Haunted by a powerful manifestation of his trauma, high school student Yuta Okkotsu (Megumi Ogata) finds himself bound with the enigmatic evil spirit of his deceased childhood ‘lover’ Rika (Kana Hanazawa) that could either be the downfall of society, or the only entity in existence to save it from the looming threat of destruction. His quest to understand the nature of his newfound supernatural abilities thrusts him into the mysterious world of “jujutsu”, where ill-will and dark desires feed into the creation of cursed monsters that can only be defeated through exorcism. As it slowly becomes clear that the jujutsu society is no longer at peace as a string of mysterious tragedies begins involving dangerous curses, Yuta and his friends at Tokyo Jujutsu High School must work together to prepare for imminent danger—death, or something much worse. Released on March 18, 2022 in North America, the film’s elegant execution of its themes, complex characterization, strikingly beautiful animation, and quality as a stand-alone allows it to transcend the barriers of medium and language as a worthwhile watch for fans and strangers alike. Caution: spoilers ahead.
Perhaps the greatest highlight of “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is its success in bringing its cast to life. Through dedication to taking its source material beyond its limits, the movie pays great attention to detail with subtle mannerisms, fitting voice casting, and other methods to humanize the characters’ experiences. Take our protagonist as an example. On paper, Yuta Okkutsu is a bit of a nervous wreck with deep eyebags, shifty glances, and a slender stature. The manga’s depiction of Yuta gets audiences to acknowledge his anxiety and trauma, but it lacks the dimensionality to help viewers fully immerse themselves in his character. On the silver screen, we get creative point-of-view shots from his perspective, imbuing us with his adrenaline rush, resolve, and determination; we get to hear and resonate with the raw tones of anger and guilt underlying his voice, a quality that establishes him as more than just a ‘weak’ victim of trauma. By skilfully interpreting the nuance of his character in the manga and expanding on that depth of his portrayal with detailed and creative animation, the movie allows us to understand Yuta as more than words and still frames.
The story of “Jujutsu Kasien 0” finds further nuance in its development of clear, strong themes that speak to more than just fans of action and gore. Yuta’s narrative arc throughout the story makes a greater commentary on the dehumanizing nature of society, especially in their treatment of young teens. Perhaps in parallel to the way that modern-day society tends to push children beyond their limits, stories of heroism in fictional media have a trend of neglecting the mental health of their characters, especially when they are under strenuous circumstances not suitable for them to handle. In movies and shows like “Spiderman: Far From Home,” “Hunter x Hunter,” and “Demon Slayer,” we either see young characters being held to ridiculous standards of saving the world, or being called or depicted as ‘weak’ for failing to do so. Yuta almost ends up in a similar state; as a child, he is forced to bear the burden of a loss that he is too young to even be thinking about, and subsequently is assigned the responsibility to take care of and resolve his trauma through the appearance of Rika, the manifestation of his suffering. But “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” subverts this trope and focuses on not only protecting Yuta and the rest of its underaged characters, but giving them a space to foster proper relationships and receive the care that they need to nurture their mental wellbeing. In the end, Yuta’s climactic resolution comes not at when he knocks out the antagonist, but during a heart-to-heart with his teacher, peers, and the source of his trauma. The point of his character isn’t that he trained and grew stronger than the mental health issues that made him ‘weak’—it is the fact that through the help of a community around him, he was able to healthily come to terms with his suffering and the death of a loved one. The themes portrayed through Yuta’s story clearly humanize struggles with mental health and convey the importance of letting children live without burdens of adulthood weighing them down.
Another strength of “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is its stunning animation that immerses viewers into the world of jujutsu. Particularly during fight scenes, the animation’s point-of-view zips back and forth, allowing audiences to see every aspect of the battle. Most notably, in the final conflict between Yuta and Geto (Takahiro Sakurai), the frames flit between the movements of each character, spiraling through the air to follow them as they parry, dodge, and leap. The attention to detail further brings this scene to life, from the golden sparks created when their weapons clash, to the flying debris and the colorful flashes of cursed energy. The animation focuses on not only building up suspense through crafting and depicting engaging fight choreography, but also on the typically overlooked details. Gojo Satoru’s eyes is a particularly good example of how the movie’s animation excels in precision. While the base color of his eyes is a pale teal, there are also darker flecks of color that add depth and white highlights to show light reflecting. Combined, this achieves a transparent, crystal-like effect that reflects his cryptic character and the mysterious and exciting yet somewhat unsettling tone of the movie.
Despite being a part of the Jujutsu Kaisen universe, the movie is fantastic as a standalone. The movie is able to both successfully introduce new viewers to the world of Jujutsu Kaisen while expanding on a fan’s understanding of the franchise. The movie’s genius lies in the fact that it is a prequel—audiences don’t require any previous knowledge of the universe in order to understand it, but it won’t waste any experienced watcher’s time. As Yuta is a new student to Jujutsu High, he is also oblivious to the ways of jujutsu. So, as Yuta learns about the rest of the characters and the system of magic they function in, first-time Jujutsu Kaisen viewers are also introduced to the universe. However, even if the viewer is already a fan of the series, this reintroduction is anything but boring; the movie, taking place before the main series, dives deeper into a set of secondary, older characters in the show, like Maki and Inumaki, revealing their previously unknown backstories and their growth from freshman to reliable upperclassmen.
The film’s high quality may not have been a surprise, but its reception certainly was; within its first week in North American theaters, the movie accumulated a solid $18 million USD, falling close to the opening weekend sales of “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train,” which made around $21.1 million USD in comparison. More impressively, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” for the weekend domestic sales of March 18, 2022, managed to place second just behind “The Batman” (The Numbers). But beyond the numbers and ratings, what “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” has changed is the presence of foreign animation in domestic markets. With the film showcasing the capacity and true quality of a medium that American audiences might usually have dismissed, there becomes a potential for a new era of media diversity in America, not to mention an infinite expansion of opportunities for other forms of Japanese animation in Western markets. This movie deserves no less than a 5/5 to honor what it has done in re-defining the anime standard for quality and what it hopes to do for the industry in the future.