R E V I E W – A N I M E
Aranyo Rishi, Mahdi Daiyan
Ridiculously overpowered protagonists, contrived plot devices, one-dimensional female characters made for the sole purpose of fanservice — all these are trademarks of the shonen genre, with even the best of the genre being guilty of featuring at least one of them. Strangely enough, however, none of these flaws are present in Shonen Jump’s rising star, Jujutsu Kaisen.
With subversive takes on common tropes and amazingly well written characters, complemented by spectacularly choreographed fight scenes brought to life by MAPPA’s stellar animation style, Gege Akutami’s up-and-coming series is accumulating fans and garnering attention at a staggering rate. But does it really deserve all the praise and recognition it is receiving, or is it just another overhyped shonen? In order to decide that, let’s take a step back and see why people are dubbing Jujutsu Kaisen “the greatest shonen can be“.
The power of friendship doesn’t work?!
The series follows the journey of Yuji Itadori, a freakishly physically strong high-schooler who has suddenly been thrust into a world of paranormal occurrences and monsters after he and his friends are assaulted one night by a Curse, one of the many hostile physical manifestations of the negative emotions of people. A series of events follows, leading Yuji to join a school of exorcists, called Jujutsu Sorcerers, who rid the streets of Japan of malicious, violent Curses.
Despite being fuelled by the unstoppable and unfathomable power of friendship, Yuji’s drive to protect his nakama, quite surprisingly, comes up short when facing opponents several orders of magnitude more powerful than him. Jujutsu Kaisen steers clear of deus ex machina territory by ensuring that whenever a character bites off more than they can chew, there are lasting, dire consequences. Whether it be due to fighting Curses several weight classes above him, or making deals with the devil who is chilling inside his stomach (more on that later), Yuji comes to terms with the fact that his actions do, in fact, have consequences.
The demon within… is a huge asshole
The Superpowered-Evil-Side trope may quite possibly be the most overdone, clichéd trope in anime, especially in the shonen genre. We are all too familiar with the hero’s struggle and eventual triumph in learning to control a violent, chaotic entity that they housed inside themselves. Most often, the inner demon is either neutralised or befriended into a symbiotic relationship with our hero, and serves as nothing but a cheap way to give the hero a power boost.
Akutami seemingly realised this and put their own unique twist on the trope. Ryomen Sukuna, the Jujutsu Kaisen equivalent of Satan, is a demon who came to live inside Yuji Itadori through strange circumstances. This physical manifestation of evil itself, a harbinger of genocide and anarchy, is apparently not the nicest guy. Not only does he never aid the protagonists, even in life-or-death scenarios, but he actively makes situations worse — either through direct, physical interference or by coercing Yuji into making one-sided pacts by promising him the ability to protect his friends when the whole power-of-friendship schtick doesn’t pan out, in exchange for control over his body.
Selfishness masked in selflessness…Hmm, controversial much?
Like just about every other shonen protagonist, Yuji has a strong drive to protect his friends, often recklessly and at the detriment of his own well-being. However, through introspective inner monologue, we learn that Yuji wants to make friends and protect them so that he will not be lonely at the time of his death. Not only does his supposedly selfless desire to protect stem from selfish intentions, but Yuji is fully self-aware of this, and does not seem to deprecate himself for it. This distinguishes Yuji from the usual selfless hero archetype and brings some important questions to light. Does all altruism and kindness originate from a need to feel good about oneself? Are selflessness and selfishness really opposites, or is the former just a product of the latter?
Peaceful, Puritan-ish cast? Nah, we like some spice in this house
The superpowers which shonen protagonists come to acquire, usually end up making them stronger than most other characters in that anime. Thus, the protagonists are always trusted with defeating the villain by the higher-ups in that anime. The authoritative bodies in shonen anime are always depicted as being embodiements of righteousness. But in Jujutsu Kaisen, Yuji, being the host of ‘King of Curses Ryomen Sukuna’ and whatnot, is deemed a special grade cursed object by the Jujutsu society higher-ups, which is fancy jujutsu talk for very, very dangerous. Consequently, they decide to put him on their hit-list. Jujutsu higher-ups, consisting of 3 major clans, are corrupted from the root. All they care about is preserving their seats of power, even if it means getting their hands dirty.
This brings us to the poster boy of Jujutsu Kaisen, Gojo Satoru. Born with obscenely strong powers, this seemingly calm and composed character is the mightiest in the anime. However, being sick of the corruption of the Jujutsu higher-ups, Satoru is portrayed as having violent tendencies due to which he wants to slaughter all the higher-ups. Positive characters having ferocity is seldom seen in shonen anime, but Akutami navigates the trope with unparalleled ingenuity.
Of heroines and hourglasses
Jujutsu Kaisen is, depressingly enough, one of the only shonen anime that doesn’t feature absolutely ludicrous amounts of fan-service. Even the most respected members of the genre have a tendency to design women as the epitome of what is generally considered physical attractiveness. Valuable screen time which could’ve been allocated to the progression of the plot, world-building, or often much-needed character development is instead used to draw mandatory attention to a walking, talking hourglass’s female character’s vivacious curves to appease the masses. Amid all the bodacious bosoms, a mangaka will often throw in a headstrong, “independent” woman just for the sake of doing so, creating the illusion of diversity. This female character is often violently defensive, easily irritable, and is a horrendous (and kind of sexist) personification of what the mangaka considers tough femmes to be like, making for an overall unpleasant character archetype.
Although, Gege Akutami has made a point of including mostly strong-willed women in the series’ cast, the mangaka doesn’t fall into the usual trap of introducing strong female characters just for the sake of doing so. The social hierarchy of the Jujutsu world demands its female members to fit a certain mould if they are to desire success in the field of sorcery. As a result, the women with the strongest of drives must often sacrifice femininity and the luxury of displaying weakness to receive recognition, resulting in the show’s cast of wilful, unyielding women. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as with the character of Kugisaki Nobara, who shows unwavering dedication to following her desires free of other people’s expectations, whether those desires dictate rocking gorgeous dresses and going out shopping or rising through the ranks of sorcery and annihilating cursed spirits.
Watching Jujutsu Kaisen can sometimes make one wonder whether the series is a parody of the shonen genre as a whole. The sheer quantity of fresh, innovative new takes on tired, old shonen tropes certainly suggest so. Gege Akutami has, by now, proven themself a master of subverting expectations. If you haven’t already done so, we would definitely recommend checking this anime out because at this pace, Jujutsu Kaisen might be poised to become one of the greatest shonens in anime.