[Note: This review mentions recent plot events in Jujutsu Kaisen.]
Publisher Shonen Jump is no stranger to its manga becoming successful anime, and Gege Akutami’s Jujutsu Kaisen is no different. Kaisen tells the story of teenager Yuuji Itadori gaining superpowers after eating the finger of the demon Sukuna, and its adaptation from Studio Mappa hooked fans almost immediately. Thanks to dazzling openings, a strange sense of humor, and incredible fight scenes, Kaisen became a breakout hit, and its debut season ended on a high note for Yuuji and his friends, Megumi Fushiguro and Nobara Kugisaki, as they finally became a cohesive unit as Jujutsu sorcerers. But back in the pages of the manga, Akutami has been putting the trio through the wringer and not letting up.
There’s no easy way to summarize this material for newcomers, so best to just go with it: The “Shibuya Incident” arc saw malevolent Curse spirits succeed in getting Yuuji to eat more of Sukuna’s fingers, and the demon reacted to the good news by going on a rampage while hijacking Yuuji’s body. To make matters worse, the Incident was also used to kickstart an incoming battle royale called the Culling Game, for which Yuuji and Fushiguro are woefully unprepared. (Where’s Kugisaki? No one’s saying, but it ain’t looking good.) Their only hope to survive the Game is to gather what allies remain and free their imprisoned teacher, Gojo.
Compared to some fellow shonen, Jujutsu has been brisk and succinct with its pacing and worldbuilding, but this new arc starts off with exposition in the worst way: The characters stand in an empty room and just talk. Unlike the “Kyoto Goodwill” arc, which laid out the rules of its game in two pages, it takes Chapters 144-146 (and an immortal sorcerer named Tengen) to explain the series’ take on battle royale. Tengen also has to cover background mythology, and the danger of current antagonist Kenjaku, an evil sorcerer hijacking the body of Gojo’s former friend, Suguru Geto. It all becomes an overload of information, and when a pair of Culling players are used as teases for the end of Chapters 145 and 146, it feels like the manga is scrambling to pick up the momentum it just lost.
Released just before the manga’s recent hiatus, Chapter 147 is a somewhat self-contained story about Masamichi Yaga, the principal of Yuuji’s school. Yaga’s ability allows him to put Cursed spirits into “dolls’’ called Corpses, that become sentient—and the most famous of these Corpses is the beloved Panda. Nearly everything that makes Jujutsu great is on full display in 147, from Akutami’s strangely alluring Curse designs to the glimpses of humanity that inform Yaga and the relationship he has with his Corpses. It hits all the harder when Yaga dies at the chapter’s end, and Panda mourns him.
Jujutsu has a history of deaths that feel sudden and unfair, and this is no exception, even if Yaga gets the last laugh over the jujutsu superiors who ordered his death. The fallen principal certainly won’t be the last of these, as one can easily imagine the body count stacking up pretty high with both the Culling Game arc and beyond when the manga returns later this month.