With the long-awaited release of the anime adaptation of the mnga book series “Jujutsu Kaisen’s” Shibuya Incident arc, both manga readers and those experiencing it for the first time are steeling themselves for an especially dark point in the show’s storyline. This anticipation did not appear out of nowhere, however, and it was a previous arc’s handling that made it happen. The TV series “Secret Inventory” finished airing this past summer, a prequel to all other arcs taking place in the youth of Satoru Gojo and Suguru Geto, the latter having been the main villain. They were hinted to have been allies in the past until Geto betrayed Jujutsu High, a story elaborated in this series. Being only five episodes long, “Secret Inventory” adds a surprising amount of context to the story, but most importantly creates a sense of expectation that enhances the arc that follows it. 

The plot centers around Riko Amanai, a high school student that Gojo and Geto are assigned to escort to Jujutsu High.  Through certain supernatural rules are perhaps too dense to describe here, she is supposed to be “assimilated” into a higher state of being for the school’s interests. This is a process that would force her to abandon her previous life for an eternity of a spiritual enlightenment of sorts. Although she is aware of her destiny and has accepted it, she resents the fact that she will never see the people close to her again. This was made fairly clear to me given one of her introductory scenes where she presents this fact to the rest of the crew as a point of pride, only for her to reminisce about her high school friends soon after. The main antagonist here is Toji Fushiguro, hired by a cult of non-sorcerers to assassinate Amanai. The audience is greeted with Tatsuya Kitani’s “Where Our Blue Is” every episode, a very high energy, enthusiastic melody that, if anything, has some melancholic undertones. 

The opening animation is fairly lighthearted in tone and features Geto, Gojo, and Amanai spending time together, hands clapping, and a low-stakes action scene. This is very much accurate for about half of the arc. As we follow our protagonists’ mission, the story follows a pattern of Amanai enjoying her last few days of freedom — talking to her friends, going to the beach and so on — Toji’s lackeys trying to capture her, and Gojo and Geto easily defeating them. The audience gets to know Amanai throughout these short episodes enough to empathize with her struggle, but the stakes never seem particularly high because her escorts, especially Gojo, have only ever been characterized as the most powerful sorcerers in canon.What truly sets this story apart comes at the end of episode three. Amanai finally arrives at her destination but the group is intercepted by Toji himself. Gojo immediately attacks as Geto uses the altercation as a distraction to take Amanai to safety. Geto then reveals that both him and Gojo are willing to help her escape the assimilation and lead a normal life, even against the school’s wishes. The viewer likely assumes the most logical story progression: that Gojo will easily defeat Toji, and Amanai will somehow get to live in freedom.Right as Amanai is about to take Geto’s hand in agreement, a single gunshot is heard. She falls to the ground, her headband ripped in half. Toji, standing at a distance armed with a firearm, has completed his mission. 

Gojo, the most powerful character in the entire show, was defeated. Against all narrative preconceptions the one character expected to live is no more. This scene was rightfully shocking for many viewers, and I believe it to be a very conscious choice to burst the audience’s bubble. It is almost mean-spirited in execution; the innocent-sounding ending song “Akari” by Soushi Sakiyama even plays during that final scene to trick the viewer into thinking the episode is over. It is performed so earnestly that even already knowing what would happen as a manga reader, I thought the story would take a different direction. A later scene depicts Gojo and Geto watching as the cult’s members clap in celebration of Amanai’s death, to which both react differently. Gojo decides to take revenge on Toji directly, seeing him as the villain, but Geto sees this as a demonstration of how ignorant “normal humans” can be. Sorcerers in “Jujutsu Kaisen” are basically a task force designed to protect people from the supernatural, and Geto has just seen those people celebrate the death of an innocent sorcerer.The clapping hands that appear in the cheery opening sequence are recontextualized; initially an inconspicuous piece of animation setting the tone, they become a signifier for the main characters’ fallout. It is these diverging reactions that led Geto to betray the school and become the villain from the last two episodes on. Just like Geto, the audience receives a heavy reality check. Characters can disappear and be gone for good, no matter how much sense it would make for them to live both narratively and emotionally.

 It is decisions like these that set “Jujutsu Kaisen” apart from the majority of anime of its kind, especially those produced from Shonen Jump features. The author, Gege Akutami, consistently challenges the genre’s usual optimistic nature. The contrast is made clearest knowing the fact that “Shonen Jump” also publishes stories like “One Piece” and “My Hero Academia.” The show is never particularly edgy for anime standards — it even has some comedy —  but at this point the audience is more likely to take it seriously. 

While the “Secret Inventory” arc is quite short and understated in the greater scheme of the story, it is essential for the audience’s understanding of two of its most important players, as well as the story’s overall tone from this point on. The next part, the “Shibuya Incident” arc, is one that is almost infamous for its violence, dark tone, and status quo-shaking nature, but it would not be nearly as effective if “Secret Inventory” was not there to show that the story can and will betray one’s expectations. It is absolutely masterful in execution, both in writing and all technical aspects, and I urge viewers to continue watching to see the fallout of a very well written, high-stakes conflict.