help his headstrong pupil defeat the most powerful threat they've faced yet.
I'm of two minds on this episode, honestly, because it is functioning on two levels. As far being the next chapter in Jujutsu Kaisen's ongoing story is concerned, this episode is good, but not great, because it struggles with some of the built-in pacing and characterization wonkiness that has been building up over the past twelve episodes. On the one hand, it is legitimately sad and even a little surprising to see Junpei get tossed aside as a fully disposable pawn in Mahito's game, at least this soon. I was expecting him to serve as an archrival for Yuuji for some time to come, but nope: He was just an angry, grieving child whose power was exploited by the Curses for only as long as necessary. Given how preoccupied JJK has been with the hows and whys of people getting to die “good” or “bad” deaths, it feels grimly appropriate for Junpei to go out this way.
That said, I can't help but feel somewhat disappointed that Junpei's character arc was built up over so many episodes, only to get snuffed out halfway through this one, all for the sake of pushing Yuuji into a place where he is not only willing but desperate to kill Mahito. It just feels kind of weird to instill Yuuji with such a bloodlust for a character he's never met before, not because I don't believe that Yuuji would absolutely want to kick the crap out of the guy, but because it feels like an action scene that serves the audience's expectations more than the characters' experiences. In other words, I guess my problem with this episode was that it ended up feeling very predictable and safe, even when you consider Junpei's surprising fate. The dialogue that the enemies share, the way that Sukuna taunts and provokes Yuuji, and the fact that the episode ends with Nanami showing after he just finished a multi-episode fight with Mahito — none of it was particularly surprising or engaging on a narrative level.
Thankfully, the other level that “To You, Someday” is operating on is one of visual spectacle, a job in which the MAPPA crew has yet to underperform. Even in between the fighting, there's all sorts of delightful and abstract directorial flourishes that work to sell the emotions that the script can't quite bring to the finish line, but as always, JJK shines when the fists and curse-powers start to fly. Junpei's poison-tentacled shikigami are pretty cool, if a bit underused, and Mahito gets plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff once Yuuji makes up his mind to hold nothing back. It's a bloody, visceral, and exciting pair of brawls, and the strength of the storyboarding is able to make up for the fact that the animation isn't the most fluid or dynamic in places.
This is very much Part 1 of a multi-part battle, though, so not too much progress is made before Nanami shows up to bring us right into a cliffhanger for next week. Will Nanami and Yuuji be able to take Mahito on with their powers combined? If things don't go in their favor, is Sukuna going to be able to get Yuuji to finally accept that devilish pact, damn the consequences? What secret schemes will our heroes uncover once this battle is (hopefully) won? I don't expect the answers to these questions to blow my mind or anything, but Jujutsu Kaisen has at least given me enough reason to expect that they'll be pretty entertaining to watch, either way.
Odds and Ends
• This week's Jujutsu Stroll is truly bizarre: A trio of childlike Curses find a game on the playground, where you stick a bunch of swords into a barrel before a little pirate doll pops out. I don't even really know what to say about it. It's just…strange.
• The most heartbreaking part of Mahito and Sukuna taunting and belittling Yuuji doesn't come from the nightmare visuals that accompany their barbs, but from a glimpse into the future that Yuuji had been hoping for: One where he could finally be with his friends again, and count Junpei among them.
Jujutsu Kaisen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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