Reviving the Modern Exorcism Genre: Jujutsu Kaisen
Highlighting Jujutsu Kaisen by Gege Akutami and its unique approach to the Exorcism Genre and why you should read it (No spoilers)
Weekly Shonen Jump Magazine is no stranger to exorcism manga within its magazine, in fact it is quite the opposite. From titles such as D. Gray-man and Kekkashi to Bleach and Blue Exorcist, it is not a surprise to see an exorcist manga depicted during present (or more modern) times within the medium. I dare say that these themes may even be overused or over saturating the market with new arrivals like Bone Collector and Ayakashi Triangle. Even with this, there always manages to be a surprising manga among them that takes the trope and makes it feel refreshing and new. Jujutsu Kaisen is that standout. Having the ability to bring in classic themes within the exorcist genre such as “more than meets the eye” rules that keep the exorcism world hidden from regular civilians, and/or young students being the leads of these exorcism roles as an unprecedented accumulation of what makes the genre so infatuating Jujutsu Kaisen; written and illustrated by Gege Akuami, is a new and exciting Battle Shonen that is bringing the seemingly dead genre back to life.
Originally previewed as a one shot called Tokyo Metropolitan Magic Technical School published in Jump GIGA in 2017, it was created to be a short story by Gege but exceeded popularity expectations and was turned into the prequel for the current story and combined into a manga volume called Volume 0. Making its debut in Weekly Shonen Jump in March 2018, Jujutsu Kaisen has continued to be a hit. By December of 2018 Jujutsu Kaisen had already amassed 600,000 copies in circulation, an amazing start for a new series within Shonen Jump. With multiple animated manga promotional videos before getting an actual anime announcement, it was clear that Jujutsu Kaisen was heading on a high trajectory. On February 1st of 2019 it was reported 700,000 copies were in circulation then spiked to 1.1 million by February 27th, and the numbers continue to grow to over 4.5 million copies in circulation total. Of course these numbers reflect sales in Japan and not Globally, but that doesn’t take away from its success and popularity nor does it mean it won’t reach global popularity once the anime adaptation arrives, nonetheless Jujutsu Kaisen is a hit and isn’t slowing down.
The numbers are there to represent its success but what about Gege Akutami’s rendition of exorcists in modern times has gripped the fans so much and how has it continued to do so in its 2 years of publication? Well for starters, the “Exorcists” are not called exorcists. As trivial as that may seem it is a start to removing the common terminology fans of the genre are used to which is the starting point for Akutami’s originality for the world of Jujutsu Kaisen. The title “Sorcerer” is given to those who exorcise “Curses”; the beings explained to be spirits that are created from people’s negative energy/emotions. These details are given to us by the deuteragonist of the story, Megumi, when explaining the world lore and current situation to the protagonist, Yuji which immerses the audience in not only the rules behind the world of JJK (Jujutsu Kaisen) but also in Yuji’s personality and brain processing when given information of high caliber when a supposed emergency is unfolding. These type of interactions that check multiple boxes for the audience are common within JJK and is a stand out in Gege Akutami’s writing style which is reminiscent of Yoshihiro Togashi work, who Akutami has stated to be an inspiration along with Tite Kubo’s Bleach in an interview with Ki-oon. Being a young mangaka inspired by two classic mangakas has undoubtedly worked in Akutami’s favor, combining high action with thought out plot detail and strategy.
Using his/her (Akutami’s gender has not been confirmed) skill to seamlessly combine intense plot moments with high action Akutami has established probably one of the best power systems in recent years. Juryoku or Cursed Energy is the “magic” that the sorcerers use to kill curses, however this energy is also a manifestation of negative emotions. This almost personifies the power system of Juryoku by attaching feeling to it. It lets the reader know that what the characters are feeling while in battle are the source of their abilities. It engages the audience with the personalities of not only the sorcerers but the curses as well. The negative emotions create the raw power but the Sorcerers turn that power into a Technique which is unique to them or one passed down through heredity which leaves room for the introduction of clans within the Sorcerer world inherently expanding the world and character relationships.
