by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
I will admit, I was a little wary of “Jujutsu Koshien” (aka “Jujutsu Baseball Tournament”), because it took the longest gosh darned time to get to the baseball. Instead, we follow Hanami and Haruta the Hand-Sword Guy as they make their way back to the Curse Spirits hideout after crashing the School Exchange Event. Here, after Mahito saves Hanami from an untimely end, we flash back to the planning stages of the attack, where Suguru explains the who, what, where, when, and why of it all. Truth be told, none of this was particularly compelling, and whatever little breadcrumbs of neat information we got – such as Sukuna's unknown motives, and the role that Megumi has to play in the conflict between Yuji and Sukuna — don't feel like they warrant all of this frontloaded exposition. I did like Hanami's line about struggling to repress all of that violent hostility, but that's about it.
Thankfully, once the show gets to the titular second round of the School Exchange Event, which ends up being a baseball tournament schemed up by none other than Gojo himself, the episode really picks up. After nearly two months' worth of non-stop action, “Jujutsu Koshien” sees JJK settling back into a mode more focused on being really damned funny, and exploring its character dynamics while it's at it. As I've said before, this is something JJK is really good at, so I was more than happy to hit pause on all of the drama and lore-baiting in order to watch these ridiculous goofballs play a silly game of baseball.
Something that JJK does exceptionally well at is in capturing a potent blend of cynicism and earnestness; it feels very millennial in that way, and more “hip” than a lot of the show's contemporaries. The way Gojo casually brushes off all the murder and destruction the crew just survived to propose his baseball game; the comfy scenes of Yuji and Nobara joining a convalescing Megumi for some pizza and small talk; the fact that everyone in the show has very casually rebounded from the fact that the Kyoto students were actively trying to murder Yuji just hours beforehand. It's funny and endearing, which is exactly where the show needs to be right now, having recently doubled the size of its principal cast.
Really, I could write an entire review just cataloguing all of the great jokes that JJK squeezes in this week. For one, Aoi's hyper-affectionate bromance with Yuji was just about to reach the point of diminishing returns when “Jujutsu Koshien” shakes up the formula of the gag by having Aoi seem genuinely invested in the delusional slice-of-life anime backstory he created for Yuji and himself, while Yuji can only explain that he wasn't even in his right mind when he was bro-ing out with Aoi, like he was literally punch-drunk on the power of friendship. The bit further pays off big time when Mai beans Aoi right in the face with a fastball, and while Yuji cradles his best friend in his arms, every single other character simply offers a polite clap and a customary “Nice pitch.” There are all sorts of great visual jokes, too, from the increasingly ridiculous chyrons that are used to introduce all of the kids as they step up to bat, to the simple and gut-busting image of the pitching machine that the Kyoto group drew a little face on and named “Mechamaru”.
We get some emotional stuff thrown in for good measure, just to keep things from getting completely lost in the weeds of goofy humor. Principal Gakuganji and Principal Yaga trade some perspectives on whether or not Yuji should even be allowed to exist, with Yaga arguing that even if they don't know what the right decision is, they should just watch over Yuji for now. He's just a kid, after all, like all of the other students, and “Jujutsu Koshien” is a potent reminder of how much these kids just need to live their lives without the ever-present threat of death and destruction sometimes, even if it's just for an afternoon game of baseball.
Odds and Ends
• This week's Jujutsu Stroll is an amusing rehash of last week's “Cats vs. Dogs” sketch, as it literally uses the same exact animation and simply redubs the interview to be about “Bread vs. Rice”. Panda's freak-out at the end is now a fourth-wall-breaking admission that the whole thing was rather forced and lazy, and Yuji can't help but agree.
• Another great joke: Noritoshi gets a treacly flashback of his mother, and how he can relate to Yuji's desire to save a lot of people with his strength…that ends up distracting him from even swinging his bat.
• The episode award for Icon of a Generation goes to Miwa, who captures the entire attitude of my generation perfectly: “Hello! Useless Miwa here! Even though I call myself useless, I don't think I'm actually that bad.”
• Here are the casts profiles, as they appear on the sports broadcast overlays:
- Miwa Kasumi: “The mango she was letting ripen in the refrigerator is gone.
- Kamo Noritoshi: “Practicing cursive. I can write my own name now.”
- Itadori Yuji: “First impression of iekei ramen: 'I poop a lot the next day.”
- Kugisaki Nobara: “Awaiting approval for a credit card. Too hard for a high schooler maybe?”
- Zen'in Mai: “Hated mangos, but got over it recently.”
- Zen'in Maki: “The one thing she can't tolerate is protein powder.”
- Todo Aoi: “Won the middle school nationals with Itadori. Itadori denies this.”
- Panda: “Wants to punch a zebra someday.”
- Inumaki Toge: “Prefers bread for breakfast. Likes it with ham, cheese, and a bit of tabasco.”
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