April 1, 2022 · 0 comments
By Andrew Osmond.
“My student’s watching,” the white-haired youth in the snappy eye-mask says cheerfully, “so I’m going to show off a little.” His enemy is muscled, magically tattooed, and possessed by a deadly demon. None of which bothers the youth in the slightest. He ducks round the demon, smacks him hard in the head to send him spinning – there’s a floaty pause as the demon hovers off the ground, marvelling, “He’s unbelievably fast!” Then the youth strikes again, sending his foe flying at jet speed over the rooftop where they’re fighting.
It’s all fabulously animated. The eye-mask guy may be showing his skills off to his student, but it’s really the anime studio, MAPPA, showing off to the audience. Guys, it’s saying, you’ve seen this kind of fight hundreds of times before, but just forget that and admire the style.
MAPPA, as you may know, is the studio behind 2010s landmarks including Terror in Resonance, Yuri on Ice and Kakegurui. In summer 2020, MAPPA made the fight spectacular The God of High School whose director, Sunghoo Park, moved over to direct this show. But Jujutsu Kaisen is a MAPPA first, the studio’s first series adaptation of a Shonen Jump strip. The source manga by Gege Akutami has run in the magazine since 2014 and it’s trad Shonen Jump fare – young hero, strong spirit, great adventures, all that jazz. But MAPPA’s style sets it apart, as do its monsters and its lead.
That show’s lead character isn’t that white-haired cool dude in the first paragraph. No, it’s an ostensibly ordinary boy, Yuji Itadori, a high-schooler in modern Japan. Amusingly, we see he has record-level sports skills, but he couldn’t care less about them. His only concern – and here’s a change from the norm – is caring for his grumpy grandpa, whom he loves as a parent. Yuji’s actual parents are out of the picture somehow.
In the first minutes, his grandfather dies in hospital while Yuji is with him, a moment of sad reality which is unusual for a Shonen Jump hero strip. However, the oldster’s last words to Yuji are to encourage him to help the people he can, and not worry about their thanks. That’s much more Jump-ish.
Moments later, Yuji’s life changes forever. A strange boy, Megumi, demands Yuji hand over an ancient artefact that was hidden on school grounds. As it happens, Yuji did find the artefact. He gave it to his pals at the occult club, and they’re checking it over at school after hours. Megumi is horrified: the object is a severed finger with a terrible curse on it, the occult equivalent of an unexploded bomb. The boys race to the school, where Yuji’s friends are about to be devoured by demons. Megumi mentions the finger is prized in the occult world; if it’s eaten, it will pass its “cursed energy” powers to whatever eats it.
Okay, you can guess the next bit. Yuji rescues his friends, but he’s about to be munched by the demons himself. With nothing to lose, he swallows the finger and takes on demonic powers. The monstrous spirit in the finger tries to possess Yuji’s body… but amazingly, the boy can suppress it and stay (mostly) human. This doesn’t placate Megumi’s superiors, including Satoru, who’s the eye-masked youth mentioned earlier. Most of the elders want to execute Yuji, but Satoru points out there are other cursed fingers in the world, all from the same monstrous evil. If Yuji can find and ingest them all, then that would be the time to kill him…
We then see Yuji moving to the mountains near Tokyo to start training, and meeting an imperious girl student, and… well, it gets very Bleach plus Naruto plus Blue Exorcist. But there’s still MAPPA’s superb presentation, allowing for both dazzlingly fast fights and equally speedy jokes in authentic Jump manga style. Some of the monsters are really great, including a lethal soft toy in part 2 who’s scary and funny in its pint-sized monstering.
There’s also some surprisingly thoughtful stuff, like Yuji being challenged by his new teachers about why he wants to be a hero, and whether he should risk his neck to save everyone. A mother tearfully begs Yuji to save her adult son, but then he learns the son previously killed a child… So how much should Yuji worry?
Yuji himself seems an especially vulnerable, humble lead character, full of power but not of himself, unlike some Shonen Jump leads we could mention! Sometimes, Yuji even resembles the gently innocent Mob in Mob Psycho 100; Jujutsu Kaisen’s scriptwriter Hiroshi Seko previously adapted that manga into anime form. Sure, some heroes like showing off, but maybe it’s cooler if you don’t.