It should surprise no one to hear that anime has seen a surge in popularity recently. Our new normal in the COVID-19 pandemic typically keeps us in our homes, often giving us more downtime to get into new media. Additionally, 22 minute long episodes are easily digestible, and the amount of it available to us through streaming services can keep anyone away from boredom for a good while. That’s not to mention the fact that recent anime has kept a steady release schedule in a time where many other releases have been interrupted or delayed. But with many show lengths reaching into the hundreds of episodes, the question remains: what’s out there right now that’s a good and easy watch? Well, look no further than Jujutsu Kaisen, a show that’s been on the climb since its premiere and one that lives up to the hype surrounding it.
Jujutsu Kaisen (“Sorcery Fight” in English) is a horror-fantasy battle series. Produced by Japanese animation studio MAPPA and directed by Sunghoo Park, it’s based on the manga of the same name by writer and artist Gege Akutami, originally published in the Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine by Shueisha. The anime debuted with English subtitles in October of last year and was followed by a concurrently aired dub in November.
The series revolves around the struggle between jujutsu sorcerers and demon-like beings dubbed “curses.” Curses are entities that are born into the world via the concentration of negative feelings from humans. They must be exorcised by these sorcerers, fighters who derive their powers from cursed energy akin to the curses themselves. The protagonist, Yuji Itadori, is a high school student inducted into a school for jujutsu sorcerers when it’s discovered that he’s the vessel for the rebirth of a uniquely powerful curse known as Ryomen Sukuna.
This debut season covers chapters 1-63 of the manga into the confines of 24 episodes. This averages out to just over two and a half manga chapters per episode (besides the first episode, which is mostly based on the extra-long first chapter). This makes for some very good pacing for the story, which doesn’t drag whatsoever, and also manages to further flesh out some key scenes from the manga. The primary example of this is a scene that adds more depth between Yuji and his grandfather in the pilot. The scene with Grandpa Itadori is important to Yuji’s development, and the additional bits convey the protagonist’s emotions fantastically.
Another small change to the manga that has a large impact nonetheless is the opening scene of the show. The manga begins with Yuji at school, going about his every-day life, while the anime opens on a flash-forward to events not presented until the second chapter, a scene that introduces Yuji to his mentor figure, Satoru Gojo, right off the bat. This creative choice by MAPPA and director Sunghoo Park is highly effective, as it sets an eery and mysterious tone from the very start, an element that the series would come to excel at. The changes and additions that are made in the anime not only flesh out smaller scenes in a good way, but they show the creators’ love and understanding of the source material aside from just key visuals.
Another thing that Jujutsu Kaisen excels at is the introduction of characters who become very engaging very quickly. Within the first season, not a single name comes to mind of a character who didn’t at least have one aspect about them that would compel you, whether it be their history, personality, dynamic with others, or just plainly being really cool to watch. This goes for heroes and villains alike. Or rather “heroes” and “villains,” given that not everything is as clear-cut as it seems. They are all brought to life by incredibly talented voice actors who nail their performances.
As previously said, the anime is a well-paced adaptation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stop to stay in the moment. Emotions and character motivations are generally displayed in very soft-spoken scenes. Concurrently to the main events of the series occurring, we learn what’s really going on through the downtime. This is particularly evident in Yuji’s reactions to events as they play out. Though he doesn’t have a direct inner monologue, it’s easy to see what eats away at him through visual language.
When the battles are done, we learn that things aren’t as simple as Yuji had initially believed them to be. This development from a morally straightforward protagonist to one who struggles with succumbing to the greyness of the world he’s in makes him all the more compelling as a character. The fact that it’s his surroundings and not his own personal issues that he really struggles with is a solid twist on typical protagonists in the genre.
Aesthetically, the world that we see feels like an urban fantasy akin to Tite Kubo’s Bleach. Always wearing its inspiration on its sleeve, Jujutsu Kaisen draws several queues from several leads of both the aforementioned Bleach and Masahi Kishimoto’s Naruto, both of which were popular anime (and manga before that) in the early 2000s to mid-2010s. Despite being much more modern in presentation and storytelling, it respects what came before, so it’s like Jujutsu Kaisen is carrying the torch on the way to become a series as successful as its now-iconic predecessors.
One thing that particularly props Jujutsu Kaisen up is the emphasis it puts on properly developing its female characters, some of which are the most compellingly written ones in the series. Characters such as Nobara Kugisaki, Maki Zen’in, and Mai Zen’in, are used to tackle sexism in both the general genre and the real world. They are very well developed and used characters, which is nice to see given that consistently well-written female characters can be a rarity in common shonen media.
Now, the key to anime, obviously, is animation, and MAPPA does not at all falter in delivering on that. As a story with a lot of fighting involved, Akutami’s art in the manga exceeds at being able to capture motion exceedingly well in a still image. The animation team takes that material and puts it into proper motion, the finished product being incredible to watch. Top-tier animation that pushes the envelope for the shonen genre makes for some incredibly entertaining battles and showcases some shots that are beautifully adapted directly from the panels of the manga. The visuals are also very much elevated by the energetic and somber music tracks that are sprinkled throughout.
Though the anime is wrapped up for now and the next season may be far off, fans will be treated to a film adaptation this winter as announced by the official Jujutsu Kaisen Twitter account. The adaptation will be based on Jujutsu Kaisen 0, which is a prequel miniseries that predates Akutami’s conception of the main series and its events, one that gives the spotlight to many of the supporting characters from the core series. The film was announced almost immediately after the season finale had finished airing.
All in all, the first season of Jujutsu Kaisen does all the right stuff to give fans a perfect adaptation of Gege Akutami’s manga. Boasting terrific Japanese and English voice casts, beautiful animation, endlessly entertaining characters, and writing that displays a great affinity for the source material, MAPPA delivers the must-watch anime of the season that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. With an adaptation this good, the series is definitely one that anime watchers won’t want to miss out on.