How Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Tries To Make Shonen Romance Work

"Jujutsu Kaisen 0", the latest film adaptation and prequel to the hit anime of the same name created by Gege Akatumi, is filled to the brim with exciting fights, impossible odds, and most importantly, beating the absolute snot out of your enemies with the power of love. Defeating an enemy with an abstract concept is run-of-the-mill in most anime, specifically Shonen. In the case of "Jujutsu Kaisen 0", however, it's the power of love and the driving relationship between two characters that turns "Jujutsu Kaisen 0's" story into a Shonen romance that works on an almost subversive level.

In an interview with Gizmodo, the English dub cast of "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" discussed the relationship between two of the film's core characters, Jujutsu Sorcerer Yuta Okkotsu (Kayleigh McKee) and his "Special grade cursed spirit" Rika (Anairis Quiñones). Their unintentional contract with each other before a tragedy ending in Rika's death bound the two together despite her passing, turning Rika into a monstrous curse that Yuta can summon to aid him in battle. While Shonen anime is filled with dysfunctional relationships, it's the darker and more unconventional backstory that "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" creates for the Yuta and Rika dynamic that makes this "romance" so intriguing.

A Shonen romance with meaning

Anairis Quiñones had this to say about her character's dynamic with Yuta:

"I'm a huge fan of psychological things. It was really fun to figure out what the dynamic was between Rika and Yuta, and it says a lot about how much they cared for each other. I think that the film does a really good job of exploring their relationship, both in terms of how Yuta embraces her and is sometimes terrified of her, and how Rika herself responds to that."

There are a lot of ways that Shonen anime can approach romance in their stories. Some of the most classic Shonen, like "Dragon Ball Z," has romance as a surface layer aspect that hardly adds any complexity or intrigue to the story. However, in the case of "Jujutsu Kaisen 0," the romance is the crux of the story and it's what helps to elevate the series. Yuta's reliance on Rika and Rika's love for Yuta is at the center of almost every battle in the film. The film presents the Shonen romance as one with meaning that's essential not only to the character's survival but also to their journey of self-realization in the film.

The cursed complexity of romance

Because the "romance" in "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" isn't as one-note as what is typically expected in Shonen, there's an automatic level of complexity that comes with it. Yuta's ability to use cursed energy, and that being the reason Rika lived on after her death, bears heavy implications. Yuta's voice actor, Kayleigh McKee, spoke on how this particular romance between Yuta and Rika differentiates itself:

"It's a complexity of character. The knowledge of how they got to where they are more than them just thinking that they're cute before they wind up together. Having something more than that, as the care between two people really showing and they accept those traumatic incidents really gets to me. Even though Rika's a child, there's still a play between them and complexity between their interactions. It's both very compelling and sweet, as well as kind of sad to see."

The bittersweet nature of Yuta and Rika's doomed romance is sure to make any anime enthusiast shed a tear. Their story from childhood sweethearts to cursed duo is what helped elevate the Shonen, giving "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" the push it needed to be a box office hit. Given the right circumstances and just enough cursed energy from Yuta Okkotsu, even a Shonen can get romance right.