Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Dives into the Past to Prepare for the Future

Jujutsu Kaisen's prequel film offers an accessible entrypoint for new viewers while dropping intriguing hints for the future.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Photo: Toho Animation

This Jujutsu Kaisen 0 review contains no spoilers.

The anthology magazine Weekly Shonen Jump has published many blockbuster manga throughout its decades-long history. Most have become anime. In recent memory, these titles have included the ninja epic Naruto, the superhero-themed My Hero Academia, and the record-shattering Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. In October 2020, Jujutsu Kaisen joined their ranks with a 24-episode TV anime.

Much like Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen‘s popularity skyrocketed once the anime began airing. By the time the season concluded in early 2021, fans were clamoring for a second one. The manga is still serializing, after all, so there’s plenty of material left to adapt. Instead, the production team announced a prequel film, Jujutsu Kaisen 0.

Set one year prior to the main series, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 introduces us to Yuta Okkotsu. Fans of the TV anime will recognize the name. Yuta has been mentioned multiple times, although he has yet to make an official appearance. (But eagle-eyed manga readers might have caught a glimpse of him in the anime’s second opening.) Prior to the release of Jujutsu Kaisen 0, all we knew was that he was strong.

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Don’t expect someone like Yuji Itadori, the main series’s protagonist, however. Unlike the gregarious Yuji, Yuta is gloomy and withdrawn. There are reasons for his self-imposed isolation. He once promised his childhood best friend Rika that they would marry each other when they were older. Alas, Rika died in a tragic accident. And even more tragically, her spirit didn’t pass into the afterlife. Instead, she transformed into a monstrous cursed spirit that haunts Yuta and attacks anyone who threatens him whether he wants her to or not.

In the world of Jujutsu Kaisen, negative emotions give rise to cursed energy in humans. Normal people can’t control this energy. In fact, most people don’t even know it exists. But some people do and can. These people are known as Jujutsu Sorcerers. Yuta, bound to an unpredictably violent Rika, eventually draws their attention.

To free Rika from her existence as a cursed spirit, Yuta enrolls in Tokyo Jujutsu High School. There, he practices various sorcery techniques, strengthens his abilities, and learns more about the jujutsu world. That last point becomes important when a former student of Tokyo Jujutsu High School comes calling.

If the structure sounds familiar to fans of the main series, it should. Teenage boy encounters the supernatural; teenage boy enrolls in a high school specializing in the supernatural; teenage boy finds himself hunted by people who covet his power – that’s the basic dilemma faced by Yuji. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 may be a prequel film but why does it seem like it’s retreading existing material, just with a different protagonist?

There’s a reason for that. Like the main series, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is based on a manga by Gege Akutami. And while that manga is currently billed as a prequel to the main series, it didn’t start that way. Originally titled Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School, the prequel we now know as Jujutsu Kaisen 0 was intended to be a standalone, four-chapter oneshot. When the oneshot proved popular, however, Akutami would use the themes and concepts it explored in a new series for Weekly Shonen Jump. That series, of course, was Jujutsu Kaisen.

In many ways, you could think of the Jujutsu Kaisen 0 manga as a pilot. And, for better and worse, that pilot sensibility carries over to the film adaptation. The story is self-contained, for the most part. It could stand alone. But while we learn a lot about Yuta and his struggles, less space is given to his relationships with his new classmates: Maki, Inumaki, and Panda.

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The film does deepen existing lore in other ways. We learn more about Suguru Geto, a supporting villain to the main antagonist, Mahito, in the TV anime. His history with Satoru Gojo—a powerful sorcerer who also teaches at Tokyo Jujutsu High School—offers a poignant glimpse into the ways the strict and brutal jujutsu world can set two best friends on different and opposing paths. More importantly, the gap between Geto’s fate in Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and his appearance in the main series introduces a mystery that will intrigue fans.

Animation-wise, MAPPA delivers the quality we’ve come to expect from the studio. Sunghoo Park, who also directed the TV anime, continues with his solid work. Having also previously directed The God of High School, we can trust Park to deliver entertaining and cool fight choreography. That said, the film doesn’t innovate the fight scenes. It’s on par with the TV anime, but part of that can be explained by the nature of Yuta as a protagonist. The film tracks him coming into his own and transforming from bullied teen to competent jujutsu sorcerer. He doesn’t have the innate strength and killer fighting instincts of main series protagonist Yuji. Where the film’s animation does shine is in the characters’ facial expressions—most notably Yuta’s—and in the creepy, unsettling atmosphere featured in the opening frames.

The original voice cast remains consistent from the TV anime to the film, with the addition of Kana Hanazawa (Shiemi from Blue Exorcist) as Rika and Megumi Ogata (Sailor Uranus from Sailor Moon and Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion). Ogata’s stellar turn as Yuta should surprise no one, given the roles she voiced in the past . As for the English dub, the standout is Anairis Quiñones, who imbues Rika with both childlike immaturity and terrifying rage.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 straddles an interesting divide. It’s an accessible entrypoint for people unfamiliar with the main Jujutsu Kaisen series, but it’s also a film that only existing fans will fully appreciate. While not exactly required viewing for those existing fans, the film does set up a mystery regarding Geto as well as provide something of a post-credits teaser for the future.

And yes, Jujutsu Kaisen season 2 is indeed on its way in 2023.


3.5 out of 5