Jujutsu Kaisen – 16 – To Panda or Not To Panda

The new Bromance for the Ages is off to a good start, with Toudou eager to teach his new best friend how to use one’s mind, body, and soul as one, in order to eliminate the lag inherent in Divergent Fist.

Yuuji proves a quick study, much to Toudou’s delight, as it means he doesn’t have to use kid gloves. At this point it seems unlikely Toudou will carry out Principal Gakuganji’s order to kill Yuuji, or even allow anyone else to do so. What kind of friend would he be if he did?

From Yuuji vs. Toudou we shift briefly to Panda/Nobara vs. Momo, who looks for all the world like Kiki’s buddy and is voiced by Lil’ Taiga herself, Kugimiya Rie. The odds are evened when Ultimate Mechamaru emerges from the soon-to-be-felled trees. Panda estimates the robot to be somewhere in the Grade 2 range like him, but Mechamaru corrects him, saying he’s more of a semi-Grade 1.

It’s appropriate for the two most different sorcerers from among their peers would go up against each other, but throughout their hard-hitting battle, Mechamaru continues to look down on Panda as “just another Cursed Corpse”, when in reality, Principal Yaga created the first CC with emotions.

Mechamaru, meanwhile, is merely the robot remote-controlled by a human born with profound physical disabilities. He lies in a tub surrounded by tubes and covered in bandages, virtually immobile and in constant pain. The trade-off for such an existence is a ridiculous level of cursed energy that can be used at range.

Panda has a couple other secrets that give him the upper hand in their battle. First, unlike most CCs he has not one but three cores in his body: his “panda” core, his brother’s “gorilla” core, and his “bashful” sister’s core, represented by a flash of light. Mecha disables two of the three, but Panda is still going strong in Gorilla mode, and manages to trash the robot before it learns the location of his last core.

On the one hand, this was a fun battle between two extremely quirky characters that pulled double duty in explaining who and what they are and what makes them tick. On the other, part of me was perfectly fine with neither of these characters being explained beyond “one is a panda and one is a robot.” Now that the show has answered a bunch of questions about the two, there’s less mystique there.

Finally, the Panda vs. Mechamaru duel was the one I was least invested in compared to the three others that bookend the episode: Yuuji vs. Toudou, Nobara vs. Momo, and Maki vs. Miwa. I’m probably not alone in this, which may be why the show chose to resolve this battle first.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 15 – My Best Friend

The first group battle of the Exchange Event begins, and is ultimately notable not just for its various character pairings, but for what it lacks: Sukuna, the ultimate target of the Kyoto sorcers, barely makes a peep, and the only demon that’s slain is a small frey that got in the way of Toudou’s fist, and incidentally, saved Yuuji’s life. Even Gojou is only appears at the beginning to start the battle and at the end of the omake.

That means the episode belongs to the Tokyo and Kyoto students, and both as complete groups and once split up, they very ably and entertainingly carry the day with scene after scene of badass and/or hilarious interactions, starting with Toudou Aoi and Yuuji. Yuuji lucks out by having the same type (tall, large posterior), which temporarily sents Aoi into a kind of idyllic school drama daydream in which he gets shot down by Takada-chan but comforted by Yuuji.

They are now best friends, so when Aoi’s Kyoto classmates, led by Kamo Noritoshi, converge on Yuuji with the goal of assassinating him, Aoi uses a cursed technique to make Yuuji and Noritoshi switch places, then tells Nori and the others to buzz off. This is his fight, he’ll say when he’s done, and he’ll decide—not Nori, not the principal—whether Yuuji dies.

It’s clear the Principal has more to contend with than the threat of Sukuna if his own elite students are in such disarray. Much to Yuuji’s confusion, they scatter as Aoi commands, while their witchy comrade Momo’s air superiority is suddenly nullified by Megumi’s Nue. They were counting on her for the actual group battle part, involving locating and defeating demons.

Once the Tokyo kids realize the Kyoto kids are trying to kill Yuuji, they rethink his use as a decoy. Inumaki is sent to start exorcising, Panda and Nobara keep Momo busy, and Maki ends up with Miwa Kasumi, by far my favorite and the most “normal” person in perhaps either school.

