WARNING: Contains spoilers.
Treat Yo Self!
Do you like guidebooks? I love them, and for every manga I’m into I always make sure to grab a copy since it makes reading the story so much more fun. Plus, there’s all that extra stuff to peruse, my favourite being the interview(s) with the manga-ka.
So when Jujutsu Kaisen’s guidebook (original Japanese edition) came out on March 4th, I was amongst the fans who made sure to run to my local bookstore before it ran out of stock. “Gonna go to the bookstore today,” I sang in my heart after work that day, such was my excitement. I’ve been addicted to this manga since the anime adaptation came out last year, so I couldn’t help but feel excited. In a nutshell: I was not disappointed! 😀
Here it is, now an honored part of my paperback collection:
It’s the same size as the tankobon volumes, as you can see in the header image. By the way, I say guidebook here but the actual title is「呪術廻戦公式ファンブック」“Jujutsu Kaisen Official Fanbook.” The term ‘fanbook’ sounds to me like a collection of fan service material, and this one isn’t really like that, so I’m going with the word ‘guidebook’ instead.
It doesn’t show too clearly in the header image above but the title as well as the shadow in the cover art is done in silver foil. Here’s a closer look:
The metallic elements are not embossed but I like the shiny detail. It’s little stuff like this that makes a guidebook worthwhile, I mean, it has to look nice since it costs twice as much as a tankobon!
One of the things I love about Jujutsu Kaisen is that there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in the story.
With this book the laughter comes very early on, in the preface. Here Akutami says he’s read the guidebooks of popular works like World Trigger and Kimetsu no Yaiba, and while these reveal behind-the-scenes of detailed setups and elaborate world-building, his manga doesn’t have that. What could he write about instead? Well, he’ll just try to go off-the-cuff and bad-mouth his first (now previous) editor.
Ahaha! You gotta be kidding me?!? In the manga world editors are powerful, for they have the ability to make or break your career. Some of the manga I’ve read through the years have been abruptly cut off or had their lifespans shortened drastically, and I’m always suspicious this has little to do with the manga-ka getting tired of his own shit but more of the editor getting sick of him. You can’t savage your editors (and Jump editors at that!) and get away with it! At least not in Japan!
But Akutami says readers who enjoy Jujutsu Kaisen probably understand his brand of humour, so off he goes xD Since the person he’s maligning is his former editor, I suppose he was given the go-signal by his current editor. Ahaha! Just thinking about their not-so-smooth relationships makes me laugh uneasily.
The book is divided into sections:
- Chapter 1: Character Profiles
- Chapter 2: Explanations of Terminology and Settings
- Chapter 3: Commentary on Selected Chapters
- More: interview with Akutami on how he became a manga-ka, a conversation between Akutami and a big name manga-ka (Kubo of Bleach fame)
Sooo, let’s dive in and have a look at what’s inside!
Divided into their roles, we have profiles for the students, staff, sorcerers, the 呪霊 jurei (cursed demons, or more accurately, spirits made up of curses) and so on. Here’s a sample page, Ryomen Sukuna’s:
Major characters have a total of four pages, with minor ones having less.
Information such as height and birthday and favourite foods were already scattered in the volumes themselves, but I appreciate that we can now have all of the info arranged in an easy-to-access manner. Akutami also answers questions such as what inspired him to create the character, where their names originate from, what, if any, he’s careful about when bringing the character to life, and other miscellaneous personality questions.
The answers to these questions were, in my opinion, either incredibly brusque or overly flippant. To my disappointment, there was a lot of “maybe” and “perhaps” and “I guess,” so much so that it makes the reader wonder, “You’re the fucking manga-ka! You created these characters! You should know!”
I found the glibness level cringe-worthy on first read, but later on I got to thinking, it’s this ability of Akutami to keep an arms’ length from his characters that makes the story move at a good pace. He’s not obsessed with any of them, and he certainly won’t hesitate to kill them off as he sees fit. From interviews I’ve seen, it appears to me he doesn’t need to put effort into looking at his story and characters objectively, since it’s something that comes to him naturally.
One of the many charms of Jujutsu Kaisen’s characters is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and have that admirable ability to make fun of themselves, giving us lots of hilarious moments. Unlike some other manga, wherein there’s the designated manzai combi or comedic duo, the characters here all have their unique sense of humour and can be very funny (inadvertently or otherwise).
It won’t be a reach to say this brand of humour (which I truly love) has developed precisely because the manga-ka doesn’t think of his characters as overly precious jewels. I like this type of detachment, this cool impartiality because, while it may appear contradictory, I feel he won’t make them needlessly suffer just for the sake of it.
More Character Trivia
Akutami does dish out trivia, one way or another. There’s a page where he reveals the hottest characters are Suguru Geto for guys and Kasumi Miwa for the girls. The only one who’s been married is Principal Masamichi Yaga (now divorced). Shoko Ieri and Kento Nanami are heavy drinkers, while Utahime Iori and Naobito Zenin turn nasty when drunk. We all know Satoru Gojo doesn’t drink.
