A battle against curses and inner demons is coming to theaters soon. Pic credit: Studio MAPPA

On March 18th, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 — the prequel to Gege Akutami’s massively popular Jujutsu Kaisen anime and manga — will be available in theaters in North America. The hype has been intense, but what’s the story about?

A high school student is inflicted with a terrible curse. Those around him — friend and foe alike — fall victim to a terrifying power that latched onto him in his youth. And the student, sixteen-year-old Okkotsu Yuta, wishes to give up. Scouted by Jujutsu sorcerers — individuals who wield curses to protect the world — Yuta has a chance to make the very thing he fears his source of strength.

Shounen anime fans, in particular, will have plenty to get excited about. High energy fights, an eccentric cast of characters, and strong themes of friendship and compassion throughout — Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a film perfect for fans and newcomers alike.

This is like the best parts of Bleach and Naruto and horror — all in this weird trinity.

Kaiji Tang, voice of Satoru Gojo

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 isn’t, however, a simple reskin of the classic Shounen formula. Subverting tropes and expectations, the film provides a breath of fresh air along what is familiar to watchers. What viewers will find — placed to the tune of impactful orchestral and rock tracks — is an emotional journey of characters learning their strengths and how to play to them. 

This is one of those movies where you watch it and go, ‘That was fantastic.’

Lex Lang, voice of Geto Suguru

Dubbed or subbed?

Often, anime fans are at each other’s throats in the age-old argument of Subs or Dubs™. Convincing one to change a subjective preference often proves fruitless. But, no matter what one has as their preference, both the English and Japanese voice actors have done a phenomenal job not only giving solid performances but going above and beyond to understand their respective characters.

Everbody in this show is so fantastic. One thing I love about this cast is that everybody just really comes to play. Everybody has such a love for the material — such a love for being involved with it that you get that kind of enthusiasm around each other.

Xander Mobus, voice of Inumaki Toge

Care and dedication were given to ensure that the translation into English was both accurate to the source material as well as best conveying the intended message of each scene. Beyond that, each actor took their time to be mindful of the emotions going through the characters’ heads. The localization, too, helps this film be accessible both to long-time anime fans and those new to the medium as a whole.

You can’t do a one-to-one. We have our own differences in how we express ourselves in Japanese versus English.

Anairis Quiñones, voice of Orimoto Rika

That dedication can also be seen in how the English voice matches perfectly to the lip flaps. Notoriously difficult, cramming or stretching syllables to match the lips of a character drawn to speak in another language is an extra step that goes a long way in production quality. And in Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s case, the English voice cast along with the director nailed it.

A lot of the time, the director will cast you and then will tell you if they want your voice print to move towards the J (the Japanese) or not. […] To match the flaps, we do hear the Japanese.

Kayleigh McKee, voice of Okkotsu Yuta

But that’s not to say the English cast simply recreated the Japanese performance in another language. Each took the time to flesh out the role with their own unique twist. 

Whenever I create, I try to bring in my own original spin — whatever that is. I always listen to the seiyuu. […] Every line that we hear, we hear it in Japanese and then we do it shortly after. We have those quick seconds to take that into consideration and figure out how much inspiration we want to take from there.

Anairis Quiñones, voice of Orimoto Rika

A quick note about spoilers

To preface, this review will be one that deeply explores the plot and themes of Jujutsu Kaisen 0. For this reason, major spoilers from the movie along with references to the anime and manga will be sprinkled throughout. Given the acclaim of this film — the fact that it is Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2021 and currently the 22nd highest-grossing film in Japanese cinema history — it’s already certain to pique one’s interest. 

The barrier for entry is also non-existent. Those unfamiliar with Jujutsu Kaisen will be able to quickly grasp the film’s story and will have an onslaught of gorgeous visuals and music to behold. Familiarity with the source material will give a more technical insight on the world’s magic system and a better understanding of the inner-personal relationship of characters. But both aspects are unneeded to enjoy the film. 

