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Jujutsu Kaisen — Studio Mappa’s big year just got bigger

Jujutsu Kaisen

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Jujutsu Kaisen — Studio Mappa’s big year just got bigger

Jujutsu Kaisen is the sixth show from Mappa just this year and they need to slow the hell down. This isn’t to say that the quality of their work has been compromised but I wonder how long they can maintain such momentum. Assuming that Attack on Titan‘s final season is on track for the planned December release, Mappa will have produced eight shows in 2020, the most they’ve ever made in one year.

Depending on your outlook, this either brings a tear to your eye to see Mappa grow to be such a powerhouse in the industry or it terrifies you to think how far off they’re pushing the release of the Yuri on Ice movie. Interesting to note: this is the second show by Mappa this year to be directed by Seong-Hu Park.

Over the summer, The God of Highschool tested the thesis of whether or not you could turn a shonen tournament arc into an entire series. Based on what I’ve heard, it didn’t have much going for it besides the action, which has consistently looked marvelous. Park’s second directorial work looked to have a little more meat on the bones from the first trailers alone and after three episodes, I’m willing to think the rest will be just as juicy.

The Story

Jujutsu Kaisen is the story of Yuji Itadori, a high-schooler laboring under the facade of being a care-free dude when he is in fact a care-free dude with unexplained super-strength that really should have made him stand out more. He spends his days hanging out at the Occult Club and visiting his grandfather in the hospital.

After his grandfather of clearly plot-relevant descent passes on, Yuji is confronted by Megumi Fushiguro, an exorcist who requests that he hand over a cursed object in his possession. Yuji offers it up, only for them both to find that the item isn’t in his box and that the members of the Occult club are planning to crack open the seal.

The two of them race to the school to stop a curse from killing Yuji’s friends but finds himself outmatched. Not even Yuji’s superstrength is enough to finish it off. Out of desperation for cursed energy, Yuji consumes the cursed severed finger and gains the strength to kill the demon.

Having consumed a powerful curse, Yuji should have lost himself to the demon to whom the finger belonged, a demon named Sukuna. However, he doesn’t. He has complete control. So instead of killing him like they’re supposed to, the exorcists of Jujutsu Tech High School make him a deal. He’ll become a student there, hunt down and consume the rest of Sukuna’s cursed fingers, and then accept execution to rid the world of his curse.

The Characters

Picture of Yuji Itadori, voiced by Junya Enoki

Yuji Itadori, voiced by Junya Enoki

Yuji amuses me as a protagonist because they have yet to explain at all why he’s so damn strong and he is consistently taking everything he encounters in stride. It doesn’t take him too long after meeting Fushiguro to just accept that, yep, curses are real. It kinda makes sense, given that he’s not particularly normal himself.

Yuji feels like Saitama from One Punch Man but not so overpowered as to be depressed. He’s snappy and care-free and starts the story geeking out over the occult with his friends instead of gaining popularity in athletics like one would expect him to. He’s a funny guy and experiencing this honeymoon period that is the first few episodes, I like how they’ve approached him.

I appreciate that to prove himself worthy of being accepted into the academy, he has to explain what makes him want to be an exorcist besides the usual motive of “helping people.” The beginning has done a good job establishing the kind of hero he is and wants to be. That being said, I’m hoping for more suspense soon.

Picture of Megumi Fushiguro, voiced by Yuuma Uchida

Megumi Fushiguro, voiced by Yuuma Uchida

The first three episodes establish a central trio of characters. The “three first-years,” of which Yuji is the most inexperienced. The first of the trio, Fushiguro, contrasts Yuji’s personality by being far more straight-laced and serious about exorcist work. So he’s the stick-in-the-mud of the group. There hasn’t been much to say about him thus far besides him having two really cool wolf familiars that he summons.

On the contrary, Nobara Kugisaki, the third first-year, immediately makes an impression, albeit a conflicted one, in episode three. She is chaotic, to say the least. She’s a confident, headstrong young exorcist looking to get away from a life she hates. She’s also quick to size up her peers, something that makes her butt heads with the other two.

Picture of Nobara Kugisaki, voiced by Asami Seto

Nobara Kugisaki, voiced by Asami Seto

She can come off like a bitch, but there’s something about the way she explains herself and her reason for being where she is that commands respect. She is ultimately in her current position not because she has any passionate desire to be a hero, but because she wants to live in Tokyo. She doesn’t see the danger of her profession as a reason not to take that chance, because if she’s capable, why not go where her heart wants?

This trio is varied, visually distinct, and equipped with unique fighting styles and techniques. How well those elements combine will be interesting to watch unfold. As it is, the character writing combines a sense of tension befitting the sharper and darker art style with a bit of levity that I wasn’t expecting from this series.

Picture of Satoru Gojou, voiced by Yuuichi Nakamura

Satoru Gojou, voiced by Yuuichi Nakamura

As for the other cast members, the only notable mention is Satoru Gojou, the mentor of sorts to the cast. He’s by far the most magnetic of the personalities on screen, stealing the show either by the sheer force of his abilities or his unexpectedly funny personality. He’s the character I’m most looking forward to seeing more of.

Directing and Animation

If anything has me wary of Jujutsu Kaisen, it’s the narrative direction. That mixture of levity and darkness isn’t a deal-breaker by any means. After all, some of my favorite shows tread the line between humor and drama. The secret to creating stories with that kind of tonal elasticity is knowing when to go from one to the other. Sometimes it felt like the jump could be jarring. I’m hoping it doesn’t become a recurring issue, especially if they’ll continue to have little comedic bits as post-credit scenes.

The ending theme already has a much lighter tone that I feel+ might clash with episode cliffhangers. Nothing says drama like an episode ending with foreshadowing of a character death only to jump into an upbeat dance number. As for the opening, it’s an absolute jam and a feast for the eyes.

The term “webgen” is what comes to mind when I describe the animation of this show to people. It applies to the new waves of animators that have entered the industry over the past decade or so. These animators tend to get their start through animated gifs and fan-animations online as opposed to traditional avenues of entering the industry.

The term hardly applies to just one generation of artists but the term has persisted nonetheless, and there are certain styles of webgen animation that stand out. The talent comprising these waves further blur the lines between different countries’ animation styles, as the talent ranges from China to Korea and even the west.

Watching the opening of Jujutsu Kaisen reminds me of those infuriatingly gorgeous Fate/Grand Order commercials. There is an embrace of digital effects work in tandem with hand-drawn artwork and a smoothness resulting from a presumably higher number of frames, producing some unprecedented character animation. Everything is much shinier and smoother than other anime out there.

As for how the visual quality of the show itself holds up, I’m impressed. Looking at the line-art, I’m reminded of Attack on Titan‘s original art style closer to seasons one and two. There are very pronounced and thick with black lines outlining characters and especially the demons. This show has given me even more faith in Mappa’s upcoming work on Titan‘s final season.

It feels like every time a new shonen comes out, we in the anime community jump to make ludicrous assumptions about the potential quality of new stories. I really don’t think there’s enough here to make a judgment call as to whether this show will be “the next big thing” but it’s certainly good enough to check out.

Jujutsu Kaisen looks gorgeous and it has an entertaining trio with some awesome powers. Shonen fans with a love of darker aesthetics have something to look forwards to with this one.

Jujutsu Kaisen poster

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Jujutsu Kaisen is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll.

Thank you for reading and keep an eye on Anime Quarterly for the latest news and reviews!

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