REVIEW: Jujutsu Kaisen Vol. 0 Presents a Pulse-Pounding Prequel for the Rising Shonen Star

The monster-slaying subgenre continues to reach new heights as one of Weekly Shonen Jump's mainstays, with series like Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Chainsaw Man among the most popular. While these action-packed adventures see their heroes duke it out with various creepy creatures, the inclusion of horror sets these newer manga apart from their earlier counterparts. As fans speculate on which ongoing titles could stake their claim in Jump's Big 3, none have the mainstream appeal and staying power that Gege Akutami's Jujutsu Kaisen has demonstrated.

Though Viz Media has already released several collected volumes of Jujutsu Kaisen -- which began serialization in Jump in 2018 -- the series' Volume 0 offers a peek into the events before Yuji Itadori's story began. Most characters who appear in this prequel have been introduced and are fairly established in Jujutsu Kaisen. However, instead of following Itadori, Volume 0 centers around the oft mentioned but yet to be revealed sorcerer, Yuta Okkotsu. And while Yuji and Yuta have similar introductions -- both sentenced to postponed executions -- the demon haunting Yuta is entirely different.

Eventually gaining the respect of current-day Megumi Fushiguro, Yuta began his first year at Jujutsu Tech with far less acclaim; fear and lack of confidence dominating his mind. Haunted by the overprotective Cursed Spirit of his childhood friend, Rika, Yuta struggles to make connections without the dread of accidentally hurting someone in the process. While loneliness and depression are far from groundbreaking in a shonen protagonist's origin, Yuta's fledgling journey of self-discovery through Jujutsu sorcery uncovers secrets about himself and expands on Suguru Geto's mysterious past. Perfectly in tune with the series' exploration of the darkly fantastical, Yuta's confusion over Rika's death, his feelings for her, and her subsequent possession of him feel weirdly reminiscent of a Poe-esque poem about undying devotion.

Rika's gruesome death and her connection to Yuta resulted in them becoming literally inseparable. Still, Rika's Cursed Spirit form frightens those who see her, and the power she holds ranks her as a special-grade Curse, filling the Jujutsu elders with enough fear to mark Yuta for execution. As he would later do for Itadori, Satoru Gojo -- a teacher at Jujutsu Tech and renowned as the most powerful sorcerer -- vouches for Yuta and refuses to let those above him say whether his new student is allowed to live or die. Joined by fellow first-years Maki Zen'in, Toge Inumaki and Panda, Yuta trains to control Rika's monstrous strength in his mission to have people rely on him and believe it's OK to keep living.

Akutami first released Volume 0's four chapters in Jump GIGA with no intention of having Jujutsu Kaisen serialized. However, Akutami explains in the volumes' postscript that the story's positive reception led to the series' creation, saying, "Why not?! Let's do this!" when told that Volume 0 could release as a graphic novel prelude to the Weekly Shonen Jump series. This origin could explain the similarities in Yuta Okkotsu and Yuji Itadori's introductions, but the differences in their characters and arcs make them wholly complementary stories to enjoy. Through Yuta, Akutami weaves threads that tie directly into Itadori's story but give readers fascinating context to critical events that have previously only been mentioned briefly. While both Itadori and Yuta share the common heroic goal of protecting their valued friendships, it's fascinating to see the directions their motivations take them as they fight to survive as Jujutsu Sorcerers.

Akutami's art style's beautifully energetic nature lends frightening qualities to the more macabre elements of the world. At the same time, the Jujutsu-fueled action beats are ratcheted to the max with a clear understanding of movement and textured lines that bring out wonderfully rugged realism of a well-thrown fist clashing with the face of Yuta's enemy. Lighter, delicate lines feature in fast-paced moments, while dark detailing reminds you of these characters' motivations and emotions as they slug it out in a violent fashion. Akutami uses every moment to inject individual stories throughout each panel, evoking touching character beats amid a battle to the death; showcasing the best of what a shonen series can offer.

Jujutsu Kaisen Volume 0 is a must-read for fans of the series' main story despite not being necessary to understand the overall plot. Not only is it a great refresher on the world Akutami has built, but it expands upon characters you've already meet and have probably wanted to learn more about. As this dark supernatural action series marches forward with skyrocketing popularity and a new anime by MAPPA, treating yourself to a trip through the story that started it all won't disappoint.

Jujutsu Kaisen: Volume 0 is available in English now from Viz Media.

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