As if it wasn’t made obvious enough by last year’s successful release of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, anime has come a long way from being a niche genre that was largely inaccessible to the west unless you were a super fan who knew where to look. What that and this year’s Jujutsu Kaisen 0 specifically prove, though, is how far the genre has come in crawling its way to the top of global box offices as well. Anime movies were even harder for fans to get their hands on years ago — subbed or dubbed — and animation studio MAPPA’s latest endeavor opened in second at the U.S. box office, only behind superhero and DC Comics IP titan The Batman.
It’s a commendable achievement and a great sign for the future of anime movies and the genre as a whole, and the quality behind Jujutsu Kaisen 0 — from the animation production value, pulse-pounding action, and heartfelt cast of characters — earns that notch on its belt. This series is newer and admittedly doesn’t have the same transcending cultural impact as other Shonen anime franchises like Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto, or Bleach, but Jujutsu Kaisen 0 proves that its respective acclaim wasn’t a fluke and even takes the good elements of the latter two IPs and trims the fat that held them back in their later days.
Even without the unabashed bombast of Toei Animation’s 2018 hit Dragon Ball Super: Broly or Ufotable’s flashy elegance in the aforementioned Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, MAPPA takes the already-stellar work from their Jujutsu Kaisen TV anime and cranks it up to 11 for this prequel. Given the premise of select clans of elite, modern-day sorcerers, the in-universe Curse Energy they manipulate is going to be one of the main visual allures of the movie.
MAPPA delivers and then some on this front, and it comes as no surprise given their other work on the likes of Attack on Titan and the underrated Dorohedoro. The lighting is immaculate at practically every angle, and the action sequences are exceptionally vivid thanks to their striking use of color. All of this stunning chaos feels substantive and fits seamlessly in this creatively put together modern dark-fantasy world. MAPPA’s art style on Jujutsu Kaisen 0 continues to be a tasteful adaptation of manga writer Gege Akutami’s artwork. The latter’s style is an enticing blend of detailed and erratic linework, looking to create a moody atmosphere and an air of unpredictability during tense or action-heavy scenes, but the smoother and clean interpretation of the anime is also a sight to behold and keeps the spirit of Akutami’s memorable art.
Outside the cathartic action sequences, the studio’s visual style shines even in the movie’s quieter moments, with the cast of Jujutsu Kaisen 0 benefiting from top-tier character designs. That goes for the Cursed Spirits as well, with Akutami’s art style and MAPPA’s colorful talents translating well onscreen for some delightfully horrific monster designs in motion.
Shonen anime have been making gradual steps to being more intriguing over the years, and though it hasn’t yet been revolutionary by any means, Jujutsu Kaisen is one such franchise that’s sought to mix things up while using genre tropes at their best. In a sea of Shōnen mostly characterized by near-prophetic protagonists determined to become the best “X” in the world so they can do “Y” to accomplish/protect “Z,” Yuta Okkotsu is a refreshingly grounded character in a brutal and terrifying supernatural world.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 flips the tired convention of the older sibling protecting their little brother/sister after an expected family tragedy by revealing it to be a story about coping with the death of a childhood love interest and best friend, survivor’s guilt, and battling aggressive suicidal thoughts. The story’s conclusion to Yuta’s character arc is one of the most beautifully sincere endings for an anime tackling such a sensitive real-world topic, and it handles these themes with an impressive level of tact. The result is a well-earned and emotionally resonant story written with care, and the rest of the main cast is impossible to dislike, too.
Fan-favorite Satoru Gojo gets his character fleshed out with a touching and tragic look into his mindset and past with the nihilistic villain Suguru Geto. Panda and Inumaki also get filled in with well-rounded, charismatic personalities, which is another impressive feat considering the latter can’t actually talk most of the time. And in this group supplementing Yuta, Maki is another highlight. She complements Yuta as he goes through his turbulent coming-of-age story, but also doesn’t feel like an empty vessel solely there for the sake of driving the protagonist’s story forward. The TV anime series did well to cover her cruel origins in a sympathetic light, but Jujutsu Kaisen 0 still manages to make her feel like a fully realized character without being repetitive.
When it comes to outside influences, the previous series like Naruto and Bleach do come to mind, but it excitingly throws in a helping of Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul:re‘s premise and setting in homage. This is certainly present throughout the series, and this movie expectedly continues to make excellent use of that horror atmosphere to push the envelope further for how bold shonen anime can get. The aforementioned monster designs do well to emphasize this, namely with the inventively grotesque design of Rika’s Cursed Spirit.
Anime can sometimes feel like a jarring genre for those looking from the outside in to get into for the same reasons that some might not be into comic books or superhero movies. That being said, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a fantastic entry point for the uninitiated. For starters, this movie is an adaptation of Akutami’s manga prequel to the mainline Jujutsu Kaisen series, which is a concise one-shot collected in a single volume.
It manages to cater to both audiences effortlessly, with fans coming from the manga likely set to appreciate the adaptation and original content, as well as those who’ve either never or only seen the anime. All in all, every strength Jujutsu Kaisen 0 carries makes it a thrilling horror-action movie that goes much further than surface-level when it comes to its satisfyingly heartfelt story and endearing characters.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is now available to watch in theaters.