Anime seems like a very niche interest, but if you really think about it, most people you know would have watched at least a few episodes of Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Naruto or Bleach. They are some of the most popular series of all time. You wouldn’t have to look too hard to notice some similarities among all of them. For one, they are targeted at a male audience, second, they all feature an overly enthusiastic and unusually loud protagonist, and third, there is a dearth of well written female characters. These are the things that are common among a genre of anime called Shonen. If you’re like me, and you have long since grown tired of the same character tropes and story arcs, but want to relive the adrenaline rush that Shonen gives you, then Jujutsu Kaisen is just the antidote you need.
Jujutsu Kaisen, by Gege Akutami, is the story of Itadori Yuji, a High School student whose only living relative, his granddad, passes away, leaving him the a final request that Yuji try to save as many lives as he can, even if it’s only one. Not long after, Yuji’s life takes a turn for the dramatic when he eats a cursed finger (yeah…gross) that causes him to be possessed by an ancient and powerful sorcerer Sukuna. He is then taken to a school where he meets other sorcerers and studies to be one himself, and save people from curses and demons. Here he makes friends, learns about life and goes through something completely unheard of for most Shonen protagonists—character development.
The Shonen genre has been trying to reinvent itself for some time now. And although shows like Attack on Titan and Death Note have done so by toning down or completely doing away with the more theatrical aspects of it, Jujutsu Kaisen is the only one that has managed to keep all the elements and still make it feel new. It hasn’t fallen prey to the usual problems that plague these types of shows. There are several examples, but if I had to pick the top two, it would be Power Scaling and Character Development.
With most other Shonen, the protagonist is usually blessed with timely power ups that help them defeat the villain of the week, and most of the time, they have one all-encompassing goal (“I want to be the Hokage”) that they use as inspiration to overcome any obstacle that might stand in their way. With Jujutsu Kaisen, it’s a little bit different. It’s quickly established that the powerful people in the Jujutsu world are far beyond the reach of the show’s teenaged trio. Also, for the first time in a series like this, the fate of the world doesn’t lie in the hands of literal kids. Their teachers and other sorcerers are extremely powerful, and play an active role in defending their world. This ups the stakes of the show and makes us actually worry about whether Yuji and his friends are even going to make it. The only other show that does this well is Hunter X Hunter.
Yuji had an absurdly powerful spirit possessing him, but instead of being the sad, misunderstood soul that Kurama in Naruto is, Sukuna is cruel and takes sick pleasure in ignoring Yuji’s pleas for help. Watching Yuji overcome such things while trying to navigate the shows central question of what makes a life worthy is very rewarding to watch.
Yuji starts off with the belief that it’s the number of lives you save or change that matters, but later goes on to question of every life is worth saving. Megumi, Itadori’s counterpart, starts off with an intense desire to sacrifice his life for a worthy cause. But there is a lot of development in his thinking and over time, he learns to be less suicidal in his attempts to do good. The third member of the trio, Kugisaki Nobara seems like the typical abusive but entirely helpless female Shonen protagonist in the beginning, but Akutami quickly turns our own assumptions against us as she is revealed to be one the best Shonen female characters to ever have been written. The subtle gender switching with the boys of the team being more concerned about the emotional and philosophical aspects of life, and the girl enjoying life hedonistically is such a simple strategy to make the characters feel like individuals.
In fact, most of the show’s female characters are exceptionally well developed, which sadly, is a rarity in Shonen. Just because a show is targeted for a male audience does not mean the female characters have to bland paper cut-outs destined to either die to motivate the male protagonists or simply serve as eye candy. Shoujo (a genre targeted for a young female audience) has tons of male characters that are ridiculously well written, so it simply not an excuse. The female characters in Jujutsu Kaisen are intelligent, treat each other with respect, care about achieving goals that are not romantic and most of all, strive to be their own person. When Nobara and Momo, a fellow student, have a conversation about what it means to be a girl in their world, Nobara’s answer of how she feels happy when she is powerful and when she is beautiful, was the singular most liberating thing I have heard as a woman.
Jujutsu Kaisen is a master class on how to play by the rules of the Shonen Genre without succumbing to mediocrity. I really commend the hard work of the Mangaka. So much that I have gone on to read the manga as well (an unusual development for me). Jujutsu Kaisen brings back the butterflies in the bellies of those looking for the feeling of watching older Shonen for the first time. It goes from being good to excellent as the show progresses, and I simply can’t wait for the next season. It’s definitely worth the watch, and a great option for people who are just getting into anime.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.