by Rebecca Silverman,

Jujutsu Kaisen

GN 1

Jujutsu Kaisen GN 1
Yuji Itadori's school life was dictated by his grandfather's hospitalization and need to get there before visiting hours ended, meaning that despite his impressive athletic abilities, he joined the Occult Research Club instead of one of the many sports teams that desperately wanted him. All of that changes after his grandfather dies, however, leaving Yuji with the wish for him to help people. Yuji ends up consuming a dangerous cursed artefact in order to save his school friends, and that lands him smack in the middle of a strange, supernatural world. Now Yuji has to use his newfound spirit powers to carry out Grandpa's wishes, use his own natural abilities to keep from being possessed by the evil spirit whose artefact he ate, and try not to get killed. Was this really what his grandfather was talking about?

On the surface, there really isn't all that much about Jujutsu Kaisen that stands out as unique. Like many of its brethren Shounen Jump series, the story features a naïve but well-meaning protagonist with more muscles and skills than brains, a supernatural threat, and a core group that consists of Protagonist, Surly Guy, The Girl, and Weird Teacher. In this case the protagonist role is filled by Yuji Itadori, a high school first year with astounding physical abilities and a mind that definitely leaps before it looks. He manages to kick start the story by eating the semi-mummified finger of an ancient evil named Ryomen Sukuna, causing him to be possessed by it.

As some scholars of Japanese folklore may know, Ryomen Sukuna is a specific deity with two-faces, credited as the founder of Hida. In mythology, he is associated with woodworking and archery (as in for hunting, not sport), and is said to have a friendly face and a not-so-friendly face. It's this last that's important for Jujutsu Kaisen and shows that there may be more going on here than standard fare – when Yuji becomes possessed, he gains a “second face” in two senses: one, the fact that his kind self now has a rampaging cursed monstrosity that can at times take over, and two, Sukuna occasionally materializes a mouth or an eye or something when Yuji is in control to get a word in. Added to this is the fact that post-snack Yuji is drawn with two closed eyes underneath his own, a more visual acknowledgement of Ryomen Sukuna's mythological origins.

If we think about the creator's pen name, this isn't that surprising; it seems to be a direct tribute to Shigeru Mizuki's popular title GeGeGe no Kitarō. That would indicate an interest in Japanese folklore and yokai in particular, meaning that Akutami doubtless did some research before starting work on the title. Elements of Mizuki's art style also creep into Akutami's work, which is neat to see; the “cursed spirits” (the word “yokai” is generally not used) often bear a distinct resemblance to some of the characters in GeGeGe no Kitarō, specifically the non-humanoid ones. More human-looking monsters are a bit more typical of modern manga, but the juxtaposition of styles largely works, giving the series an interesting artistic feel. Human characters are easy to tell apart and nicely solid in terms of bodies, and the gakuran-style school uniforms are worth mentioning for the way that each student is given leave to tailor them to their preferences – Nobara's look with the skirt is very cute.

Unfortunately, the story does feel very generic apart from these details. It follows a basic formula that is very familiar: unassuming hero ends up in some sort of supernatural trouble, turns out to be incredibly good at handling it, isn't quite trusted by The Establishment, sets out to prove himself because it is the right thing to do. There is something of an edge to the fact that Yuji isn't just giving lip service to his late grandfather's urge to help people; he's genuine thinking hard about it and truly wants to do his best. This does lead to him rethinking his decisions after they've been made (as in, “Huh, maybe I shouldn't have done that.”), which also indicates that he may just not be good at forethought rather than not having the intelligence to make considered plans. He is, however, good at coping with the results of his decisions, which is another positive trait. None of this endears him to his new companions, of course, although Nobara (i.e. The Girl) is more concerned with jumpstarting a new life in Tokyo than in her supernatural work; we first meet her accosting scouts on the street with demands as to why they aren't scouting her as a model. While this sort of pro-active behavior does feel like a good change from the more staid female characters we often see, it's also a little obnoxious, although it does seem like she'll even out as the series progresses. The least interesting of the main trio right now is the third member, straight man Fushiguro, who varies very little from type.

Jujutsu Kaisen is a good enough book, but not one with a lot of staying power in your memory. It's fun while you're reading, but ultimately a bit forgettable in this debut volume. It has the potential to be more as Akutami gets more comfortable with the serialization process and figures out precisely where the story is going, so it may be worth a second book to be certain. But as of this one, it's just okay, making it the kind of series that gets damned with faint praise.

Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C+

+ Interesting folklore, a few nice differences from the norm.
Overall very generic.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Gege Akutami

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