Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a fascinating animated adaptation of the manga

Okkotsu Yuta holds a sword in front of Rika.

Image: MAP study

I was originally undecided about seeing Jujutsu Kaisen 0the new anime film based on the manga of the same name, a prequel to the popular jujutsu kaisen manga series. I read Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and i’m completely stuck on jujutsu kaisen so I didn’t think the movie would have much to offer me. I was wrong. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is one of those rare anime adaptations that introduces a whole new perspective on a character while staying true to the source material. As someone who follows manga, I have always associated Okkotsu Yuta, the protagonist of JK0 and a supporting character in the ongoing series, with monstrous, unnatural strength. In the film, however, his best moments are full of compassion and emotional vulnerability.

When we meet him, Okkotsu Yuta is a teenager haunted by the soul of his dead childhood sweetheart. Whenever someone tries to threaten him, “Rika” emerges to horribly murder them. Gojo Satoru, a teacher at Tokyo Jujutsu Technical High and a powerful sorcerer in his own right, enrolls Yuta in the school so he can learn spirit control. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a coming of age story about overcoming guilt and finding acceptance among peers.

In the manga, Yuta can be moody and dour, and when he masters his powers, he’s downright terrifying. I liked him because he had a specific purpose in the plot for me: to make sure that fewer characters I care about die. jujutsu kaisen is full of genocidal villains. Every time Yuta appeared, he knew that he was powerful enough to fix whatever problem was going on. In a series where supporting characters are prone to dying at the author’s whim, he was my pillar, a constant I could rely on.

On Jujutsu Kaisen 0we learn who Yuta was before he became the powerful practitioner of sorcery I knew he was. I was immediately captivated by the melancholic shots that the film offers of his daily life. While the manga tried say he told me he started out as an ordinary kid, I only internalized that impression when I actually saw him, in the movie, getting ready for his first day at a new school. He is anxious, clumsy and chronically terrified of the supernatural events around him. When Yuta makes normcore jokes about meeting his weird and magical classmates, I was a big fan of how the film gave each punch line dramatic weight. At that moment, I understood the true strength of the film: it took Yuta’s mental health issues seriously.

Rika smiles at the camera.

Image: MAP Studio / Crunchyroll

Rika, the spirit that haunts him, can be read as a metaphor for what happens when your depression turns ugly and destructive. It’s not your fault, but the monster still came from you. And he’s got a body count. Yuta has to take responsibility for the monster from him, and he can’t do it as he battles self-loathing and learned helplessness. Fortunately, at Tokyo Jujutsu Technical High School he finds the compassion and understanding he needs to begin to grow beyond his guilt and shame, a process the film beautifully depicts.

There were several moments in the movie where I was reminded of my favorite line in the jujutsu kaisen anime: “Being a child is not a sin.” It is a phrase that is said to the protagonist Itadori Yuji, when he feels guilty for not being able to avoid a violent tragedy. This is a huge subversion for shounen manga, where kids regularly beat themselves up for not protecting people from bloodthirsty killers. On Jujutsu Kaisen 0, Yuta admits his guilt for inadvertently “cursing” Rika to remain attached to him after death, but both the story and the characters treat him like a real high school student in need of empathy and protection. He can become an elite monster slayer later. As Gojo Satoru says in the movie (I’m paraphrasing, because he was too excited to remember shit), children deserve a place where they can be innocent.

The movie also gives Yuta plenty of moments to express his pain, and in my favorite moments, it even shows him crying. While he isn’t the only shounen protagonist to cry, these tearful scenes are usually fleeting moments that the story tries to get past as quickly as possible. After all, “real” men aren’t supposed to drown in their own sadness as the world falls apart around them. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 shows that pain is just as important an emotion as anger, the “safe” emotion that shounen characters can generally have by default.

However, not everyone is a fan of her vulnerability. The second-year student, Zenin Maki, chides Yuta throughout the film for avoiding conflict and not trying hard. Maki believes that social acceptance will only come after one has proven to be strong. I understand where it comes from. We live in a capitalist society where people are defined by their achievements. But as certain tragic developments in the manga illustrate, there are limits to achievement-based acceptance.

The cursed version of Rika is blown up.

Screenshot: MAP Studio / Crunchyroll

Of course, she’s not completely wrong either. Maki has no spiritual powers, while Yuta is one of the most powerful beings in the series. And while he sucks that the plot draws a “secret lineage” reason for his abilities, he doesn’t master his powers through genetics or training alone. All the ability in the world wouldn’t matter unless he felt empowered to use it. Yuta only becomes one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world when he extends an olive branch to the spirit that almost ruins his life. By accepting the traumatized spirit of his childhood sweetheart, Yuta is able to love himself more unconditionally.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 he is also subversive for acknowledging that Yuta and Rika’s bond is romantic. In many shounen series, romantic affection is pushed aside for brotherly love. Either it is played for laughs or it is discarded as something to understand when the protagonists are older. Yuta not only acknowledges his romantic love for Rika in front of the main villain, his engagement ring is a spiritual conduit to access Rika’s powers. And the show still allows him to be one of the coolest fighters in jujutsu kaiseninstead of being relegated to “wife boy”.

That’s not to mention the film’s beautiful animation, including excitingly visualized fight scenes that unfold as single, seamless shots. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 supports all of its rich, soulful themes with a fantastic soundtrack and the incredibly dynamic animation studio MAPPA is known for. Whether you’re already interested in the series or just want to watch an anime movie done right, you shouldn’t miss out. Jujutsu Kaisen 0.