Jujutsu Kaisen 0 review: Gory, action-packed, and a strong anime prequel

When it opened on Dec. 24, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 sold over 1 million tickets and earned more than 1 billion yen. Over the weekend, the prequel to the popular anime series Jujutsu Kaisen, based on the manga by Gege Akutami, nearly tripled its box office, giving the record-breaking Demon Slayer film a run for its money. This was no Christmas miracle. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 earns its success by doing what so many prequels fail at: telling a satisfying story that connects to and enhances the main series while also welcoming newcomers to the franchise.

Set in a world where humans emanate Cursed Energy that can create eldritch creatures known as Curses/Cursed Spirits, the Jujutsu Kaisen anime focuses on Yuji Itadori, a high schooler who becomes a vessel for Ryomen Sukuna, one of the most powerful Curses in existence. Following this, a group of Jujutsu Sorcerers — people who can control their Cursed Energy to fight evil spirits — enroll Yuji in the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School to help him control his power while keeping an eye on him. That’s the barebones summary of the anime series that aired from October 2020 to March 2021 … and the basic synopsis for Jujutsu Kaisen 0.

The prequel tells the story of Yuta Okkotsu, a high schooler who gains control of an extremely powerful Cursed Spirit and gets enrolled in the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School by Jujutsu Sorcerers to help him control his power and keep an eye on him. Yuta and Yuji are two very different people, with the former starting out as a timid, gloomy, bullied kid, and the latter being a hyperenergetic extrovert with the kind of strength and stamina that would make Batman jealous. Still, the similarities between the setups of the TV series and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 can’t be overlooked. It’s almost like the movie is both a prequel and a remake. A premake? Requel? Whatever you want to call it, 105-minute movie hits many of the same notes as the show by using a living weapon outsider character to introduce the audience to the world of Jujutsu sorcery and Cursed Spirits etc.

Image: MAPPA/Toho Ltd.

There’s plenty to enjoy for longtime fans. For one, Yuta Okkotsu is not a new character, having been mentioned in the series a few times but never making an appearance until now. And he’s given a beautifully tragic backstory, since it turns out that the powerful Curse that latched on to Yuta is his childhood love, Rika. After dying in a traffic accident, the gentle and caring girl transformed into a snake-haired, fang-faced monstrosity that may not have the most disturbing design out there but makes up for it by the way she acts. When the cursed Rika talks to Yuta in a child’s voice about how much she loves him or kills people who bully him without seemingly feeling bad about it, the juxtaposition of her horrifying appearance with her sweet but sometimes also capricious, child-like demeanor results in one of the most memorable Jujutsu Kaisen cursed spirits ever.

The movie also gives more screentime to its villain, Suguru Geto, who has been a constant presence on Jujutsu Kaisen, though mostly riding backseat to the resident Big Bad Mahito. In Jujutsu Kaisen 0, though, Geto is given center stage, which he proceeds to eat up with much gusto. Geto is an extremely fun antagonist with a larger-than-life personality that is finally on full display in the movie. You can really see why Curses and other sorcerers would gravitate towards him, and how his happy-go-lucky attitude while trying to commit atrocities would infuriate the film’s main characters.

This results in a great fight between him and Yuta. With the camera movement trying to replicate the feeling of a regular-sized character moving with lightning speed against Geto’s gigantic Curses — including a Blob kaiju made up of fat demon babies — the battle is additionally enhanced by Yuta’s sudden rage, adding a whole other layer to the experience. But that’s to be expected from fight scenes overseen by director Sunghoo Park, whom you might remember from The God of High School anime series and its spectacular battles. It’s more than enough to keep Jujutsu-heads satisfied during the 105-minute run of the movie.

Satoru Gojo in Jujutsu Kaisen 0

Image: MAPPA/Toho Ltd.

But newcomers will get the most out of Jujutsu Kaisen 0. The prequel is basically the essence of Jujutsu Kaisen trimmed down to its most accessible elements, which isn’t surprising given that the movie is based on a manga that actually precedes the Jujutsu Kaisen comic. First published as Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School in the 2017 issue of Jump GIGA, this standalone short series about Curses and Jujutsu Sorcerers was meant to conclude after just four chapters. But it soon gained enough popularity for Gege Akutami to expand its premise and the world he only hinted at in the original comic, ultimately culminating in the creation of Yuji Itadori and the story that took the world by storm.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is very simple, focusing primarily on Yuta, his teacher Satoru Gojo, Suguru Geto, and the second-year students of the Tokyo Jujutsu High School that fans know from the TV series: Maki Zenin, Toge Inumaki, and Panda. Most of them get a sufficient explanation that allows total novices to follow the story, and which may convince them to later plunge into the deep waters of the anime. For those less familiar, Jujutsu Kaisen concerns itself with Yuji trying to give people a “proper death.” To first determine what a proper death is, though, the anime spends a lot of time figuring out what a proper life means. Through the characters of Kento Nanami, the show explores the value of helping others over money, while Maki’s arc is the story of going against the flow and the comfort of being part of a group/family and doing your own thing. Even the cursed wombs from the last episode of the TV series explore the “proper” way to live as the characters are actually touching examples of the importance of family.

There are traces of this theme in the movie; one can interpret Yuta’s arc as a lesson about letting go and moving on. His choices around Rika are stirring but the anime series goes much deeper into its philosophical messages. That’s alright, though, because by keeping things simple, the movie makes you want more, gently leading new fans to the TV show. And any media that manages to introduce more people to a show that’s redefining shōnen anime is definitely doing something right.

So whether you’ve been following Jujutsu Kaisen for years or are just hearing about it for the first time now, check out Jujutsu Kaisen 0 if you ever get the chance. It’s the kind of rare movie that actually has something (awesome) for everyone.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is out now in Japan. The movie currently does not have a U.S. release date.