Jujutsu Kaisen became one of the most popular anime and manga franchises of all time last year, which you can read our review here, and it returns with Jujutsu Kaisen 0. The film is based on the prequel short story Gege Akutami created before making the actual Jujutsu Kaisen series. Originally they just wanted to draw cool characters with no intention of a long-running serialization, and it was even called Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School, however, it was so well received the mangaka was encouraged to go on and make a serialized story, retroactively making the short story canon by renaming it 0. The film was released in Japan on 24th December 2020, and now the wait is over in the United Kingdom as it arrived in cinemas on the 18th March (with some special screenings starting on the 16th) and can currently be viewed elsewhere in Europe, including in the Netherlands. Let’s see if the film lives up to the high expectations the television series has developed.
Set a year before the events of Jujutsu Kaisen, the story follows the second years during their first year at Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School. Yuta, a boy haunted by the cursed spirit of his childhood friend Rikka who died in an accident, is brought in by Gojo. Yuta is given the choice of either being executed or becoming a Jujutsu Sorcerer in order to control Rikka and help others. The film revolves around Yuta finding out more about this world of cursed spirits and his new classmates, whilst finding out that cursed spirits aren’t the only danger of this world.
So if you are wondering whether you can watch it without seeing the anime series Jujutsu Kaisen, the answer is yes. It is a prequel after all and wouldn’t dampen your experience. Particularly as concepts are explained for Yuta so anyone unfamiliar with the show will be introduced to the concepts as well making the film able to stand on its own. The plot balances comedic moments alongside serious and dark moments, keeping true to the series as it also develops the characters who are in the television series more. Of course, Yuta is the character that mainly gets developed more as he is only mentioned in the anime, but the other second years don’t have much of a focus in season 1 either so it is nice to see them in their less experienced stage.
What is the most interesting about the plot is Yuta’s development as he comes to terms with being haunted by Rikka. He starts as a shell of a person due to Rikka harming everyone around him, then Yuta moves to get to grips with Jujutsu Sorcery and becomes more confident as a person. It is no surprise the mysterious mangaka was encouraged to create an entire series with the potential from this short story alone, not only with more darker themes compared to other Shonen based shows, but the depth of the characters which is quickly established. Where the film loyally adapts the manga, there are a few bonus segments towards the end to show off characters introduced in season 1 and also introduce some characters that will feature in season 2. The only real criticism is a minor one, as the action during the climax feels a bit short but in a way it makes sense as the story is all about Yuta and not so much the other characters. Admittedly this criticism comes more from the perspective of wanting more due to enjoyment, from there not being enough as the action is still prevalent with satisfying animation.
Animation studio Mappa have continued to outdo themselves as the film shows off smooth animation. From seamless action sequences, to tiny details in character facial expressions, it feels like a masterclass. Similar to the show, the action scenes are the true highlight as there are smooth flowing movements that feel more advanced than the average anime. It is dynamic when characters dart around dodging attacks and then flips to a strong impact when a blow lands. This is only enhanced by the backdrops being so well drawn that some even look like photographs. Where some of the 3-D animation used on the curses sticks out, it works in the film’s favour as the curses should look unnatural and out of place. There are even times where there are interesting angles and framing, giving a more surreal vibe to the scene but it only happens a couple of times. In a way, if they were a bit more ambitious there would have been some interesting shots to develop the animation further. Still, it does look great and is mind-blowing how closely in line with the original manga it all is.
As expected from the show, the voice acting is strong as most of the cast are actors reprising their roles. Although the real stand out is Yuta’s voice actor Megumi Ogata, who through her acting helps solidify Yuta’s character development as the film goes on bringing more confidence into Yuta’s voice in subtle steps. Soundtrack wise, it is a whole lot better compared to the tv series. Having a lot more presence, particularly in the action scenes, serves well to get the adrenaline pumping and fill the tension at the critical moments of the film. For the theatrical release, it is great to see this step up, and makes the experience of seeing it in the cinema worthwhile. The opening theme song for the film is One Way (Ichizu) by King Gnu, an alternative rock track that works well with the movie. The gritty guitar tone fits with the dark tone of the film, with a male and female vocal having a reflection with Yuta and Rikka. Interestingly there is also an ending theme, again performed by King Gnu called Contradictory Dream (Sakayume). A slower track, in a way a hauntingly beautiful melody that reflects how the film ends. Both are great choices and complement the film well.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 delivers a great adaption of the prequel manga and is definitely a must-watch for fans of the series, or general anime fans alike. With a focus on character development, each character is brought to life through great animation and voice acting, alongside a great soundtrack to provide a strong atmosphere. The only real criticism is there could be a bit more action, however as the plot focuses on Yuta’s developmental story it can be justified. To sum it up, it says it all that Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is one of the very few films I’ve seen in cinemas where the audience clapped at the end.