It’s fitting that Jujutsu Kaisen was the first series to surface this season (it was available for free on YouTube over the weekend), as I’d already seen it. That was at Kyoto Manga and Anime Fair, and while it was raw this isn’t the sort of series that requires massive amounts of dialogue to explain itself. I liked it well enough then, and I liked it well enough when the subs confirmed about 80% of what I thought was going on. But I’d by lying if I said I saw huge upside to it.
I haven’t read the manga, but based on one episode at least I’d say Jujutsu Kaisen is a test of how interesting a show can be while at the same time being totally derivative. There’s a quality of “insert generic Shounen Jump adjectives here” about it – once you started listing the series it seems to borrow from you’d be at it for hours. But that’s WSJ to an extent – most new mangaka (like this series’ Gege Akatumi, a nom de plume if I ever heard one) get their first serialization by delivering something that checks the right boxes for the editors. Formula works for WSJ, and it’s only the really exceptional series that get greenlit without adhering to it.
I don’t think Jujutsu Kaisen is exceptional, but it does have a certain snappy energy to it. High school freshman Itadori Yuuji is a great athlete who dislikes sports, and joints the occult research club to avoid having to play them. His parents are dead or missing (because animanga) and his guardian seems to be his grandpa, who’s dying. Grandpa also seems to know more about the parents but Yuuji expresses no desire to hear it. The club has gotten its hands on a cursed object of considerable power, much to the display of his classmate and curse expert Fushiguro Megumi, who’s been sent (by someone) to find it.
The conceit here is that whatever shadow society Megumi belongs to places these objects around places of intense negative energy – like high schools and hospitals – to absorb the evil and prevent it from doing harm. But eventually the objects weaken and start attracting curses, and need to be destroyed and replaced. But Yuuji ends up swallowing this one – a finger apparently belonging to Suwabe Junichi – in order to try and power up and save his club sempai and Megumi from a rampaging youkai. Also, his grandfather dies.
So all in all, you’ve got a mishmash of some very familiar elements here. Curses, fighting demons, possession, a simple yet courageous protagonist thrust into a world he never knew existed. The execution seems fine, both in terms of the writing and direction. Veteran Seko Hiroshi is handling the adapting and the director is Korea’s Sung Hoo Park, who’s shown with The God of High School that he can deliver an interesting visual style but not that he can make a boring plot seem interesting. We’ll see how he does with Jujutsu Kaisen, which at the very least seems less inane than TGOHS, though that’s a low bar.