by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
I'm hesitant to say that I have an “issue” with the current pacing of Jujutsu Kaisen, because “Small Fry and Reverse Retribution” has a lot going on for it. It serves as an introduction to two significant characters, contains loads of entertaining action, and presents a few clues toward where the story is heading next (aside from the School Exchange Tournament, which has to be ready to begin soon…right?). Still, JJK is definitely comfortable working in that somewhat janky, episodic model that comes with the territory when you're adapting a weekly manga series, and the formula does have some drawbacks to it.
The biggest example of this would be our new antagonist, Yoshino, who we find in the middle of a particularly nasty bullying session with the local douchebags at his school. His first thought is that, if he had the ability to kill everyone he hated with the push of a button, he probably wouldn't do it…but if he could kill everyone that hated him, well, that's a horse of a different color now isn't it? All of this is prelude to that movie theater massacre we got previewed last week, where Yoshino runs into those same bullies again while trying to catch a showing of his universe's version of Human Centipede (there's no accounting for taste, is there?), and those jerks prove that they really are the scum of the earth when they insist on loudly chattering and acting like a general fool throughout the whole movie. While I will definitely admit that they deserve some jail time at least for such unacceptable theater etiquette, it's probably overkill when Mahito the Curse Guy shows up to turn them all into the world's greatest cosplayers of Junji Ito monsters (he kills them real good, that is). This prompts our budding psychopath to catch up to Mahito, who he can see due to some latent curse energy potential, and the story basically concludes with Yoshino becoming Mahito's…apprentice, I guess?
This is all pretty great stuff, honestly, but the rest of the episode gets sidetracked with Yuuji's investigation of these murders, and Yoshino is all but forgotten until the very end of the episode, which makes the amount of time spent on introducing the character feel a bit imbalanced. The remainder of the episode is all about establishing a different new addition to the roster, Yuuji's current partner in this investigation, Nanami Kento. Nanami is a friend of Goujou's, and basically his antithesis: self-serious, distant, and calculating. His whole character can be summed up when he puts a damper on Yuuji's enthusiasm for fighting evil by telling him “Where moderate effort will suffice, use moderate effort.”
The investigation leads to an extended battle between what Nanami and Yuuji think are two average curses, which is what occupies most of the episode's running time, serving as both an opportunity for Nanami to teach Yuuji some martial lessons, and for the show to do that thing where it goes into great detail to explain characters powers and the new techniques Yuuji is learning. This is the kind of technical storytelling that I can easily get bored with, but to JJK's credit, the show consistently makes these exposition-heavy chapters much more interesting by animating the hell out of them. Not only is the animation and direction as on point as ever, but the episode goes out of its way to have fun with the setting too, playing up the sights and sounds of the batting arcade while Yuuji and Nanami get their fight on.
So far as Nanami goes, what we learn is that his specific jujutsu sorcery allows him to use numbers and stuff to draw out and pinpoint an enemy's weak spot, granting him what amounts to a very high critical hit rate in combat (it kind of reminds me of the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception from Kara no Kyoukai). This is a fine power, though nowhere near as interesting and fun to watch as Gojou's bishie void gaze. Yuuji has also been making strides in his ability to use curse energy, though a flashback to one of Gojou's training sessions reveals that our boy still struggles to manifest his power with as much speed as his overwhelming physical strength demands. This ends up causing a slight delay that makes every punch of his also hit with a huge wallop of curse energy, so…I guess this problem is actually a good thing? Either way, it looks seriously cool with the help of MAPPA's animation chops.
That's honestly all there is to this episode, aside from the little plot breadcrumbs we get near the end, the largest of which being that the curses that our heroes fought weren't actually curses, per se. They were humans, horrifically transformed via dark curse energy, just like what happened to the movie theater bullies. It's a grim reveal, and it helps tie the very lengthy action sequence back to the initial story involving Yoshino and Mahito a bit, though I wouldn't mind if future episodes were just a little more generous with the ratio of plot development to kickass action. Like I said earlier, even though some of the pacing of this episode feels wonky in hindsight, it isn't lacking whatsoever in entertainment value. That's not a bad standard of quality for Jujutsu Kaisen to be hitting; hopefully it will be able to keep it up for the rest of its run.
Odds and Ends
• This week's after-credits sequence is especially dumb, and I don't even know if that is a consequence or a criticism. Gojou keeps trying to bug Nanami, and Nanami knows that it'll probably be a waste of time, and after successfully dodging most of Gojou's traps, he discovers a handwritten note from the man that simply reads: “Penis.” There's also a little drawing of a penis, too. Whatever you need to do to keep entertained, JJK.
• I also appreciated the brief glimpse at this world's police presence, with the more seasoned cop telling the younger guy who found the movie theater bullies to shut up and pretend he didn't see a thing. Looking too deeply into all of that spooky shit is terrible for a policeman's long-term health, to say the least.
• Nanami's polemic against society is so perfect that I just have to transcribe it here: “I studied at Jujutsu Tech, and the one thing I learned…is that jujutsu sorcerers are shit! Then I worked at your typical company, and the one thing I learned is that work is shit! If both are equally shit, then I'll take the one I'm more suited to.” Between Nanami's cynical resignation and Gojou's high-key “Boomers Ruined the World” ethos, I'd say that Yuuji's two teachers perfectly embody the exhausted millennial mood of the times.
Jujutsu Kaisen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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