Growing up, I looked forward to Saturday nights when I could sit on my couch and hope my dad would let me stay up late enough to watch Naruto. Entertainment was simpler back then; I didn’t need nuance or adult themes to be satisfied with what I was watching. Watching the Haku fight, or Naruto vs. Neji or Rock Lee vs. Gaara, was an incredible experience. It was various characters pushing their limits and fighting as hard as they could for their ideals.
Now, it feels like it’s hard to break out as a popular anime without a deeper meaning. That’s not to say there aren’t many good anime out there. Dozens are released every season and I enjoy a good number of them. Rather, it means that very few shows can reach that level of “masterpiece” quality that Jujutsu Kaisen did.
2020 was a bit of a weak year for anime, in part because of the emergence of a pandemic, but also because some years will naturally be better than others. For context, the first two seasons of 2021 have been packed to the brim with good or even great shows, but I would still be hesitant to say any of them could even be considered on par with Jujutsu Kaisen.
Hidden among regular people are jujutsu sorcerers, people who can see cursed spirits and manifest cursed techniques to eradicate them. Among these cursed spirits is Sukuna Ryoumen, the King of Curses. Currently out of commission, Sukuna’s power exists within a number of his severed fingers which are scattered across the world. The main priority of the sorcerers is to find and obtain all of the fingers so that other curses cannot use their power. However, when a curse finds one of the fingers, high schooler Yuuji Itadori eats it out of desperation and becomes Sukuna’s vessel.
That is where the story begins. Yuuji is forced to train as a jujutsu sorcerer so he can find and eat the other fingers so that the higher-ups can execute Yuuji and eliminate the threat of Sukuna once and for all. Without cursed techniques at his disposal, Yuuji has to rely on enhancing his already-superhuman strength and agility with cursed energy to fight. He is also lumped together with two other “first-years” in the school for sorcerers: the brooding Megumi Fushiguro of the Zenin clan and the brash Nobara Kugisaki. All harboring massive potential, they are overseen by Satoru Gojou, the strongest known jujutsu sorcerer in existence.
It’s very similar to the beginning of Naruto, and it’s just as satisfying. The combat is quick and punchy, with the climactic moments accompanied by an incredible soundtrack. The blues and reds flash across the screen to make the mostly-physical combat feel impactful. What’s especially notable about the fight animation is how accurately they portray Gojou’s power difference. When he does something, you already know there’s no way anybody could beat him.
The usual downside to shows like Naruto that I used to watch is the presence of filler and how it ruins the pacing of the show. Of course, the main thing that combats this is Jujutsu Kaisen only having 24 episodes. Still, another point of excellence for the show is the characters and how they interact. The side characters of Jujutsu Kaisen are lush and filled with personality, completely devoid of the usual fanservice traps that most shows fall into now and again. Twin sisters Maki and Mai Zenin are at each other’s throats over familial matters. Toge Inumaki speaks solely in sushi flavors because his words are literally too powerful. Kasumi Miwa’s self-deprecation is good comic relief. Aoi Toudou is massively strong but doesn’t connect with anybody. Kento Nanami is an elite sorcerer who is also your average businessman. Panda is a panda. Even the villains are provocative enough to get me actively rooting against them.
Simply put, Jujutsu Kaisen is a masterpiece. Very few shows can surpass the restraints of its genre, but it came in and went hard for 24 straight episodes, which is something I cannot say for just about every anime I watch. Jujutsu Kaisen is more than just a good anime, as it would hold its own even compared to most popular shows and movies from the last several years. It’s currently available on Crunchyroll and HBO Max.