Anime Fans Will Love 'Jujutsu Kaisen 0'
Everyone else… will have a hard time understanding what the hell is going on.
In the post-lockdown box office, a few bankable trends that signal a new movie will rake in good money have calcified: be a movie that stars Tom Holland, be The Batman or a similarly huge superhero property, or be an anime movie of an existing mega-popular series. The first instance of the latter emerged in October 2020 when Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba — The Movie: Mugen Train opened in Japan. Within six weeks, it became the country’s highest-grossing film ever, besting Spirited Away, Titanic, Frozen, and Your Name. Landing in the states in April 2021, when theaters were just unlocking their doors again, it opened at No. 1 at the box office, eventually pulling in nearly $50 million during its run. Now another new anime film expanding on a massive new series is aiming to replicate that success by luring in fans who simp for a chirpy blue-eyed, white-haired sorcerer named Gojo Satoru who can mess with the fabric of space-time by crossing his fingers.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0, a prequel to the shōnen Jujutsu Kaisen, which began airing in late 2019 with one of the best-ever end credits in TV, arrived in North American theaters on Friday. It earned a respectable $17.7 million—second to The Batman’s third-week grab of almost $37 million. While that difference might look chasmic, consider this: JJK0 beat the next most profitable opening, Ti West’s wild horror film X, by more than $13 million despite bowing in fewer theaters and without a cinephile-favorite distributor (A24) behind it. Instead, it caters specifically to fans who have been dying to see more of the anime about high schoolers who fight curses with cool counter-curses since its first season ended a year ago.
And for people who have watched Jujutsu Kaisen, JJK0 scratches that itch in adapting a fan-favorite manga arc set in the year before the events of the main series and closes the loop between the two in a short post-credits scene establishing that we shouldn’t be surprised to see a new character showing up in Season 2 (coming out in 2023). But for those who got dragged along as a plus-one without knowing any of the context, this movie would likely be befuddling, throwing almost every character from the series on-screen at some point with no introduction. If you’re in a seat, you’re expected to have intimate familiarity with the ensemble of sorcerer instructors and older students surrounding pink-haired series protagonist Itadori Yuji on his quest to eat all 20 of the petrified fingers from the body of the world’s most powerful curse, Sukuna.
But again, JJK0 has nothing to do with Yuji and his new classmates, the insanely cool Nobara Kugisaki and detached Megumi Fushiguro. In the year before they arrive at Tokyo Metropolitan Magic Technical College, a different special boy is taken in by Gojo: Okkustu Yuta, kind of a sad sack cursed by his childhood love, Orimoto Rika, who takes on a giant, monstrous, and terrifying form called the Queen of Curses when Yuta is in trouble, brutally murdering four bullies at the beginning of the movie. With the help of series second-years—Inumaki Toge, who mumbles nonsense words in everyday conversation because of his cursed speech power; Maki Zen-in, who comes from a famous jujutsu sorcerer family and has one of the series' standout episodes that breaks shōnen conventions; and Panda, literally an anthropomorphic panda made by a ritual called cursed corpse mutation—Yuta must learn how to control Rika lest she be seized by all of Jujutsu Kaisen’s big bad, Geto Suguru, a former friend of Gojo’s and megalomaniac intent on killing all non-sorcerers.
Fleshing out Geto and Gojo’s backstory—clearly fraught, though the reason why is more ambiguous in the series—in JJK0 is one of its more gratifying hallmarks, but the main attractions here are the big melees in all of their architecture-bulldozing glory animated by MAPPA, especially during the final showdown between Yuta and Geto while the Rolodex of jujutsu sorcerers take down the 1,000 curses that Geto has unleashed around Japan. Considering the series, it’s not really a spoiler to say that the good guys win, but the blowout battle back-builds the true stakes of the previous 24 episodes, which often found time to be laugh-out-loud funny as Yuji comes into his own power as Sukuna’s vessel in between frighteningly dire fights with super-tough curses (at least one of which Evil fans will recognize in the volcano-headed Jogo). With Geto scheming his big comeback, those who have seen JJK0 will at least know that Yuji, Gojo, and co. have help on the way, packing the power of one giant curse with lots of sharp teeth.