Jujutsu Kaisen – Mid Series Anime Review
Synopsis: A boy fights… for “the right death.” Hardship, regret, shame: the negative feelings that humans feel become Curses that lurk in our everyday lives. The Curses run rampant throughout the world, capable of leading people to terrible misfortune and even death. What’s more, the Curses can only be exorcised by another Curse. Itadori Yuji is a boy with tremendous physical strength, though he lives a completely ordinary high school life. One day, to save a friend who has been attacked by Curses, he eats the finger of the Double-Faced Specter, taking the Curse into his own soul. From then on, he shares one body with the Double-Faced Specter. Guided by the most powerful of sorcerers, Gojo Satoru, Itadori is admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Technical High School of Sorcery, an organization that fights the Curses… and thus begins the heroic tale of a boy who became a Curse to exorcise a Curse, a life from which he could never turn back. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: Jujutsu Kaisen has all the classic makings of a show meant to appeal to Shounen’s core demographic. We have a kindhearted lead, who also offers comic relief when things get a tad too grim. There’s his bad-ass instructor, the smouldering serious classmate and finally the female classmate to round out the classic anime lead trio and provide some female representation and potential fan service in the future. However, this doesn’t mean that the series feels like a hollow and lazy copy-paste. Jujutsu Kaisen has the personality and substance to make these staples feel engaging and entertaining, giving them depth that helps them to stand out, even if they’ll still remind you of similar characters from other big Shonen titles. What really elevates this material is the solid animation, especially during the intense battles and showdowns. Add to all of that some catchy tunes and well animated opening and closing credits and you have a new show that’s perfect for hyping its intended audiences and winning itself a solid following.
Tom: The animation really is key to Jujutsu Kaisen’s appeal. Plenty of successful Shonen Jump titles get an anime adaptation. You can’t go a full year without one popping up. Typically though, these adaptations vary wildly in quality. Maybe you’ll get a stunning cut of top tier animation here or there, or perhaps even an episode or two that stand out with pure artistic talent oozing through every frame. But Jujutsu Kaisen takes things to the next level. Every fight is dripping with detail, expert framing, and firm consistency that makes these explosive battles a thing to behold. 12 Episodes in and Jujutsu Kaisen hasn’t even had a typical ‘off’ episode, where characters are off-model and animation is stilted. Truly MAPPA, the studio behind this adaptation, has given it all they have, perhaps presenting Jujutsu Kaisen’s anime at a level that rivals that of One-Punch Man’s stellar first season. And it’s this effort that really helps Jujutsu Kaisen soar. When the story lags, or a generic shonen development makes things feel a bit stale, its the incredible animation that keeps you watching.
Linny: Yes, beneath the intensely impressive animation are a few niggling flaws. Jujutsu Kaisen likes to rush through its major developments, failing to give its cast time to react naturally to shocking events. Without spoiling too much, Jujutsu Kaisen’s heroes suffer a major loss early on, one that brings about the death of a certain, mainstay character. Yet this character’s friends move on from his passing quite quickly. One episode they’re morning his death and the next are preparing for a surprise school tournament. Their efforts are then laden with silly hijinks, and frequent comedy, as well as some pre-tournament showdowns with last episode’s shocking development entirely forgotten and no longer relevant. We’re introduced to a bevy of new characters and students not just from the Jujutsu school we’ve come to know but a whole other school as well. All this fast-paced storytelling and cramped introductions makes the narrative feel hectic, where none of the events feel truly tied together. It’s that level of dissonance that puts the viewer in danger of becoming disconnected from the series’ drama.
