“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” stars Megumi Ogata, Kana Hanazawa, Mikako Komatsu, Koki Uchiyama, Tomokazu Seki, Yuichi Nakamura, and Takahiro Sakurai. Released in Japan on December 24, 2021, followed by a North American release on March 18, 2022, the film is about a high school student who attends a mystical school known for fighting curses.
The film was directed by Sunghoo Park, who's known for directing "Jujutsu Kaisen", "The God of High School", and "Garo: Vanishing Line". It is based on the manga series of the same name created by Gege Akutami. It is also a prequel to Akutami's Jujutsu Kaisen manga series. No one wants to have a curse placed upon them. They affect their daily lives in ways you can never imagine, especially when it involves your late lover. Fortunately, the best way to ignore them is to fight them. This weekend offers plenty of new content for different audiences to combat the caped crusader for the box office crown. Today, I'll be looking at one that many anime followers have waited for. Since I reviewed the latest "My Hero Academia" film and "Belle", I might as well keep this train going. This movie is an entirely new experience for me compared to "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" because I hadn't watched a single episode of "Jujutsu Kaisen" before watching the prequel. I read about its concept online, but I didn't get a chance to immerse myself in this world via anime. I also haven't read the manga the film's based on. So if you're wondering why I'm reviewing it without any knowledge of "Jujutsu Kaisen", I can only say that I enjoy action-packed anime. Thankfully, the film is a prequel to the source material, so I should have a comfortable time talking about it with a fresh mind. With that said, let's see if this adaptation can please the franchise followers and modern moviegoers without getting cursed.
The story follows Yuta Okkotsu (Ogata), an isolated high school student suffering from a terrible curse. He is constantly haunted by the spirit of his childhood friend Rika Orimoto (Hanazawa), who died from a tragic accident six years ago. Yuta's life seems to be over until he encounters a mysterious sorcerer named Satoru Gojo (Nakamura). Satoru guides Yuta to the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School to teach him how to control his curse. As Yuta trains with the other sorcerers to battle curses, he must use his skills to protect the world from Suguru Geto (Sakurai), a villainous sorcerer who seeks to eliminate humanity and gain Yuta's curse.
The good thing about this movie is that it isn't set in-between the "Jujutsu Kaisen" series. Instead, it focuses on the events before that show, along with some characters introduced in the series, including Yuta and a huge talking panda named Panda. I wonder where they got that idea from? When it comes to film adaptations of manga or anime shows, I always look to see if they can attract two types of audiences: the people who adored the source material and those who have little to no experience with it. Because the movie is a prequel, this made its task a bit less stressful, as it doesn't force the newcomers to read or watch "Jujutsu Kaisen" to understand the prequel. It made that choice optional rather than a necessity. As someone who hasn't got into "Jujutsu Kaisen", I had no problem growing attached to the world and characters built for the movie. But does that make it a good adaptation of the series, or in this case, a good film? Of course, it does, but it isn't without its share of curses.
The movie's heart comes from Yuta Okkotsu, who's not only grieving over his friend's death but is also frightened about his curse hurting those around him. As the story progresses, we see Yuta training to break the curse, only for him to use it to save his new friends from Geto and accept his friend's demise. Amid its bloody violence and creepy imagery, the film offers a suitably-handled story about loss and acceptance. Unfortunately, its structure prevented this promising plot from reaching beyond its intended heights. The way it was structured narratively felt like it was originally made as a television series before the writers decided to make it into a movie. It's almost like they combine the most crucial episodes into a 105-minute-long motion picture. As a result, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" becomes something that may leave some newcomers like me struggling with maintaining the emotional connection regarding its pacing and rushed character development. I did enjoy the main characters because of their personalities and chemistry, but I don't think they're enough to make me care for them a lot. But, of course, that could be my fault for not getting into the source material beforehand. As a newcomer, I thought the story was decent enough to provide some flashy entertainment and heart. However, it might be better off as a limited series regarding its narrative structure, in my opinion.
I decided to watch the English Dub version of "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" for this review. Why? Because I can. The English cast managed to provide some tolerable voice work into their characters, ranging from Kayleigh McKee as Yuta to Lex Lang as Geto. Some of their dialogue can be a bit iffy at times, but the cast's efforts in providing humor and energy carried enough momentum to make this dub a bearable choice for those not wanting to read the subtitles. Finally, we have the film's animation produced by MAPPA, the same studio responsible for many projects like the "Jujutsu Kaisen" anime and the 2016 film "In This Corner of the World". The animation is top-notch in its designs, environments, monster-like curses, and action sequences. It delivers plenty of vibrancy and richness in the film's scope and artistic settings. More importantly, it also offers some fluidity in the character movements to make the movie more cinematic, mainly for the fight sequences. The fight scenes in "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" are highly energetic and smoothly choreographed regarding Sunghoo Park's direction and animation style, which helps me forget the film's narrative shortcomings.
Overall, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a visually impressive and entertaining adaptation of Gege Akutami's prequel manga. It is also a welcoming addition to the "Jujutsu Kaisen" lore for many fans of the series. Despite being cursed by its narrative shortcomings, the film is enjoyable enough to get specific newcomers, including me, interested in joining this curse-fighting clan. With its tolerable voice cast, striking animation, engaging action scenes, and a decent plot, this is another anime movie that I was happy to watch on the big screen. Not as much as I was while watching "My Hero Academia", but happy nonetheless. If you're a fan of the manga series or in the mood for a supernatural action flick, this movie is worth checking out. Just don't bring your curse with you if you do.