Having great power is one thing — the choice of how to wield it is another

The concept of a meek and frail character taking on a challenge to grow stronger is certainly not an unexplored concept in anime — especially not in shounen tales. But even when retelling common tropes, each storyteller adds a unique take fueled by their own experiences. And in Jujutsu Kaisen 0, it is one who already holds a great deal of power discovering how to wield it.

Fans of the Jujutsu Kaisen anime have likely gotten glimpses of this. Itadori Yuji has the willpower to stop the special grade curse Ryomen Sukuna from taking control of his body from the very beginning. And Gojo Satoru seemingly has no rival in a world where his ability is to control space and time. But unlike other anime where the goal, like a video game, is to unlock the all-powerful stats and moves to one-shot every enemy, Jujutsu Kaisen explores the challenges one faces when they already have the power to crush anything in their path. There are some problems that require a solution that strength alone can’t handle.

For this reason, it makes sense that the story begins with the protagonist Yuta being beaten up by his classmates.

The first two minutes of the movie, they were immediately like, ‘Okay, you are getting beat up and you’re sobbing. And then you murder people.’ […] It was such a tone setter, but also immediately flips.

Kayleigh McKee, voice of Okkotsu Yuta

Yuta pleads with his attackers — not for his own sake — but because his curse has the power to destroy them. And unfortunately, while the bullying ends, the idea that he isn’t safe to make any close connections is reinforced. Unlike others who struggle with standing up for themselves, Yuta is at the other end of the extreme. Anyone who harms him is given a far harsher sentence of death.

In the aftermath — as blood pours from the lockers — Yuta can only repeat, “I’m sorry” as his mantra. While seemingly too passive for a protagonist, what makes Yuta interesting is that he doesn’t lean into the power his curse gives him. He could, quite easily, allow Rika to slaughter anyone who opposes him. But it’s both his gentle heart and insecurity that leads him to isolation instead.

Promotional imagery for Jujutsu Kaisen 0 featuring Yuta Okkotsu and Orimoto Rika.
Credit: TOHO animation

When one has an ability so devastating, however, hiding away isn’t an option. As explained in the film through dialogue — though it would have been interesting to see it in action — Jujutsu sorcerers have attempted to detain Yuta only to fall victim to the curse. With only one person left to call on, the Jujutsu world sends Gojo to train Yuta to contain his power at Jujutsu Highschool.

Gojo, in a sense, nullifies Yuta’s power. The sixteen-year-old is, for the first time in his life, put in the presence of someone who also has absolute power. If the two were to face off, it’s likely neither would ‘win’: Both, instead, falling victim to what keeps each other safe.

As presented, Yuta is the one learning from his new teacher Gojo. But one could also see this moment as one where Gojo, too, meets someone with a life similar to his own. 

Gojo, as a character, has had a very consistent sort of view and outlook on life for his entire life starting from when he was a kid just because of the mystical Jujutsu privileges he was born with. He’s this character who’s never had to be challenged too much. 

Kaiji Tang, voice of Satoru Gojo

Is there truly a point in which power places one at the finish line of life? Or can that end often look hollow? By all accounts, Yuta and Gojo can oppose any threat. If the goal isn’t to repel but rather to attract, does one have any power at all?

For Yuta, the case certainly seems to be that he feels powerless and lonely despite having Rika forever by his side. By the time Gojo finds him with a twisted knife beside him. Yuta remarks, “It used to be a knife. I tried to die… but Rika interfered.”

Despite his insistence on giving up, Gojo tells him, “Living by yourself gets lonely. The curse placed upon you is one that can save people, too, depending on how it’s used. Learn how to use that power. It’s not like it’ll be too late to cast everything away after that.” 

Promotional imagery for Jujutsu Kaisen 0 featuring Satoru Gojo.
Credit: TOHO animation

And that is, perhaps, the film’s major theme. Great power — even what can seemingly only be used for harm — can be used for good. How it manifests is directly controlled by the user. Even if Yuta believes he is merely at the mercy of Rika, he is being told that, together with her, he can live his life and get close to others.  

