Jujutsu Kaisen premiered on October 2nd, 2020. Its first few episodes established the show as a traditional Shonen. The show is based on a manga of the same name created by Gege Akutami. Usually, action shonen features a promising young (mostly male) protagonist who likes to goof around and has a secret world and/or power waiting for him to stumble upon.
The secondary protagonist normally is a quiet, refined, and often dark-haired rival and friend. He has a somewhat tragic past, a rigid set of ideals, and a fixed goal to reach. Then there’s a cool, carefree, humorous but ridiculously powerful mentor character. Lastly, a sometimes ditzy but capable female protagonist with mediocre but important dreams.
They all come together to defeat a great evil, climbing one wall after the other. They keep getting steadily powerful until our protagonist crosses paths with a ridiculously powerful antagonist. This triggers an awakening of a power of sorts within them. The story more or less continues on the same formula until it ends.
What Is The Plot Of Jujutsu Kaisen?
The setting of Jujutsu Kaisen is simple. The negative emotions that humans feel become curses lurking in our everyday lives. Curses run rampant throughout the world, more so in crowded metropolitans and can lead people to terrible misfortune and even death. Incidentally, only other curses or cursed energy can exorcise curses.
The story follows Yuji Itadori, a boy with immense physical strength, living an ordinary high school life. One day, in order to save a friend attacked by cursed spirits, he eats the finger of Sukuna to gain its cursed energy. Incidentally, Sukuna happens to be the King of Curses. Now, Yuji essentially becomes a host for Ryomen Sukuna.
Consequently, Yuji takes admission in the Tokyo Jujutsu High School of Sorcery, an organization that exorcises curses. Here he is guided by the most powerful and beautiful of jujutsu sorcerers, Satoru Gojo. Subsequently, he meets Megumi Fushiguro and Nobara Kugisaki and thus begins the journey of a boy who became a curse to fight other curses.
At a glance, Jujutsu Kaisen seems to be following the Shonen formula to a T. The first 5 episodes felt like a ‘Naruto:2020 Edition’ to us. However, as the show progressed something subtle yet distinctly peculiar happened and it kept happening over and over again.
Why Is Jujutsu Kaisen Different From Others
Jujutsu Kaisen does this wonderful thing where it takes the usual predictable Shonen setup and turns it over its head with subtle complexities. For one thing, our protagonist Yuji Itadori does not have any grand dreams of saving the world through the power of friendship. Instead, he accepts the cynical reality of it all. Yuji understands that a single human can only do so much. Even so, he continues on an honest, righteous path.
Like Naruto, Yuji has a sinister spirit dwelling inside him as the source of his superhuman powers but unlike Naruto, Itadori chooses this path for himself. Furthermore, unlike the Nine-tailed fox, Sukuna isn’t some tragic, misunderstood spirit of a forgotten hero. He is a cruel, loves hurting others and is looking for a chance to manipulate or kill Yuji and others around him.
Another Naruto parallel is the cool white haired sensei! Akutami may deny it but Gojo Satoru definitely gives hints of Kakashi Sensei, intentional or not. We could draw a character by character parallel between Naruto or any other Shonen anime and Jujutsu Kaisen and it would seemingly look the same. After all, there’s a reason why Social Media has Naruto vs Jujutsu Kaisen memes floating around. However, perhaps because Jujutsu Kaisen catches the aesthetic of other shonen anime so well, when it subverts a general expectation, it really hits home!
The Junpei Twist | Subverting Expectations
*This section is a spoiler-filled zone. Proceed with caution*
To understand how Jujutsu Kaisen is really not like other shonen anime, let's just look at one of the biggest anime betrayals in recent history. When Junpei is introduced as a character, his path looks pretty predictable. We have seen the introverted, loner, outcast guy a million times. He is torn between the light and the darkness. He succumbs to the proverbial darkness at first. However, our hero intervenes saving him himself.
We knew where this was going, we had seen the OP where Junpei is chilling with Itadori and others. However, as we now know, this didn’t happen. In a sequence of rather tragic events, Junpei lost his life. What’s more there was never even a moment of saving his soul, as we got with many deceased Naruto antagonists. The twist wasn’t Junpei’s imminent death itself but the way it all went down. Much like real life, Junpei’s death was sudden, with no closure for himself or the viewers.
Maybe Akutami is trying to compete with Hajime Isayama over who can be better in humiliating & hurting others. Or perhaps, Jujutsu Kaisen has a new, fun, and beautiful, sometimes dark story to tell and it is doing it just right.
Jujutsu Kaisen | The Best Shonen Of Its Time
The story is set in the modern contemporary world. It does a very good job of giving a contrast between the struggle of living a decent life and overcoming the negativity that naturally comes with it. For all its horror-fantasy elements, there is an overwhelming sense of reality to Jujutsu Kaisen, permeating through its darkest and funniest moments alike.
Jujutsu Kaisen exists in the immensely popular yet limiting world of Shonen. It plays with tropes we all know too well, and yet continues to test the limits of its genre. Akutami does it through innovative storytelling and unique twists on well-known character tropes. He has dealt with the antagonists shown so far in a similar manner. He manages to give them depth and humanity without justifying any of their actions.
The show often travels to some really dark places. However, Jujutsu Kaisen balances its darker elements perfectly with its deadpan and self aware humour. I know I was in it for the long run when a disappointed Yuji wished to pull off an attack like Rasengan or Kamehameha or have a cool Bankai. The show continues to make references and pay tribute to other popular anime while creating its own unique style.
With the way Jujutsu Kaisen keeps raising the bar for Shounen itself, it won’t surprise us if it becomes one of the next Big Threes for the coming decade. Until then we can just keep our fingers crossed and wait for the next season (and/or movie) of Jujutsu Kaisen, unless, you haven’t watched it yet. In which case, go start the anime right now and thank us later!