HELLO, WANDERERS! It’s been a while. I bet you’re holding your breath for a rant like the Tower of God one, right?
Hate to disappoint, but I don’t think I have that many pages for Jujustu Kaisen. However, I’ve been working on making more lifegiving time for myself (comment if you want an article on what I’m learning about this!) and thanks to that, I’ve had the chance to complete two animes: Jujustu Kaisen and Blue Spring Ride.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Jujustu Kaisen isn’t a full anime! I delved into the manga as soon as the episodes were up, and it has been one of the most enjoyable manga I have read in a while.
There are so many facets of Jujutsu Kaisen to go over. As usual, I’ll divide my thoughts into the Good and Bad of Jujustu Kaisen.
- Main Conflict/Themes. Although not as poignant as Tower of God, Jujustu Kaisen dealt with a very real and interesting concept: demonic possession.
The relationship between humans, curses, and the evil of the world is truly the glue that binds the story together. I believe the story isn’t simply about watching “OP” [overpowered] characters beat each other up, but an exploration of why the world is evil and what role humans and supernatural forces play.
Supernatural forces are almost never talked about, by secular society and even religious society. However, the idea of the supernatural, as communicated by this manga, seems to have a place of consideration in Japan’s society. Demonic activity is even noted in the Tale of Genji, an influential piece of Japanese literature, and has associations with its religion.
Many questions have to be asked in regards to the supernatural: What drives humans to evil? What enslaves humans to evil and selfish desires?
I love how the explanation for the presence of the demons/curses is explained by the humans themselves. The very presence of humans creates curses, or draws them. In areas where there are large concentrations of people, “curses” grow, fed by the evil, selfish, and negative motives of humans. Throughout the story, the evil nature of humans is not ignored.
So the relationship of humans and demons, which the story hinges on, is full of potential. The one thing I am curious about his how the Jujutsu Sorcerers (basically, exorcists) will succeed in “fighting fire with fire.” To fight the curses, they use curses. That isn’t the main problem, but the problem is that if curses are manifestations of human evil, and the sorcerers are only human, will they ever be able to break the cycle?
This feeds into the main antagonists’ goal: killing the curses at the source. To eliminate the demons, they are trying to eliminate the humans who cause them. All of the antagonists seem to have different goals, intersecting at different points (like a Venn diagram). One seems to be under some kind of demonic possession himself (Getou).
- The Characters. The brilliance of the characters in JJK is that the main theme (demons and humans) channels beautifully into the characters’ situations. Specifically, Itadori and Sukuna.
This is one of my favorite character relationships to explore. Sukuna is a powerful human who became a curse, thanks to his greed. Itadori is an average human–a really sweet and relatable main character, though flawed–who hosts Sukuna’s spirit inside him.
I feel like this entire situation reflects the situation of the story. Humans host demons. Which will win? For Itadori, the main objective is keeping Sukuna under control, even as Sukuna’s spirit strengthens within Itadori. It’s amazing to watch Itadori grow stronger on his own and reject Sukuna’s desires.
In a way, since Sukuna was a former human, I wonder if Sukuna mirrors some of Itadori’s own character. Both Sukuna and Itadori were blessed with power (natural gifts of strength and aptitude) but Sukuna twists these gifts with selfishness. Though Itadori is not a selfish character, he, (like Bam), fears being alone. We don’t know too much about Sukuna’s backstory, but it would be interesting if more parallels appeared between him and Itadori. It would be interesting if the Sukuna and Itadori dynamic symbolized Itadori fighting within himself for what he knew was right.
On another note, Kugasaki was a refreshing character. I am rather bored of seeing female characters who never struggle to keep up with their male comrades (at least on physical ability). I appreciate the way Akusami chooses to give Kugasaki moments to shine with real strength, but it might manifest in small ways: her disabling Mahito is an example of a “small” or insignificant sacrifice she made. While she won’t get the glory for Mahito’s defeat, her actions mattered and on her scale, it was a great sacrifice. The way Akusami adjusts the scale for female characters is realistic and adds another dimension to the story. Although I love Tower of God and Attack on Titan, these stories (excepting Rachel) showcase female characters who never seem to struggle or make smaller victories in comparison to males.
Of course, Kugasaki’s boisterous character and trustfulness don’t seem realistic for her experiences, especially compared to Maki and Mai’s experience with misogyny, but she manifests this in typically natural ways. I also love how she and Itadori share many characteristics.
Besides her, unique characters don’t stop showing up: Todo is one character I thought I’d never side with, but his bond with Itadori delighted me. On the surface, his character seems gross and superficial, but I feel like it’s realistic, which makes his friendship with Itadori seem more sincere. Despite having similar (flaws?) to Itadori, they have innate honesty and sincerity. I must also note that the male characters in JJK seem different than ones I’ve seen before. There’s an earthy, competitive, energetic quality about them that seems very realistic.
Last but not least, Mechumaru made an impact on me. The idea of him suffering in illness while trying to regain his health, while trying to cope with his weakness, while trying to stay true to Kyoto–culminated in very understandable choices on his part.
The most sorrowful thing about Mechumaru is that despite seeing ourselves in him, there was an encounter he had with someone (later revealed to be Miwa) that seemed important to him. He replayed this in his head. Somehow, knowing this person was alive, and could find happiness, meant a lot to him. It makes me wonder about how important small acts of kindness–small conversations–small investments–can be.
- WORLDBUILDING. One of the MOST impressive things about Jujutsu Kaisen, besides the lifelike characters and good theme, is the WORLDBUILDING.
