Jujutsu Kaisen vol. 5 – Gege Akutami

5 out of 5

I do think that something I experience with a lot of the manga tankobons I read – in which the first volume is great, and then I sort of have to build back up to an appreciation of that same level over a few volumes – is due to my still “learning” how to read manga. Yeah, I’ve been consuming various titles more and more and more over several years by this point, but just like it probably took me that long of solid Wednesday US comic book collecting to start getting a true feel for what I liked and didn’t and why, and the different styles and tropes various writers affected (and also why or why those didn’t work for me), I’m still getting used to certain tricks of the trade. But: there are also individual quirks that of course affect things, and for Jujutsu Kaisen, those have been creator Gege Akutami’s quick-fire use of flashbacks and his somewhat vaguely defined settings, both of which, for me, have affected the readability of the strip on occasion, buffered by the amazing character work and sense of world-building. (And badass action!)

Volume 5 is both when I reach the point where my appreciation levels are back up to better-than-par, but also where I think Akutami puts some effort into tweaking both of those mentioned factors: the flashbacks feel better sequenced into the story, not waiting to long to backfill information, and he goes out of his way to ground us not only within each of the settings in which the students are battling in this long-form Kyoto vs. Tokyo showdown, but also how those settings interrelate. The story is also catching up with some of the more hastily delivered plot points – the existence of the big Jujutsu families; the familial relationship of Mai and Maki – such that it feels like all that work Gege put in to having this world pre-established is paying off in spades. From a story perspective, it achieves something phenomenal: it allows for a full-on fight comic (every page is a battle) to simultaneously be incredibly story-driven, and because of Gege’s skill with dialogue (and / or its translation by Stefan Koza – though I have to believe both should be credited), none of this comes across as cheesy (to me) “pause and reflect”-style shonen shoegazing. Jujutsu Kaisen, from the start, has given a lot of credit to its readers to be able to piece together character motivations without spelling each and every line out; within its universe of spells and curses, Gege created real-feeling personalities, and had them speak out and think in ways that felt appropriate to those personalities; we recognize them, and can empathize with almost everyone on their terms – whether boastful or somber or silly – and feel a legit chill from the villains, who operate somewhat similarly, if flipped to the evil side of that coin. ,,,And embellished with a bit more mustache-twirling bravado, but that’s fun stuff. It’s also amazing that Gege packs in so, so many square-offs in this collection that feel complete, but also keeps up the book’s momentum; a lot of shonen strips would take, like, a whole tankobon worth of entries just to finish one, single, one on one battle, stretching this event over like twenty volumes.