This Week in Anime
Why Jujutsu Kaisen Horror-Action Perfection

by Steve Jones & Nicholas Dupree,

Sunghoo Park and studio MAPPA's Jujutsu Kaisen anime is a blend of horror, action, and comedy with a pitch-perfect cast of weirdos.The series offers the philosophy of life and death, action spectacle, and a cursed finger for audiences to chew on. Steve and Nick lay out why you can't miss this latest Shonen Jump adaptation!

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Steve
Hey Nick, I'm glad we're finally getting the chance to discuss Jujutsu Kaisen! Because after 3+ years of doing this column, if there's one thing we're both an expert on by now, it's cursed energy.
Nick
Oh when it comes to cursed anime I'm pretty sure we're both Special Grade sorcerers now. Especially after we survived Eiken. Thankfully the latest adaptation from the annals of Shonen Jump is just ABOUT cursed energy, and mostly devoid of it.

Mostly.

I mean it's no Sarazanmai, but gosh darn it, it tries.
I for one am happy to avoid any more kappa anuses for a while. Give me these good good curse pups instead.
It actually makes perfect sense that dogs would be the weapon of choice against cursed energy. Good boys. But yeah, here we are. It's another season, and we've got another blockbuster Jump adaptation to inject our weekly dose of shonen into our veins.
Actually this one is administered orally.
I don't love that, but I guess we can count our blessings it isn't delivered into another orifice. Again, this is no Sarazanmai.
I mean, you gotta appreciate that our spunky shonen hero's origin story is that he ate up a cursed mummy finger like a dog that found a bag of stale snausages under the couch, right?
I want to say it made sense at the time, but it absolutely did not. My dude was about to die, and he figured his best course of action was gulping down an entire finger like a Scooby Snack (thanks, now I've got nothing but dog metaphors on the mind). But that's Itadori in a nutshell.
When I read the first chapter of JJK a few years back I remember describing it at the time as a horror manga featuring the Dumbest Boy Alive, and this absolute moron jock has proven that abundantly true with every passing chapter/episode. I love his wholly stupid ass.
He's really endearing! Dumb shonen protagonists are a dime a dozen, of course, but he benefits from a healthy balance of pure stupidity and pure-hearted charm. I also really liked that the first episode let us see some more complicated shades of his character, like, say, the ones that arrive when your grandpa dies on you right after sharing his greatest regrets about life.
OK so real talk, there's a lot that JJK kinda has to say about death and regret, but for me the most striking moment of what the anime's covered was just capturing the mundanity of death. Like Grandpa Itadori passes quietly, suddenly, and the next time we see Yuji he's just filling out the cremation paper work. It's one of those odd, surreal moments in life that most fiction doesn't bother to show because it's not dramatic.
Sometimes the only thing you can do to deal with something is just focus on the minute-by-minute minutiae. I know I've been there. JJK even shows us Yuji collecting his grandpa's cremated remains, and hosts an entire scene in there. It's definitely this kinda stuff that made me look twice at the show, and give it a real chance to become something special.
JJK is an odd duck amongst the current Jump lineup, if I'm being honest. It's got an energy to it that isn't quite typical of the magazine, and it can vary pretty wildly in focus and quality, but when it's on it's ON.
Oh boy yeah it's definitely a weird one. But you wouldn't necessarily guess from the premise itself, which seems straightforward enough. Cursed monsters naturally form wherever there are concentrations of people in stressful situations, and a special secret sorcerer school trains spunky kids to fight them. Like you do.

And I'm not gonna say the spectre of Michel Foucault was involved in the genesis of the premise here, but I'm not not gonna say it.
Meanwhile our bright-eyed protagonist gets transferred to that school after he eats up a powerful cursed finger and gains the power of an ancient curse. And by "gains the power of" I mean this asshole is loitering inside his body like a Kingdom Hearts villain.
Luckily for all involved, Yuji is much better than Riku at keeping his possessive companion from taking over his body and/or the entire world. Like, it's actually pretty easy for him. It's kinda hilarious.

