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Maki Zen’in and the Wonderful Female Characters of Jujutsu Kaisen

WARNING: Contains spoilers. Written from the POV of a manga reader, so anime-only viewers please beware.

The other day I visited a beloved senpai in Yokohama, and we went for a stroll within the gorgeous grounds of the Buddhist temple 總持寺 Soji-ji. It’s one of those wonderfully serene places that come to life only during Japanese seasonal events such as お盆祭りobon-matsuri (a kind of summer festival in August) or お正月 oshogatsu (New Year celebration) and so on. 

March and April are cherry blossom viewing months in this part of the country, and normally you’d see hordes of families and groups drinking and eating under the trees. But given the state of the pandemic, this year lots of places where you’d see such revelry have been roped off. 

Silence is Golden

Soji-ji is no exception, so it was eerily quiet, but in a very good way. お花見 Ohanami or cherry blossom viewing usually means loud voices and laughter and screaming children and just general rowdiness, so getting to walk quietly in parks while the trees are in full bloom is a rarity. 

I honestly miss the typical flower viewing parties with friends and colleagues, and yet found this new way of blossom appreciation to be a real treat. It makes you reflective and thoughtful. Not that we need any more of that these days, but looking at my photos (where there’s virtually no people because they’ve been discouraged from coming out and partying beneath the trees) has got me thinking, maybe it’s not such a bad thing, this silence, this stillness that encourages you to just gaze at the delicate blooms and ponder on the ephemeral nature of beauty.

Walking amongst the cherry trees is like being in a pink and white cloud of pure loveliness. I added a filter to my pics to depict this soft, fantasy-like atmosphere. It’s hard to capture the dreamy aura of the place given my old iPhone and lack of photographic skills, but I hope you get a general feel of the space through these pictures. 

I doubt the Soji-ji priests will be happy I’m peppering a Jujutsu Kaisen meta post with photos of their lovely temple grounds, but I hope they’ll find it in their hearts to forgive me. 

Maki Zen’in and Her Struggle

Today I want to focus on Jujutsu’s Maki Zen’in, having been inspired by my walk on temple grounds. It’s got a lot to do with her name: 禪院真希. Just looking at the kanji characters makes you believe the Zen’ins are a big name not just in the world of jujutsu sorcery but also as a great family of Buddhist priests. The simplified version of zen is , which is the character used in what the Western world knows as ‘Zen’: the meditative practice giving insights into a human being’s nature, the emptiness of existence and what it means to be liberated. 

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In Maki’s backstory we see that she was born with a huge disadvantage that practically made her useless to her family: a lack of innate sorcery. Despite this crippling handicap, however, Maki remained undaunted. Instead of being satisfied playing a lowly servant role in her family of powerful sorcerers, she kicked herself out and enrolled as a student in the Tokyo jujutsu school. Before she left she informed the head of the family, Naobito, that she was leaving, but intended to come back and take his place. Such a brazen declaration made the old man throw his head back in mocking laughter. A non-natural becoming head of their ancient sorcerer clan? Unthinkable! Impossible! 

Despite lacking inborn jujutsu powers, Maki’s advantage was that she was born with extreme physical skills, which she maximizes through hard work and training. Evolving into a weapons expert, she became adept at wielding the special grade cursed nunchucks which even the natural-born sorcerer (and Maki’s blood relative) Megumi Fushiguro found hard to handle. 

Toji’s Eerie Legacy

Yet we all know what happens to people like Maki: she had a precedent by the name of Toji Zen’in (aka Toji Fushiguro, after he married and took his wife’s name).

Rejected because of his lack of inborn jujutsu powers, Toji basically became a thug, a gangster henchman of sorts using his physicality to do muscle work for whoever was willing to pay. He ends up dying in battle against Satoru Gojo, and when he was resurrected as a zombie super assassin during the Shibuya incident, he showed both Maki and Megumi just how a physically-gifted man without innate sorcery can still overwhelm anyone and anything, including sorcerers and powerful cursed spirits.

Such was Toji’s incredible control of his body that when Megumi fought against him, he saw him as the fully-developed version of Maki. Toji was what Maki could become, if she could find a way to raise her physical skills even further. And yet as Toji had shown, no amount of physical perfection could make him acceptable to his family. He was still a reject, a disappointment, an aberration and an embarrassment. 