Yuuji takes off the kid gloves and demonstrates to Aoi’s boundless joy that despite being way skinnier he packs a lot more raw power. Of course, Aoi’s gotten to the point where he can focus that power a lot better than Yuuji, and in any case has a whole bag of cursed tricks at his disposal. Aoi is having fun until his thoughts linger on how Yuuji’s Divergent Fist feels, and decides, quite loudly and emphatically, that it is WRONG.

Kasumi would really rather not kill Yuuji or anyone else, and makes it known to Maki that she’s not an asshole like the others; she just wants to do well in this event so she can get good recommendations, ascend the ladder to a well-paying position, and move out of the poorhouse with her two brothers. Maki is both admiring of Kasumi’s wholesomeness and mortified by the fact Kasumi must spend considerable time with Mai.

As for Aoi’s problem with Yuuji, he flat-out tells him it won’t be enough to defeat him, cool name, signature move or no. As soon as it starts, their BFFship is threatened. Yuuji doesn’t really care about that, but he does care about winning. He was never going to be satisfied simply buying time for his comrades. If he could hold out against a monster like Mahito, than he should be able to beat a fellow human.

I’m looking forward to more of their forest sparring, which was superbly directed and animated, as one expects of Jujutsu Kaisen by now. But the mood-lightening omake ends this week’s episode on a funny note, going through everyone’s different romantic types. Kasumi seems to put the most thought into it, and she’d be absolutely over the moon to learn that she’s exactly Gojou’s type! Great stuff.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 14 – Meet Bizarro Jujutsu Tech

As Jougo and Mahito plan to attack Jujutsu High to secure Yuuji, the Kyoto team arrives in Tokyo for the Exchange Event. Aoi, Mai and Miwa Kasumi we’ve already met, but they are joined by the haughty Kamo Noritoshi, the witch-like Nishimiya Momo, and the robot-like Ultimate Mechamaru, who seems to be Kyoto’s version of Panda: a character who simply will not be explained further.

Between all the introductions (we also meet their head teacher Iori Utahime) and Gojou handing out souvenirs, and the start of the competition, Yuuji’s return is kind of lost in the shuffle. Sure, he pops out of a box, but the looks on Megumi and Nobara’s face are less elation and more…mortification?

While I’m sure they’re glad he’s back, Megumi doesn’t show it, while Nobara expresses her joy through anger. All I’ll say is fantastic to see the three finally reunited. It’s even treated as a meta gag that they were apart way too long, though I guess it’s only been about two months total.

With the Tokyo team now at six members to match Kyoto’s, the two teams are informed of the first group battle, involving the exorcism of a second-grade cursed spirit released in a designated area, supplemented by various third- and lower-grade curses. Whoever exorcises the second-grade, or failing that, exorcises the most total curses wins. There are no other rules, so you can bet it will be a free-for-all.

Kyoto’s Principal Gakuganji is not happy Yuuji is still alive, and immediately orders his students to kill him at the first opportunity. Some, like Kamo, are eager to kill him anyway as he deems it unacceptable for someone of such low breeding to be a Jujutsu Tech student. Others, like Miwa, don’t like the idea of having to kill a fellow student. And then there’s Toudou, who just wants to watch his tall idol on TV.

Still, most if not all of them will presumably follow their principal’s orders and go after Yuuji. Since Yuuji remains hesitant to harm fellow humans, this will be a test of how all-out he’ll go. Perhaps, as Nanami has said, “moderate effort will suffice” here, but considering Aoi’s power alone, I really doubt it.

At any rate, if all of Kyoto is focused on Yuuji, that gives the other Tokyo kids ample room to breathe. Using him as a decoy could be the key to victory. Sadly, I won’t be able to find out for a couple days, since now I’m all caught up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 08 – Twisted Sister School

After being entirely absent from the previous episode, Megumi and Nobara stick around for the lion’s share of the eighth. While I understand that plot-wise it makes more sense to unveil Yuuji at the Exchange Event, there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction from the fact the central trio has been apart far longer than they’ve been together, and Megumi and Nobara of them are still in the dark.

