Finding a happy halfway point between the non-canon, new-audience-accessible anime tie-in films of recent years and the emotional investment of feature-length sequels like last year’s Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba The Movie — Mugen Train, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 leaves itself open for viewers new and old to enjoy. While there are implications for the rest of the series, this is a film that manages to feel fairly self-contained.
The film follows a different haunted teenage protagonist than in the main series, this time the young recluse Yuta Okkotsu (voiced to nervous perfection in the Japanese version by Megumi Ogata). Haunted by the spirit of his deceased childhood friend and first love Rika (voiced by Kana Hanazawa), he's essentially forced to join a high school for sorcerers, which introduces the more everyday agony of making new friends to go with his more supernatural troubles.
It’s a lot of fun to look at, with the different thicknesses of the linework between the cursed energy the characters wield, the spirits they fight, and the characters themselves.
Those familiar with the show will rediscover a lot of its pleasures here, as directed by Seong-Hu Park: it shows off the same mix of fantasy horror with contemporary style and aloofness. It’s a lot of fun to look at, with the different thicknesses of the linework between the cursed energy the characters wield, the spirits they fight, and the characters themselves. It adds a unique texture and visual identity to a show that otherwise has no qualms with how familiar the set-up of Gege Akutami’s manga is — a little bit of Bleach, Hunter X Hunter and others among its mix of horror influences.
The tightrope of different inspirations that the film walks is most evident in how it sways between tones in each scene, contrasting genuinely upsetting horror with goofy, irreverent comedy thanks to the weirdos of Jujutsu High. And it somehow works, sold by passionate and frequently fun voice performances and quirky animation.
But it breezes through teenager Yuta’s arc just a bit too quickly, clearly stage-setting for the big battle at the film’s end. As such, his journey feels somewhat simplistic as a result, and the impact of the finale becomes dulled, which is disappointing considering its potential for some fascinating psychology. Still, it’s not potential entirely wasted, the film culminating in a hilariously icky parody of earnest, young (but ultimately doomed) love, within the spectacle of its jaw-dropping final fight.