Great strength can make one a hero or a villain. What matters is how they choose to use it. Later in the story, another side of that coin is shown as well.

Teacher and student in parallel

It’s meaningful that Gojo is chosen as Yuta mentor given the parallels between the two of them. Like Yuta, the masked teacher also has unmatchable power. And while Gojo is outwardly calm and collected — using laughter as his favorite medicine — he is still human. 

As the actor portraying the character, so far what I’ve noticed is […] a lot of that silly, goofy stuff comes from the fact that I feel like he’s really a lonely guy. When you grow up with that much power disparity between yourself and other people, it’s very difficult to connect with others.

Kaiji Tang, voice of Satoru Gojo

Often, the assumption seems to be that an immense power is the final stage of a character — not the beginning. This subversion of a common trope is one of many aspects that make Jujutsu Kaisen 0 interesting. True, previous Shounen classics such as Naruto enter a point where the power creep grows too large. If all Naruto needs to stop his foe is a single Rasengan, what does he have left to learn? 

Despite this, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 presents the point of ultimate power from the very start. Yuta has Rika — a special grade curse capable of destroying everyone and anything in her path — while Gojo can bend space and time. If the two were to fight, perhaps nothing would be left.

Promotional imagery for Jujutsu Kaisen 0 featuring Satoru Gojo.
Credit: TOHO animation

And, oddly enough, this is where the futility of having power so great comes into play. Yuta has found a space where he can learn and grow as a person while his curse is kept at bay. He can learn to be powerful not uncontrollably but in a manner that he can wield for good. 

While only hinted at in the film, those curious of Gojo’s future and backstory have Gege Akutami’s manga to dive into. With Season 2 of the anime on the way, fans will have to wait and see if Gojo will have a moment to explore deeper relationships with those around him beyond jokes. 

He really has a difficult time on a human level connecting with anyone because of his place in this Jujutsu world.

Kaiji Tang, voice of Satoru Gojo

Starting anew at Jujutsu High

Not all changes for the better work out easily. Yuta is given the opportunity to learn how to control his curse so that he won’t harm those around him, but it isn’t a passive adventure. Used to sitting idle as Rika protected him, Yuta is put into immediate conflict as his new classmates aren’t quick to accept him.

Promotional imagery for Jujutsu Kaisen 0 featuring Maki Zenin, Toge Inumaki, and Panda.
Credit: TOHO animation

Weapons specialist Zenin Maki, cursed speech user Inumaki Toge, and Panda… who is a panda, are initially put off by their new peer who brings with him a terrifying curse. If acceptance will one day come, Yuta needs to be the one to put in the effort. And because the three students are new to Jujutsu High themselves, they’ve still yet to grow together as well.

I just had to lean into that surliness. […] She’s not as relaxed; she’s not as at ease. She’s not as comfortable riffing off Panda and Toge yet.

Allegra Clark, voice of Zenin Maki

Fans of the Jujutsu Kaisen anime will recall the Tokyo Jujutsu High sophomores — freshmen in the film — for their goofy antics. But that rapport wasn’t built overnight. And while there are glimmers of the trio’s deep bond, watching it growly over time is an enjoyable experience. 

So it’s like 80% less shtick is how we played it.

Xander Mobus, voice of Inumaki Toge

The other 20% does still manifest in moments that will inform viewers of the banter and antics that are due to come in the Jujutsu series. Those who dove into the movie before the show will have a branching-off point for the relationship between the Tokyo-based sorcerers — who they are and how they connect with each other. Likewise, fans of the show get a glimpse into the past before the three have come into their own. Before being the self-assured senpai of Yuji and the gang, the trio had to hone their strength too.

The other side of the coin

Alongside internal battles, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 has a main villain as well. Anime and manga fans will recognize Geto Suguru but perhaps not this side of the curse user. Where he was distant and looming in the anime, he has a chance to put forth his true thoughts and motivations in the film.