The delegation from Kyoto arrives at Tokyo Jujutsu Tech, and their third-year ace Toudou Aoi decides to pick a fight with Megumi, while Zenin Maki’s twin sister Mai restrains Nobara. Toudou decides to beat up Megumi for no reason other than he finds him boring, especially when it comes to his non-specific taste in women. Mai…just wants to shoot a bitch?

Megumi tries his best against Toudou, hoping his ranged cursed techniques will let him keep his distance. But it doesn’t go well, and the outmatched Megumi ends up beaten bloody before Inumaki and Panda come to the rescue. Toudou is content to end the fight there, but it’s clear that Kyoto’s sorcerers-in-training are far crazier and more violent than Tokyo’s (Granted, we haven’t met any of the third-years).

Mai proceeds to shoot holes in Nobara’s brand-new tracksuit, to teach her a lesson in “manners”, but Maki arrives to stop her twin sister from putting any bullet holes in Nobara’s body. Nobara demands Mai leave her uniform behind as payment for ruining her tracksuit, but Toudou whisks her off, as he doesn’t want to be late for the super-tall idol Takada-chan’s handshake event.

Maki confirms to Nobara that she doesn’t have any cursed energy, while Mai doesn’t know any cursed techniques. You’d think that considering together they possess the two qualities that are typically crucial to being an effective sorcerer they’d work together…but you’d be wrong. As for Nobara, she gains a heightened respect for her senpai, affectionately leaning onto her as they walk.

Kyoto’s principal Gakuganji is waiting with his attendant Miwa when instead of Principal Yaga, Gojou enters the room, having intentionally changed Yaga’s schedule so he could have some time along with the Kyoto bigwig. Gojou simply wants to impart his dissatisfaction with the stuffy, tradition-obsessed higher-ups.

Between stronger cursed spirits and stronger students, terms like “special-grade” will lose all meaning, and the fogies aren’t prepared for what happens then. Gojou, on the other hand, intends to be. Miwa comports herself well, but “Inner Miwa” is going completely gaga over Gojou. Akasaki Chinatsu and some excellent character animation really bring a seemingly bit player in Miwa to life. Finally, Toudou gets to meet Takada-chan.

A month passes, and we transition to a movie theater where three high school students ended up killed and their heads severely deformed. One witness spots the apparent culprit Mahito, whom we met on the beach last week. Then Yuuji appears for the first time this episode, along with an older guy wearing Batou-like glasses. Looks like Yuuji is being given one more mission to break him in before heading to the Exchange Event.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 05 – Don’t Lose Heart

When Megumi returns to the detention center he senses the Innate Domain has been closed off, indicating the Special-Grade is gone. Only it isn’t Yuuji who meets him outside, but Sukuna. Apparently Yuuji is having trouble switching back, and Sukuna makes it even harder by ripping out Yuuji’s heart, which Yuuji needs to live but he doesn’t.

Even with a gaping chest wound, Sukuna!Yuuji is able to flick away any and all of Megumi’s attacks, and he eventually realizes Megumi is trying to get him to restore Yuuji’s heart. Megumi throws his bird and giant snake, only for Sukuna to beat him mercilessly across the town.

Sukuna ultimately doesn’t take the bait, but Megumi is finally able to get Yuuji to resurface by explaining he saved Yuuji because he couldn’t bear to watch a good person like him die, even if saving him was dangerous.

We also learn about Tsumiki, someone important to Megumi (I’m guessing his sister) who was cursed and died in the hospital as Megumi couldn’t do anything. But as soon as Yuuji snaps out of it, it isn’t long before he dies from having his heart ripped out…and that’s that.

We meet who I presume to be a high-level sorcerer or priest (or both) and three eclectic Curse buddies in Tokyo, then cut to the morgue where Gojou, Ijichi receive Ieiri, who apparently intends to thoroughly dissect Yuuji’s corpse. Finally, we’re back at Jujutsu Tech, where Megumi and Nobara quietly commiserate about the loss of their comrade.

The show is extremely intent on making it known that yes, Yuuji is dead and no he won’t be coming back. To that end, Megumi and Nobara’s second-year upperclassmen Zenin Maki, Inumaki, and Panda meet with them and inform them they’ll be participating in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event, basically a competition between the two Jujutsu schools.

