There’s no point in burying the lede on this week’s episode of Jujutsu Kaisen. “Red Scale” is likely the best single episode of the series to date, if not one of the best episodes of the entire anime year. Jujutsu Kaisen is one of the best current running shonen manga and while MAPPA’s methods are allegedly dubious the adaptation has always done it justice. However, “Red Scale” leverages animation’s power to deliver an experience on par with the work put into the Jujutsu Kaisen 0 film and elevates the material to an entirely new level. By the time the episode wrapped, I was genuinely giggling with excitement at both what I watched and what it means the rest of the arc has in store.
“Red Scale” opens on the moments before Itadori and curse Choso encounter each other, with Itadori’s furious running through the Shibuya streets juxtaposed against its street signs, particularly the opening shot of a no crossing sign. He’s paralyzed by choice when he sees the horrors being inflicted upon the surviving populace, only alleviated by a well timed arrival by Inumaki, complete with a “what’s up” peace sign pose. Seeing Itadori bounce around to head to Gojo’s location is slick animation, but throughout this set up, the street signs help to highlight the unfathomable that is happening to the normal people around them – a group Itadori would have been a member of not too long ago. The signs are a reminder of this “normal” world that the sorcerers protect but are generally removed from, with the irony being that the curses that now besiege it originate from these normal people. This is the crux of Jujutsu Kaisen’s central conflict as the world of curses blends with the world we’re very familiar with.
That blending is why the Shibuya Incident is such a haunting arc, it’s as if reality itself is being invaded by something unreal, rather than being transported to something unreal. Just like in “Dull Blade,” the sense of location in “Red Scale” is critical as Yuji and Choso are put on a collision course within Shibuya station, normal navigation signs and arrows pointing both towards each other as if by fate, as Choso casually strolls his patrol and Itadori sprints with purpose. Then, as the camera slows, the two connect and Choso wastes no time lashing out with his Convergence technique to manipulate his blood into a weapon. Starting the fight immediately is definitely the right choice, but it does require Jujutsu Kaisen to deploy narration to keep the audience on top of things. It’s not something the anime likes to do (believed to be at the request of original author Gege Akutami) and thankfully it does little to distract from the action that’s kicking off. What follows is an episode long equivalent of a hallway fight action scene that would be right at home among John Wick and Oldboy.
Lit primarily by the neon and backlighting of ads and train information, Itadori is forced to think quickly by Choso’s ability to shoot his blood like a power washer and this highlights his ability to analyze a fight. He moves fast to close the distance between the two and try to lay a smackdown. This does buy the episode enough time to slow the action down and remind watchers exactly what Choso’s beef is with Yuji, he’s out to avenge his curse womb brothers that Itadori and Kugisaki took down in style at the end of last season. Yuji’s response to asking about their last words is equally honest and cold, another reminder that he doesn’t exactly afford curses the same sympathy he does humans. This is where the fight heats up as Itadori is thrown around the station walkway by Choso’s blood manipulation until all that distance he closed is for naught. While Itadori knows how to throw hands skillfully, he still doesn’t fully understand how to break through a proper cursed technique. A timely intervention by Mechamaru’s remnant opens up an opportunity, one that makes this fight that much more intimate and more visceral.
The two bait Choso into the restroom, where Itadori breaks all the water lines to flood the room – causing all of Choso’s blood weapons to collapse thanks to the exposure. As a result, this fight becomes much dirtier as Choso is more on Itadori’s level and the two throw hands. A text recap really cannot do justice to the expressions and fluidity of the action in every scene of “Red Scale,” from Choso’s raw confusion at the trap he’s been put in to the quality 3D tracking used to give scale to the bathroom the fight is happening in. Even the lighting is another level up, maintaining perfect consistency depending on which side of the room Itadori and Choso are on and disrupted only by the exploding blood. This all then gets punctuated by a familiar score that begins to rise right as Itadori gets the upper hand – it’s “Remember” by Masato, the same track used in Itadori and Kugisaki’s fight against Choso’s brothers. Everything is at a peak high – perfect to crash back down as Itadori takes a massive loss instead of the win associated with that track.
If there’s one thing that the MAPPA staff understand about Jujutsu Kaisen more than anything, it’s that Gege Akutami is a man who feeds exclusively on pain and his series is very much about inflicting it. Turning the last season victory on its head is a perfect example of it and the shock execution of it (Choso reading Itadori’s final attack to filth and firing a hardened piece of blood through his liver) is a part of why this arc has been called by manga readers one of the all time greats. Up to that point, there wasn’t really a reason for readers to not expect Yuji to come out on top, since he’s the hero, and the anime plays that pitch perfectly. Of course, this also allows Itadori to remind us that he doesn’t actually have to be the hero, he’s just here to do what he can while he can, though it doesn’t last long and is completely defeated while Sukuna mocks him cast in vibrant red, himself about to intervene until something even stranger happens – Choso remembers something that didn’t happen, about Yuji being his brother, just like Todo last season. Bringing back that gag as a critical plot shift after this visceral fight is a top tier reveal for me. It’s just enough to spare a truly haggard Itadori, while Choso tries to process this pseudo revelation, closing us out with some final visual tricks using aspect ratios and breaking glass. Seriously, it’s difficult to explain how much eye candy this episode was.
Which is of course going to require really addressing the elephant in the room – the ongoing allegations of mistreatment coming out of MAPPA. Tracking these is difficult, as there are now rumors flying around of harsh new NDAs being handed out at the company, as there wasn’t enough difficulty thanks to the language barrier and the platform many of these accounts come from being the collapsing site formerly known as Twitter. However, some stories have indeed come from verifiable sources and even if it’s not org-wide it is cause for concern. In any case, the grueling schedules put on animators (and mangaka) for these series we enjoy is pretty well documented as general knowledge. There’s not a lot of reason not to think that the incredible work done on “Red Scale” came at some degree of human cost, and that’s heartbreaking. I would love to only celebrate this episode for what it is – a high watermark on an already quality series that will likely go on to influence its medium for years to come – but I also cannot ignore that human cost. My continued hope is that whatever the hell is going on at MAPPA is investigated and if found to be true, brought to light and corrected; and the same goes for every other studio working today. If that means we’d never get an episode like “Red Scale,” I’m absolutely willing to take that deal.
That said, let us also not dismiss this accomplishment itself. “Red Scale” is absolutely the strongest single episode of Jujutsu Kaisen to date, something that you could absolutely show a non-watcher and they’d get just as much thrill out of it. They’d probably want to watch the rest of it after, too. That’s a good thing, as the post credits scene suggests, the series is only going to go up from here.
Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2 is available now on Crunchyroll.
Featured Image © Gege Akutami/Shueisha, JUJUTSU KAISEN Project
‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ - “Red Scale” - 10/10