[Sugaru] really operates off of his ideology. Initially, I think his ideology was rooted in goodness and was rooted in hope for everybody. And through the course of several events which the movie actually touches upon very briefly, […] his ideology changed completely. Because he’s committed to that and very idealistic, he’s committed to a path that isn’t a good path.”

Lex Lang, voice of Geto Suguru

It’s interesting, seeing as Yuta’s goal has been wielding immense power for good, that he is later shown what it looks like when that same power is used to harm the ‘weak’. Yuta, likely, experiences the horror of this twofold: both as someone who has once accidentally killed people around him and as one who was once, in his mind, weak.

Suguru stands as an antithesis of everything Yuta desires. He isn’t guilted by the thought of his power causing harm. If anything, he relishes in the fact — creating a cult in which he swindles his followers and uses them to become stronger. He is a manifestation of everything Yuta fears his curse could cause.

And while Suguru is certainly over-the-top in his villainy, he is, at the end of the day, still human too. While deeply flawed, he has allowed great power to corrupt him. Film viewers may, unfortunately, not learn the past that led Suguru to enacting horrific acts, but they do see the result of a man who gains power while forsaking humanity. 

It wasn’t that he fell into madness. His belief structure changed so much and he’s so committed to that belief structure that now he took on a different path. Madness may be a piece of it — maybe a characteristic of it — because to follow that path and to believe so deeply that sorcerers have become the superior race and humanity’s next stage of evolution, you have to be a little bit crazy.

Lex Lang, voice of Geto Suguru

Dedicated to the thought that those who can wield cursed energy are superior and anyone who can’t is merely holding society back, Suguru wages war on the streets of Tokyo. With all the power they’ve honed, the sorcerers of Jujutsu High have to protect the city and everyone they care about from a terrifying threat.

At peace with one’s self

Near the end of the story, Yuta has had time to bond with his classmates. He’s gotten past the rough outer shell of Maki, learned the reason behind Toge’s odd speech patterns, and knows that Panda is far cuddlier than his stature may imply. The shy and scared Yuta who once wished to die is able to share a space with his friends — just chatting about life.

He’s just — for the first time ever that you see him in the movie — vibing. […] He’s just being a person thinking. And that was really interesting and fun for me. There’s not a lot of those slow moments of consideration and I really liked acting that.

Kayleigh McKee, voice of Okkotsu Yuta

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 truly is a film that cram packs everything into its 2 hour run time. Contrasted with intense action-packed scenes are quaint moments of the cast enjoying each other’s company. And it isn’t just the protagonist that has a moment to learn and grow. Warming up to her new classmate, Maki has time to relax too.

This movie is really where she starts to learn that she can feel comfortable in a space and people will accept her for who she is instead of, you know, her family who… suck.

Allegra Clark, voice of Zenin Maki

Those familiar with Maki’s arc — one that later has her pitted against her sister in the Kyoto Goodwill Event Arc — will get a precursor. Anger is replaced by self-confidence. Seeing Yuta’s growth has led her to look inward. The one she mocked for being weak becomes strong. And perhaps, once fearing that she herself was hopeless and weak, is inspired to push forward.

But is this tale one without sin?

Like with any film, it’s possible to make small nitpicks. After all, at just under 2 hours, the film can’t explain every aspect of the world including the technical aspects of the magic system or the greater history about the Jujutsu world.

An example of a complaint one may make is that Panda and Toge are seemingly able to brute force their way through Suguru’s curtain during a fight in the final act. Earlier in the film, it’s implied that barrier techniques are unbreakable unless they are released or unless the curse inside of them is broken. This is, unfortunately, a case where reading the manga would give a viewer better insight into the way the barriers more accurately work.

