Monstrous and menacing, the imposing form of the Queen of Curses creeps out of the shadows, claws bared and ready to defend the love of her life. Eerie notes ring out as her distorted voice, dripping with malice, calls out for her friend’s safety. She symbolizes love and grief bathed in a bloody ocean of regret.
Based on Volume 0 of Gege Akutami’s beloved manga and anime series, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021) is a dark fantasy film that expertly navigates the tricky web of pain and guilt that sits under the shadow of unreconciled grief. At its core, JJK0 explores the transcendent nature of love and friendship alongside the overwhelming pain of mourning a loved one.
JJK0 wastes no time establishing a complex narrative tone. Yuta Okkotsu’s (Megumi Ogata) world shatters when he loses his best friend Rika Orimoto (Kana Hanazawa) to a car accident minutes after they pledged an eternal commitment to each other. Spread-eagled on the pavement, Rika’s mangled body warps into the grisly Queen of Curses—a chilling scene punctuated by Yuta’s hollow and heartbroken pleas for Rika’s return. Five years later, Rika is a horrifying guardian angel to Yuta, pursuing violent ends to protect him from any potential harm. However, this protection inadvertently causes Yuta to isolate himself out of guilt for the pain and damage he has caused.
As an adaptation of the beloved manga prequel and a continuation of the overarching lore of the Jujutsu Kaisen series, JJK0 strikes the perfect balance for both newcomers and series veterans. For existing fans, especially of the manga volume, JJK0 was a rather faithful translation of Akutami’s work. Even scenes that were exclusively written for the film were seamlessly integrated in such a way that only enhanced existing canon.
On the other hand, JJK0 is able to stand alone from the rest of the series. Unlike most anime movies that tend to require familiarity with the series to fully appreciate the film, JJK0 is inclusive to novice viewers. The film’s accessibility, paired with the clear care put into its production, is a pleasant introduction for series newcomers.
These themes are captured through the portrayal of Yuta and Rika’s relationship. From start to finish, the pair is emotionally and physically inseparable. Even after she is transformed into the monstrous Queen of Curses, Yuta never breaks his promise to stay with Rika and always cherishes her despite his fear of the danger her power holds. This is especially poignant as their love for one another is symbolized through both the ring Rika gave to Yuta as well as the sword he later uses to channel her cursed energy, simultaneously capturing the unbreakable nature and sheer strength of their bond.
Following a particularly gruesome incident where Rika came to his defense against some bullies, Yuta is taken in by the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School. He begins training to master Jujutsu sorcery and hone his control over Rika’s curse under the watchful eye of the infamously powerful Satoru Gojo (Yuichi Nakamura). While training, Yuta befriends Maki Zen-in (Mikako Komatsu), Toge Inumaki (Koki Uchiyama), and Panda (Tomokazu Seki), fellow first-year students at Jujutsu High. With the help of Gojo and friends, Yuta makes tremendous progress in his training all while Suguru Geto (Takahiro Sakurai), a defected sorcerer, grows ever closer to his goal of taking Rika’s curse as his own and annihilating non-sorcerer society.
From their childhood promise to Rika’s death, the pair’s genuine love and care are always on display, allowing viewers to become fully invested in their story. Yuta’s love for Rika is shown directly through her transformation into a curse (later revealed as an unforeseen side-effect of Yuta’s refusal to accept her death) and eventual freedom as he finally comes to accept her death. Their relationship is strengthened as it is juxtaposed against the tragic bond between Yuta’s mentor Gojo and the antagonist Geto: While once equally inseparable, their relationship is marred by betrayal and opposing ideals about the role of sorcerers in their society. Though mostly conveyed through subtle dialogue and wordless flashbacks, their bond still holds immense narrative power.
While these two relationships claimed the film’s primary focus, the other main characters were equally compelling and well-written. Maki, Panda, and Toge, core characters in the first season of the anime series, are extremely charismatic. The trio helped to underscore the film’s heavier moments through vibrancy and joy. However, they also added emotional weight to the film. As the audience is given a brief glimpse into Maki’s tragic motivation to become a sorcerer, the film establishes the wonderfully complex nature of these characters as their own beings. Even Gojo, a rather divisive character amongst the fanbase, was written as a rather endearing mentor and guardian to Yuta and shared some of the nuanced writing with the other characters beyond the glimpses into his backstory with Geto.
A large part of the film’s appeal then comes from witnessing the characters’ bonds. While each stands strong alone, when they come together, they are even more endearing. In their interactions with Yuta, especially with Maki and Toge, the characters bond over their shared concerns and shortcomings. Realizing their many similarities, Yuta and Toge fight together against a cursed spirit, their chemistry on full display as they compliment each other with fluid movements. The cast supports each other at every turn—successfully avoiding cloying sweetness for real, genuine love. The portrayal of these characters is boosted by the film’s excellent voice actors, who capture every interaction with raw emotion and intent.
Breathtaking animation amplifies the film’s narrative strength. JJK0’s production was led by MAPPA Co., which is highly praised for its work on other beloved series such as Attack on Titan: The Final Season and Yuri!!! On Ice. MAPPA smoothly translates manga panels to the silver screen, resulting in a highly praised visually captivating masterpiece. The visual effects of Jujutsu sorcery were colorful and visually distinct. Fight scenes were fluidly choreographed and vibrant. MAPPA expertly sets the tone of every scene as somber reds and dark shadows contrast with brilliant lights and brighter hues.
While energetic guitar riffs add to moments of rising tension and conflict, the music of JJK0 shines brightest when it takes time to ponder a scene’s emotional weight. The official soundtrack was composed by Hiroaki Tsutsumi, Yoshimasa Terui, and Alisa Okehazama and features vocal performances by Toft Willingham, Chez, and Jessica Gelinas. After finally being freed from her curse, Rika’s farewell is backed by a bright but heart-wrenching melody that perfectly pairs with her final moments at Yuta’s side.
Her smile holds nothing but warmth as she begins to dissolve into colorful bubbles of light. After six years by Yuta’s side, there is no malice nor regret, just genuine love for their time shared together. A sweet piano melody fills the air as she fades away with one final, tearful goodbye; a perfect close to the heartfelt adventure that is JJK0 and an excellent segue back into the world of Jujutsu sorcery for the anime’s second season to come in 2023.