Movies

One of the Year’s Biggest Movies Is Out This Week—You Just Haven’t Heard of It

The Japanese blockbuster Jujutsu Kaisen already has a huge fanbase. It’s not too late to get on board.

A boy with blue hair holds a wooden kendo sword.
Meet Yuta Okkotsu, your new favorite hero. MAPPA

While film bros are making the trek to the theater in March for A24’s sci-fi thriller After Yang, and superhero/Twilight/hot lady lovers are seeing The Batman (this should suffice for an explanation why), the remaining contingent of moviegoers are hyped to see a much bigger movie. Starting Thursday, they’ll be lining up to finally watch one of last year’s biggest box-office hits. But despite that credential, I wouldn’t be shocked if you’ve never heard of this movie: Jujutsu Kaisen 0.

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A prequel to the mega-hit anime series Jujutsu Kaisen, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 premiered in Japan on Dec. 24 with the second-strongest opening in Japan’s box office history, second only to 2020’s Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: Mugen Train, also based on an anime. JJK0 held the #1 spot in Japanese theaters for six weeks straight, and it’s made more than $100 million there thus far—a number that’s still growing, 12 weeks into its run. On Mar. 18, patient (okay, maybe not so patient) US-based anime fans will be able to watch the film in theaters with options to see it either dubbed in English or subtitled in its original Japanese. (Yes! Brick-and-mortar theaters all over the country! For an anime movie! During a pandemic!).

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Created by the pseudonymous mangaka (the Japanese term for manga creators) Gege Akutami, Jujustu Kaisen is one of the biggest anime and manga smashes in recent years. The story takes place in a present-day world where curses born of negative human emotions haunt society. JJK follows Yuji Itadori, a high school student who—by way of some seriously gross digestional heroism—becomes the host-body for a powerful, ancient evil spirit named Sukuna. His dual existence, both as Sukuna’s vessel and a human boy with astounding physical prowess, thrusts him into the secret world of Jujutsu sorcery. Yuji joins an illustrious legacy in which sorcerers born with the power to see the curses that roam the Earth train to exorcize them for the greater good.

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Since the manga debuted in March 2018, JJK has become a household name among fans of the medium. It helps that it appears in the pages of the historic Japanese magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump: the 53-year-old anthology publication has housed a plethora of the most popular manga titles, including One Piece, Naruto, and My Hero Academia. Since JJK started, it’s joined the magazine’s pantheon of successes, becoming the best-selling manga of 2021.

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When JJK’s anime premiered in October 2020, its existing popularity ensured that it would also be a hit. Produced by Japanese animation studio MAPPA (Yuri!!! on ICE, Attack on Titan’s current season), it captured the eyes of international anime stalwarts and new fans alike, thanks in part to new episodes streaming simultaneously in Japan and abroad each week. Fans named JJK “Anime of the Year” at the 2021 Crunchyroll Anime Awards; it also became the second-most-discussed TV show worldwide on Twitter that year, even beating out the inescapable cultural phenomenon that was Netflix’s K-drama Squid Game. The series’ popularity even helped it make waves in fashion; two international merch collaborations with Uniqlo sold out quickly. (Get ready for the third, inspired by JJK0, out soon.)

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Four years of steadily growing popularity culminated in the release of the series’ first film, and its own success shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with JJK. But those who aren’t already in the fandom may be surprised to hear that JJK0 isn’t just for existing viewers and readers. In fact, it isn’t even a continuation of Season 1—it’s the perfect entry point into the series for any newcomers wondering about that one unfamiliar film showing at their local AMC.

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JJK0 comprises the first arc in the manga and is actually a prequel to the first season of the anime, taking place a year before Season 1. Yuji and other fan-favorite characters from the anime are absent from this storyline—instead, the film opens on the story of a boy that anime viewers have heard of, but have yet to meet in the weekly series. Yuta Okkotsu is a high schooler haunted by an overprotective, powerful curse named Rika, whom he can’t control. After unintentionally hurting too many people because of her, Yuta agrees to train at the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School to learn how to control Rika. JJK0 gives fundamental background and insight into some of Season 1’s power players and others yet to come (last month, it was announced that the anime will be returning for a second season in 2023).

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A group of three humans stand with an upright giant panda.
You’ll quickly fall for the movie’s lovable, mixed-species foursome. (And don’t worry—that is absolutely a talking panda.) MAPPA
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I hear you: Curses, prequels, and basically everything else I just said might seem like a lot. But let me assure you that JJK0 doesn’t leave potential newcomers in the lurch. Boasting generally positive reviews, JJK0 caters well to both new and dedicated fans. For newcomers, the film explains the series’ world down to its barebones, making it clear enough to understand what’s going on and why without overwhelming new audiences with the minutiae of the world’s intricacies. In other words, you get all of the rules, but there’s no need to know any of their exceptions. (Existing fans already know that there are many.) Most of all, for anyone who just appreciates a good story, JJK0’s is incredibly engaging—and tragic. It’s an emotional and empathetic tale of a boy who lost someone at a terribly young age and has to confront, and upend, the world around him to truly heal. In fact, when I decided to start reading the manga after watching Season 1 of the anime, Yuta’s arc became one of my favorite storylines of the entire series so far.

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JJK0 explains the emotional history and motivations of the characters that we aren’t given when they’re introduced in the anime, from that of the heroes to the villains. Most of all, however, JJK0 is a must-watch for both fans and newcomers because it’s really, really good. The beauty of JJK is its characterization, sure, but the actual beauty of JJK is just that: how it looks. One of the things fans praise the most about the anime is how well-designed its fight scenes are, with vivid colors, inspired camera angles, and smart sequencing. JJK0 includes fight scenes that aren’t shown but referred to in the manga (including one character’s record-breaking achievement that fans will be pumped to see in action). There are incredibly touching scenes of nostalgia under the golden pastel tinge of budding young love and moments of beauty between fight scenes that we’re rarely afforded in the anime. MAPPA, who is praised for its quality animation, really went all out for this one.

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Okay, that’s enough pleading for you to watch the film and series and reach out to me on social media to talk about how much you love it (no, really, please do). If there’s one takeaway, it’s this: Anime is already huge and only getting bigger, now that TikTok is flooded with Haikyuu!! fan edits and anime curators, so you might as well hop on the bandwagon. And when it comes to bandwagons, the JJK fandom is … let’s call it dedicated. It’s also here to stay and worth jumping into. Millions of fans, huge box office receipts, and an impressive run in mainstream theaters can’t be wrong. If you need me, I’ll be sobbing on Twitter about Yuta Okkotsu being “besto friendos” with Toge Inumaki.

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