Review: ‘Jujutsu Kaisen 0,’ an adventurous movie prequel from Japan

March 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rika Orimoto and Yuta Okkotsu in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“Jujutsu Kaisen 0”

Directed by Sunghoo Park

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: This Japanese animated fantasy film takes place primarily in Tokyo and Kyoto (and briefly in Sendai City), with teenagers as the lead characters and adults as supporting characters.

Culture Clash: A socially awkward 16-year-old boy, who is haunted by the spirit of childhood friend, decides to become a sorcerer to put this break the curse of the spirit.

Culture Audience: “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Jujutsu Kaisen” manga and TV series, as well as people who are interested in sci-fi/fantasy anime.

Panda, Maki Zen’in and Toge Inumaki in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

In this dazzling and often comedic prequel to the “Jujutsu Kaisen” series, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” should please fans of the series as well as impress new fans who might have this movie as their first “Jujutsu Kaisen” experience. “Jujutsu Kaisen” follows a familiar pattern of anime about teenagers and other young people who have magical powers. Unlike most male protagonists in anime, the central character in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is wracked with insecurities.

Directed by Sunghoo Park and written by Hiroshi Seko, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is based on Gege Akutami’s “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” manga series, which is a prequel to the “Jujutsu Kaisen” series. If you’ve made it this far in the review, chances are you’re familiar with the series already. If not, you don’t have to know what that the “Jujutsu Kaisen” series is about to understand or appreciate “Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” which could be viewed as a stand-alone movie.

In “Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” Yuta Okkotsu is a lonely and insecure 16-year-old, who is called on to become a reluctant sorcerer. The movie opens in November 2016, in Tokyo, where Yuta is being attacked by four bullies in his school. Suddenly, a giant ghost that looks like a monster appears and fights back, severely injuring the bullies. Who or what is this ghost?

The avenging spirit is Rika Orimoto, Yuta’s childhood best friend, who died when they were about 9 or 10 years old in their hometown of Sendai City. Rika was tragically killed when she was hit by a car on a street, and Yuta witnessed everything. Not long before she this accident happened, Rika had given Yuta a promise ring and vowed that they would get married to each other when they became adults. Rika also promised to never leave Yuta.

It’s a promise that has caused problems for Yuta, who is blamed for injuring the bullies. Rika has also aggressively come to Yuta’s “rescue” on other occasions, with violent results. Meanwhile, a group of unseen judges gather to decide what will happen to Yuta. The judges have summoned a young adult sorcerer named Satoru Gojo to go to Yuta and train him to banish the spirit of Yuta, among other things.

Satoru Gojo tells a skeptical and terrified Yuta that Yuta will be taken to Jujutsu High, a special school for sorcerer training. Feeling like an outcast anyway, Yuta goes along with the plan. There are only three others who are part of this training program:

  • Maki Zen’in, a sassy and sarcastic know-it-all, who initially disrespects Yuta, because she thinks that Yuta doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful sorcerer.
  • Toge Inumaki, who is quiet and less combative than Maki, and who his more willing to help Yuta.
  • Panda, a panda that provides a lot of comic relief for being over-exuberant, which can lead to clumsy moments.

The rest of the movie follows their adventures in sorcerer training, as well as what happens in the inevitable showdown to rein in Rika. “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” doesn’t fall into the trap that other adventure films fall into when they try to clutter up the story with too many characters. By keeping the story streamlined, focused and easy to understand, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” can have wide appeal to many different age groups.

The voices of the “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on which version of “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” that you see. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Megumi Ogata as Yuta Okkotsu, Yuichi Nakamura as Satoru Gojo, Kana Hanazawa as Rika Orimoto, Mikako Komatsu as Maki Zen’in, Koki Uchiyama as Toge Inumaki and Tomokazu Seki as Panda. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Kayleigh McKee as Yuta Okkotsu, Kaiji Tang as Satoru Gojo, Anairis Quiñones as Rika Orimoto, Allegra Clark as Maki Zen’in, Xander Mobus as Toge Inumaki and Matthew David Rudd as Panda.

One thing in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” that might be an issue for some viewers is how it depicts the female characters as the most problematic. Rika’s obsessive love and her appearance in monster form are over-the-top ways to make feminine infatuation look demonic. She also has temper tantrums that make her look mentally ill. In addition, Maki is the most difficult living human in the story. However, there is some redemption for at least one of these female characters, even though she’s portrayed as very antagonistic for most of the story.

The visually striking animation in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is at its best during the last third of the movie, when the biggest battles happen. The movie’s pacing keeps a level of interest that serves the story quite well. Overall, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is the type of anime that does justice to the manga version. Stay for the end-credits scene if you want a hint of how the story might continue in a movie sequel.

Crunchyroll released “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. The movie was released in Japan in 2021.

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