Content Warning: Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and this article discuss suicide.
Grief is a hell of a thing. It’s an emotion that doesn’t exist in a vacuum but builds on everything around it. Anger, love, loneliness, everything feeds grief as it grows larger and more powerful in our lives. And that’s why grief gets its own name; its transformative power on our lives is distilled into a single word to sum up every emotion you feel when someone you know dies. Yet, despite this, grief isn’t a singular experience, and this is what makes stories about it so captivating.
Grief consuming your life is the crux of Jujutsu Kaisen 0. When the main character Yuta Okkotsu watches his best friend and crush die as a child, his life is changed forever. But Rika-chan never left him. Transformed into a curse, Rika is a part of Yuta. She lives in him and protects him from others and himself. Rika’s attachment to Yuta is dangerous given that she is a special grade curse, with her manifestations wreaking havoc on her surroundings. But for Yuta, he doesn’t know what to do other than isolate himself.
When he’s pulled from this isolation and saved from execution by Saturo Gajou, Yuta is pushed to confront his grief and guilt to save his friends and non-jujutsu sorcerers from Geto Suguru. While the film’s first two acts bring the audience on his training journey, it’s Jujutsu Kaisen 0’s final act that packs the largest emotional punch as Yuta accepts and explores his grief.
I’ve always thought that I had a great relationship with death. Dia de Muertos was my time to celebrate and grieve, and I could just let myself feel intensely for a couple of days a year. It was a time to feel my sadness completely. In that same way, attending funerals with family and our days-long festivities helped me process the loss. Then I lost four family members in the span of a little over a month. Now, I don’t know what grief is other than a hollow space that burrows further and further into you until it’s just a large void that consumes you. The way I felt intense rage and sadness is now gone and replaced with an emptiness that leaves me waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Grief isn’t just one big moment, and then it’s over. Instead, it crawls through you until you don’t really know who you are without it. Grief is powerful and transformative, but it’s also destructive. And while I don’t have my own curse to channel, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 offered up a story about allowing me to meet your pain as a way to move through it and to turn it into something powerful. For Yuta, Rika fits this manifestation to a tee. This is where I give the obligatory spoiler warning.
Rika is unyielding and all-consuming when she is let loose. She manifests herself when Yuta is in trouble. Whether that’s when he’s bullied, threatened by something sinister, or trying to take his own life, Rika is his protector. However, her protection comes with violence. Yuta’s lack of control over Rika and her anger seems to be a symptom of his inability to confront the guilt he feels over her death. Instead of allowing himself to feel it and work through it, Yuta aims to isolate himself, bearing the burden of her death as if it was his fault.
He’s sleep-deprived, he’s depressed, and he just wants it all to stop, even if that means taking his own life. This guilt festers, and despite her curse appearance, Yuta still knows that this monstrous creature is his first love. This awareness comes with intense grief that lays itself over Yuta and his decisions. It’s only in embracing Rika as a curse instead of ignoring her or trying to exorcise her that he begins to process her death.
In the world of Jujutsu Kaisen, controlling curse energy comes from harnessing intense and, more often than not, negative emotions. Yuta’s is obviously his loneliness, grief, and guilt, but it only starts that way. In the film’s final fight against the much more powerful jujutsu sorcerer, Geto, Yuta reaches inside himself and decides to fight for others to live. He embraces Rika and enters an exchange with her. Rika unleashes her full power to defeat Geto, and Yuta gives her his life, ending it and ending her entrapment in the world. This acceptance of death is different from the suicidal ideations we see at the beginning of the film.
Yuta accepting his death isn’t done to end his pain, and it isn’t to end Rika either; in a way, it’s him finally acknowledging the importance of life. He enters this binding promise to save the lives of those around him and taps into his deep well of grief to do so. But his power doesn’t come from the negative emotions that emanate from trauma and its processing. Instead, as he tells Geto, he is fighting with “pure love.”
Using Rika’s love for him and his love for her, Yuta crosses a power threshold that secures him a victory. That said, his passion is pure, not just because of Rika but because he has learned to grow close to other people. A stark contrast to who he was initially, as Yuta learns to move through his grief and let people in, his control over Rika and her cursed energy grow. But instead of being taken with Rika upon the completion of the battle, she allows him to live.
Rika reverts to who she was before he trapped her in a curse form, and the two smile. The revelation that Rika’s curse was caused directly by Yuta’s inability to let her go because of—you guessed it—his love is what turns a page in Yuta’s story and allows him to process everything he had held in before.
Watching Jujutsu Kaisen 0 opens the door to see grief as something other than that ache in the pit of your stomach. Or in my case, it helped me process that I wasn’t feeling apathy, but the space that was left hollow by losing people I loved. While I’ve read the manga, seeing the one-shot animated and accompanied with an emotional score made everything hit home. My grief has been painful, and I’ve hated it. It’s been a dark cloud I’ve been running from all of 2022 and one that I couldn’t see as anything but negative. But pure grief is also pure love, and once you realize that, you can transform it for yourself.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie is available now on Crunchyroll.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.