This review contains spoilers for “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” and the anime series “Jujutsu Kaisen.”
Pleas for taunting words from Yuta Okkotsu’s new bullies to cease leave his lips, not for mercy, but out of safety for the bullies, but it comes too late as they are killed in the hazy purple and orange sunset by the cursed spirit, Rika, who is attached to Yuta and will stop at nothing to protect him. Yuta’s fearful and regretful eyes shake as blood spills from the locker where Rika has mercilessly “freed” him from his bullies. His will to live wears thin when an overly charismatic white-haired special grade sorcerer named Gojo Satoru enters the picture, bargaining with Yuta to live and try to break his curse as he has not been enrolled in Jujutsu High.
“Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” made its release in the United States on March 18 and takes place a year prior to the events of the anime and manga series “Jujutsu Kaisen” and has a new protagonist in Yuta Okkotsu, a 16-year-old boy who has been haunted by the cursed spirit of his childhood friend Rika Orimoto, whose spirit has imbued itself to the engagement ring Rika gifted Yuta when they were children before she was struck and killed by a car. Her gruesome death has followed Yuta for years and was the same day he realized he could see cursed spirits as Rika called out for him in her cursed spirit form. Yuta admitted that he felt guilty for living because of what happened, and following his first mission after joining the school that he wasn’t sure if Rika was the one who cursed him, or if he was the one who cursed her.
This movie is very much based on the connections the characters have with each other, mainly their connections with Yuta. Since the movie focuses on him training to break the curse, becoming a special grade sorcerer,the highest rank sorcerer one can be, and his relationship with Rika, their bond and how it developed is shown throughout the film. However, he also develops bonds with the other first year students Zen’in Maki, Panda and Inumaki Toge, but they aren’t as fleshed out. It’s presumed that there are other missions and trainings that happen off screen where their bonds are growing stronger, much like in the anime series with Itadori Yuji, Megumi Fushiguro and Kugisaki Nobara, where months have passed and the students are able to learn how to work together in different pairs or groups. The issue is, there aren’t many indicators on screen for how much time has passed until it’s mentioned in dialogue, and sometimes that isn’t always a given either, so it was confusing at times when these events were taking place and how soon after they were after the previous scene.
Yuta goes on his first mission with Maki and helps to save her and two children who were kidnapped by a curse at an elementary school. Following Maki being injured and a curse starting to infect her body, Yuta’s determination to save the children and Maki gives him the strength to unleash Rika on his own accord for the first time and pushes him to carry all three of them to reach the veil encasing them with the curses. Later on, he is sent as an observer with Inumaki to see how his cursed speech works in action. After seeing the strength of Inumaki’s abilities and how much of a strain it can be on his body, Yuta seems to not be as scared of Inumaki and has a newfound respect for him. However, the boys are still encased in the veil after defeating the curses, which is meant to lift once the curses are put to rest. There’s a second veil cast by the antagonist Suguru Geto and he unleashes a grade one curse, one that is above Inumaki’s rank as a second grade sorcerer and that Yuta had not really encountered up to that point. Inumaki and Yuta retreat to strategize and regroup only for Inumaki to offer to fight alone to protect Yuta, who refuses and wants to fight alongside Inumaki. Yuta is able to strengthen his belief in himself as a sorcerer and his bond with Inumaki by showing he cares for him in retrieving the throat medicine Inumaki needs to continue, while simultaneously fighting a curse. These are really the only two instances where the audience seems his connecting with them individually, besides a conversation Yuta has with Maki before the final fight scenes of the movie but he’s willing to sacrifice everything when fighting Geto to protect them, so there seems to be a hole somewhere for what else leads to their bonds being so strong.
There is also not much of his training that is seen either, so during Yuta’s fight against Geto we see Yuta healing Maki, Inumaki and Panda with a technique that is not explained in the movie, but those who know the series would know is a healing technique Gojo uses. Having mastered a lot of these skills in less than a year, as indicated by Geto, is a lot, considering his peers are going through the same training and are not in possession of similar skills, regardless of their rank. In the series, Itadori and Yuta are arguably at the same level, as both are physically connected with cursed spirits who they can interact with, but Itadori does not seem to possess these same skills, both having trained for similar amounts of time when the climaxes of each story happen. So I wonder, as someone who hasn’t read the manga, what happened that they aren’t at similar spots with what they can do, and how was Yuta able to pick up on these skills so quickly?
