By: Beata Garrett |@clearsummers
My first thought after leaving Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is that the price and trip to the movies to see it wasn’t worth it. In many ways, the movie is perfect if you know what you’re getting into and if you love the manga because the movie’s very faithful to it. It’s arguable whether this makes it a good or bad adaptation, but the end product is nevertheless bland and pretty forgettable.
To prepare for the movie, I reread Jujutsu Kaisen 0 the manga, which was released before Jujutsu Kaisen (the manga). Jujutsu Kaisen 0 follows Yuta Okkotsu, a boy who’s haunted by his childhood friend, Rika. Her cursed spirit captures the attention of jujutsu sorcerers, who sentence Yuta to be executed since they fear her being too powerful and uncontrollable (sounds pretty familiar). Yuta’s journey to break Rika’s curse sets him in the path of many dangerous characters, including Geto Suguru, an evil sorcerer intent on destroying humanity.
Disclaimer: This post contains discussions that may be triggering for some readers. Content warning for death of a child. By clicking “Read More,” you understand that you may encounter such content. Reader discretion is advised.
In this prequel, you can see the beginnings of Gege Akutami’s world forming itself and the foundation for many beloved side characters such as Maki Zenin and Gojo Satoru being laid. The manga showcases Akutami’s creativity but lacks the fast pace and action that would help shoot Jujutsu Kaisen to later success. Of course, Studio MAPPA adapting the series didn’t hurt either.
However, it was clear to me that Jujutsu Kaisen 0 would not be fun within the first half hour as I checked my watch many times. It felt like the movie was made for people getting into Akutami’s world for the first time, which makes sense considering it was published before Jujutsu Kaisen. It’s the precursor for the series that would gather so many fans, many of whom were in that theater, and it suffered in my viewing because of that.
When the movie ended, one of the people behind me remarked that it felt like déjà vu watching it because the plot and characters were so similar to Jujutsu Kaisen. Like the protagonist of that series, Yuta is cursed and must prove himself a helper rather than a danger to humanity. Unlike Yuuji though, Yuta doesn’t grow organically through the movie. This sense of tedious repetition also carries through to most of the supporting characters.
Source: Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021)
The first hour is spent on Yuta following the other first-years on missions and introducing viewers to their powers. This would be fine if it was a show, but it feels repetitive in a movie whose success was built off that show. Fans of Jujutsu Kaisen already know who these first-years are and what they can do. While it’s cool to see them in action again, it’s not fully connected to the rest of the plot that will appear in the last hour of the movie. It doesn’t introduce any fun easter eggs or ideas for worldbuilding and characters that we haven’t already seen in the show.
For example, Yuta’s bond with Maki in this movie is much like Maki’s bond with Nobara in Jujutsu Kaisen. Instead of developing Maki and giving her more complexity, the movie repeats her insecurities about being her clan’s “failure” and how she wants to prove them wrong. In the end, Yuta’s bond with her is just a weaker version of Nobara and Maki’s relationship. And this is similar to nearly every relationship Yuta develops with the characters in the movie. They’re all prototypes for Jujutsu Kaisen characters and as limited as they were in the show, and that’s not interesting to watch.
Well, what about the action? Jujutsu Kaisen’s slick action is one of the reasons it’s gathered so many viewers, and the movie does deliver on that. The final fight between Yuta and Geto is great and has some interesting ideological debate sprinkled in, but it isn’t enough to hold an entire movie up. Especially since that was one standout fight scene in a movie of otherwise boring fight choreography. To some degree, fights do require some degree of investment in the characters so it’s not surprising that I found myself yawning through them. You’ll find nothing new done in Jujutsu Kaisen 0 that’s not more exciting in Jujutsu Kaisen, but the fights in this movie succeed much more if you don’t compare it the two.
Source: Chapter 1, Jujutsu Kaisen 0
I do want to talk about the positives of the movie, which is the voice acting for Rika and Geto’s characterization. Rika had the potential to be such an interesting character, as evidenced by Akutami’s profile for her in the manga. It’s a shame that Rika is just a monstrous figure in this movie whose tragic death is only important because of how it affects Yuta. Yuta only remembers her as either an innocent or as a menacing figure who clung to him as she was dying. Other than that, it’s unknown what her personality was or how she felt about anything in her life. She doesn’t even get much to say when her curse is broken other than her forgiving Yuta.
The only aspect of Rika that I have anything positive to think about is her voice actress, Kana Hanazawa, who does a great job bringing menace to a childlike voice and demeanor. I loved hearing her and the modulation they added to make her voice echo was a nice touch.
Source: Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021)
Besides Rika, only one other character brought some life to this movie. Geto is a charismatic evil that we didn’t get a lot of time for in Jujutsu Kaisen, so it was nice to see more of his philosophy and influence in Jujutsu Kaisen 0. Geto has the visage of a monk, but this only hides his violent belief in sorcerer supremacy. I found the characterization of him as a sort of cult leader effectively menacing and it was interesting to see how his skills were weaponized against the very jujutsu institution that raised him.
Besides Geto and Rika, I didn’t enjoy anything about Jujutsu Kaisen 0. I would absolutely rewatch Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s final fight again on YouTube and probably will once it comes out online. However, the plot meanders and is hindered by subpar characters and its pointless first hour. I would’ve preferred a movie that understood it was building off the success of Jujutsu Kaisen and that the source material was too similar to that series. It would’ve been wonderful to watch a movie that adapted the Shibuya Incident Arc in the same vein as Demon Slayer: Mugen Train. Overall, I’d rate this movie 5/10. I admit I might be comparing it too much to Jujutsu Kaisen and not fully judging it based on its merits as a standalone movie, but I genuinely can’t imagine myself giving it a higher rating.