4 out of 5
Directed by: Sunghoo Park
covers season 1
Let’s just get right down to it: MAPPA, and the entire crew – production and acting – working on Jujutsu Kaisen are absolutely killing it. Every aspect of this show (excepting the one nitpick I’ll make) feels locked up: action beats land, the comedy is fantastic, the voices are perfectly cast, the sorcery powers look cool and they settled on a unique animation style to represent them, and as it draws succinctly from already riveting source material, the sense of a world beyond the screen is always there, and always encouraging you to watch again; to watch a bit closer.
Yuji Itadori (Junya Enoki) is our shonen nice guy underdog type, who joins the outlier clubs at school and seems surface level and naive… and then can also out-muscle and out-sport anyone. The timing of the humor that introduces Yuji to us – and Enoki’s juggling of decisiveness and innocence in his portrayal) really sells the character – but our dedication is earned when we dig in a bit more to his relationship with his ailing grandfather. Yeah, this still fits the hero archetype of someone following a simplistic worldview – essentially, as espoused by grandpa, to be good and make friends – but the writing and acting and animation ground this with acceptance of how that butts up against the harshness of reality. In other words, Yuji purposefully presents his eager outward persona, as it bats away the encroaching darkness. This is “made flesh,” so to speak, by the central premise: sorcerers and magic exist, as do curses – evil energy summoned by humanity’s foul feelings – and Itadori kinda sorta gets possessed by an especially powerful curse, and is now existing at the whim of a league of sorcerers, with a ticking clock and a Sophie’s choice: he can die now (killing him kills the curse) or he can get trained to use magic and track down the rest of the curse… and then be killed. He chooses the latter.
We jump into the deep end thereafter: a quirky teacher, Satoru Gojo (Yūichi Nakamura) and budding friendships with his two other trainee classmates, and it’s an on-the-job learning environment, going after high-powered curses – again wonderfully animated, and inventively and creepily designed – in exciting, imaginative throwdowns. Jujutsu Kaisen checks the action boxes frequently, but it’s its emotional core, and deep sense of lore – thought put in to how powers work; the hierarchy of curses and sorcerers – that really elevates it. So we become incredibly invested in these characters, and when we start to seed in some kind of secretive planning amongst the curses, fomenting over the season, it’s not only interesting, but it’s done with a sense of stakes, as the world-building puts borders on the powers, and there’s a clear sense of value of human life throughout that prevents all-out destruction from being an acceptable solution.
So what’s the nitpick? Well… the series moves fast. It’s surprisingly complex, with a lot of characters, and we move through it all pretty quickly, to the extent that even a quarter through the season, it feels like we’re leaving things on the table that aren’t unresolved, necessarily, but with which we could afford to spend some more time. In the moment, it’s not a concern, it’s just after you’ve moved on to the next battle or next sequence that you might look back and wish the show could take a breath. This is occurring mainly because the show is sticking rigidly to the manga, but that’s where different mediums can / should shake things up a little: the manga’s pace is dictated by the reader, and so feels more open; the show is a set runtime.
That said, seeing as how it’s ridiculously rewatchable, that means it will be a joy to revisit it and catch up on whatever zooms by, luxuriating in visual and dialogue puns that I missed, or being re-wowed by the battles, and bumping up my Jujutsu Kaisen fandom to, likely, unreasonable levels.