The first episodes of Jujutsu Kaisen Feel like an anime you’ve seen a million times. Yuji Itadori is a powerful but clueless rascal with a heart of gold who is drawn into a world of struggle against dangerous phenomena known as curses.
Our savage hero eats a cursed finger (the… grody) and swells up with a power not entirely his own, with a powerful spirit called Sukuna who possesses it. To control his powers and save people, he must be trained at a mystical academy, where he meets his companions who include a stoic, nonsensical, dark-haired peer (who is absolutely not Sasuke), a spunky heroine who finds herself in nearby is edges (definitely not sakura) and a stupid but mysterious mentor who always wears a face covering (not kakashi).
These few details could be gleaned from around five different series, making the show yet another anime about magical teenagers battling the forces of evil. But then our hero bumps into a wall – more precisely a monster that he cannot beat.
And instead of magically empowering him through the power of good / bravery / friendship, Itadori’s hands are torn off and his spirit broken instead. He rebukes himself for his own weakness before the cursed ghost that inhabits him takes over. And instead of being a sad, misunderstood apparition like Naruto’s fox ghost, Sukuna is a cruel and emotionless sadist who immediately tries to torture and kill his friends and then manages to kill Itadori himself.
That’s a nice trick Jujutsu pulls again and again: feigning predictability with a simple setup before giving a complex genre-conscious punchline. And while death doesn’t last (perks of being possessed by a demon), the fact that our lead actor finishes the episode with his lead actor lying on a platter in the morgue to do the right thing sets a precedent: Our Heroes can and will lose miserably. In its first five episodes Jujutsu Kaisen
What is Shon?
Although originally intended to describe a population of 12 to 18 year old boys for whom it was originally intended, Shōnen (which literally means “boy” in Japanese) has evolved into manga and anime with typical conventions, archetypes, and themes . Although there are exceptions, most of the Shonen anime start out as a weekly serialized manga on the pages of Japan’s Weekly Shonen Jump. Title like Yu-Gi-Oh, JoJo’s bizarre adventure, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, One piece, My hero academia, Demon Hunter and many more – including Gege Akutamis Jujutsu Kaisen – All of them emerged from the legendary magazine.
Although shōnen is so popular that its mainstay in the west has become synonymous with anime, the genre hasn’t changed much in the last four decades since Akira Toriyama Dragon ball defined the genre.
One reason shōnen stories can feel the same is the editorial practices of Weekly Shonen Jump. On the sacred pages, new series live and die because of their position in weekly reader rankings and sales. Those who earn and maintain popularity stay in this magazine longer. The longer you are in Jump, the more likely your work will be immortalized in an anime.
While this whole system is key to the success of the publication, it discourages creative experimentation and encourages Mangaka to stick to well-formulated formulas that are more appealing to their primary young male population. Most of the time, that means a seedy underdog hero with a belief in courage, friendship, and duty. Our hero quickly learns that he has strength without a limit and fights with many superpowers against worthy rivals and evil monsters.
I grew up with Shonen Manga and Anime. Shonen Jump Classics Assassination classroom to Zombie powder make up 80% of my bookshelf. But as many great stories as there are, it’s hard to deny that the genre feels a bit repetitive. Jujutsu Kaisen manages to manger themes and inspirations from other series while still feeling fresh and subversive.
Yuji Itadori and the Modern World
Yuji Itadori himself is a typical shōnen hero who is supposed to address boys in a classic way. He’s serious and goofy like Naruto, incredibly self-sacrificing like Midoriya My hero academiaand his supernatural job and idiosyncratic demeanor remind Yusuke Yu Yu Hakusho or Ichigo out bleaching. On his deathbed, Itadori’s grandfather gave Itadori two very simple guiding principles: “Help people whenever you can” and the idea that “everyone deserves a real death”. But the provocative incident that arouses great ambition in him also condemns him.
Eating Sukuna’s finger gave Itadori the cursed energy he needed to save his friends from a terrible death, but this made him a host to Sukuna and the jujutsu wizards want him because of the danger he poses, execute. Now he is practically in an execution stay, which is said to be killed as soon as he eats the rest of Sukuna’s fingers and serves as a grave for the evil spirit. And while his desire is to save others and lead them to a real death, Itadori must be quick to accept that he is not strong enough to save everyone and the path he chooses will expose him to terrible things.
While the function of the prototypical Shōnen protagonist is to change the world around him through a unique purpose, Jujutsu Kaisen recognizes this as an impossibility. It tries to balance the ideals of its genre with the oppressive nature of modern life – while creating space for joy and hope. All of this concerns Itadori. He is afraid of dying and is appalled by the world in which he ended up. But it doesn’t make him cynical and it doesn’t prevent him from pushing his pain through to try to help others.
Jujutsu Kaisen is very modern in its setting, tone, and how it steadfastly considers both the good and the bad of 21st century humanity. The magic that powers the characters in the series is called “Cursed Energy,” a version of ki that arises from negative emotions such as shame, hate, fear, and grief. The cursed ghosts on the show are not ghosts, but rather collections of intense negative feelings that people create. As a by-product of humanity, they are more common and more common in metropolitan areas. densely populated environments full of human emotions.
In the latest part of the show, viewers were introduced to Mahito, the show’s leading villain and, to put it lightly, a huge piece of shit. Mahito is one of a group of highly sophisticated cursed spirits who represent some of the oldest fears of humanity, depicting the fear of humanity. Its power is to manipulate flesh by touching the soul and disfiguring others into grotesque monsters that go beyond human recognition or cognitive thinking.
Mahito is the most hateful villain I’ve seen in the anime in a long time. He’s manipulative, childishly cruel, and his terrible power reinforces his belief that life is inherently meaningless and that he can play with by cutting off the idea of Itadori’s belief in a real death (to make matters worse , he’s also incredibly hot). Especially after the psychological sadism he exposed Itadori in the last few episodes of the series, it’s hard to imagine another antagonist who got under my skin as he does. I think this speaks for how differently the show approaches the complexity of mankind compared to that of other shōnen, even series that I love very much and that are very dear to my heart. The horror that infuses the series isn’t just there to shock, but to more thoroughly involve the emotions of the audience.
Even before the show’s anime premiered this October, Jujutsu Kaisen‘s manga already looked unparalleled success, especially first time creators like Gege Akutami. After watching the first couple of episodes, I moved on to the available chapters in the manga. Given the 130+ chapters I’ve read without giving spoilers, it’s not hard to see why. Jujutsu Kaisen exists in a well-worn genre but consistently tests its limits with inventive storylines and unique characters.
In this manner, Jujutsu Kaisen is thoroughly humanistic both in its message and in its execution. It knows its fans want more than predictability. It believes that people as a whole are more than just the sum of what they were. It recognizes that our negative feelings may never end, but can actually be overcome and survived. While it offers plenty of action and tropes typical of the genre, Jujutsu Kaisen feels like the first shonen about modern mankind to use a mixture of horror and palpable emotion to examine the weight of 21st century life.