There is a special ability within the power of Juryoku called “Domain Expansions” which literally creates an area that is controlled by the caster. Within this space Akutami creates beautiful sceneries that literally bring life to the powers the characters use while showing off the deeper understanding of their techniques. These moments add a level of intensity to the battles that hook the audience in while boasting Akutami’s creativity. It makes you wonder what characters can perform these expansions and what they would look like, once again combining the influence of Togashi with Yu Yu Hakusho’s Spiritual Territories from Chapter Black and the iconic ability, Bankai from Bleach.
The theme of “Man vs Beast”, is very similar to the relationship between Humans and Curses within JJK except it is twisted to personify the beasts similarly to what is done in the Chimera Ant arc in Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter x Hunter. You are forced to understand the mind of every antagonist within Jujutsu Kaisen because their philosophies as characters drive them and their abilities. It is the nuance behind each new technique we are shown and how it represents the character using it that brings a new feel to the typical exorcism tropes within manga, but Akutami’s ability to maintain this with even the most trivial of side characters is what brings the world to life, adding to the immersion and bringing depth to the power system and writing. It makes every new character exciting to theorize about and every new technique expands the possibilities of the power system to the point we get absurdly powerful characters such as Gojo Satoru who is one of the best written overpowered characters in recent years.
Even with an overpowered character such as Gojo Satoru within the story Akuami still creates impressive cast of characters for JJK. From talking Pandas to Ai controlled Mechs, the creativity behind each Sorcerer and Curse are far beyond the common occurrences seen in exorcism manga.
The usual allegories to Christianity that create great space for symbolism within exorcism stories is replaced for Buddhist themes and Japanese traditional lore spirits for example, the main antagonist being Ryomen Sukuna, a figure within Japanese history/lore, giving a new and unique quality to the supernatural world of Jujutsu Kaisen. Constantly playing with the double sided coin that is life and death, while also exploring the connection between the Body and Spirit creates an air of mystery and philosophical wonder to the world of JJK and gives a sense of deeper meaning to the things happening within the plot and within the characters.
The main trio being the typical two boys and one girl trope is given a flare with the protagonist Yuji Itadori sharing a body with Ryomen Sukuna and our deuteragonist Megumi Fushiguro is the main interest for Sukuna while Nobara Kugisaki is the loud mouth, crazy one of the group who is trying to enjoy the simple things in life like fashion and becoming a model. It is this sense of balance between supernatural madness and young teens trying to enjoy the best years of their life while surrounded by an eerie life occupation that makes the characters loveable and their personalities palpable.
The representation of women characters does not adhere to any tropes obsessed with leaving the females in the shadow of their male counterparts. Characters such as Maki, Mei Mei, and Nobara are examples of women that stand on their own beliefs and morals, without subjecting them to oversexualization something refreshing to see within Weekly Shonen Jump in a general sense. They each want to be strong for themselves and not for a male character to love them or to “fit in” with the world around them. They each have a strong personality that could be explored independently.
Gege Akutami has created a unique, fun and bold story within the exorcist genre for battle shonen. With currently 13 volumes out in Japan and 5 volumes out Globally, Jujutsu Kaisen has redefined what to expect from a modern exorcist manga. Being able to create a world that feels current, real and immersive is difficult within a theme that has already been seen a plethora of times before. Akutami’s willingness to deconstruct tropes and bring new things to the table while building on classical foundations is fun to watch unfold. With the anime slated to be released this year by studio MAPPA, Jujutsu Kaisen is set to surprise anime only watchers who think they know what to expect from an exorcism series. If you have not looked into Jujutsu Kaisen, it is recommended that you do so, as it is a story that will not only surprise you but have you hungry for more after each chapter ends.