Jujutsu Kaisen is the new hotness of shonen anime and manga, and if you’re a fan of the genre you’ve probably heard about it, if not seen or read it. A friend of mine told me about it when it was just getting started and I thought he was saying ‘JIU jitsu Kaisen’ and that it’d be focused on martial arts (although Jujutsu IS a martial art form in real life so shows what I know). I went in with the wrong expectations and was just coming off a DragonBall Super high so I set the series aside when I realized it wasn’t about martial arts. Fast forward to today, and I’m all caught up to the current chapter of the manga.
Overall, I’m digging the premise, action, power system, and animation/art; it’s pretty easy to win me over in most of those categories anyway, but now that I’m getting more into learning about writing a good story I have to say the most recently concluded arc; the Shibuya Incident arc, jumped the shark quite a bit. I found it to have a number of shortcomings and those are what I’m here to address today. Because I’m talking about an arc that is well within the story I’m gonna assume I don’t have to explain who most characters, and/or what some world elements are. Maybe I’ll put some links in though, I dunno. Oh, and !Spoiler Alert!
From Hype to Out of Sight
No, not the good kind of out of sight. There were a lot of moments in this arc that were really promising, hype, and could have led to interesting and/or powerful story threads. There was Mechamaru finally getting a complete working body only to be killed moments later. He put up an awesome fight, but it would have been better to see him get away, turn himself in, redeem himself, get the girl. The only narrative reason for killing him off here was for a sort of kill the dog scene (as opposed to ‘save the cat’), but in this case we already know the villains are bad guys, and that they would double cross him. He even serves a role from beyond the grave later on in the arc, but he it was definitely something he could have done while alive.
Another is Mei Mei vs Geto. We see her fight some cannon fodder, learn her technique, learn about her brother’s role, we see her wielding this axe which we don’t know the ability for yet. She walks off to fight Geto and I’m hyped as hell to see that go down, but the next time we see her she’s fled Japan altogether. She didn’t even join the antagonist side so we may never see her again. We might, because she has history with the big players, and she was very unique and interesting, but the series doesn’t seem too keen on giving it’s characters their due.
Next we have Maki. She was paired up with her uncle; THE HEAD OF THE ZEN’IN CLAN. The guy who both doesn’t want her to be a sorcerer, and who up to this point kept her from being anything but a Grade 4. This was HUGE! This was a good chance to develop her story a little bit; a chance for her to earn his respect. When all that happened was she got into a fight with her uncle Naobito, Nanami, and Fushiguro against a spirit and was largely overwhelemed and the least useful. I mean she was one of the most promising protagonists combat wise, and they had my girl looking like pre-shippuden Sakura out there. I’ve heard that futility and powerlessness is a bit of a theme in this story, but that’s not even what happened here. This was an example of having so many characters involved in an incident that you have to diminish their capabilities to keep the tension. It would have been more powerful if Maki and Naobito were the only ones in the fight, and she contributed something vital to ensure their victory thereby earning Naobito’s respect. Or if you want to keep those aforementioned themes, have her still not earn it, and have her grow by having her reaffirm her decision to become a sorcerer because she clearly does have value.
There were a few more of these moments throughout the arc, especially on the villain side, like how initially he seemed like cannon fodder, Jogo turned out to be a pretty powerful cursed spirit. Despite having died fighting the king of curses himself, his end was still dissatisfying. He would have been an incredible obstacle for a protagonist to overcome, but instead he was used to remind us how strong Sukuna is when we get a better demonstration a little later anyway. Even Geto/Kenjaku was a pretty big disappointment. When everyone gathered to confront him he immediately threw out one of his most powerful techniques and then one of his underlings took over dealing with the protagonists.
Now, it wasn’t all bad. When papa Fushiguro went at it with Megumi, then committed suicide to protect him from his otherwise unstoppable bloodlust, that was a really awesome moment. Even if his motivations weren’t all altruistic, this was a good moment, though it was only brief.
Moving at the Speed of Sound
Did you know that Itadori dodged an attack that moves at the speed of sound? Yeah, he did. He’s gotta keep pace with the series itself. The Shibuya arc is a good example of this hypersonic pace, because it essentially cleared the board of the current circumstances. Usually at a turning point things will change but in this case they’ve been overhauled.
Gojo getting sealed was pretty natural for how powerful he was, (narratively speaking of course; Itadori’s journey as a sorcerer wouldn’t matter that much with good guy Gojo able to deal with just about any issue that could arise). But one of our main three characters getting killed off? along with numerous other protagonists being killed or retired before we learned anything deeper about them or got to see what they can do? Those aren’t big ‘the author really went there’ moments, they felt more like plot convenient sacrifices. Like I said before, there were too many characters so the author got rid of a bunch of them. We got very little backstory on Kugisaki until the moment of her probable demise, and that was only a consolation. We knew who she was on the surface, but we never got to see who she was deep down, we never really got to know her. Now, she has yet to be verbally confirmed dead, and the minute possibility of her survival was mentioned, but about a fourth of her skull was visible so… It is a world of essentially magic though, I’m hoping she pulls through and that this part of the post is void.
As far as character deaths (and retirements) go, they were being thrown around so much a few of them even happened off screen. Inumaki (my underused favorite character) lost an arm and appears to be sealed away. Naobito died off screen when last we saw him he had lost an arm, but was otherwise still kicking. I’m guessing he died when Sukuna erased some percentage of the planet at one point, and the author included that to traumatize Itadori, but also so they can declare whomever they need to, dead or inactive.
The pacing also keeps a lot of moments from hitting as hard as they maybe could. The Shibuya arc is kind of JJK’s ‘shit just got real’ arc. Known characters are dying, people are losing limbs that they (maybe) can’t get back, and yet we still don’t know enough about these characters for any of it to feel impactful. Take Todo for example.
In the arc we see Todo give it his all fighting to help Itadori, and in the process we see him lose his hand. One of the two things he needs to activate his technique, the Boogie Woogie. A little later he mentions that his technique is now gone. This reminds me of (MY HERO ACADEMIA SPOILER WARNING) when Mirio lost his quirk. I don’t think the author’s intention was to mirror this moment per se, but it does all the same. A mentor for our protagonist with a simple but masterfully utilized technique is fighting a main antagonist, and loses their ability in the battle. In MHA this is one of the heaviest moments in the series. Mirio gives up his dream, his future, his superpowers to protect a little girl, by himself and faced with two opponents. It doesn’t even end there! After going from being literally untouchable to a flesh and blood human he fought on in those same adverse circumstances to protect that girl and he succeeded. Meanwhile, we barely know much about Todo’s wants, or who he is deep down, or his past, or if this is even the end for him. We have yet to see any real limitations of the cursed energy power system, and Todo’s technique was simple (yet highly effective) and more supplementary than anything. He is still a perfectly capable fighter using martial arts, and we’ve also see fully functioning robots in the world so prosthetics are certainly not out of the picture either. In fairness, Todo seems to be a character that doesn’t have anything below the surface so that point may be moot, but the moment could have been more meaningful. We’ve already seen him make a sacrificial swap for Itadori against Hanami. Maybe this time quick thinking just wasn’t enough to save him in the end.
To Be Continued
This ended up being way way way way longer than I thought it would so I’m gonna break it up. This way I can also kind of pivot and talk about things a little more broadly, which will be useful since the next one will be about the villain, a subject I’m pretty critical about. So stay tuned for that one, or just head over to it. It’s probably up by the time you read this.