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Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Review: A Solid Gateway And Expansion Into The Hit Anime Franchise

EDITORS' RATING: 8/10
Pros
  • An accessible standalone story within the "Jujutsu Kaisen" world
  • Gorgeously rendered environments and kinetic action set pieces
  • Emotionally engaging performances from the Japanese and American voice casts
Cons
  • The movie's big twist is completely predictable
  • The core conflict offers no surprises

Gege Akutami's bestselling "Jujutsu Kaisen" manga series has grown to become a full-fledged multimedia phenomena, including a popular anime series that debuted in 2019. In between its first and second seasons, the cast and crew behind the television show have adapted a prequel written and illustrated by Akutami, aptly titled "Jujutsu Kaisen 0." Focusing on cursed high school student Yuta Okkotsu, the prequel anime film showcases how Yuta links up with the "Jujutsu Kaisen" prominent character Satoru Gojo to use his supernatural abilities for good and regain faith in himself.

Fortunately, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0," which is now available to stream on Crunchyroll, is not only a thrilling expansion of the main anime series but one that expertly distills what makes the show such a standout within an increasingly crowded industry. Bringing some genuine emotion and staging some thrilling action set pieces, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a solidly crafted anime movie sure to thrill fans of the franchise. Perhaps more importantly, the prequel film is also largely accessible to audiences that may not be as familiar with the main story and are looking for an inviting entry point to the proceedings, albeit one that can occasionally be just as dark and mature as the core "Jujutsu Kaisen" series.

The tragedy of Yuta Okkotsu

After Yuta's childhood sweetheart Rika Orimoto dies in an accident, he discovers that she has become a cursed spirit connected to him, manifesting as a ravenous monster while retaining her intellect and self-awareness. After Rika brutally attacks a group of bullies that are ostracizing Yuta, the despondent teenager is recruited by Gojo to attend his private high school, an academic institution for Jujutsu Sorcerers to master and channel the cursed energy that they wield. As Yuta begins his training under Gojo and meets an eclectic group of classmates, a figure from Gojo's past threatens to destroy Jujutsu High School and plunge Tokyo into total chaos.

It's this blend of heart and action where "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" really thrives, with Yuta serving as a point of view character into this dangerous world of magic and monsters. Laid low from losing Rika and becoming something of a social misfit, even at his new school, Yuta's character arc in the prequel is both a baptism by fire and a coming-of-age story with apocalyptic stakes hanging in the balance. Fortunately, the screenplay by Hiroshi Seko knows when to let up from the melodrama and bouts of self-loathing to deliver the thrills and a surprising amount of humor to lighten up the overarching mood. There are genuine comedic moments in "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" and most of them fit seamlessly within the larger story being told rather than intruding on the proceedings.

More than just revealing how Yuta became one of Gojo's best and brightest students while earning his own sense of self-respect in the process, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a visual triumph. From its gorgeously rendered environments and each of its uniquely designed monsters to the fiery action set pieces throughout the film, the prequel showcases the animation team at MAPPA operating at the height of their creative powers. This production is directed by Sunghoo Park, who took on chief directorial duties for the anime series. Park brings plenty of those same sensibilities here, in regard to tone and visual aesthetic, but everything feels so much more operatic and important than the show. "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is out to bring a heightened amount of spectacle to the franchise and the movie more than fulfills that endeavor right out the gate.

An extension and gateway into Jujutsu Kaisen

The animation style notably evokes a palpable sense of mood as the animators expertly play with light and shadow throughout the movie, from mounting dread to uplifting the tone through their choice of color palette. Starting out filtered in crimson and largely shrouded in darkness, the cinematography matches Yuta's fragile mental state at the start of the story, lightening up as he builds confidence and a positive outlook. And just like any classic samurai or western, there is a sense of stillness just before several of the major action sequences that crackle with tension as the combatants line up and stare each other down. This is an anime film that runs just slightly longer than most but it never particularly feels like it outstays its welcome and that comes down to performance and pacing.

Both the original Japanese cast and English-language dub cast produced by Crunchyroll do admirable work with the material here. The film's story is effectively carried by Yuta and Japanese voice actor Megumi Ogata and American actor Kayleigh McKee bringing a sense of vulnerability and despair that gives way to triumph and self-acceptance as the film progresses. There is a tragedy to Yuta through his relationship with Rika, serving as the film's emotional core, and this dramatic potential is explored in full. Yuichi Nakamura and Kaiji Tang bring a cool, confident performance as Gojo, one paralleled by the movie's main antagonist Suguru Geto (Takahiro Sakurai/Lex Lang), as opposite sides of the same supernatural coin. There isn't particularly much by way of storytelling surprise, with the movie's big twist telegraphed as soon as it's suggested but, fortunately, the narrative doesn't hinge on this reveal, almost making it more of an afterthought. This distinction carries over to Gojo leading his students against Geto; the antagonist offers a dark image of what the Jujutsu Sorcerers could become but not much particularly more.

"Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a beautiful piece of animated filmmaking, with its focus on Yuta giving the story a more intimate scope than the anime series. However, given the origin story premise driving the narrative, the filmmakers have wisely constructed a movie that is just as accessible to those unfamiliar with the main "Jujutsu Kaisen" story. Having watched the anime series enriches the experience, for sure, but this can be seen as a standalone story that happens to have a sprawling tale set afterward. A cinematic triumph that justifies its feature film runtime and just a darn good bit of magical shonen anime, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a reminder of how much fun and deep the medium can be for established properties.