Prequels are a funny thing, aren’t they? I’ve always been fascinated by them as a concept since they exist in this weird space. For a prequel to function as intended, it needs to release after the main series has already been created. Your prequel can’t exist without your story already being established, but does that make it accessible? Could a newcomer watch a prequel to a series and follow along fine?
In my mind, that’s the definition of a good prequel. It’s a story that both newcomers and fans of a series can watch and have equal enjoyment of it. Hannibal is an excellent prequel to Silence of the Lambs and anyone who sits down to watch that series would almost certainly fall in love with it regardless of if they’re seen the critically acclaimed film or read the novel. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a prequel to a well-regarded anime, Jujutsu Kaisen, which concluded its first season almost exactly a year ago. Like Demon Slayer, this Shonen action series has a lot of hype going for it and otaku are frothing at the mouth for the second season. Until then, they have this prequel to tide them over, but is it a good prequel, let alone a good movie?
Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Director: Sunghoo Park
Release Date: March 18, 2022 (Theatrical)
In the world of Jujutsu Kaisen, monsters called Curses crop up whenever there’s a mass of negative emotions. Sometimes these Curses are minor inconveniences, other times they can murder dozens of people without even trying. Some could even commit genocide if given enough time to fester. The people who defeat them are known as Jujutsu Sorcerers and they’re trained at Jujutsu Academy, where the meek and shy Yuta Okkotsu (Megumi Ogata/Kayleigh McKee) was forcibly enrolled to. Why? Because his dead girlfriend Rika (Kana Hanazawa/Anairis Quinones) has become an incredibly destructive Curse and has attached herself to him. So Yuta is training to become a Jujustu Sorcerer in order to control his insanely powerful girlfriend, or else face execution by the stodgy Sorcerer upper-class, all while others Sorcerers look to take Rika for their own nefarious purposes.
Jujutsu Kaisen, as a series, is one whose lore is very difficult to follow. Terms are thrown around without much explanation and most of the time the answers don’t even make logical sense. This is a series where if you put even the slightest bit of logic into understanding its world, you’re gonna be in for a rough time. For example, there’s a character in this film named Panda (Tomokazu Seki/Matthew David Rudd) who is just a giant panda. Why is there just a giant talking panda walking around? Don’t ask. Seriously, just don’t.
In theory, this film is accessible for newcomers as it does offer up a fairly succinct explanation of its world with a decently sized cast. We have our hero, his mentor Gojo (Yuichi Nakamura/Kaiji Tang), a group of friends Yuta hangs out and bonds with, and a villain looking to take over the world. It all feels a bit rushed at times and does give off “Disney Direct-to-Video” vibes. The plot comes across as if four episodes of the series were stitched together to be a feature film. It’s fine, but it makes the plot feel a lot more constrained when we see several smaller vignettes that don’t really feed into the conflict of the second half.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a movie of two halves, where the beginning feels slow with a lot of deliberate set-up and the ending being absolutely chaotic action. For a newcomer, I think the film works as an introduction to the series. It takes its time to build up concepts, characters, and the world itself before dialing up the action when they connect with the world. I say the beginning is slow, but that’s because I’m already a fan of the series, so I don’t need an explanation about what cursed energy, Curses, or Sorcerers are. I just want to get to the action.
Thankfully, the second half of the film is almost entirely dedicated to a brawl between every character in the film, as well as several cameos from characters from the show. Fans and non-fans alike can sit back and enjoy the wonderfully animated slugfest with superpowers being thrown out left and right against increasingly larger and more disgusting monsters. It’s exciting to watch, even if there really aren’t any major setpiece moments that stood out to me, especially in comparison to some amazing fights from the show itself. The final fight is an enjoyable one and it actually adds an interesting bit of a wrinkle regarding the plot of the series. It raises a very compelling question that fans may be surprised by and will wonder how it factors into the upcoming second season.
As far as prequels go, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a fine way to tide over fans of the series awaiting the next season. It delivers solid action, introduces characters that are pretty enjoyable, and has the already established characters reminding us why they’re so cool. Sure, it feels a bit cobbled together and the series still overcomplicated what should be fairly simple (martial arts wizards fight demons), but it’s a pretty decent time that’s worth a watch for any veteran or newcomer.