Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Review: Jujutsu Kaisen - Season Two

A nihilistic departure from the edgy optimism of the first season.

When Jujutsu Kaisen arrived in the anime world, it became an instant hit. Fans were drawn to show’s edgy, elevated execution of the traditional shonen elements. Shonen anime often contain a central protagonist who is optimistic and heroic (Naruto Shippuden) or cynical and heroic (Bleach), and who has an interesting ensemble cast of scene-stealing characters, along with layers of complicated villains, intense battles, devasting family secrets, and extensive and powerful character arcs. Jujutsu Kaisen Season One gave viewers many of the things they loved about Naruto, but delivered it in a sleeker, edgier story with incredible art design and fantastic music. But Season Two of Jujutsu Kaisen makes a significant shift in both tone and storytelling style.

Season One Recap – Pink-haired Yuji Itadori is a strong, athletic high schooler being raised by his dying grandfather. After school, he attends his friends’ “occult club” meeting where they accidentally unleash a violent monster who begins to kill his classmates. To save them he consumes a dangerous artifact, the mummified finger of Sakuna, an evil supernatural being. As a result, Yuji is possessed by the villain Sakuna but can also harness his power. To everyone’s surprise, Yuji is strong enough to bring the violent Sakuna’s psyche under control. He is able to save his classmates and work alongside his new ally, Megumi (a sorcerer / monster-slayer) to defeat the attacking cursed creature. “Curses” are murderous monsters created by the negative emotions of humans. It’s a fascinating commentary on human thoughts.

Unfortunately, like Naruto in Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, Yuji now has a violent demon sharing space in his mind and his body. This means he is going to be executed…eventually. In the meantime, Yuji is sent to Jujutsu High School to learn how to be a sorcerer (curse-slayer) and save the world along with his new first-year classmates: fierce, outspoken Nobara and moody, deadly Megumi, all under the guidance of Satoru Gojo, their blue-eyed, blindfolded, irreverent teacher and mentor. In the course of Season One, Yuji builds bonds with his teammates and mentors, connects with his other classmates, and encounters life-changing conflicts while he struggles to maintain control of the monster inside him. Despite the grim premise, Season One maintained an unexpected sense of humor—simultaneously edgy, likeable, violent, and clever, with great character development.

Season Two is such a significant shift in the tone and storytelling style that it almost seems like we are watching a different show. The season begins with a multi-episode prequel arc about Yuji’s all-powerful young teacher, Satoru Gojo, and his deteriorating best-friendship with soon-to-be villain, Suguru Geto. However, the friendship between the two men is mostly just told to us and Geto’s sudden pivot from “save all humans” to “kill all humans” is so abrupt that it requires more of a willing suspension of disbelief than the fantastical magic systems that define the show.

The best part of the extended prequel episodes is the story of Megumi as a young child, Megumi’s violent, cynical father Toji, and how the father and son intersect with Gojo in a life-changing way. After an extended set up of Geto as a remorseless, smirking villain we get a time-skip to the present where we finally reconnect with the Season One trio of Yuji and his friends Megumi and Nobara. However, we only get a brief moment with them including a confusing introduction of an old classmate of Yuji who then disappears entirely from the story. In a few scenes, we move into the bulk of Season Two, a nihilistic, violent series of multi-episode long fight scenes, minimally explained villainy, and such extreme violence that I felt like I was watching Attack on Titan. Season One and Season Two both have lots of violence, but Season Two lacks the character-driven plotting and humor that Season One so effectively wove into the main horror elements.

In Season 2, Gojo’s frenemy, Geto’s, body is now possessed by another villain but everyone refers to him as Geto for convenience. On Halloween night, Pseudo-Geto and his minions trap thousands of festively costumed humans at the Shibuya Train Station in order to lure and trap Gojo. Gojo is believed to be the only one powerful enough to stop them so they use the trapped humans as bait and hostages to capture him so they can destroy the world without Gojo interfering. The plan results in a lot of carnage which is made more surreal by the brightly colored and often humorous costumes the unsuspecting party-goers are wearing. This attention to visual detail is one of the many ways in which the art design of Season Two is outstanding and riveting. From the sweeping views of the nighttime cityscapes to a carefully animated shot of the wide, lengthy almost golden staircase of the Shibuya train station, Season Two is a feast of thoughtful and immersive animation.

The main problem of Season Two is the plotting. Yuji, Megumi, and Nobara are no longer fighting as teammates but are separated from each other. Additionally, there are so many minor characters thrown into the narrative that viewers might repeatedly find themselves googling unfamiliar names. With so many key characters available, it’s confusing that minor players got so much screen time. Nobara, who is such a well-written, strong female character, is largely removed from the main story except for a few ill-fated fight scenes.

But, despite the gory, nihilistic tone of the second season, there are several elements and scenes that maintain the show’s intense appeal and explain its return as the 2024 winner of Anime of the Year.

In one story arc, the young sorcerer, Ui Ui, has an intense worship-like love for his super strong, monster-fighting older sister, Mei Mei. Mei Mei’s tone is always seductively calm regardless of the creatures coming at her or the creepy adoration of her little brother. In the midst of a fight, Mei Mei, needing a human sacrifice to succeed against her opponent, turns to her young brother and serenely asks, “Ui Ui, will you die for me?”

In another fight scene, a curse technique resurrects Toji, Megumi’s long dead father, and the two enter into a protracted battle unaware of the other’s identity. In another excellent scene, an injured, bloodied Nanami (Yuji’s business-like mentor) simultaneously walks through the haunting, dark subway station while also walking an uncomfortably bright beach, uninjured, wearing his business suit which is too warm for him. Both moments are overlaid on each other. After so many intense visuals, fight scenes, and overt horror, the simplicity of the overlaid moment is tragic and beautiful.

After protagonist Yuji sustains a near-fatal injury, the murderous monster Sakuna escapes Yuji’s control and lays waste to the Shibuya station using Yuji’s body as executioner. The close murders are shocking and terrifying and the final cataclysmic devastation is extremely powerful. At the same time, Megumi decides to sacrifice his life to create an avatar powerful enough to defeat the rampaging Sakuna. We see the epic clash between Megumi’s monster and the unleashed Sakuna. The lengthy battle is filled with astonishing visuals of the fighting and of the resulting destruction. Megumi’s strength, even though he’s unconscious, fuels Sakuna’s long-running obsession with him.

At the end of the battle with Sakuna, the art design of the devastation is terrifying in its controlled boundaries. Sakuna’s decision to inflict death and destruction go to an exact point, leaving a clear line of delineation between the survivors and the decimated. It’s a creepy way to show that everyone’s fate (of survival or death) is entirely in Sakuna’s hands. When Sakuna releases back to Yuji, the resulting emotional response is heartrending for Yuji as the panned out destruction blows him away. The music in this scene is fantastic. The haunting, driving beats of the show’s opening song circle back to the viewers as a devastated Yuji pleads for his own death.

Later, after Yuji regains control of his body, he has a final showdown between the long-time villain Mahito. During a climactic scene, the subway station transforms into a surreal winter-scape of desolate winter trees, deep white snow, and hunting wolves.

Overall, Jujutsu Kaisen’s powerful use of visual storytelling through its incredible art design make Season Two terrifyingly appealing, but the nihilistic change in both tone and plot may leave some viewers emotionally exhausted.


The Math


· A nihilistic departure from Season One
· Incredible art design
· Limited character development in favor of action

Nerd Coefficient: 

POSTED BY: Ann Michelle Harris – Multitasking, fiction writing Trekkie currently dreaming of her next beach vacation.