Promotional imagery for Jujutsu Kaisen 0 featuring Panda and Suguru Geto.
Credit: TOHO animation

Although, anime watchers who are up-to-date with the series may already have a few clues as to how this was possible. Episode 18 of the anime (and chapter 45 of the manga) show Gojo propelled from a curtain that was made specifically to keep him out. Here, it is clarified that barriers can be made with specific conditions but at a cost. The cost of the curtain to repel Gojo was that all others were allowed in.

While speculative, it’s possible that the condition of Suguru’s curtain was that, in order to keep Yuta and Rika — two special grade entities — inside, it was made weaker on the outside. Or, it could have been made to propel stronger sorcerers such as Gojo who could more easily keep Suguru from completing his goals.

Still, this may — from the perspective of those watching the film with no prior knowledge of the anime or manga — feel like a lot is being left unsaid. Part of this may be due to the story itself — Tokyo Metropolitan Jujutsu High School — being written well before Jujutsu Kaisen began its serialization in Shounen Jump. Much about curses and the way sorcery functions is not fleshed out until later in the series. Although Jujutsu Kaisen 0 does act as a jumping-off point to get watchers interested in the series, it’s not a piece of media that answers every question on its own.

The important thing to wonder is, “Does it need to?”

Does every story need to dot every I and check every box for fear that it’ll gain a ‘ding’ in a CinemaSins video? Personal taste will, of course, dictate the answer. No, viewers will not learn, very specifically, how or why the barrier was broken. But they will get a fight scene played to the tune of one of Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s high-intensity orchestral tracks.  

When Toge and Panda rush in to the rescue — that’s such a baller moment.

Matthew David Rudd, voice of Panda

The choice to use one’s strength for good

During the battle, earthshaking blasts alert Yuta, who remains safe inside the classroom. He, like he has throughout most of his life, has been protected by others. As Suguru remarks, “Jujutsu sorcereers are sacrificing themselves for a fellow sorcerer.”

It’s possible that Yuta could have hidden away. After all, that was what he wished by the start of the film. He wanted nothing more than to isolate himself from the outside world so that his curse would never harm another person. When he steps onto the battlefield, that stance changes. Finding Maki, Panda, and Toge beaten into the rubble, he’s horrified.

Toge, unable to manifest his cursed speech, tells him to run. But what Yuta feels is not the hopelessness he once did before. He, after training and building rapport with his peers, knows that his strength is his own. And he knows that he can use his curse to save the people he cares about.

Promotional imagery for Jujutsu Kaisen 0 featuring Yuta Okkotsu
Credit: TOHO animation

Shown as a quick learner previously, Yuta imbues cursed energy to make a shield around his friends after whisking them away to a balcony above the battlefield. But first, Yuta needs to handle an eternal problem. Rika, the spirit Yuka once felt at the mercy of, rips Maki away. Jealous of the bonding the two sorcerers are able to experience, Rika tries to devour the fallen Maki before Yuta intervenes.

This is a pivotal moment. Prior to this, Yuka would have sat by helplessly as he had in the beginning of the film. He would have sat and sobbed as he did when Rika slaughtered the students who bullied him. This time, however, he stands up to the curse and demands her to release his friends. For once, he is in control of himself and his power. And he redirects that power towards Suguru — the one he loathes.

When Yuta and Rika jump below to join the fray, the audience also learns why Suguru has halted his attack. Noticing that Yuta has taken the time to heal his friends with an advanced cursed energy technique, he assumes that Yuta will surely fall with his energy depleted. What Yuta does next, however, defies his expectation and is one to get movie-goers riled up.

But will that strength be enough?

A moment needs to be made to discuss the film’s music. Just as the art and animation teams have picked the perfect panels from the manga to showcase Jujutsu Kaisen’s story, the music team went above and beyond to find tracks that not only fit the emotions of each scene but elevate them to new heights.

The production quality was so phenomenal that it just makes you, as an actor, happy to be there.

Lex Lang, voice of Geto Suguru

It’s the sign of a great and impactful soundtrack when a song not only sticks out but remains stuck in one’s head for weeks to come. Fans of the anime will already note the series’ amazing choice in music. Notably, Vivid Vice — the Jujutsu Kaisen anime’s second opening track — sticks out. 

Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s soundtrack is now available on Spotify and Amazon as well as other retailers.

Reminiscent of Trivium and post 2000s Soilwork, The Real You by Hiroaki Tsutsumi and Toft Willingham is the showstopper of this film. Perhaps the only downside is its brevity. One can only hope that an extended version may be released in the future — or even a reprise later down the line in the anime when Yuta is reintroduced.

The track pauses while the two combatants — Yuta and Suburu — make their final statements to each other before giving it everything they’ve got. Following the hype track, though, will Yuta have what it takes to defeat a man who wields the power of seemingly thousands of curses?

In a battle of quantity versus quality, Yuta has managed to keep his opponent at bay. Suguru, however, isn’t at his limit. Pulling out his trump card along with combining another 4,000 some spirits into one powerful strike.

To any other sorcerer, this would surely be overkill. Yuta himself grows nervous. New to wielding his power — and having agency over his life and the lives of others in general — he’s faced with a new problem for the first time. His all-encompassing power may not be sufficient to take on what’s before him.

But by this point, Yuta has watched those around him risk their lives. Maki, Panda, and Toge fell in battle so he could stand. And miles away on the streets of Tokyo, students, teachers, and sorcerers of all walks of life are protecting the city. There is only one option left, and that’s to use the curse placed upon him to save people.

Mockingly, Suguru remarks, “I’m truly glad I came to kill you before you could fully wield Orimoto Rika.”

Though his months in Jujutsu High have been brief, Yuta has been about to take his curse and turn it into a gift. He makes a pact with Rika. And for his life, he wishes for the strength to overcome the threat to all he cares about.

What does this mean moving forward?

To learn how the film ends — if Yuta will stop his foe and if the Tokyo streets will be saved — one will have to watch and find out! Although, given that an entire series follows, many likely know that Tokyo Jujutsu High stands to oppose curses another day. As to whether Yuta is truly giving up his life and if Rika will be freed from a life as a curse, that’s one spoiler that viewers will have to wait and see.

As anime watchers already know, however, Suguru returns as a villain in the series. His escape, while not leaving unscathed, allows him to have a brief moment with former classmate Gojo. While speaking to Yuta at one point, Gojo remarks that the villainous sorcerer is “his best friend. The only one I had”. To learn more about this dynamic, fans will have to read the manga or await the upcoming Season 2 of the anime.

But, while the fate of Suguru is left vague, the events of the film stand as a learning experience for him. And like Yuta, he will have to find a new way to hone his strength to achieve his goals. Whether he may one day return to a path of goodness? Only time will tell.

Deep down, [Suguru] does have a heart. He does care. He has had deep friendships in his lifetime and his heart might just be broken at this point.

Lex Lang, voice of Geto Suguru

Luckily, Season 2 of the Jujutsu Kaisen anime will likely showcase the early years of Gojo and Suguru attending Jujutsu High — provided the series sticks closely to the manga. The cult-leading villain may seem irredeemable by the film’s standards, but there’s more depth to his character later in the material. 

We’re going to get to discover what the relationship between Goju and Suguru is about. There wasn’t much information in the series about it. Getting to backtrack and see their past and their friendships — I’d say like a brotherhood between them — really rooted what we could do as actors.

Lex Lang, voice of Geto Suguru

Where do I watch Jujutsu Kaisen 0?

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 releases in theaters on March 18th in North America. Check out Crunchyroll Movie Nights to purchase your tickets today! Fans in other regions should check their local cinemas as well as a worldwide release is soon to come!

Often, people try to ascribe a numerical value to a piece of media. The answer of what number this film scores out of an arbitrarily picked number will not be answered in this review. Rather, those who have made it to this place in the review can ask themselves if this is a tale they find intriguing. Does a story of the powerful coming into their own and learning to wield their ‘curse’ for good sound like 2 hours of great entertainment?  

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here