If imaginative and extreme violence is your thing, 'Jujutsu Kaisen 0' is for you
To prep for watching "Jujutsu Kaisen 0," the theatrical prequel to the massively successful "Jujutsu Kaisen" anime TV series and manga, this reviewer consulted an expert: his fangirl daughter. She briefed me on the finger-eatin' bad insanity of the franchise, in which a kid who has swallowed a monster's finger develops a "Venom"-like symbiotic relationship — though far more poisonous — with that creature (called a "curse" in the show's parlance) while at an academy for curse-hunters.
So we've got some awfully familiar hallmarks of this category of the shonen (action-heavy manga aimed at boys) genre: Kid at a school for monster-fighters struggling with his growing power, alliances with classmates, important mentor figure — check, check, check. But the franchise, as my astute daughter informed me it would be, is also crazy, weird and cool. It's fun, with a wacky sense of humor and way-out-there imagination, and quite violent. My experience is proof you don't have to know the show well to enjoy the movie; hers is proof followers will get plenty of the bloody, weirdo fan service they crave.
If the series setup has a bit of an "X-Men" resonance, the movie is akin to "X-Men: First Class." The story precedes the introduction of the finger-chomping kid from the show; instead, we see other familiar figures in their earlier student days. There's even a Professor X-Magneto dynamic between good mentor Gojo and his old friend-turned-anti-human-crusader Geto. While you can't swing a dead curse without hitting a genre trope, the film is its own jam — not surprising, but freaky and funny at times, and beautifully rendered.
The story centers on a new student to Gojo's school for gifted youngsters: Yuta, in the series a mysterious and powerful figure; here, a raw recruit just learning of his power. The students are "cursed" or have curse-fighting abilities or weapons; Yuta's curse is the spirit of his dead girlfriend, which manifests in a really cool monster form that doesn't take kindly to people mistreating him.
Three prominent characters in the series get major screen time as Yuta's classmates. Toge Inumaki, whose "cursed speech" means his words can turn into destructive magic, speaks only in innocuous rice-ball ingredients (seriously — in conversation, he'll say "Pollock roe" and nothing else). Maki Zen'in (a favorite among my daughter's fearsome crew) is a badass fighter. And Panda is not an actual bear, but an "abrupt mutated cursed corpse" (just go with me on this). And he's cute, because he looks just like a giant panda.
The environments are impressively painted. The film's framing, light, shadow and color are expressive. The creatures are creatively designed and occasionally just bizarre enough to be funny (one's sort of a sweet version of H.R. Giger's "Alien" and one bad guy is a shirtless dude with hearts for nipples).
The humor can get dark, as with the casually delivered "We're here to exorcise the curse and save the kids. Or retrieve them if they're dead." The animators enjoy depicting imaginative and extreme violence. If that's your thing (and if it isn't, why are you watching this movie?), "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" does not disappoint. And fans: Stick around through the credits.
'JUJUTSU KAISEN 0'
In Japanese with subtitled English and dubbed English versions
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violent content, bloody images, language, thematic material and some suggestive references)
Running time: 1:45
Where to watch: In theaters Friday