A couple plot holes aside, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” was incredibly interesting to watch. The animation done by MAPPA was clean and very well done, especially when fitting the colors of the veils to the environments they were in and the fight scene choreography that was the backbone of this movie. Towards the end of the movie, there are several fight scenes as the sorcerers from both Jujutsu schools and the followers of Geto battle in Tokyo, Kyoto and at Jujutsu High. The fights in “Jujutsu Kaisen” were incredibly clean and well choreographed, and the ones in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” rival that, bringing them to a higher level. These scenes are not always shown at a head on position, with some of them being shot at from an angle, some at a distance and others close up. Showing these fights at differing angles makes them look more dynamic and shows great movement, like following a character run up the arm of a huge cursed spirit and following the direction of their hit or blade. While the fights have very quick movements, they are detailed and the impact of each hit is felt, like the fight between Gojo and Miguel, where Gojo’s fighting style was quick and forceful hits, but the animation quality is still crisp. While his appearance was brief, Nanami Kento taking over the fight in Kyoto was one of the stand out fights for me. After seeing what he is capable of as a sorcerer and his fluid movements when he fights in the anime, having it showcased again in the movie was a highlight for me. My friend and I both were really excited hearing his theme played as he defended the other sorcerers, showcasing the immense power he has even if it was only for a couple of minutes.
The animation also shines outside of the fight scenes. Yuta being overshadowed by Rika’s presence when he’s first introduced to the other students, hunching over as he carries the weight of her spirit and her death showed great attention to detail of how he felt having this curse at the time. The bright colors shown in Yuta’s memories embodied the happiness he and Rika felt when they would enjoy their days together at the park. The first person point of view from Yuta’s perspective as he cries following his fight with Geto and the curse being lifted was hauntingly beautiful. The camera view shook and the vision blurred as tears welled in Yuta’s eyes and then would readjust as his tears fell, making it feel so real. he imagery of Rika’s soul being freed in what is best described as crystal bubbles, was beautifully animated and an amazing end to that part of this story.
The soundtrack for the movie was incredible with each song perfectly fitting each scene. The intensity as the music swells in fight scenes or even calm harmonies during a flashback add to the ambiance. One song “Greatest Strength” by Hiroaki Tsutsumi, Toft Willingham, Chez and Jessica Gelinas plays towards the beginning of the film as Yuta prepares for his first day at Jujutsu High and I think embodies his character perfectly. The lyrics “There’s no way out” reflect that because of his connection to one of the most powerful cursed spirits in existence, there truly is nowhere else for him to go to try and break the curse. The song continues with “You don’t see at all / What’s right for you to do” because Yuta doesn’t possess the knowledge of these curses and was so lost in how to continue life with Rika out of control. I also think that as he goes on missions in the movie and is still learning as a student that he begins to grasp this concept, but he does second guess himself in these instances throughout most of the film. “You’re moving forward” plays at just the right time as it is right before Yuta begins his first day and he is moving on to the next phase in his life as a special grade sorcerer and eventually allowing himself to not feel so guilty about what happened to Rika.
“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” brought back my excitement for the future of this series as a whole and reminded me of the care that this series has been given from the animation to storytelling, character development and relationships to the sound design and everything in between. The world of “Jujutsu Kaisen” has a lot of interesting aspects and it always brings an innate curiosity with it. Personally having only watched the first season of the anime and now the movie, the possibilities of what could happen with new characters, recurring characters and the abilities the sorcerers and curses have and the questions I have are vast. With the aforementioned plot holes of how Yuta obtained new skills, what was the complete aftermath of the war Geto declared in Tokyo and Kyoto and why was Yuta seen with Miguel, an ally of Geto’s, in the post-credit scene (and why was Gojo also there but did not seem to warn Yuta about Miguel working with Geto), there’s an unfinished feeling to this story, which is not a bad thing for the most part. There is still the upcoming season of “Jujutsu Kaisen” which may bring some answers to these questions, as well as the continuation of the manga. That’s what sets anime movies that are connected to a series apart; viewing them as a standalone does not always work out, as there is other background information a viewer may need or it will continue into the series itself, so not everything will be answered and wrapped up with a little bow at the end of the movie. It’s not any less frustrating because it’s the anticipation that everything will make sense by the end and instead you leave with more questions than answers, but still an interest in the series. With the plot being iffy at times, the action and comedy in the film will certainly make up for any small holes in the story. The world that is set up by the movie’s end and looking at what has already happened in season one is really exciting and leaves me with so much anticipation for what’s next.