Review: ‘Jujutsu Kaisen 0’ falls victim to its own cursed energy

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“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is just as the title suggests – a zero.

“Jujutsu Kaisen” took the anime world by storm after its release in October 2020. Ever since the first season ended, fans have been bloodthirsty for more of the supernatural shonen. Their wishes have finally been granted with the newly released “Jujutsu Kaisen 0.” But even with this film’s industry-leading aesthetic, seat-clenching fight choreography and banger soundtrack, it fails to reach its full potential.

Contributed by Toho Animation.

“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” takes place before the anime’s first season. Yuta Okkotsu (Kayleigh McKee), a severely depressed and avoidant high schooler, has the power of his deceased childhood lovebird turned violent poltergeist, Rika (Anairis Quiñones). After Rika gravely injures four of Yuta’s bullies, Yuta is taken in by Satoru Gojo (Kanji Tang), a special grade jujutsu sorcerer, and is enrolled in Tokyo Jujutsu High to master Rika’s unbridled cursed power.

If Yuta can’t control Rika with the help of Gojo and his new classmates, the academy’s higher-ups will execute him. That isn’t his only problem, as Suguru Geto (Lex Lang), an ex-Tokyo Jujutsu High student turned revolutionary, plots to take Rika for himself. Geto seeks this power to make a society where only jujutsu sorcerers reside, as the rest of humanity is wiped from the world.

Phew – pretty heavy plot, right? Unfortunately, that short synopsis is just about as deep as the story gets.

A common critique of the anime is that the first season was pretty shallow. Terribly fast pacing, nonsensical characters and inconsequential melodrama all plagued season one’s 24-episode run. As a prequel, the one thing “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” needed to do was to tackle those pestering issues, but the film never does. In fact, it doubles down on those annoyances.

Yuta goes from an emotionally struggling, distant high school kid to an all-powerful fighter who can harness Rika’s power. This type of arc is common in shonen anime, but it happens far too quickly; Yuta going toe-to-toe with Geto, a jujutsu sorcerer on the same level as Gojo, is laughably absurd given how little time the film spends developing him.

This stems from the film never establishing a sensical feeling of progression. Between scenes, the passage of time during Yuta’s training is showcased by day and night cycles, but time passes inconsistently. One scene in particular randomly shifts from summertime to snowy weather. The film fails to establish large time gaps, and it expects audiences to accept that Yuta’s training is paying off without actually seeing his evolution.

These larger pacing issues trickle down to every other element of the film. You never take the protagonists seriously, the supporting cast of characters are severely underdeveloped and the attempted drama all feels so flimsy. Everything eventually crumbles under all of that shallow weight.

Despite all the issues this film is cursed with, it isn’t just negative.

For all my gripes with how characters are established within the film, the side characters outshine Yuta. Maki Zen’in (Allegra Clark) with her grime-stained backstory of family drama and abuse, as well as Geto Suguru’s compelling motivations, struck a surprising home run for me.

The film is also jam-packed with stellar visuals and animated fight choreography that represents the anime industry’s best. If you want to throw a party for your eyes, consider seeing this film, especially if you’re just now dipping your toes in the world of anime.

Unfortunately, cool fight scenes and visuals aren’t enough for a movie to be fulfilling, let alone good. If that was the only prerequisite, the Fast and Furious films would be considered undisputed holy grails of cinema.

“Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” like the anime it supplements, offers incredible amounts of mediocre hits and a plethora of painful misses. But – and I mean a huge but – the Jujutsu Kaisen series has unlimited potential due to its solid structure. The bones, muscles, heart and an incredibly attractive body are all present, but when it comes to a soul, there’s none to be found.

“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is available to watch only in theaters and season one of “Jujutsu Kaisen” is available now on HBO Max and Crunchyroll.

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