Tom: For as much as Jujutsu Kaisen adheres to fairly standard shonen tropes, I’ll give it this: Jujutsu Kaisen does feel as if it’s trying to buck the typical “Arc” formula. Traditionally, most Shonen titles follow an “Arc” formula, where our heroes end up in a self-contained plotline that has its own beginning, middle and end. There’s of course sporadically included “major” story beats that tie into a much longer running narrative, but just think to titles like Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, My Hero Academia, etc. After a few establishing chapters these series all fall into traditionally self-contained arcs. With Jujutsu Kaisen not only has our cast of characters been split up quite early on, but they find themselves in competing, concurrent story lines near totally unrelated. From there Jujutsu Kaisen takes its non-traditional approach further, by ‘trimming the fat.’ Normally the arc formula has us ease into the story, gradually introducing the new villains, our lead character’s involvement, setting and such. Jujutsu Kaisen seems less interested in that, and more so in the emotional and weighty meat of the story. It’s not uncommon for audiences to be thrown into unestablished events, left to wallow in unfamiliarity as Jujutsu Kaisen then gradually drips in the details needed to catch us up to speed. It’s an approach that makes Jujutsu Kaisen move quickly, and get to the impressive action or heartfelt emotion much faster. That said, it also does exactly what Linny said above; it potentially creates this disconnect with the viewer, where the story is too disjointed to become enthralled by. This is particularly true because of another typical Shonen element Jujutsu Kaisen has chosen to keep, rather than throw out with the Arc Formula, “comic relief.” Shonen often rely too heavily on comic relief, afraid to let even one chapter go by without a joke to lighten the mood. Maybe that’s fine for a series like One Piece, where death is rarely a true possibility, but when Jujutsu Kaisen is a much darker, grimmer series by presentation, it feels that much more out of place for Yuuji to crack jokes after witnessing events that made him fly into a blind rage that sits counter to his very character.
Linny: Criticisms aside, Jujutsu Kaisen still manages to hit some impressive story beats that help make it feel like one of the better concurrent Shounen titles. Yes, it obviously has a likeable lead in Yuuji Itadori but it also succeeds in introducing sympathetic characters amongst its villains and pseudo villains. While that alone isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, Jujutsu Kaisen once again tweaks and fiddles about with this one character’s plot progression and development to produce something that feels refreshing, and avoids being an entirely generic reproduction. Given that this character, Junpei Yoshino, is only a temporary addition to the cast, it’s laudable how the show manages to balance Junpei’s inclusion, alongside the to-the-point storytelling, that Junpei still comes across as one of the more heartfelt and emotionally poignant elements that sticks out and impresses. It gives me hope that Jujutsu Kaisen can make this more disjointed approach to its narrative work, particularly if it can learn lessons from how well it succeeded with Junpei.
Tom: While Junpei sits as a blast of originality and impressive character work that should be lauded, much of what exists around that effort is still very typical shonen. Trust that at its heart Jujutsu Kaisen is indeed a traditional Shonen title. For as much as its arcs don’t feel like arcs, the ideas presented in Jujutsu Kaisen are hardly original. You have something akin to a mix of Naruto and My Hero Academia, with a slightly darker tone than either. Even the developments the series toys with episode to episode are fairly predictable, and rarely surprise. Still, audiences should be able to appreciate the series via its visual feats alone, even if you’re someone who has grown a tad worn out on stale, predictable Shonen developments. It really is here that the sheer breadth of talent behind MAPPA’s adaptation saves the day; crafting episode after episode filled to the brim with eye-popping spectacle.
Linny: Yes, indeed Jujutsu Kaisen is definitely not a show poised to reinvent its genre and it definitely will not impress anyone long done with the tropes and cliches of its genre. But for anyone still open to them, or for anyone with a general love for Shounen series, there is plenty to love. Simply put, it’s a story that offers all the classic and beloved staples of its genre with enough tinkering and flavour to avoid feeling too familiar or tired. We’ve got solid visuals backing up a reliably entertaining if occasionally predictable or rushed narrative, all in all making for another enjoyable Shounen aimed show.
Tom: As hard as I’ve been on it, and I do tend to be very hard on Shonen, I still honestly think Jujutsu Kaisen is worth a watch. Our Anime coverage comes to an end alongside 2020, yet I’ll probably continue to follow Jujutsu Kaisen out of honest, personal interest. While I was never truly impressed with what the manga had to offer, I think the anime wrapping the story up in a visual triumph of an adaptation helps to hold my attention, even when the story disappoints. I do think Jujutsu Kaisen has set a new bar for Shonen adaptations, one I hope other animation studios help set as a new standard.
Jujutsu Kaisen is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com