It’s ironic that Jujutsu Kaisen 0 should proceed the anime series, since it was initially written as a self-contained story before the property took off. The positive reception to the four-chapter serial in 2017, originally titled Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School, was the inspiration for creator Gege Akutami to cultivate Jujutsu Kaisen as a running narrative.
The backwards order is fortuitous overall, because the anime movie gives current fans deeper insight into the lore and history of Jujutsu High while providing a strong gateway to any curious onlookers. In their adaptation of the prequel, director Sunghoo Park and studio MAPPA, who’ve led the animated series thus far, deftly navigate interwoven backstories, and one of the more tragic curses to date, to make something that’s every bit the spectacle a feature-length production suggests.
Yuta Okkotsu, whom regular viewers will recognise as an AWOL senior student, is the protagonist, now several years younger. He’s struggling with the ghost of his former love, Rika, a special-grade curse that’s making life difficult. Luckily, Satoru Gojo comes along to offer help in the form of Jujutsu training, so Yuta can control Rika, a salvation that arrives just time given some prying eyes.
Being a prequel, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is heavy on nods to established canon. Yuta has three familiar classmates: Maki Zenin, Toge Inumaki, and the ever-charming Panda. They’re introduced as they walk to lessons together, contrasting the heft of Yuta’s struggle with slice-of-life school banter. They’re quick to lash out at their new peer, detecting the power that surrounds him, but that gradually becomes light hazing, and eventually, friendship and camaraderie.
Yuta quickly learns that Jujutsu is a daunting field with his first test, which doubles as an opportunity to display Rika’s power. Manifesting as a gigantic, skeletal spectre, Rika tears through another curse when Yuta appears to be in danger. The terrors of Jujutsu Kaisen obey few laws, and that’s especially true with the jump to the cinematic realm, with the two huge creatures looming over the school grounds.
It’s an image that sticks in the mind’s eye as the film moves toward a more character-focused second act. Brief memories give snippets of Yuta and Rika’s relationship, first as friends in early childhood before becoming closer as preteens. Yuta bonds with the ambitious Maki, who displays some rare sincerity during a heart-to-heart.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 places as much emphasis on its horrific creations as it does the young people embroiled in studying and fighting them. Everyone who winds up in Jujutsu High has a different reason to be there, and usually, it involves some form of tragedy. A beautiful evening sun flows through the windows on Yuta and Maki as they chat, as if to add that his optimism is backed by our solar system’s own planetary light source.
The kinship Yuta experiences is challenged by antagonist Suguru Goto, who wants to weaponise Rika in his own narcissistic endeavours. An equivalent to the X-Men’s Magneto, Suguru believes sorcerers should become dominant in society, over humans who can’t handle curses. It’s a well-worn motivation for a villain, and that one betrays Jujutus Kaisen’s roots as a short one-off rather than something larger and more intricate.
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Suguru still has depth, especially as we get hints of his splintered friendship with Satoru. Voice actors Takahiro Sakurai and Lex Lang bring Suguru’s usual charisma to the fore, and revel in going a mite deeper on his emotional side. His genocidal tendencies are made all the more threatening by his gaggle of disciples, each similarly as misguided. We know how his ploy here goes, but seeing people devoted to him leaves ground to go deeper on his belief system and martyrdom further down the line.
Jujutsu Kaisen is a show often defined by its colour and texture. The distinctive gradients and lining on the curses, coupled with their swiftly evolving shapes, is a consistent reminder of the talent at MAPPA. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is no different, and while the requisite showdown is everything you’d expect, it’s a subplot involving Toge that sticks out.
Warm greens and reds denote a curse’s hold over a location Toge and Yuka are sent to investigate. They wander around to find their target, bathing in a slightly radioactive glow, the recurring gag of Toge’s limited dialogue – he can only speak in sushi ingredients – a running commentary. It’s enough to give some small sense of what it is to be around curses, and the allure of becoming part of the Jujutsu, even if it’s a literally cursed life.
As Yuka and Rika’s arc reaches its conclusion by slightly predictable means, it’s little things that work the most magic. The obvious chemistry among Maki, Toge, and Panda, and the duality of Rika’s voice actors, Kana Hanazawa and Anairis Quiñones. Surprising cameos, and a foreboding sense that Jujutsu Kaisen is just getting started.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 mightn’t teach you anything new, but it’s a strong catch-up on the basics. When it comes to curses and sorcery, it’s the minor details that matter most.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is in theatres March 18.
A steady anime movie prequel that readies Jujutsu Kaisen for what’s next in the series.