Then there’s one page where he ranks the students’ skills under a 30-point system (physical prowess, academic ability, innate sorcery), and the one on top is Aoi Todo (29 pts), followed by Megumi Fushiguro (27 pts). Yuta Okkotsu and Kokichi Muta (Mechamaru, when fully healed) are tied in third place with 25 pts each. Yuji Itadori is at 21 points. Maki Zenin, of course, doesn’t have sorcery instinct so she’s at the bottom with her twin sister Mai (who is physically weak but makes up for it with academics) and Kasumi Miwa, with 16 points each.
I’m assuming this ranking was where they were at when they entered the schools. I mean, after Itadori figured out black flash and Fushiguro did an incomplete domain expansion, they must have had an increase in skills. Also, we all know by now that Okkotsu is the strongest of them all, as he is a Special Grade sorcerer even after he freed Rika-chan.
Then there’s a spread comparing the heights of the characters. It’s kinda hard to decipher; they should’ve just written the data on top of each of their heads instead of having a ruler to one side.
To cap off the character profiles, there are six pages of Q&A’s from different events, and these are helpfully categorised by character. I think all of the contents here is old news to those who’ve been keeping up with the latest news on the manga, but for someone like me, it was all new info and thus a very fun read.
Lastly, Akutami takes a page to reveal his favourite films (Pulp Fiction, Interstellar, Django Unchained and so on) and why he likes them, as well as his favourite movie directors (Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan et al). His favourite actor is Matthew McConaughey, and he’s watched all his films. He also talks about the action shows he likes and how they influenced the manga’s battle scenes.
Explanations of Terminology and Settings
This is my favourite part because at times when I read the manga I go, “What was that again?” regarding terminology. About time we get a proper glossary!
Here’s a sample page explaining 無下限呪術 mukagen-jujutsu or unlimited/limitless jujutsu technique.
Regarding techniques and tricks, explanations are already scattered all throughout the volumes, in between chapters. But it’s really nice to have a book with everything in one place. It’s like having review material before you take an exam, meaning there’s nothing new and yet good to read again to freshen your memory.
I loved this part of the book and it will give me lots of material to write about in the future.
Commentary on Selected Chapters
Extra! Extra! Akutami comments on some of the color illustrations he had done for his first exhibit (December 2019-January 2020). There are sixteen plates in all, with a gold border for each. Here’s a sample:
As for the text part, this was the most fun for me. He takes time to comment on volumes 0 to 8 (up to Chapter 64), giving us behind-the-scenes details of their making. I enjoyed this portion, chuckling to myself as he goes all out and fanboys the many senpai manga-ka he admires. Akutami writes this portion of the book in a casual, conversational manner, so you can imagine yourself having a pint or two in a pub with him and listening (and chuckling) while he recounts his adventures as part of the Jump Comics family.
Speaking of the manga, Volume 0, in particular, is one of my favourites, and I wasn’t disappointed with his commentary. One of the reasons Okkotsu Yuta’s arc is one of the best (for me, at least) in the manga so far is that we get to know all about Rika-chan’s character. She’s not just some run-of-the-mill 呪霊 jurei (spirit made up of curses) without a backstory. We learn exactly why she’s the way she is, and when Okkotsu finally frees her, we are cheering and crying at the same time. I’m glad to learn Akutami also likes this story arc just as much as I do!
Interview with Big Name Manga-ka
The interview part with Bleach creator Kubo-san was interesting in that it shows just how much of a super otaku Akutami is! xD More of this in a future blog post!
There is so much to unpack with this book so I’ll be writing separate blog posts on the different sections. In the meantime, here are my overall impressions:
If you’re looking for a book that delves deep into the characters, and offers golden nuggets of knowledge about their personalities that we’ve never heard before, and explains what they were thinking and what they honestly felt during such-and-such event in such-and-such chapter, then you’ll be very disappointed.
For me, though, more than a character book I was looking for an easily accessible glossary that will help me understand the manga’s world better.
Characterisations are extremely important, needless to say, but one of the things I love about Jujutsu Kaisen is that it’s gotten me interested once again in my Japanese ancestors’ culture of magic and curses and ghosts and exorcists and sorcerers and witch doctors. It’s a very rich occult culture that goes back for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and having a recent manga that puts that front and center is pure joy. If you’re approaching the guidebook from this perspective, then you’ll love it just as much as I do.
Also, if you’re interested in the manga-ka himself, then this book is for you. He bad-mouths people (well, a person in particular), shamelessly fawns over others, and talks with plenty of 自虐ネタ jigyaku-neta or self-deprecation, all the while baring his creator’s soul to an extent. Some readers may find these to be a turn-off, but I like to think of it as a no-holds-barred look at the energy source behind Jujutsu Kaisen. It is what it is—one of the best-selling manga of all time—because of the personality and idiosyncrasies of the manga-ka behind it. For me, definitely worth the read!
In the end, I’m glad I bought it and I hope it won’t be the last of the official guidebooks, but the beginning of a series.
The first edition of the book has a bunch of typos, mostly on the wrong kanji (Chinese characters) for names and terms. Jump Comics/Shueisha has published a list of corrections here. If you can’t stand typos then better wait for the revised edition.
If you’re an anime-only watcher, or a manga reader who paces in tune with the anime, then there are spoilers, heart-stopping ones even! The book assumes you’ve read up to Volume 15 (latest volume as of this writing), so be warned.
Thank you so much for reading! Please take a moment to share a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo – hana