Starting as part of the fall 2020 line-up, Jujutsu Kaisen saw a very successful 24 episode run. Created by Gege Akutami, Jujutsu Kaisen started as a manga serialized in Shonen Jump since 2018 and has been highly successful, to the extent the manga is constantly sold out. The anime adaptation by MAPPA has also seen the same level of success, to the extent a movie based on the manga prequel one-shot has recently been announced. This success is not limited to Japan, as Jujutsu Kaisen even won the Crunchyroll Anime of the Year award. However, a successful anime at times can be a stigma among anime fans across the globe, so does Jujutsu Kaisen live up to the hype?
The story follows Itadori Yuji, a not so ordinary high-schooler who, like most Shonen Jump protagonists, shows unnatural physical strength. Instead of using this in a sports afterschool club, he opts to join the Occult club as it is less of a time commitment. Particularly as his Grandad is in hospital, nearing the end of his life. On the night he passes, he tells Yuji to “always help people” and “die surrounded by others”, which he takes to heart and becomes his personal philosophy. Something he puts into practice straight away as an artefact the Occult club found turns out to be highly dangerous, thus changing Yuji’s life as he is forced into the world of curses.
Where the plot itself draws on some clear influences of other series, what is interesting is how cleverly written and put together it all is. This is only enhanced by how loyal the anime adaptation is to the manga. Right at the start future plot elements are being set up, allowing the viewer to piece it together as it happens and not just overly explaining everything. With this being said, it is by no means predictable! Instead, it all feels plausible and laid out all along. Particularly in combat, with how the different curse techniques are used, there are some mind-blowing moments where the tables are turned that don’t feel plucked out of thin air. The main reason it works so well is the real mix of techniques among the characters, some having very unique abilities, and only a few are more common. It is incredibly gripping and makes rewatching worth it to see the bigger picture as it forms which is a rarity.
In true Shonen Jump fashion, Jujutsu Kaisen is both comedic and serious as it has a mix of moments bouncing between the two. Again in a rare fashion, it actually works extremely well together. It doesn’t feel separate or forced, it is cohesive as the comedy helps to break up the tension of the very dark elements of the show. Where it is mostly silly, there are some random references to other media which doesn’t really happen in shows like this (unless it is a fourth-wall-breaking comedy). With the dark themes of the show it is needed otherwise it would be draining for the viewer, plus seeing the characters in a tense situation after goofy moments only enhances the jeopardy as the stakes increase.
On the surface, each character fits into a generic anime trope but as the series goes on the true depth of them all emerges. Yuji for instance seems the happy go lucky type yet has numerous moments showing a more sombre reflective side as he questions his actions and the new world he has found himself in. That being said, the female characters are the true gem of this series as they don’t really fall into the “girl” character tropes necessarily. We are all very used to the cutesy anime girls, either sickly pure or tsundere, with at times unnecessary sexualisation, but here the girls feel a lot more normal. Particularly Kugisaki Nobara who is shown to be a typical girl loving fashion and makeup, yet doesn’t compromise on being strong and acting superior to the others. Indeed, the whole cast having these deep personalities is the key ingredient to making the balance of serious and comedic moments work. They all have this serious side to them, with a core reason for fighting, but at the same time have qualities that are goofy so they can mess around as well. Of course, some characters have a more goofy side than others, but again this mix is what makes it all work as they bounce off each other in a way that feels natural.
A sign of how far anime has come as it looks film quality despite being a TV show as MAPPA truly went all in and it pays off. With the smooth and seamless motion, the colouring is what really makes it stand out. Where in normal scenes there is a colour scheme you expect, with a darker focus for a more mature look. In combat is where it truly shines as the techniques are emphasised with thick lines and brighter colours, giving a dynamic coloured in manga feel. It adds an extra sense of impact to the hits, upping the intensity of the motion as well. On the flip side, other animation techniques are used for the comedic moments, at times more basic, helping to discern it from the rest of the show. Of course, it also enhances the comedy, creating yet another element into how the show pulls off but the funny and serious moments.
Like the animation, the voice acting is a high standard as they work to top off the personalities. Again, the female characters don’t necessarily put on a cutesy voice and at times are deeper than usual which is refreshing. It is clear the actors have all got to grips with their characters to bring a unique energy to them. The instrumentals on the other hand aren’t anything special but do set the mood of the scene which is all they are needed for. Personally, the only issue I have with the show is the opening themes as it didn’t really put me in the mood for an action show. Both were slow-paced and just didn’t reflect the show enough which is a shame as the animation for them is fantastic. Still, the ending themes were great as it doesn’t matter as much if it reflects the show.
Jujutsu Kaisen is one of the rare instances the show lives up to the hype. With the high-level animation that is loyal to the manga, it does a great job of bringing it alive. The success is clearly down to the clever writing of the characters and plot, being a rare instance of a series that doesn’t just dump everything but allows the viewer to piece it all together. Once you watch the show, it is easy to understand why it is so successful which is why you shouldn’t miss out on this one.
Many thanks to Crunchyroll for providing the key art for this review.