Jujutsu Kaisen bridged the gap from one fairly impressive year of animation to a year eager to please even more. 2021 started with quite the lineup, but MAPPA was committed to seeing through their newest shonen craze to the end with gusto.
The second half begins with the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event. Not quite a tournament arc, but it accomplishes similar goals. Firstly, an excuse for plenty of incredible and varied kinds of fights. Second, the blooming of new rivalries and friendships. Finally, more clever expansions to the cast and by extension, the world of JJK.
In my post about the best animation nominees at the Anime Awards, I made special mention of episode 17, directed by Shota Goshozono. I’ve already gushed about visuals, but this episode was especially meaningful for how it explored and empowered its female cast. JJK might have some of the most immediately fierce and nuanced female characters I’ve seen in a while.
Having an entire episode dedicated to Nobara giving the middle finger to gender roles or Maki confidently owning her strength in the face of her family’s abuses, are both incredible pieces of character development. Without being as rigid as a tournament arc, this show pairs its combatants just as effectively.
Soon however the exchange event gives way to something much darker at the arrival of some uninvited guests. The resulting battles are relentless in creativity. You’re constantly learning new things about the characters at just the right times. A new weapon, a new skill, a new team attack – everything is well-paced.
As you become enthralled in the characters’ banter and collaboration during these fights, it might slip your mind that there is a larger story going on in the background. This is forgivable since – in the moment – the characters and their motivations are the most important, but the larger conspiracies behind the scenes frequently slip my mind.
The executives harbor ill will towards Itadori since he’s Sukuna’s host and they want to exterminate him. Meanwhile, the antagonists, a playful gang of cursed spirits, are still hanging in the background, sending strong opponents at the heroes while trying to secure Sukuna’s fingers for themselves.
The antagonists aren’t bad. In fact, they’re often well-designed, well-acted, and lend themselves to great fights. However, the overarching story involving them isn’t quite so enticing quite yet. It’s hard to care about the antagonists yet. I’m more fascinated by the smaller, character-driven tales we get.
Itadori and Todo becoming (reluctant) besties based on their taste in women and their ability to punch real good is gold. Nobara looking up to Maki for her confidence is cute as hell. Hell, there were some moments in the last three episodes between the main trio that almost brought a tear to my eye.
The melodrama at the heart of shonen shows about friendship is still there, but it’s the understated subtlety here that makes it powerful. Itadori and Kugisaki are gonna stand by Fushiguro when things get tough. Obviously. The moment they hand-wave what could have been an emotional moment like “yeah, yeah, we get it, bro, which way to the ass we need to kick?” is a supremely sweet moment. It’s clear how much these characters care about each other.
In my first reaction and my mid-season review, I somehow glossed over the music. By the end, I can safely say that the synergy of disjointed techno, rock ballads, and traditional Japanese instrumentals made the sound of Jujutsu Kaisen simply addicting.
Three people are credited with the music. Hiroaki Tsutsumi, responsible for the soundtracks to Dr. Stone, the Devil May Cry anime, and Teasing Master Takagi-san, among others. Next Yoshimasa Terui, a guitarist for the band Haisuinonasa, the band that did the opening to Land of the Lustrous. Finally, Alisa Okehazama, who worked on both this and Seong-Hu Park’s other MAPPA work from 2020, The God of High School.
Many thanks to all three for a wonderful score that I’m sure I’ll be listening to during writing whenever I need a fitting ambiance. Kaisen’s visuals are consistent enough that not much more has to be said on that matter. What I will say is that the music and sound shouldn’t go underappreciated and Akiko Fujita’s sound direction was invaluable. They were also the Sound Director for Wonder Egg Priority, another show with sublime audio production.
Jujutsu Kaisen‘s end came and went without me fully appreciating how much it will be missed until it comes back for a continuation. I hope the end goal – whatever grand battle awaits or what scheme needs to be thwarted – has as much bite to it as the main characters. I may have had my doubts about this trio at first, but they have grown on me considerably.
Itadori, Kugisaki, and Fushiguro are iconic without feeling like their synergy is based solely on their marketable presence. Some action shows establish teams comprised of fleshed-out characters without truly selling a powerful bond between them. Jujutsu Kaisen put in the work and by the end, created a trio that I can’t wait to see again.
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Jujutsu Kaisen is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for plenty more reviews of Winter 2021’s greatest hits and a look forward to the Spring season!