September 9, 2021
By Kambole Campbell.
Jujutsu Kaisen is loud. A battle anime that dabbles in arcane fantasy horror, its fights go big from the very first episode, and laugh at the very idea of subtlety as the sound effects of punches, kicks and Curse techniques ring out at deafening levels. So, in order to make an impression alongside those fights, the score, by Arisa Okehazama and Hiroaki Tsutsumi (mostly on arrangements of the inset songs), has to go pretty big, too.
Jujutsu Kaisen feels pretty momentous outside of the context of its story as well, the TV adaptation having swiftly become a hit and one of the most-watched shows of the past year. Based on the manga by Gege Akutami, the story follows high school student Yuji Itadori as he joins a secret organization of ‘Jujutsu Sorcerers’ in order to kill a powerful Curse named Ryomen Sukuna, of whom Yuji becomes the host.
As ever, the protagonist is an idealistic young teen who finds himself shunned by his adult peers due to his bodily possession by a horrifying power. Bearing similarities to the likes of Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho, Blue Exorcist, Tokyo Ghoul and even Naruto – the manga author Akutami having himself spoken about his being a fan of Yoshihiro Togashi and Tite Kubo – it has no pretense about being the latest in a line of other stories – it’s all too happy to directly, jokingly reference them – so instead of trying to ‘reinvent’ its type, Jujutsu Kaisen wears its various inspirations on its sleeves in the presentation of its blend of Japanese folklore. It also puts self-aware spins on its Jump manga magazine contemporaries, taking tried and true character types and updating them as Akutami sees fit.
The soundtrack highlights that sense of modernity; the score is a chaotic and indelible mix of contemporary instruments and sounds. While there are orchestral moments, it mostly stays within the realm of rock, metal, as well as rap and EDM, overlapping the stylings of each for propulsive and aggressive beats to match the force of its action. All of these sounds seem to be in their own battle for dominance, the individual elements demanding attention as much as the larger-than-life characters do. There are quieter moments of course, as Jujutsu Kaisen is also interested in how the characters spend their downtime, and Okehazama is capable of taking on a gentleness to match, as in tracks like “As Usual”.
Series director Sunghoo Park, who also directed the Korean comics adaptation The God of High School, shows great flexibility in tone, as Jujutsu Kaisen is able to switch from goofy, affable comedy to moments of genuinely chilling horror without missing a beat. The music is of course similarly adaptable – Okehazama, in an interview with Crunchyroll, spoke about his work on The God of High School, noted his inspirations in “classical music and industrial rock. I think I was especially influenced by Nine Inch Nails, particularly Trent Reznor’s approach to music”. Jujutsu Kaisen is very clearly affected by that hybridity and 1990s, early 2000s industrial rock sound – leading to an aesthetic mix that both feels contemporary in appearance and narrative while also something of a charming throwback. One way it does this is in its sheer amount of input – treating the score both traditionally and like a sort of compilation album, recruiting rappers like Paranom and Che Lingo, metal singers like Masto from the band coldrain (known for their Fire Force opening theme “Mayday”), and many more. Tracks like “Be Prepared” (no relation to The Lion King song) by Che Lingo and Tsutsumi, recalls rap and metal crossovers and tie-in tracks that, while being things that are still very much around, still evokesa certain nostalgia.
“Impatience” by Paranom, Kasper and arranged by Tsutsumi, feels as urgent as the title suggests, frequently heard in a number of Jujutsu Kaisen’s various throwdowns. Masto’s contribution “REMEMBER” brings some melancholic pop-punk. “Your Battle is My Battle” featuring Chica is more emblematic of the overall tone of the soundtrack, rock and aggressive lyrics that occasionally conjures up dramatic orchestral elements, memorably matched to an impressive action sequence featuring Yuji Itadori and Todo facing off with the curse Hanami, flying along supernatural tree branches (and later returns for supporting character Megumi’s big moment later in the season).
The feature tracks aren’t the only highlights. From the same arc of episodes, “Boogie Woogie”, (delightfully) named for the special power of Yuji’s classmate (and self-proclaimed best friend) Todou to swap places with whomever he chooses, matches the unpredictability of the sorcerer’s movements with its different, eclectic drum patterns and the invasiveness of its synths alongside jagged guitar notes. “Self-Embodiment of Perfection” by Okehazama is another standout, as orchestral sounds bleed into more contemporary sounding pieces, and vice versa, as with this – Mahito’s transformation, his inspiration from his fight with Itadori and Nanami, all converge together as strings are backed by electronic drums and claps. The resulting piece of music is as memorable as the bravura sequence it’s backing, the sounds of the fight melting away as Mahito conjures a series of ethereal hands.
Park and his collaborators make the action and accompanying soundtrack feel big, splashy and ultra-stylish, thriving on a sort of controlled chaos as characters fly through battle scenes and deliver brutal beatdowns along with flashy, powerful magic. Okehazama’s score works to match that intensity, the volume of the instruments cranked up loud enough that the vocals, while not drowned out, feel like an equal part of that aggro sound rather than the explicit focus. That kind of intense harmony between the excitement of the visuals and aggression of the music is a major part of what makes the battles of Jujutsu Kaisen feel fresh and dynamic, as well as loud as hell.
The Jujutsu Kaisen soundtrack is available to buy from All the Anime.