Sukuna thought he got a free ride and instead he got shoved into cramped sidecar.
And if he ever slips up - which what are the odds of that happening am I right? - they've got this smug son of a bitch to wrangle him, so it's all good.

Note: You may think that statement is arrogance. It is not.
It is super not.
Ah yes, I remember when Jujutsu Kaisen's powers almost made sense when you explained them. Enjoy that while it lasts, anime-onlys.
Okay that's good to know, because things were already on pretty thin conceptual ice with Mr. Zeno here.

But it's not like I've watched five seasons of JoJo's for nothing. I think I'm prepared.
Oh JoJo's is actually a really good reference. Because depending on where this adaptation goes you may eventually find yourself in a fight with like 5 King Crimsons. But for now things are pretty simple. Yuji punches things. Megumi summons Pokémon. Gojou is Better Than You.
Gojou also seems to have a Final Smash that throws you into the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that probably falls under the umbrella of "is better than you."

See that's where he tricks you. You're actually just getting lost in his beautiful eyes.
I hate it, please put the mask back on.
Considering how much the guy likes to flirt during fights I'm not sure how much I'm joking, actually.
Going into this week's episode, I was really expecting something a tad more grotesque under his blindfold, considering, y'know, the rest of Jujutsu Kaisen. But the truth is that he's just a bishie, and somehow that's far more unsettling.
Fun fact, dude's character sheet literally describes him as "perfect" outside of his personality. We know who Gege Akutami's favorite is. Though judging by my Twitter timeline the fan favorite so far is a little different.
She's a girl and she's mean, so no surprises there.
Not many shonen series have the courage to let their female lead be a stupid bag of crap, and I have to respect JJK for it.
Yeah I'm not gonna pretend that I also don't love Nobara, because I absolutely do. She's loud-mouthed and rude enough for me to forgive even the stupid little heart debossed on her cursed hammer.
Honestly that heart just sells the image, really. I imagine she had it specially made to complement her stylish look when she finally made it to the big city. And as for the people who DO dislike this gremlin:
I just hope the story lets her deliver more cheesy one-liners in the future and spends less time sticking her in an oversized rescue frog.
To be fair she does make that look work. Almost. And literally everyone has to get saved in that mission because Jujutsu High School is run by absolute dipshits who send 3 rookies to fight a Cenobite.
Yeah, cool first mission guys. They're really learning a lot, such as: how to count.
And also: how to lend a hand.

But yeah, this is less Team 7 running into Zabuza on their first away mission and more All Might throwing Deku head-first at Overhaul in episode 4. Things don't go great.

That seems to be the overarching philosophy ofJJK's opening acts. It doesn't pull punches. This ongoing battle between humans and curses sucks shit and kills a lot of people, and even dumb shonen protagonist plot armor only goes so far. Especially, it initially seems, for Yuji.
I honestly kind of love how quickly JJK shatters the typical battle anime power level curve. Like sure, the newbies are already fighting the Curse equivalent of Mike Tyson, but why not have Sukuna take over and literally curbstomp the enemy just to ensure they're all doubly-fucked.
Hey, why stop at stomping? Slicing is good too.
Also I appreciate that Sukuna's first act upon taking over is always to strip. He knows what the people want:
I like, too, that Sukuna at first tries to be buddy-buddy with the Hellraiser guy over prospective child murder before getting bored and fed up.

This is the dude stuck inside our protagonist. It's great.
Sorry Yuji, you don't get to slowly develop a sense of camaraderie with your Nine-Tailed Fox. You're stuck with this asshole.

Or, well you were stuck. As in you were alive. He also kinda fucked that up for you too.
Oh don't worry about that. This is still anime, after all. Death is but a suggestion, and now Yuji is inside of Sukuna's weird magic mind palace or however you want to explain what a Domain is.

It's got bones, that's good enough for me.
Good news: Yuji's only Mostly Dead.
Bad news: Coming back to life involved making a shady deal with the King of Assholes and his bone throne.

Eh, I'm sure those mysterious conditions aren't anything important. They'll probably never show up again, and especially not during a particularly tense battle at some point far into the plot. The important part is that Yuji narrowly avoided getting autopsied by a lady mortician with poor sleeping habits.