Will Maki end up like Toji? Angry and having lost all hope, he ended up a mercenary. Maki is unlike him in that she didn’t just leave the family out of bitterness. She left so she could better herself and then come back and take the throne. In other words, the girl has great ambition.

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With A Little Help From Friends

This is one of the many things I love about Maki’s character. Unlike many female side characters in shonen manga, she has a life of her own. Beautiful, intelligent, hard-working, with a zany sense of humour, Maki knows what she wants and she’s out to get it. This burning ambition—partly because she knows she’s good and deserves it, but mostly because she wants to piss on the family that pissed on her—is what drives her. It invites the ire of her twin sister, Mai, who had been content playing servant girl but was forced to become a jujutsu sorcerer in order to keep up, and the admiration and support of Nobara Kugisaki. 

Megumi Fushiguro, too, shows his support for Maki in his conversation with Noritoshi Kamo during the inter-school games. We’re alike, said Kamo, burdened with the weight of their family name as future inheritors of their respective thrones. Nope, Fushiguro countered, that has nothing to do with me, tell that to Maki instead.

The Zen’in Clan Game of Thrones

When Naobito was at his deathbed, however, he wrote up his Last Will and Testament and named Naoya as head of the household, a warden who will inherit everything *in case* Megumi Fushiguro goes belly up in the Shibuya incident. Completely bypassing Maki, Naobito made clear how little he thinks of her. Now that he’s dead, Fushiguro is in effect the de facto head of the Zen’in clan.

Needless to say, Naoya, who like Fushiguro is a natural-born sorcerer, wants his relative dead otherwise he gets nothing.

What’ll happen to this intra-clan game of thrones? In Chapter 143 of the manga, we know Fushiguro is well and good, and so are Itadori and Okkotsu. As of this writing, we still don’t know if Kugisaki made it out alive after being fatally touched by Mahito. Inumaki had his arm blown off by a marauding Sukuna, but it doesn’t say he’s dead. Nanami had been killed by Mahito. What about the rest?  

In a flashback, Naoya dishes out his misogynistic opinion of the Zen’in twins: Maki is beautiful, yes, but she’s too headstrong, too hard to handle. Mai is better in that she knows her place. 

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While such an observation is hair-tearingly maddening, it gives us hope that both the sisters are alive since Naoya seems to be choosing between them.

It’s the weekend but I’m biting my fingernails about the latest chapter coming out on Monday. If Maki is dead, surely Fushiguro would have mentioned it in his conversation with Itadori. All he says, though, is that they should go back to the Tokyo school and meet up with the senpais. Please let Maki be one of them! 

Laudable Portrayals

I’ve mentioned in my half-assed review of the Jujutsu Kaisen official fanbook/guidebook that I like the fact that Akutami doesn’t seem obsessed with any of his characters, and that he holds them at arm’s length, coolly viewing them with the lens of objectivity. If they no longer serve a purpose in the story then he kills them off. 

It also appears to me, tone-wise, that he doesn’t ‘care’ much about his female characters. This is usually a bad thing since it means he won’t bother to flesh them out. But in a way it’s a good thing in that he doesn’t go out of his way to make them pathetic, that is, they are not merely appendages to the male protagonist. I despise those female characters whose sole purpose is to prop up the main guy in the story. Not a single one of the girls* and women in Jujutsu Kaisen falls under this category, and it’s one of the major reasons why I absolutely adore the manga. 

(*Rika-chan is a notable exception, but I see her story as more of an OVA than part of the main narrative. Besides, she died when she was only six years old; she’s a cursed spirit now and doesn’t qualify as a person.)

Let’s see just how incredible Akutami is when it comes to portraying female characters:

