By Mihaela Mihailova
In popular culture, the phrase “cursed content” refers to something undesirable or repulsive. For fans of the popular shōnen anime series Jujutsu Kaisen, however, it is precisely what they came – and stayed – for. Fortunately for them, Jujutsu Kaisen 0, a feature-length prequel based on the supernatural manga by Gege Akutami, has arrived to fill the monsterless void left behind by season one’s conclusion in 2021.
Both the series and the film take place in a version of Japan terrorized by nightmarish cursed spirits born out of negative emotions or malicious intent. Invisible to the average person, these abominations are sought out and eliminated by Jujutsu Sorcerers, an elite group of humans who can control cursed energy. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 focuses on sorcerer school Tokyo Jujutsu High’s newest transfer student, Yuta Okkotsu, a shy, formerly bullied teenager protected by an enormously powerful cursed spirit named Rika. Returning characters familiar to anime viewers include second-year students Maki Zenin, Toge Inumaki, and Panda, as well as fan-favorite teacher Satoru Gojo. A number of other recognizable faces are given brief, but exhilarating cameos throughout the film’s tight 105-minute runtime.
While all of this may sound potentially overwhelming for new viewers, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is unusually welcoming to the uninitiated, especially compared to other feature-length off-shoots of popular anime franchises. The rules of its universe are summarized early on in a way that fits into the narrative organically without feeling like an infodump. The main cast is relatively small and protagonist Yuta, while mentioned a few times in the series, makes his on-screen debut here. More importantly, the story itself is so compelling and gracefully resolved that the film can be viewed as a self-contained entity even as it expands on the larger Jujutsu Kaisen universe and characters in exciting ways.
At its core, this is a resonant story about letting go and accepting loss. Amidst all the gloriously gory head-spinning action, the plot makes room for a poignant exploration of the powerful, but destructive bond between Yuta and Rika Orimoto, a childhood friend turned cursed spirit. The complicated friendship between Satoru Gojo and former classmate/current enemy Suguru Geto gets less screen time, but hints at the dramatic potential of unresolved tensions among Jujutsu Kaisen’s older sorcerers. Speaking of Geto, his turn as the film’s main villain is both well-timed and delightfully executed. While the anime’s first season bestowed key antagonist honors on the cursed spirit Mahito, the enigmatic Geto is finally allowed to emerge from the shadows. He does so in spectacular fashion, constantly switching from cartoonish outbursts of vanity to show-stopping displays of combat mastery. Armed with an intimidating arsenal of curses and an incurable superiority complex, Geto is an entertaining, powerful adversary who further elevates a franchise already known for its eye-popping fight sequences.
Not that Jujutsu Kaisen 0 needed any help in the animation department. While studios have been known to occasionally cut corners on feature-length anime prequels, sequels and spin-offs, MAPPA, one of Japan’s top-tier contemporary anime outfits, maintains the momentum of their stellar work on the series without compromising on quality. Returning director Sunghoo Park’s signature hyperkinetic style of combat animation is on fine display here as well. The film boasts a crowd-pleasing number of dynamic, intricately choreographed fight sequences showcasing a wide range of flamboyant, gravity defying moves. Action mayhem is typical for this genre, but what sets Jujutsu Kaisen 0 apart is its commitment to unusual, visually inventive creative choices. In one climactic fight, a powerful attack causes a character to squash and stretch like a Golden Age cartoon in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. In a different scene, the sheer power of certain characters’ cursed energy explodes in abstract patterns that briefly turn the screen into a series of splatter paintings. Throughout the film, lightning-quick kicks and punches often render characters a mere blur on the frame, creating stunning momentary abstractions amidst the flow of battle. The overall effect is exhilarating, even for seasoned anime watchers. Seeing this film on the big screen is a must, as is sticking around for the post-credits sequence.
Fight sequences are, predictably, the visual highlights of Jujutsu Kaisen 0, but MAPPA’s attention to detail is visible throughout. Their detailed, gorgeously rendered landscapes feel evocative and full of life. Environmental elements such as the soft glow of lanterns, the shock of pink from sakura trees, and the small cracks in the exposed brickwork of a dilapidated building all enhance the viewer’s sense of place. Even something as non-consequential as a close-up of a cicada resting on a tree that lasts all but a couple seconds is drawn with care and vibrancy. By consistently going the extra mile on their background work, MAPPA creates rich, memorable scenes out of even the quietest moments.
This commitment to evocative worldbuilding and quality animation is, ultimately, what makes Jujutsu Kaisen 0 worth seeing for fans and casual viewers alike. First-rate fan service and excellent filmmaking don’t often happen concurrently in anime prequels, but when they do, the results are special grade.
The dark fantasy film from TOHO Animation will be available in both English dub and subtitled and will arrive in more than 1500 theaters nationwide on Friday, March 18, 2022. The film will also be released in select U.S. based IMAX® theaters. For more information, visit Crunchyroll Movie Night.
For more on the movie and Gege Akutami see below.
Studio MAPPA Website — 105 minutes — PG-13
The original anime series can be seen on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Mihaela Mihailova is an Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. She has published in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Feminist Media Studies, animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, Flow, and Kino Kultura. She has also contributed chapters to Animating Film Theory (with John MacKay), Animated Landscapes: History, Form, and Function, The Animation Studies Reader, and Drawn from Life: Issues and Themes in Animated Documentary Cinema. Dr. Mihailova is the co-editor of Animation Studies and currently serves as Secretary of the Society for Animation Studies. Several of these pieces are available online. Her edited volume, Coraline: A Closer Look at Studio LAIKA’s Stop-Motion Witchcraft, is available from Bloomsbury Publishing.
Mihailova was born and grew up in Bulgaria before moving to New Haven in 2006. She received her B.A., M. Phil. And Ph.D all from Yale.
For more look at her SFSU page.
Read “The Strange Case of Gege Akutami, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Mangaka” by Komla Kwao
Jujutsu Kaisen author Gege Akutami’s real name and gender are unknown, preferring anonymity. They made their first appearance on TV in early 2021. But here’s the twist: they didn’t want to show their face, so they did the whole thing in Mechamaru cosplay!
“The Surprising Influences Behind Gege Akutami’s Jujutsu Kaisen” by Sam Skopp
Anime News Network offers links to other articles.
Follow Gege on Twitter
Books by Gege Akutami
And watch videos clips at the Jujutsu Akutami YouTube channel.