Jujutsu Kaisen Rules Because It’s Anime X-Men
Gifted youngsters, enigmatic mentors, and homoerotic tension: this anime has it all.
10:30 AM EST on February 9, 2024
Jujutsu Kaisen is one of the biggest anime in the world right now. I’m still basking in the afterglow of its phenomenal second season, which wrapped up last month. There’s millions of things I love about Jujutsu Kaisen, including its expressive animation, the chemistry between the show’s down to earth characters, and of course, really fucking cool fight scenes. But the best thing about the show is how it re-interprets one of the most classic love stories of all time: the story of X-Men’s Professor X and Magneto.
Jujutsu Kaisen shares a lot of similarities with X-Men. The show is about Yuji Itadori, a happy-go-lucky high school student who Mr. Magoo’s himself into a world of cursed energy and sorcery. In an effort to save his friends from a dangerous cursed spirit, Yuji swallows a mummified finger of an evil sorcerer, imbuing him with powerful cursed energy. From there, he is enrolled in Tokyo Jujutsu High, Jujutsu Kaisen’s equivalent of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
Not everything lines up one to one, of course—while people who can see cursed spirits are discriminated against in Jujutsu Kaisen, it’s not framed as a metaphor for the experience of being a minority in the way that X-Men does. But Yuji gets his own Professor X to help him on his journey in the form of Satoru Gojo, the strongest jujutsu sorcerer of the modern age. Like Charles Xavier, Gojo is a mentor and teacher to the young students at Tokyo Jujutsu High, recruiting them and taking them under his wing. Like Xavier, Gojo also has a secret agenda that he doesn’t share with his students, manipulating his fellow jujutsu sorcerers until his plans fall into place. Most importantly, Gojo has his own Magneto in the form of Suguru Geto, Gojo’s former classmate and the only person who he ever considered a friend.
Because Jujutsu Kaisen is the story of Yuji Itadori, details about Gojo’s life are slowly dropped into the narrative throughout the first season. But the second season begins with an arc called “Hidden Inventory,” about Gojo and Geto’s time as students at Tokyo Jujutsu High. It’s essentially the story of how Gojo and Geto part ways as they get radicalized in opposite directions. It’s a lot like the truly excellent X-Men: First Class movie, where you get the pleasure of seeing Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr—the people they were before they became Professor X and Magneto—work together until their differences in ideology break them apart.
I’ve been fascinated and drawn to the neverending rivalry (and romance) between Charles and Erik for the past, oh, 25 years. Maddy Myers, news editor at Polygon and host of the X-Men podcast The Mutant Ages, told me that the crux of their relationship is their fundamental incompatibility.
“The problem is that at the end of the day, Xavier grew up rich and that affects his politics and worldview in a fundamental way,” Myers told me. “Magneto is always so much more relatable to me for that reason, and probably most of us. Who among us hasn't had a crush who was marginalized in some way (with Xavier's mutant identity being an obvious metaphor for queerness) but they're still ultimately privileged in the rest of their life and they're never going to Get It.”
Like Xavier, Gojo is unbelievably powerful, and also comes from privilege, being the scion of a powerful family of sorcerers who can trace their ancestors back to Japan’s ancient history. Because of how powerful his sorcery techniques are, he’s been treated like a god since birth. And just like Charles Xavier, especially as played by James McAvoy in First Class, he’s kind of a fuckboy. He’s arrogant, knows he’s smarter than everyone around him, and refuses to share his plans with his peers. In his mind he is peerless—with the exception of Suguru Geto.
Geto doesn’t have the intense character history that Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr does, but they share one important character aspect: resentment of humanity. As Yuji Itadori learns throughout the show, jujutsu sorcerers lead thankless lives that are often cut short protecting regular humans from dangerous curses. Their sacrifices are only known to their fellow sorcerers; they have to choose this life knowing that few people will mourn them.
Over the course of the Hidden Inventory arc, Geto’s resentment reaches a breaking point. Like Gojo, Geto is a powerful sorcerer, the only one able to control cursed spirits and use them in combat. In order to do so, he has to swallow them, an act he finds disgusting. By the end of Hidden Inventory, it becomes a symbol of his resentment of the sacrifices jujutsu sorcerers make for human beings who at best don’t care, and at worst are disgusted by them.
“The taste of a curse,” he says, meditating on his role in the world. “Like ingesting a rag used to wipe up vomit.”
Like Charles and Erik, the romantic subtext in Gojo and Geto’s relationship isn’t exactly canon, though that hasn’t stopped anyone from shipping Professor X and Magneto. But the way that this friendship changes both their lives forever does have a homoerotic aspect. When Gojo is forced to face Geto in combat in the Jujutsu Kaisen movie, he refers to his former friend as both “my best friend,” and “my one and only.” Everything Gojo does in his adult life is shaped by his experiences with Geto in Tokyo Jujutsu High. The bond they have goes much farther than simple friendship.
Jujutsu Kaisen is very much a shonen battle anime, and you’re going to need a tolerance for the contours of that genre if you watch it. But if you’re a fan of X-Men, give it a try. If nothing else, it’ll give you that sweet sense of nostalgia for summer days long past, spent with friends you don’t speak to anymore.
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