Gege Akutami’s action-fantasy series Jujutsu Kaisen has taken the anime world by storm. The series has been popular because of its mind-blowing animation, intriguing storytelling, and dynamic characters.
Even though Jujutsu Kaisen has pretty much followed the shonen formula, it stands out because of its nuanced writing. Its characters have created their own fanbases in a very short span of time. However, lots of shows have really memorable characters. If there is one thing that truly sets Jujutsu Kaisen apart, it is its female characters.
It’s hardly groundbreaking or controversial to say that women have historically not been written well in shonen.
After all, shonen literally means young boys.
Even though lots of new generation action anime feature female characters in prominent roles, how they are written is a whole other subject.
The Hinatas and Sakuras of Anime
Take the most well-known female anime characters in recent history- Sakura and Hinata from Naruto, Lucy and Erza from Fairy Tail, Uraraka from My Hero Academia, and so on. They are all vastly distinct characters from each other.
However, what they all have in common is how their characters are often defined or overshadowed by the male characters around them. Sakura’s arc begins and ends at Sasuke and Hinata’s entire dialogue history can be summed up with “Naruto-Kun”.
Lucy and Erza are defined beyond their love interest, however, they as well often act in service to or protection of the men whose story it actually is. Uraraka started out somewhat like her own person but in the recent seasons of the show, she has been completely sidelined.
I won't talk about Rukia and Orihime from Bleach as I happen to hold a personal grudge against them.
Jujutsu Kaisen girls are different. I do not want to say something as cliched as they are not like other anime girls. However, in the case of Jujutsu Kaisen, the female characters have something very different about them.
There’s been a lot of dissection about the hows and whys of this.
Kugisaki Nobara, Maki Zenin and even side characters like Miwa have very distinct and holistic personalities. They are all unique fighters and unique people in their own right. However, what makes them truly interesting is not their skill level but their characterizations.
Strong Women In Shonen Anime
Strong female characters have been scattered throughout shonen history. For every Hinata or Orihime, we have a Tsunade or Yoruichi. As much as I love these strong, independent women, they do leave something to be desired. Both Tsunade and Yoruichi are feared and revered in their respective universes.
At the same time, their appearance is often heavily objectified and sexualized and gets in the way of projecting the intimidatingly strong characters that they actually are. Even if we were to ignore this, both of these characters have a somewhat similar character arc.
Strong women in action animes usually follow one of two routes.
- Strong, mysterious, often legendary character is introduced in the story — their paths cross with the young protagonist — they are affected by the protagonist’s drive — they devote themselves to the protagonist’s cause
- Ordinary female characters with hidden potential become extraordinarily strong (never stronger than their male counterparts though) because they are motivated by the protagonist — they devote themselves to the protagonist’s cause.
Additionally, even in their moments of glory in fights, it is more of a spectacle and less anything that impacts the story in any real way.
Sakura’s best fight in the entire series has zero bearing on the actual storyline. Moreover, even the quirkiest of female characters end up falling into similar character writing traps.
It is easy to introduce fun, dynamic anime women. However, with time their stories get relegated to the side or get written in service of the main character or important men in their life.
There is nothing wrong with a woman motivated by love or another character. However, such writing is at the risk of getting lazy and often gets predictable with time. Moreover, the audience finds it hard to care about them beyond their symbolic significance for the story.
What Makes Jujutsu Kaisen Girls Different
This is where Jujutsu Kaisen differentiates itself. Every character has their own wants, needs, and motivation. Gege Akutami has been able to write distinctly memorable female characters in a lot of ways. However, what stood out to me most was his decision to not give any major characters a romantic arc.
When devoid of romantic love as a primary motivation, the writer gets forced to explore other aspects of a character. Akutami avoided giving himself an easy crutch to rely on and came out with truly vibrant and impactful young women.
Let's take Kugisaki Nobara for example. She fights alongside the protagonist in important battles in ways that have major impacts on the main story. She is loud, aggressive, and always speaks her mind. However, she is more complex than being a mere badass fighter. She loves to dress up in pretty clothes, eat good food, and wishes to have a boyfriend before Itadori and Megumi get to date!
Jujutsu Kaisen tells the story of Itadori Yuji being thrown into the fantastical world of cursed spirits and Jujutsu Sorcerers. But it also tells a million other stories of every character in it. All the characters feel real and the world fills lived in.
People in Jujutsu Kaisen have a life outside of helping the protagonist defeat the big bad villain and save the world and the way Akutami goes about exploring their inner lives is truly engaging and sincere.
To me, this is what makes the Jujutsu Kaisen girls stand out. Akutami doesn't go out of his way to write "strong female characters", he just writes complex, layered people irrespective of their gender. He respects and writes Jujutsu Kaisen girls as a person of their own, therefore so do we.