Which is itself a blessing or curse, depending on your perspective.
Though it's worth noting nobody besides Gojou knows about that bit. So Megumi and Nobara are busy trying to deal with grieving somebody they barely knew who nonetheless died to protect them.
Nobara's lip quiver there was a nicely affecting bit of character acting on the adaptation's part, so I'm really glad this scene then decides it's the perfect time to introduce a talking panda.
Now let me stop you right there Steve. There are 3 things to keep in mind while watching Jujutsu Kaisen.
1. Gojou always wins
2. Nobody knows how Domain Expansion actually works.
3. Panda is not a panda.
I remain skeptical.
Take a page from Inumaki's book and choose your words carefully, is all I'm saying.
And all I'm saying, best case scenario, JJK follows up a touching moment of shared grief between friends with—at the very least—a panda-adjacent comrade. It's weird! Tho I just remembered this scene also gives us the best bit of Nobara trivia yet: that she's a Brawl shitlord.
Nobara's already banned from EVO so it fits.
It's also extremely weird that Yuji is being hidden from the people who care about him in order to do this:
If Symphogear taught me anything, it's that the best way to become great at fighting is to watch a lot of action movies. Gojou knows what's up.
You know, you've got a point there. Tho, as much as I like JJK, it still commits the cardinal sin of showing me an even better anime I could watching instead. Or, in this case, rewatching.
See now we've switched places, because I definitely couldn't handle Anime Frodo's limpid eyes for the requisite 12-hour LotR marathon. But yeah, episodes 5 and 6 are where the oddness of JJK really starts to rear its head. It plays fast and loose with tone a LOT and that can be pretty alienating. Like when the series villain team make their debut inside an Applebee's:
Tone is for sure a big issue with Jujutsu Kaisen. However, now that I think a bit more about this scene in particular: a single patron enters a restaurant with invisible deadly companions, one of which then proceeds to spread fire and kill every single patron in the building. Although surely not intentional, that reads a hell of a lot more strongly in the pandemic, wow.
In that light I respect Waiter-san's split-second decision even more.
Definitely the smartest character in the show to date. Not that this is saying much, given the competition.
I do really love that aside though. It's a short, weird sort of thing I'd expect in an episode of Jojo's, and I kind of hope we get to see that waiter again, living his life after successfully avoiding being drafted into Fire Force.
And just in general, these detours into full-blown urban horror make a good aesthetic foundation for JJK to build on. There's some great, genuinely creepy imagery sprinkled throughout the story—some of it doesn't even have anything to do with Curses—and I hope we keep seeing more of that.

That's a good a segue as any to mention how absolutely blessed this adaptation has been so far. Akutami's manga is solid stuff, but it could easily fall flat in the wrong hands, but Sunghoo Park and his team at MAPPA have been knocking this out with grace so far.
Yeah, getting the guy who directed the underrated Garo -Vanishing Line- to adapt this material in particular was an excellent choice.
I see you omitting The God of High School, and I respect that

.

I'm only interested in urban horror, not...whatever The God of High School even is. I mean I think we can probably tell what Park's priority between these two shows was too, lol.
Dunks aside, this really feels like the best adaptation fans could have asked for. Even as somebody up-to-date and positive on the manga, I've found the anime way more effective in establishing the cast and getting me invested in them. Stuff like Megumi's resolve or Nobara's backstory just kind of slid off me in comic form, but here they've stuck with me.
And this isn't necessarily an adaptational strength, but I've also really connected with our glimpses at Gojou's grand motivations.


I may not know much about jujutsu, but I do know a thing or two about being furious with old regressive leaders holding the rest of the population in their stagnant decaying grasp.
They say shonen manga become hits by tapping into the emotional zeitgeist of a generation, and nothing quite screams 2020 like a teenager having his life and death decided by the whims of a bunch of anonymous old assholes.
In retrospect, not at all surprising things like Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man really popped off this year.
I guess that makes Gojou a millennial. Which...yeah that fits.
There's so much I have to teach the zoomers and so little time.

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