Jujutsu Kaisen 0 walks an incredibly thin tightrope between a self-contained anime film and feeding fans of the incredibly popular anime new content to chew on, but manages to strike an almost perfect balance.
Films spun off from serialized anime can be a mixed bag. For a long time, many have served the same purpose as filler content does in a broadcast run – content meant to fill the time slot and spin the wheels while more manga is produced. This has the downside of often feeling perfunctory in the long run, but changes have been coming to this side of the industry; particularly having projects keeping original creators more directly involved in the production or an idea like Demon Slayer’s “Why don’t we just make the next arc into a movie?” Jujutsu Kaisen 0 might at first blush seem like the latter, but is actually inadvertently a third way: technically, this is just a traditional animated film.
This is because because Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (releasing in theaters for one day March 18th) was originally written as a self-contained series but also ended up leading to the main series being greenlit, the film gets to be a fully satisfying story for those with no knowledge of the show while also being able to use the more fleshed out world and characterizations of the show to enhance the original story. The same production team from the series out of studio MAPPA, led by director Sunghoo Park, carries over the excellent action animation and vibrant energy found in mangaka Gege Akutami’s original work. As such, the entire production feels right in sync with the series and allows the film’s narrative to fit right in for fans.
As for that story, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is indeed the prequel to the main Jujutsu Kaisen. No main series lead here, instead Jujutsu Kaisen 0 follows Yuta Okkotsu (Kayleigh McKee in English, Megumi Ogata in Japanese), a young man haunted by a living curse left by his friend from his youth. This curse is not only an emotional burden on Yuta, but anyone who might come to harm him soon finds themselves physically assaulted. Just before giving up on his life, Yuta is offered a lifeline via the mysterious Tokyo Jujutsu High and is persuaded to take it by one of its equally strange staff, Satoru Gojo (Kaiji Tang in English, Yuichi Nakamura in Japanese.)
The film adapts the four-chapter miniseries pretty faithfully from there as time is spent introducing Yuta to each of his classmates and their own hangups. Fans will already be familiar with some of these details as they involve characters from the main anime, but that works in the film’s advantage by allowing these snippets to carry more weight from their voice actors and allows the animation to have a more finalized look to their designs. Each performance has much more completeness to it compared to the source manga, since there’s so much more to draw from. Even so, the standout performance turns out to be the mysterious curse itself, Rika (Anairis Quiñones in English, Kana Hanazawa in Japanese.) Both voice actors seem to relish the monstrous role and convert that energy into an infectious yet scary joy.
Faithfulness does bring some pitfalls, though. Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s pacing also matches the original manga, which is much more of a slow burn than normally seen in an anime film like this. Compared to even Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train’s pacing, things are a very slow burn. This is mostly due to Yuta himself being a much more passive character in his own story – especially compared to the more traditional shonen lead that will follow him. For the purposes of this story, Yuta is a perfectly fine character but will fail to really take his own actions in full until the third act, which itself feels a bit tacked on. The film’s take on the final showdown is the biggest change, mostly due to borrowing from the main series that spirals out of this climax. Despite not feeling fully earned, it is a spectacular climax that shows off exactly why MAPPA has been outpacing its contemporaries with a fantastic blend of action, sound design, music queues, and excellent battle animation.
With the biggest weakness being somewhat unavoidable, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 pulls off what once felt impossible: adapt a serialized shonen anime into a single film that feels like a great title to slide into the hands of your friend that likes anime films but won’t get into a serialized series. Fans will be plenty satisfied by another hit of that Jujutsu and MAPPA goodness as well, and it sure feels like the series is going to get some new fans too.