Megumi and Nobara are happy for a distraction from their grief, and then we’re back in Tokyo where the sorcerer/priest guy is at a café talking with Curses bent on eliminating the Jujutsu sorcerers once and for all. He tells them that in order to succeed in that effort, they’ll first have to neutralize Gojou Satoru, then get on Sukuna!Yuuji’s good side.

The Curse is confused…isn’t Itadori Yuuji dead? The sorcerer/priest grins, telling him he’s not so sure. Of course he isn’t! Yuuji’s the damn main character, and this isn’t Gurren Lagann; he can’t just stay dead, especially when we’ve seen him heal bits of his body. He’ll be back; it’s just a matter of when and how. No doubt the “how” will involve coming to some kind of understanding with Sukuna.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Darwin’s Game – 01 (First Impressions) – Quick Study

After a quick look at someone standing on an I-beam high above the city, we begin with a chase that isn’t quite as thrilling as the music would want us to believe. But the chase kinetically, succinctly presents and answers questions about the nature of the titular game.

Will you be relentlessly pursued by a baseball panda with a cloaking device and a cleaver? Yes you will! Can you call for help? Sure, but it will cost you, with no assurance anyone will respond. What if you lose? You die. So far so good. All we need is a protagonist more likable than the guy who just died.

Enter Sudou Kaname, friend of the deceased, who was one of the people the guy texted before he died. That text is an invite to a free-to-play mobile game. Before his other friend Kyouda can stop him, Kaname accepts, and a goddamn snake pops out of his phone’s screen and bites him.

Now that he’s an official player in the game, he almost immediately ends up in his first battle, not knowing the rules or that the stakes are all too real. The baseball panda Banda-kun is his first opponent, and the bear apparently notorious for beating up on rookies like Kaname.

Fortunately for Kaname, his “Luck” stat in the game must be pretty high. After a frightful chase during which Banda kills a cop, Kyouda intervenes but is injured, and Kaname gets a basic grasp of some of the game’s rules, Banda is hit by a car and Kaname gets the win.

The catch? Both Banda and Kyouda are killed in the most unnatural way: being blinked out of existence one cube at a time. Kaname has lost two friends and narrowly escaped with his life. When he checks the loot from his win, a handgun appears at his door. He doesn’t like this game. You can’t really blame him.

Still, as far as inescapable Battle Royale scenarios go, it could be far worse for Kaname. His first battle is a fluke win, while an experienced player in Karino Shuka reaches out with an offer to teach him more about the game, and she’s gorgeous. Shuka’s also not very trusting, so when Kaname reveals he brought weapons to their meeting, she initiates a battle between them.

Despite having air superiority and knowing the warehouse location back to front, Shuka’s mistake is not achieving her objective of eliminating a potential threat without dilly-dallying. Their battle only stokes Kaname up, awakening his inner sense of self-survival at any cost—even shooting a gun at a woman, something he’d never do. That gun is conjured by his previously-unknown “sigil”, or special skill.

Yet as exhibited when he cared for Kyouda, Kaname is a nice, well-adjusted guy. He doesn’t end up having to kill Shuka, as she surrenders instead, and promises to obey Kaname henceforth. That’s a surprising wrinkle in what had been presented as a “win-or-die” scenario, but not an unwelcome one, as Darwin’s Game had already killed off a fair number of characters and Ueda Reina is too good a seiyu to only bring in for one episode.

This show is full of battle royale and shounen cliches, one of them being the hero suddenly collapsing from exhaustion moments after victory. Another is his one-time-opponent seemingly falling for him on the spot. It yet another spot of luck (or possibly horror), he wakes up Shuka’s bed, with a naked-as-a-jaybird Shuka dozing beside him.

In addition to T&A, Shuka offers an abrupt proposal for Kaname: she wants to “make a family” with him. Huh. BIT random, but not altogether out of the blue. It’s clear Shuka, nicknamed the “Undefeated Queen”, has been doing this for a while. It’s likely been lonely game, and she likely hasn’t met someone quite like Kaname before: someone who risked himself to trust and spare her.

At this point I’d like it more if this was some long game to exploit his kindness to use and dispose of him, or perhaps it’s the start of an earnest romance in the making. Either way, this was a diverting and intriguing enough opening double episode to warrant further viewing.