The poster for the animated film Jujutsu Kaisen 0, showing the film's main cast.

Picture: Studio MAPPA/Toho Animation

When a shonen anime releases its first movie, it’s always a big deal. These beginnings are often thrilling adventures of questionable canon which have the potential to attract new audiences and make fans want to see beloved characters in a new medium. Regardless of the final plot, it’s just fun to see these characters we’ve spent weeks watching stretch their animated legs and get into some beautiful mayhem with the help of a larger budget.

It was therefore inevitable that Jujutsu Kaisen would like get a movie after his great debut as animates thanks to Studio MAPPA. Corn Jujutsu Kaisen 0 manages to surprise, thanks to its cast, and how easily it showcases the best of what creator Gege Akutami’s supernatural world has to offer.

The film, a prequel set before the events of the anime adaptation, follows the series’ familiar premise: an endless covert battle across Japan between powerful energy-manipulating Jujutsu wizards and sinister “Curse” supernatural spirits. that lurk just outside of human perception. But by moving the protagonists from Jujutsu Kaisenthe main hero of – the overpowered and adorably stupid Yuji Itadori – to 0is sweet and shy Yuta Okkotsu (voiced in Japanese by Neon Genesis Evangelion legend Megumi Ogata, and Kayleigh McKee in English), the new film plays out the already unsettling and tragic elements of his world in a more personal way than Yuji’s hyperconfident point of view doesn’t always allow. Iin anime and manga, Yuji eagerly jumped into the world of Jujutsu from the proverbial depths after a chance encounter with the powerful curse spirit Sukuna. Inot 0 we meet Yuta after he’s already lived in fear of the supernatural for years, following the traumatic death of his childhood sweetheart Rika (Kana Hanazawa/Anairis Quiñones), which also turned her into a curse tied to Yuta – one who viciously attacks anyone who brings harm to her.

Image for article titled Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a tragic romance wrapped in a thrilling origin story

Picture: Studio MAPPA/Toho Animation

The relationship between Yuta and Rika is central to Jujutsu kaisen 0, and this is the key element that distinguishes him from Yuji. In just a handful of scenes, their romance feels very real in a way that loves shonen seri storylines.This is rarely the case, and the character writing and performance gives Yuta and Rika the ability to play each other extremely well. Seeing them together in flashbacks makes the current scenes where Rika monstrously defends Yuta all the more tragic, making you feel their romance cut short. For a series that’s never afraid to suddenly take on an absurd shift in tone at random moments, there’s a surprising amount of warmth and tenderness that Jujutsu Kaisen 0 offers for his two leads and their doomed love.

Afraid that Yuta will let Rika out and rip everything in his way, there’s something cathartic about watching him channel the power she wields to cut curses to pieces. As a curse, Rika is a sight to behold, and the moments she’s unleashed show just how stark and crude the curse designs of Akutami and MAPPA really are. Once you’ve seen her rip another curse to shreds, there’s no doubt the movie’s villain Suguru Geto would want her power for himself. 0 stages Geto’s presence in such a way that he can’t help but appear like a god both to his followers and to Yuta and his allies, and his two actors – Takahiro Sakurai and Lex Lang – give him a perfectly haughty and arrogant voice that shines through in a chilling performance.

Akutami created what would become known as Jujutsu Kaisen 0 in 2017, a year before kaisen cleanly released and took off as one of the greatest manga series around. Under the title Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School, the four-part miniseries introduced characters who would later become important heroes in their own right in Jujutsu Kaisenwhich now play equally important connective roles in 0. Primarily in the film, this connection is made by three senior students we met in the first season of the animated series, where they were exploited as a kind of comedic relief effort at a time when levity was badly needed. for Yuji and his friends. There’s Maki Zenin (Mikako Komatsu/Allegra Clark), who sees Curses with enhanced glasses and fights them using magic-infused weapons; Toga Inumaki (Koki Uchiyama/Xander Mobus), whichto the powerful Curse-enhanced voice means he can only speak safely when listing the ingredients for the rice ball; and Panda (Tomokazu Seki/Matthew Rudd) completes the trio with his loud, silly charm, and is, well, for short…a talking Panda.

The movie treats these characters as a big deal given their importance to the anime as a whole, but they really shine when they’re just allowed to be goofy teenagers, and Yuta begins to bond with them when he’s immersed in this. strange new world. While their appearances here won’t completely wow fans of the show like their anime debut, the moments these characters have are still pretty awesome, and each of them has plenty of time to prove why they’re so adorable. and convincing. Maki in particular brings a fun, abrasive energy to all of her scenes and has such confidence that it’s hard not to love her even more.

Image for article titled Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is a tragic romance wrapped in a thrilling origin story

Picture: Studio MAPPA/Toho Animation

The most important returning character of all, however, is fan-favorite Satoru Gojo, an absurdly powerful wizard who, when we meet his slightly younger self in 0decided to take Yuta under his wing. Like in the anime itself, Goji is a lot of fun in 0; actors Yuchi Nakamura and Kaiji Tang effortlessly make Gojo both supremely confident in his abilities while hilariously aggravating because of it – and he gets one of the movie’s best, most sumptuously animated fights. More importantly, Nakamura and Tang manage to make this younger version of Gojo still feel somewhat vulnerable once he crosses paths with his old friend Geto. It would have been easy to make this prequel all about them rather than Yuta, but Kaizen 0 wisely keeps the two apart for much of the film, and the moments when they can interact carry a sad longing for the simple days when they were just two guys WHO had the potential to be great together, had they not both gone on such tragically different paths.

Ultimately, “trust” really is the word to describe Jujutsu Kaisen 0. Beneath its slick acting and gross monsters, there’s a contagious good energy that makes it easy to love and hard to hate, even when it gets extremely gory or just completely over the top. He loves himself and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 does enough with its characters and world to rekindle (or restart) that spark of falling in love with the franchise all over again.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 hits theaters on March 18.

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