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"Jujutsu Kaisen 0" won't make much impact on new viewers, but is a treat for series fans

Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Posted at 4:00 AM, Mar 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 08:23:22-04

"Jujutsu Kaisen" has been a huge hit with anime fans since the TV series dropped about a year and a half ago. Though I never wrote a review for the series, the succinct review is: it's one of the best shonen series of recent years. Well-paced, with a bevy of likeable characters, gorgeous animation, some wacky anime hijinks, and over-the-top action, it is a near perfect watch.

So it's only natural a series as wildly popular as "Jujutsu Kaisen" receive the film treatment, and thankfully a single volume prequel offers enough fuel for a self-contained movie giving us a little backstory about this bloody world.

Yuta Okkotsu is a meek teen shackled to a high-level curse. This curse is a manifestation of his dead lover, who he saw get hit by a car. From the river of blood snaking across the pavement comes a Lovecraftian horror, the monster rebirth of his beloved.

This heartbreaking curse leads him to get picked up by Jujutsu High School, an academy that teaches young people how to combat curses (essentially, this world's equivalent to demons. Curses aren't necessarily magical so much as physical entities). Joining up with the younger version of the upperclassmen from the main series (including a guy who can only speak in rice ball ingredients due to his voice being a curse, a hot-tempered girl trying to prove herself to her family, and a giant talking panda), we get a glimpse of Yuta's training through a couple missions. It then culminates in a major villain showing up, spouting the typical anime villain philosophical yammerings, and then announcing a war significantly large enough to encompass everywhere necessary for fan favorite characters to make brief appearances in self-indulgent fan service.

Let's get the good out of the way: This is a gorgeously animated movie that offers impressive colors and lighting, smooth fight sequences, and nightmarish monster design. Add to that a killer soundtrack and you have all the visual and auditory elements that make for great anime viewing.

But where this film really falls apart is the story and main character Yuta. As a 90 minute film there's not enough time for anything to breathe or get fleshed out. Yuta's development hits all the basic beats of an anime protagonist and because he is the focus (and by the way, he isn't in the first season of the anime, meaning I have no attachment to him otherwise) that commitment to the generic makes him useless in the grand scheme of things. He honestly feels like he only exists so there is an over-powered character to take on the villain at the end of the movie.

That villain, also underwhelming, meddles in the first half but only reveals himself halfway through, announcing his war. It then hard cuts to the day of the war in one of many very inorganic moments of storytelling. And like I said, this war only exists for the sole purpose of being big enough to involve characters from the series rather than move the story forward. Within the film's story, its meant as a distraction. But that distraction could have been so much smaller in scale and still made sense. It gave me flashbacks to the much worse "Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale" when all the characters from the show make an appearance at the end (including a dead one) to help take down the big bad. To me these are unearned and honestly lame attempts at fan service that exist purely to get theater-goers hyped up.

And that leads me to the manga. "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" was serialized as a four chapter miniseries with a new chapter released every month. It came out before the main Jujutsu Kaisen manga, so was kind of like a trial run. A lot of shonen have similar starts, with one-shot short stories or prequels before getting a permanent spot in the weekly or monthly releases of "Jump" (or any of a number of popular manga magazines releasing frequently in Japan).

Having read the manga, it tells the story better if only because its a story that works within the confines of a comic. The timeskips feel more organic in a chapter-to-chapter story. The story is less stilted because it doesn't linger on explanations, flashbacks, and especially recognizes the importance of focus in that final fight. While we see images of the battle in Tokyo, the author understands the main emotional draw here is the confrontation between our hero and our villain. The extraneous battles are just that, having no bearing on the plot or character development. While these sequences pad out runtime, they also take away from the emotion behind the action.

"Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a pretty good film but feels extraneous and is a shadow of its much better TV counterpart. While it does provide some backstory and gives us more time with secondary characters from the main series, its hero isn't interesting and the plot works in the context of a serialized comic but feels too disjointed for a 90-minute film. Fans will find a lot to like but I can't see it convincing new viewers to jump on the "Jujutsu Kaisen" bandwagon. To them I say, go check out the TV series. Then after you've fallen in love with it, check out the movie.

"Jujutsu Kaisen 0" opens in theaters March 18.

RATING: 2.5/4
Crunchyroll provided screener for review.

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Sean Newgent is a producer for KGUN 9. Sean has been with KGUN since January of 2020 producing newscasts. Sean graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. While at ISU, Sean wrote movie reviews for the paper, anchored and produced student newscasts, and was nominated for a student Emmy for broadcast film reviews. He has also written a number of anime reviews, as well as reviewing movies, TV, video games, comics, and books. In his free time he is a voracious reader of history and writes weird horror short stories. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing sean.newgent@kgun9.com or by connecting on Twitter.