Jujutsu Kaisen Review: I Hope You Miss Bleach

Director: Park Sung-Hoo

Studio: MAPPA

Streaming on: Crunchyroll

Jujutsu Kaisen is the latest adaptation of a Shonen Jump manga, and the newest addition to the growing catalogue of Crunchyroll Originals. Directed by Park Sung-Hoo, fresh off the dumpster fire that was The God of High School. However, while The God of High School’s story was a mess and butchered an adaptation of a much better manhwa, there’s no denying that the series was impeccably animated and the direction was superbly done. As much as I like to complain, there’s no denying that Park Sung-Hoo and the animators at MAPPA are largely behind the excellent parts of The God of High School. And how does Jujutsu Kaisen compare?

Based on the manga by Gege Akutami, Jujutsu Kaisen centers on Yuji Itadori, an exceptionally athletic and mostly dumb high school student, whose only hobbies are the occult research club and visiting his ailing grandfather in the hospital. Shortly after his grandfather’s passing, urging him to live his life for helping other people, Yuji is interrupted by a jujutsu sorcerer in training, Megumi Fushiguro, who informs him that his friends in the occult research club are in danger. The artifact that Yuji believed to be a harmless creepy old finger was in fact the severed finger of the King of Curses, Sukuna. Curses, for the uninitiated, are malevolent spirits or demons that are given form from the energy provided by humans’ negative emotions, and Sukuna was the biggest and baddest of them all. Now his fingers just serve as power-ups to other curses, and dangerous weapons to jujutsu sorcerers, who use curse magic to exorcise curses.

Upon finding out that curses ingest the fingers to become stronger, Yuji, bless his heart, does the only thing a headstrong and idiotic shonen protagonist would do, and eats the finger to kill the curses hunting down his friends. And despite calling the five-second rule, the King of Curses uses this as an opportunity to hijack Yuji’s body, in what scientists are calling the worst adaptation of “The Odd Couple” yet. Despite this, Yuji seems to have an unusually strong grasp on keeping Sukuna from controlling him, and the jujutsu sorcerers decide to use him as a tool for finding the other fingers of Sukuna, until the monster can finally be absorbed and eradicated. In the meantime, Yuji will train alongside Fushiguro, a couple of other people, and also an actual sapient panda.

When I first read Jujutsu Kaisen, I naively thought it was something of a Bleach knock-off, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I came upon it after binging the entirety of Demon Slayer, and still had an itch for a manga about a demon hunting society with a dark tone and yet a strong comedic undercurrent, and just, the best fights. After having read the first thirty chapters and seen the first three episodes, it accomplishes that and more, although I can’t say for sure it will shake the systemic problems at Jump that plagued the run of Bleach and so many more, but I’m glad to follow. The story does not at this point seem like much, but it’s an interesting backdrop for the characters, who I’m much more invested in.

Jujutsu Kaisen’s strongest point are its characters, as they are a diverse, whacky group that play off of each other well. Yuji in particular shines when he’s allowed to interact with the wider cast, playing the straight man to his fellow student Nobara Kugisaki, or irritating Megumi to no end. I also adore their teacher, Satoru Gojo, who rides the fine line between being absurdly overpowered and just plain absurd. He’s got a soft spot for his students, and a strong sense of humor. Watching him demolish curses that had every other character on the ropes is immensely satisfying, and sometimes you just need more wholesome teacher figures in anime. P.S. if he dies I will mourn him more than certain relatives of mine.

Concerning its presentation, Jujutsu Kaisen is a Studio MAPPA project, so it obviously comes with a high level of visual polish. Of course they recently worked on The God of High School, but also a personal favorite of mine, Dororo. MAPPA has a knack for catching the mood and atmosphere of a series that would come across poorly in a more traditionally “anime” art style. They managed to capture the charm of the character designs, whether it’s the main cast or the visually inventive curses. Highlights of character design include Gojo-sensei again, and Sukuna, who takes a lot of the body horror elements that work so well in manga and runs with them.

While I’m still discussing the aesthetic elements of the show, they don’t let you forget that this team is responsible for all the good parts of The God of High School. As of writing this, with only three episodes in, every fight scene has been accompanied by fast and dynamic camera work, a well-laid out sense of geography and space, and of course lightning-quick pacing and crunchy, cathartic sound design. Knowing some of the fights that are coming up and the way that this series is going to expand its concepts and world is going to be a treat to watch in animation.

The soundtrack of the anime ranges from serviceable to good, but I’d be remiss if I reviewed this series and didn’t mention the absolute god-tier opening and endings. The opening is a standard affair with a keen sense of style and good choreography and character introductions, but the ending. That ending is just something else. It goes for a completely different genre from the show itself and still manages to hone in on the characters and artistic flourishes that make it a compelling ride. I usually make a point to watch an ending at least once, but Jujutsu Kaisen is one I plan on watching every episode.

In conclusion, Jujutsu Kaisen is an excellent outing from the creative team at MAPPA, and it looks as though it will join the ranks of Shonen Jump giants like Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia, given a bit more time. Any series this well animated, with a good sense of humor, and enough original ideas to last is worth your time, and thus far, Jujutsu Kaisen is. 8/10

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