by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
Jujutsu Kaisen ?
Anyone who followed my reviews of The God of High School will understand why I was hesitant to dive into this year's second MAPPA-produced, Sung Hoo Park-directed, magical-teenager-battlin' comic adaptation. Thankfully, the show's fist-pumpingly awesome premiere gave me hope that Jujutsu Kaisen would be the kickass action showcase that The God of High School failed so hard at being. The direction and visual spectacle were on point — hardly surprising, given this crew's pedigree — but what really sold me on Jujutsu Kaisen was the strength of its fundamentals. The lightly spooky vibe is exactly what I'm looking for in my entertainment this time of year, the script does a good job of establishing this world of sorcerers and curse monsters without rushing things along at too quick a pace, and Yuji Itadori is simply a great protagonist. Earnest, likeable, and strong without being boring, he represents to me the ideal archetype of this type of hero.
Plus, Yuji's central conflict is perfect for getting us invested in the story. As we learn throughout the second episode, “For Myself”, when Yuji munched on Ryoumen Sukuna's nasty-ass rotting finger, he basically signed his own death sentence. It doesn't matter that he's demonstrated the unbelievable ability to prevent Sukuna from completely taking over his body; the elder sorcerers of Japan will not tolerate an aberration like Yuji to live. When his grandfather died, though, he instilled in Yuji a simple but clear drive to protect others, to make sure that nobody has to die alone and afraid. It's a familiar kind of characterization, but its powerful all the same, and the looming aura of genuine mortal danger makes that otherwise straightforward second episode just as fun to watch as the first. When Satoru first appears to test Yuji's capabilities, you genuinely aren't sure whether he's there to help our good boy, or to kill him.
Even when the amazingly animated sparring match concludes, and the threat of imminent execution is nixed for the time being, Yuji's fate hangs over everything he does: When he goes to retrieve his grandfather's ashes from the crematorium; when the dollmaking principal of Jujutsu Tech has one of his garish creations pound Yuji into a pulp until he receives a proper answer for why Yuji would choose the doomed path of the sorcerer; even when Yuji is moving into his dorm and bonding with Satoru and Megumi. “Eating the decrepit digits of a long-dead evil wizard with the help of your new high school chums” sounds like a goofy setup on a YA action anime, and Jujutsu Kaisen is plenty goofy, but our hero walked into this new life with the simple intention of making sure he can choose how he will die, and that he'll be able to help as many other people as he can before that happens. After living with the paper-thin nothing characters from The God of High School for a whole season, I'm happy to have a hero I can really root for.
So, the first two episodes give us plenty of time to get to know Yuji, and while both Megumi and Satoru are playing the more enigmatic roles of seasoned sorcerers, “The Girl of Steel” is all about introducing the titular final member of our first-year trio: Nobara Kugisaki. The less impressive action and somewhat clunkier writing make this the weakest episode of the set, but “The Girl of Steel” is still a blast, mainly because Nobara herself is such a fascinating addition to the ensemble. She's equal parts bratty, conceited, and cocksure, but she's got enough skills to back up her attitude, to the point where Sotaru intentionally leads her and Yuji to a curse infestation in downtown Tokyo. Nobara's confidence is borne from dealing with curses from out in the sticks, and Sotaru wants to know how she'll deal with the curses from the city, which aren't just stronger, but more cunning, too.
The fight is nowhere near as impressive on a technical level as what we saw from Yuji and his battles in the first two episodes, and the inclusion of a random local kid to serve as a hostage to the curse feels a bit cheap, but I still appreciate the flair of Nobara's powers, which manifest as a cute little claw hammer, a set of magical nails, and a straw effigy that she uses to strike at her foes' spiritual essence. It's an action-oriented spin on the traditional “Ushi-no-Toki-Mairi” method of folk witchcraft, and it's a delightful way for Nobara to kick curse butt. The way her backstory got delivered via flashback and internal monologue in the middle of the fight felt a bit forced, and I'm still not sure of how Nobara's life-changing friendship with the city girl, Saori, is supposed to be read. Did Saori die when she was run out of town? Is it really a stereotype that Japanese villages hate city folk enough to run them out of town and potentially kill them? The land developments that Saori's family were working on must have been a real eyesore, or something…
Is Nobara a bit of a dick? Yeah, but I like that kind of antagonistic attitude in a character like her; I think it rounds out Yuji's simple and earnest personality, and it will make it all the more satisfying when Yuji, Nobara, and Megumi all bond and become allies on the battlefield. I hate to keep bringing up The God of High School, but I can't help but compare it to Jujutsu Kaisen, especially since, so far, Jujutsu Kaisen seems to be delivering what I was hoping to get from GoH last season: An unabashedly familiar slice of dumb anime fun, with a cast and a story that looks to be just original and well-executed enough that I'm actually looking forward to all of the goofy shenanigans that go down in-between all of the badass fight scenes. Next Friday can't come soon enough.
Odds and Ends
• Jujutsu Kaisen's OP is “Kaikai Kitan” by Eve, and while I really love its music and visuals, the ED almost steals the spotlight from the whole show. The 90s-chic color palette and exuberant dance choreography would make for an excellent end credits no matter what song came with it, but this particular ED is set to "Lost in Paradise feat. AKLO" by Ali. It's probably the most infectious feel-good jam I've heard since MEGALOBOX's "Kakatte Koi yo" consumed my entire brain. I've listened to “Lost in Paradise” no fewer than eight times while writing this review, and I'm nowhere near done.
• I'm going to go ahead and guess that Satoru is the fan-favorite breakout character that everyone is going to be crushing on all season, right? I'm here for it.
• I don't know who the hell that panda is from the OP and ED, but I want him (her?) to get as much screen time as possible, and also to be my best friend forever.
Jujutsu Kaisen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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