by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
Since all of the other pairs of major fighters have gotten their due over the last few weeks, it's about time that the School Exchange Event Arc allowed Megumi and Noritoshi Kamo an opportunity to flex their combat skills. Their battle is the main focal point of “Sage”, at least so far as the action is concerned, though the title should be a giveaway that Jujutsu Kaisen is about to throw a wrench into the Group Battle Event's typical formula. Still, for all of the exposition and foreshadowing that we get this week, MAPPA is seemingly not content to deliver anything but their A-game once again, and viewers looking for that sweet sakuga fix won't be disappointed in the least once Megumi and Noritoshi get down to the business of kicking each others' asses.
Truth be told, this isn't exactly my favorite match-up of the exchange event so far, though that primarily comes down to my feelings about the fighters. Yuuji and Aoi's fight had a lot of heart, as cliché as some of the beats were, not to mention that hilarious fantasy sequence. As for last week's four-way showdown between Maki, Mai, Nobara, and Miwa, I mean, c'mon – what more is there to say? It was a nearly perfect specimen of spectacle. Here, though, we've got Megumi and Noritoshi, and I'm just not super jazzed about either of them. Megumi is a cool dude, and I dig his shikigami powers, but his character arc is the fuzziest of the main three, for me. I get how he is coming to understand and follow his own personal code of justice, and we get some more tiny hints about his history (including a frayed connection to the Zenin clan), but he's still the most inscrutable of the protagonists, so it is harder for me to get hyped over his potential victory. Noritoshi, meanwhile, gets a very familiar backstory: His mother was cast out of the upper-crust of the jujutsu clan for being an illegitimate mistess, but Noritoshi inherited the fancy-shmancy blood-magic curse powers, so now the pressure is on him to become a respected leader of the Kamo clan while preserving his mother's honor.
As far as writing goes, it's fine, which is a shame if only because the animation and direction of the fight is several orders of magnitude more impressive than “fine”. Nortoshi's arrows and blood-magic look remarkably fluid and deadly, the indoor staging of the fight gives the sequence a dose of much appreciated novelty, and Megumi gets to bust out a goddamned pink elephant shikigami that floods the building with water (and it has a vaguely water-colored look to it, which is very cool, and reminiscent of Demon Slayer's impressive liquid animation). No matter how lukewarm I might feel about this particular avenue of the story, it sure is hell is pretty to look at, and that counts for a lot in an action-heavy arc like this one.
The rest of the episode has a lot going on too, but it's mostly to do with table-setting and exposition delivery. At the beginning of the episode, we learn that Principal Gakuganji snuck a 1st-grade spirit into the competition, and provided Noritoshi with the means to plant some curse bait on Yuuji in order to kill him. This ends up being a bait-and-switch, though, since the curse in question is immediately dispatched by Hanami, who has also infiltrated the school grounds along with Mahito and some psychopathic, axe-wielding curse user who I don't believe has a name, yet. We knew that the villains were going to crash the party eventually, and now that the dookie has hit the proverbial fan, the competition takes a hard right into a fight for survival for every student and teacher in Jujutsu Tech.
In short: The curses have figured out a way to block specifically Goujo from the arena, which is a definite problem, and Hanami arrives to properly dish out some Villain Monologues while she tries to kill Megumi, Noritoshi, and Toge. Meanwhile, Principal Gakumanji buys Utahime some time and holds off Axe Guy, revealing that his weapon of choice is an electric guitar, which both answers the question of who is strumming along each week in the OP, and whether the Principal will ever do anything other than be a generally unlikable piece of shit. In other words, we get lots of interesting setups for future developments, though we will have to wait until next week to see how they end up paying off. While “Sage” might not have been the most electrifying episode of Jujutsu Kaisen as of late, it gets the job done and keeps its viewers chomping at the bit to see what comes next, which is more than enough to keep me satisfied.
Odds and Ends
• This week's Jujutsu Stroll is freakin' weird, which is awesome. Basically we get a glimpse at a slice-of-life/romance anime version of lives the Cursed Spirits, complete with a gender-swapped Mahito and a budding romance between Hanami and Jogou. Sure, JJK. Why the hell not? You let Nobara kick ass with a squeaky hammer last week, so you can do whatever you want with these Jujutsu Strolls, as far as I'm concerned.
• Despite being blocked from the fighting, Gojou gets some of the best moments of the week, including his beautifully flagrant disrespect for Principal Gakuganji, who he treats like an old man in a nursing home that's about to go out on his usual afternoon walk.
• Poor Miwa also gets one of the better gags of the week, when her self-deprecating is interrupted by a phone call from Toge, who knocks her out with his Cursed Speech. I hope she can get that promotion one of these days. Maybe a transfer to Jujutsu Tech is in order…
• Speaking of Toge, it's awesome getting to see him use his powers in a big battle like this. Another underappreciated joke is the way that Megumi can apparently perfectly understand him, which baffles even Noritoshi.
Jujutsu Kaisen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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