  • Maki Zen’in is not content being a servant, she wants to rule the clan. She’s gorgeous, talented, clever… but she’s no Mary Sue. Her biggest flaws are that she is not a natural-born sorcerer, and that her ambitions exceed her abilities. There is much room for growth and character development with this one. So much to look forward to!
  • Nobara Kugisaki lives for herself. Sick and tired of the parochialism and narrow-mindedness of her small rural village, she wants the good life in urban Tokyo. Her dream is to meet up with an older girl she idolised as a child but whom her village drove away out of pettiness and envy. While it wasn’t portrayed much in the manga, Akutami did say Kugisaki has been doing all the things that girls her age enjoy: shopping, sight-seeing, eating… 
  • Miwa Kasumi is not just a pretty face, she’s also incredibly diligent, wanting to grow strong and independent so she could lift herself and her younger siblings out of poverty. While she crushes on Gojo, she has a sweetness and tenderness to her that makes her treat everyone with kindness, and we’re not surprised to find that Mechamaru had been in love with her all this time. This might just be her downfall: she seems to lack the toughness to become a sorcerer of repute.
  • Mei-mei is a beauty queen sorcerer, tough as nails, practical and unsparing, with the keen intelligence of a scheming businesswoman. With a devoted little brother, Uiui, by her side, she has everything. But she’s lacking in heart, and her main purpose in life is to make financial profit out of everything.
  • Other notable female characters that haven’t been fleshed out in the manga but who go about living their lives: Shoko Ieri, the school doctor with an enviable power to heal others, and Utahime Iori, the caring, much-adored teacher of the Kyoto school and forever annoyed with Gojo. 
  • A mystery special grade sorcerer, Yuki Tsukumo, has had only a couple of minor appearances and we know little about her except that she was the first sorcerer Aoi Todo met as a child, and was probably responsible for his becoming one. She’s Jennifer Lawrence-level gorgeous, and goes around the world riding her bike and doing her thing. 

Except for a very minor character, Yuko Ozawa, who has a major crush on Itadori but has only appeared once (and is unlikely to appear again, unless she becomes one of the players in the Culling Game concocted by Old Kamo/Fake Geto), all of the above girls and women are independent beings, with a mind of their own. Their lives don’t revolve around a man. They are no man’s barnacle. Not even the super charming, uber handsome, perfectly perfect Gojo-sensei has been given a fawning girl to drool over him with a limited vocabulary consisting of “Satoruh, Satoruh, Satoruh!” 

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In Akutami’s world, the girls and women are complex, sentient individuals who live full lives apart from boys and men. It’s a beautiful, liberating portrayal of female characters, and something I wish more shonen manga-ka could learn from.

That’s why I’m very much emotionally invested in Maki Zen’in and her future. Is she alive? If so, is she massively injured? Along with Kugisaki, she’s the one given the most screen time amongst the female characters, and also the most compelling in terms of characterisation. I love Maki and wish to see more of her. More Maki, more, more, more!

Akutami-sensei, please don’t kill her off!

Sweet Dreams are Made of These

I’d love to see Best Girl battle for the throne against Naoya. A no-holds-barred, natural-born versus physically-gifted sorcerer fight for the ages, where only one is left standing. Megumi Fushiguro appears to not want to have anything to do with the mess of a clan that is the Zen’in. So it’s up to Maki to put Naoya in his place. Or so I hope!

Akutami-sensei, please don’t kill Maki off! It’ll break my already-broken heart even further, meaning it will kill me. You don’t want me to die, you know, ‘cause I’m a loyal fan who buys and promotes your stuff! xD

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

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myri

I really like nobara, I feel like I can relate to her. I come from a small province with an even smaller city and when I saw her ambition in the third chapter of the anime I was like GIRL SAME

myri

I promise you that when I finish catching up with the manga I will come to leave a comment about them because until now I only know about three Of them and the others are unknown names 😹

myri

In Akutami’s world, the girls and women are complex, sentient individuals who live full lives apart from boys and men. It’s a beautiful, liberating portrayal of female characters, and something I wish more shonen manga-ka could learn from.

SHADY AF love you
😳✊❤

kriss

But in a way it’s a good thing in that he doesn’t go out of his way to make them pathetic, that is, they are not merely appendages to the male protagonist. I despise those female characters whose sole purpose is to prop up the main guy in the story.

throwing shade at that other manga lol i totes agree tho i mean enough w these mpdg portrayals already were deep in the 21st century time to truly empower girls cmon manga-ka everywhere

kriss

ur fantasy filter looks gorgeous always nice to see sakura looking dreamy coz theyre really dreamy irl esp in rows cameras dont do justice to what our eyes see

kriss

totally agree, the girls of jujutsu kaisen are some of the best portrayed out there not just maki but esp kugisaki n mei mei for me

kriss

luv maki too wish shed get more screen time/panel time n get fleshed out more she could be a real contender as heroine when given the chance

kriss

aw so nice to see a quiet place for hanami thought u were gonna do ueno park or shinjuku gyoen lol

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