We sit down with team behind JUJUTSU KAISEN to talk about bringing the hit series to life and what they have planned next!
After soaring past US$180 million (24.25 billion yen) in box offices around the world with the wildly successful JUJUTSU KAISEN 0 film, there’s no doubt that JUJUTSU KAISEN is the megahit franchise that MAPPA and TOHO hoped it would be. After charming fans with its lovable cast of characters in its debut season and subsequent prequel film, MAPPA confirmed that the series would return for a second season in 2023.
Crunchyroll had the opportunity to sit down with MAPPA president Manabu Otsuka, JUJUTSU KAISEN screenwriter Hiroshi Seko, and TOHO producer Hiroaki Matsutani to get the inside scoop on how the team brought creator Gege Akutami’s original story to life, how the success of the series is shaping the future of the studio, and what they have in store for fans when Yuji, Megumi, Nobara and Gojo return.
Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time today out of your busy schedules to speak with us today. For Otsuka-san, Seko-san, and Matsutani-san, could you please both introduce yourselves to our readers and what you do?
Seko: Hello, I am Hiroshi Seko. I am the series composer for JUJUTSU KAISEN.
Otsuka: My name is Manabu Otsuka and I am the CEO of MAPPA. In the credits, you’ll see me listed under Production Management.
Matsutani: I am Hiroaki Matsutani from TOHO and I am the producer for JUJUTSU KAISEN.
Otsuka-san, as CEO of MAPPA, what do you look for in a story when choosing a new project to adapt into an anime? Is there something special you look for?
Otsuka: No matter who is asking, whether that be a creator, director, or producer, if there is a strong desire to turn a project into an anime, we will work on it. There must be a strong passion from the person. Of course, we also focus on branding for the company as well. For JUJUTSU KAISEN, it was a well-known comic series in Weekly Shonen Jump, so there was strong branding potential for that story in both the domestic and overseas market. If there is an opportunity to show that MAPPA is a good studio, then we will do it.
To both Seko-san and Matsutani-san, how often did you work with Akutami-sensei on the script adaptation for both JUJUTSU KAISEN and/or JUJUTSU KAISEN 0?
Seko: I probably only met Akutami-sensei two or three times in person, but Akutami-sensei’s editor would always attend each production meeting to discuss the story. If there were any questions, he would act as the conduit to Akutami-sensei.
Matsutani: We didn’t really have a fixed number of meetings with Akutami-sensei or his editor, but we would always consult with Akutami-sensei through his editor if we needed to check the accuracy of our adaptation of his original work, like with how to portray the characters and the setting. We would always ask for clarification and confirmation.
Many fans of MAPPA have praised the studio’s animation, especially the fight scenes and the fluid choreography and camera work. With a history of making action-oriented anime, has the staff always focused on fight and battle scenes or was that something to develop over time as the team grew?
Otsuka: Yes, I always tended to create great action scenes and it was definitely a focus for us. In the case of JUJUTSU KAISEN, we had a number of animators who were eager to draw those great fight sequences. Not just Japanese animators, but animators from all over the world. That’s probably the reason why JUJUTSU KAISEN is known to be an anime with great action that fans love. MAPPA has often worked on titles that require intense action scenes, so that is the reason we have this reputation.
Seko-san, when working on JUJUTSU KAISEN, were there any particular scenes or chapters that were especially difficult for you to write and adapt?
Seko: There were some scenes that did not exist in the original manga, so of course, those scenes were difficult to create from scratch. Then there were a lot of scenes that we entirely composed of narration, dialogue, and description that Akutami-sensei would tell us not to use, but of course, we can’t eliminate them all, so we had to figure out how to incorporate some of the info that was described in narration into animation – usually as a monologue.
For JUJU SANPO [the shorts at the end of each episode], Akutami-sensei would write the story and the Assistant Director, Umemoto-san, would plan the visuals to depict the more relaxed, everyday story within the JUJUTSU KAISEN universe and develop the look and feel of it. Even though it’s a relaxed part of the show, we also wanted to express a lot of care and show that we were serious with those segments as well. That’s probably why the fans also loved that part of the show.
You have worked on many notable anime throughout your career. Do you find screenwriting to still be as hard as the day you started? Do you find that each story presents its own unique challenges?
Seko: Both. Of course, I’m getting more used to writing scripts and it gets easier over time, but new projects still pose unique challenges that we have to address each time.
When working on JUJUTSU KAISEN and JUJUTSU KAISEN 0, was there anything about the story composition that you found easier to do in a feature-length film versus a 24-episode television series (or vice versa)?
Seko: It’s about the same. In a feature film, you have to create undulation in the story so that’s one difficulty we faced. In television, there are 24 episodes, so you always have to pay attention to the purpose that each episode serves in the series. I always think about the theme for each episode. Of course, since it’s a series, you try to create a crescendo at the end of each episode so people want to watch the next episode. I love watching overseas dramas like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, two shows I drew inspiration from.
JUJUTSU KAISEN does a great job balancing familiar characters from the series with less-familiar faces. Was there any strategy in how you balanced familiar versus lesser known characters in the story?
Seko: The original story does most of the work there, so I can’t claim much credit. That’s one of the strengths of Akutami-sensei’s story. Of course, since it’s a series, we would try to give some of the characters their own episodes to highlight them – like, this episode is going to focus on Maki and Mai, and another episode would focus on Panda.
For Otsuka-san, what is your vision for the future of MAPPA and how do you envision getting there? What is the studio’s guiding philosophy?
Otsuka: Using our power to create anime, I would like for MAPPA to grow and expand our influence globally. Our goal is to have our anime be known and accepted worldwide, but as a company, we are not there yet. We hope to achieve that soon and for our company to continue to grow.
Well, I can assure you that MAPPA is well on their way to becoming a household name. How has JUJUTSU KAISEN shaped the way you think about that vision for MAPPA? Has the series made you think about future projects in new ways you hadn't before?
Otsuka: JUJUTSU KAISEN did become a huge hit and is bringing in a lot of profit on an ongoing basis. The original comic is still going though, so the challenge is how we’re going to make this title bigger and bigger to help MAPPA grow.
Finally, to everyone, Is there anything you would like to say to fans who are eagerly awaiting the next season of JUJUTSU KAISEN in 2023?
Seko: Thank you so much for watching the television series and the movie. Season 2 will continue the incredible story from the original comic, so I’m sure it will meet the expectations of the fans.
Otsuka: The first season of the television series and the movie have been very, very successful. We would like to leverage that success for season 2, but we are not going to be doing the same thing and repeat ourselves. To the fans of the series, I would like to show even greater success and bigger growth in season 2, for both JUJUTSU KAISEN and MAPPA.
Matsutani: For those fans who supported the franchise, we have nothing but the deepest appreciation, so thank you so much. In developing the wonderful work of Akutami-sensei’s story, we would like to capture many more fans by creating a deep and meaningful anime.
I have no doubt that season 2 will be a stellar success and that everyone will love it. I hope to welcome you back to America at Anime Expo next year. Thank you so much for your time!
Thank you to Manabu Otsuka, Hiroshi Seko, and Hiroaki Matsutani for sitting down to chat with us at Anime Expo 2022 and a special thank you to Eiko Grafton for interpreting this interview.
Kristine Don is a Senior Manager on the Editorial team at Crunchyroll. She oversees our global newsrooms in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Arabic, and Russian.