Lately, I have been sick of shonen animes that pound the viewer with “epic fight scenes and mass destruction!” while the viewer has absolutely no care for any of it. The expansive world of Attack on Titan pales in comparison to the relative dryness of it; there aren’t colorful oddities or unique, identifiable aspects of the worldbuilding that make it truly unique, save for the main plot.
When I say great worldbuilding, I don’t mean worldbuilding that only involves the main plot, like the superhero school or the cursed titan. I mean worldbuilding that reaches every aspect of the setting, and, preferably, is on a smaller scale so we can drink in every detail. Again, I don’t want the death notebook that’s the main plot, with everything in between something copy paste from real life. I want to be zeroed in on every way that worldbuilding affects everything.
So not only does JJK have characters you actually care about, and not only does the plot go hand in hand with those characters’ paths, but there’s DETAILED worldbuilding that appears in every scene!
One of the most amazing parts of the worldbuilding is how expansive and cohesive it is, like the concentric circles in a pond after a stone is dropped in it. Starting from the theme of humans verses curses (oops, that rhymed) we’re introduced to a complex magic system and world organization with factions that have been warring since historic times. Everyone has a share in it. Even humans on the “outside” are mysteriously affected by the wars with these curses. The worldbuilding also provides unique accents to each character: what would Megumi be without his iconic Shadow powers and Jade Hounds?
My favorite above all is Akutami’s humorous way of explaining the worldbuilding within the manga AND his “Limitless” technique derived from Achilles and the Turtle. THAT was one of the most awesome moments. What a clever way to blend math into his magic system! I want to do something similar with derivatives…
All right, perhaps I’ve raved long enough. Consensus is: JJK hits all the right places, getting a decent score on plot (I’ll go into that in a second), characters, and extra points for worldbuilding. Its take on worldbuilding is better than My Hero Academia or other anime in the genre.
Pacing. I would have said “plot,” but that’s too general. While JJK has a generally good plot that follows its characters’ journeys, it fails in the area of pacing.
Since JJK’s worldbuilding is so unique and intricate, many details about Gojo’s backstory, Getou, shamanic history, or even moments of silence that would help us ponder the characters and increase tension are lost in the rapid succession of events. The plot is fairly straightforward, expanding from the moment of Itadori’s decision to the Shibuya incident, but speeds relentlessly. Every chapter is full of new information, a lot at a time.
The fight scenes are messy (I’m hoping the anime will clear that up) but to add to the messy and abundant fight scenes is the small details about who does what, who is where, what is what…These things won’t be impossible to figure out, but for someone reading for the first time, it doesn’t stand out.
That’s the biggest concern I have for the story overall. It takes time for readers to generate sympathy for a character, and while the characters have fleshed out backstories and personalities, readers won’t get time to experience true sadness for the tragedies that occur. I’m sure I would have been bawling if there had been just a few more panels of silence between Mechumaru’s final moments and his death. Too much happens too fast–with the Shibuya incident in forty five parts! It’s just a lot to keep track of.
That said, who knows. Maybe Akutami is holding out the silent moments for a truly dramatic event. If there is, I’m eager to see. I like how there is a balance between the characters winning and losing fights; Mahito is becoming a frustration at this point. It’s wise to have the characters lose some battles–even for Gojo Saturo to lose. Also happily Akutami does not sacrifice realistic, well thought out characters for battle-wow factor. Every battle serves a purpose–it’s not just to show off a character’s amazing skills.
Finally (and sorry for not warning about this) I’m going to point out one last area.
What!? you’re thinking. Priscilla, this is new!
Yes, I know. But the glimmer of hope in JJK is that even though (for me) it’s an insanely popular manga, it’s getting an anime adaptation.
And the anime might be better than the manga.
YES, a rarity, I know. But hear me out:
Eve is doing the soundtrack intro for the anime. Why is this important?
You might not be impressed with Eve’s melodies–they’re decent, nothing special–but the symbolic/deep content and themes of his songs really shine. The fact that Eve was chosen to write the song for JJK’s anime can’t be ignored.
Not only is Eve’s thematic genius at play with JJK’s opening song, but in the intro itself, a distinctly Eve-like style (I’m thinking somewhere between the styles of the Tokyo Ghetto and We’re Still Underground music video) with dreamlike sequences and memorable symbolic instances, may strengthen the story of JJK in that area: symbolism. Eve’s music is being used, but it seems like his thematic style, rich with symbolism, is also employed in the visuals of the opening.
As I said, JJK suffers from its poor pacing. Symbolism is one thing that may get drowned in the rapids, but Eve’s intro looks promising. It may provide viewers with a chance to be on the lookout for the major symbolisms and thus understand the story better.
Lastly, Eve’s videos are full of strange and excellent devices, and it translates beautifully into the world of JJK: which also contains many strange and excellent happenings. Eve: the music, the style, the themes–accentuate all the best artistic aspects of JJK, aspects that might not have shone otherwise.
Transitions. A more minor point, but Akutami was a master of weaving small hints and bits of info within his manga. Even better are the visual diagrams and organization of those facts in the anime format.
On that note, Worldbuilding Explanation in anime will be so much better than squinting at a panel.
The Outtro–I know what you’re thinking, a small detail. The anime looks like it’s darker, but I love how the ending preserves the lighthearted mood of JJK. (Even if that bopping doesn’t fit with the dark close of each episode).
Fight Scenes–Really excited about this. With color and motion, I have high hopes for the fight scene renditions.
And why is all this “beautiful?” I consider these factors unique, because often anime (and movies) don’t live up to the manga. But thanks to the incredible starting point and creative visions of Eve, Jujustu Kaisen has a long way to go.
All for now,