February 12, 2021

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A Talking, Fighting Panda, Gibberish Sushi Words, and Other Usable Curses: Jujutsu Kaisen Vol 0 by Gege Akutami


Jujutsu Kaisen Volume 0
Written and Illustrated by Gege Akutami
Translated by Stefan Koza
Published by Viz

The early love of Yuta's life died tragically, leaving him with a powerful protector in the form of a curse (his girlfriend Rika) that kills people just for picking on him. He's too dangerous to be left to live, but luckily, because this is a Japanese manga, there's a school ready to help him channel his inner demons into taking on the demons of others left to roam the earth. Alongside a talking panda, a young man who can only speak gibberish sushi ingredients, and a young woman with attitude issues, Yuta enters JuJutsu High. It's a school where the tests are all practical, deadly, exams as we learn the background of this series' primary characters.

I'm not used to seeing a "zero" issue in manga. Usually, it's Volume One and go, until either the series ends or not enough people keep buying it in English so the publishing stops in the middle. It's an intriguing idea, and I'm not sure how often this is happening now, but it's not a bad idea. I imagine you could go into this series without the primer, but it's definitely hooked me enough to even do a full review. I wonder if we'll see more of this in the future, or maybe it's already happening and I'm just out of touch since I can only keep track of so many comics.

Akutami's story loosely follows that of a lot of this sub-genre of manga, whereby a seemingly ordinary kid gets dragged into a situation that's beyond his imagination, learning slowly that he's even more special than those already involved in the power source he's about to tap into. The difference for this story is that while we usually see "good version" versus "bad version" of a particular power, this time around the power is *always* negative. Curses may fight other curses, but allow them to get too strong and they might overtake the person controlling them, becoming worse than the one they set out to fight. That's especially true in the case of Yuta because Rika is so powerful that once she gets started, it's hard to stop her rampages. The crux of this set of stories revolves around the idea that Yuta can't handle Rika and her power is coveted by those who use their curse-control for personal gain.

I really like the idea and how it plays out here, as we get a twist that keeps the story moving but pushes past the initial situation. Yuta's more than just the person holding onto a curse, and that realization plays into the climax with this arc's villain. I'm curious to see how Yuta's changed situation and his power level compared to his peers plays out in future volumes, given that some of the "I can't control myself" tropes are already solved--but not exactly. It's a great way to go with the premise!

All manga of this type have a supporting cast, and this Akutami's is really fun. We have a talking Panda, who isn't fully explained here and made me think fondly of Ranma 1/2's hysterical curses. The strong silent type isn't that way because he wants to be--his words *are* mightier than a sword. Maki's probably set up to be the eventual, reluctant at first love interest, which kinda sucks but that's how these stories tend to go. Her reason for carrying a chip on her shoulder is excellent, however, and makes up for a lot.

Oh, and did I mention the main bad guy is basically an unhinged version of Magneto, adding genocidal tendencies to his supremacy theories? Good times.

Akutami's art works very well for a shonen series. He's got no problem going into exaggeration mode, but there's still a clarity in the panel construction, making it easy to follow the action and linger a bit on the linework itself. As befitting a series with curses that allow the author to stretch his imagination, Akutami's creatures are varied and creepy and really fit the situation they are created from. I apologize that I don't have any images to share, which hurts the art part of this review here quite a bit, unfortunately. I'll try my best to describe it, however.

A typical example comes from the first few pages of the story. Yuta is walking into the classroom, unaware that he's basically being shadowed by a wary Rika. We focus on his image, slightly shaded, while the monster looms over him, almost entirely colored in black and giving off a feel of undefined menace. A few panels later, it's reaching out arms from the chalkboard, ready to strike at the other students for what it perceives is a slight against Yuta, who tries to stop the upcoming fight, but without success. In another panel, our Panda friend bursts through a magical barrier, Kool-Aid Man style, and you can feel the energy and force of his attack, as well as his readiness to try and stop the villain in his tracks. In a third example, Akutami draws a curse that is physically abusing a young woman, and it's a sickening mix of hands roaming across her body while also nearly choking her, as dozens of eyes stare out at her and an obscene mouth breathes down her neck. 

It's really, really creepy, but not overstated in any way. He saves that for Rika, to show just how powerful she is in comparison to the other curses, which is a nice touch. Rika's a hulking mass that shifts and grows as her anger does, and even when Yuta appears to be keeping some control, it's clear she's ready to become apocalyptically powerful and dangerous at any moment. Meanwhile, the humans involved all look sharp, with strong facial expressions that show their emotions, real or faked. I'm extremely impressed with the linework by Akutami, and it's definitely a trend that even shonen stories are getting more varied looks from creator to creator, even as they retain the classic elements like thick speed lines and shouting matches during battles.

I went into Jujutso Kaisen with no expectations beyond enjoying a big ole monster fight, and while I got that several times over, there's a lot of little touches that make this a comic I wanted to write my first full-length review of 2021 about. The premise is solid, the art is top-notch, and the details, from panel structure to character quips, shine bright. This is definitely worth checking out and I'm definitely going to seek out the rest of the series and see just how Yuta comes to grips with his fate--and how many new curses Akutami can illustrate in ways that will keep me up at night. Come get creeped out with me!