INTERVIEW: Manabu Otsuka, Hiroshi Seko and Hiroaki Matsutani on the future of JUJUTSU KAISEN

After soaring US$180 million (24.25 billion yen) at the box office around the world with mad success JUJUTSU KAISEN 0 movie, there is no doubt that JUJUTSU KAISEN is the megahit franchise that MAPPA and TOHO have been hoping for. After charming fans with its lovable cast of characters in its first season and the ensuing prequel film, MAPPA has confirmed that the series will be back for a second season in 2023.

Crunchyroll had the opportunity to speak with the President of MAPPA, Manabu Otsuka, JUJUTSU KAISEN screenwriter Hiroshi Seko and TOHO producer Hiroaki Matutani to find out how the team brought creator Gege Akutami’s original story to life, how the series’ success is shaping the studio’s future, and what they have in store for fans when Yuji, Megumi, Nobara and Gojo return.

Good morning! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules today to talk to us today. For Otsuka-san, Seko-san and Matsutani-san, could you both introduce yourself to our readers and what you do?

Seko: Hello, I am Seko. I’m the series composer for JUJUTSU KAISEN.

Otsuka: My name is Otsuka and I am the CEO of MAPPA. In the credits, you’ll see me listed under Production Management.

Matsutani: I’m Matsutani from TOHO and I’m the producer of 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 are looking for?

Otsuka: No matter who asks, whether it’s a creator, director, or producer, if there’s a strong will to turn a project into an anime, we’ll work on it. There must be a strong passion in the person. Of course, we also focus on corporate branding. For JUJUTSU KAISEN, it was a well-known comic book series in Weekly Shonen Jump, so there was strong brand potential for this story both in the domestic market and overseas. If there is an opportunity to show that MAPPA is a good studio, then we will.

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For Seko-san and Matsutani-san, how often did you work with Akutami-sensei on adapting the script for both? JUJUTSU KAISEN and or JUJUTSU KAISEN 0?

Seko: I probably only met Akutami-sensei a couple of times in person, but Akutami-sensei’s editor always attended every production meeting to discuss the story. If there were any questions, he would relay to Akutami-sensei.

Matsutani: We didn’t really have a set number of meetings with Akutami-sensei or his editor, but we always consulted Akutami-sensei through his editor if we needed to verify the accuracy of our adaptation of his original work, like to know how to stage the characters and the setting. We would always ask for clarification and confirmation.

Many MAPPA fans praised the studio’s animation, especially the fight scenes, smooth choreography, and camera work. With a history of creating action oriented animes, did the staff always focus on fight and battle scenes or was it something to develop over time as the team grew ?

Otsuka: Yeah, I’ve always had a tendency to create great action scenes and that was definitely a priority for us. In the case of JUJUTSU KAISEN, we had a number of animators who were eager to draw these awesome fight sequences. Not just Japanese animators, but animators from all over the world. This is 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, which is why we have this reputation.

Seko-san, working on JUJUTSU KAISENwere there any particular scenes or chapters that were particularly difficult for you to write and adapt?

Seko: Some scenes didn’t exist in the original manga, so of course those scenes were hard to create from scratch. Then there were a lot of scenes that we made up entirely of narration, dialogue and description that Akutami-sensei was telling us not to use, but of course we can’t eliminate them all, so we had to figure out how incorporate some of the information described in the narration into animation – usually in monologue form.

For JUJU SANPO [the shorts at the end of each episode]Akutami-sensei would write the story, and assistant director Umemoto-san would plan the visuals to portray the more relaxed day-to-day story within the JUJUTSU KAISEN universe and develop the look and feel of it. Even though this is a relaxed part of the show, we also wanted to express a lot of attention and show that we were serious with these segments as well. That’s probably why fans loved this part of the series as well.

You have worked on many notable anime throughout your career. Do you find screenwriting still as difficult as the day you started? Do you find that each story presents its own unique challenges?

Seko: Both. Of course, I get used to writing scripts and it gets easier over time, but new projects always come with unique challenges that we have to overcome every time.

When working on JUJUTSU KAISEN and JUJUTSU KAISEN 0Was there anything about the story composition that you found easier to do in a feature film versus a 24-episode TV series (or vice versa)?

Seko: It’s pretty much the same thing. In a feature film, you have to create a ripple in the story, so that’s a difficulty we had to face. On television, there are 24 episodes, so you always have to be careful about the purpose each episode serves in the series. I always think about the theme of each episode. Of course, because it’s a series, you try to create a crescendo at the end of each episode so that people want to watch the next episode. I love watching overseas dramas like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, two series that inspired me.

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JUJUTSU KAISEN does a great job balancing the show’s familiar characters with less familiar faces. Was there a strategy in how you balanced familiar characters against lesser known characters in the story?

Seko: The original story does most of the work there, so I can’t claim much credit. This is one of the strengths of Akutami-sensei’s story. Of course, since this is 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 will focus on Panda.

For Otsuka-san, what is your vision for the future of MAPPA and how do you plan to get there? What is the guiding philosophy of the studio?

Otsuka: By using our power to create anime, I would like MAPPA to grow and expand our influence globally. Our goal is for our anime to be known and accepted around the world, but as a company, we’re not there yet. We hope to achieve this soon and that our business continues to grow.

Well, I can assure you that MAPPA is well on its way to becoming a household name. How has JUJUTSU KAISEN shaped how you think about this vision for MAPPA? Has the series made you think about future projects in a new way?

Otsuka: JUJUTSU KAISEN has become a huge success and brings in a lot of profit on an ongoing basis. The original comic is still ongoing, so the challenge is how we’re going to make this title bigger and bigger to help MAPPA grow.

Finally, everyone, Is there anything you would like to say to the fans who are eagerly awaiting the next season of JUJUTSU KAISEN in 2023?

Seko: Thank you so much for watching the TV series and the movie. Season 2 will continue the amazing story of the original comic, so I’m sure it will live up to fan expectations.

Otsuka: The first season of the TV series and the movie was very, very successful. We’d like to build on that success for Season 2, but we’re not going to do the same thing and repeat ourselves. To the fans of the series, I would like to show even more success and growth in season 2, for both JUJUTSU KAISEN and MAPPA.

Matsutani: To the fans who have supported the franchise, we have nothing but the deepest gratitude, so thank you very much. By expanding Akutami-sensei’s wonderful story work, we would like to capture many more fans by creating deep and meaningful anime.

I have no doubt that Season 2 will be a huge hit and everyone will love it. I hope to welcome you back to America at Anime Expo next year. Thank you very much for your time!

Thanks to Manabu Otsuka, Hiroshi Seko and Hiroaki Matsutani for sitting down to chat with us at Anime Expo 2022 and special thanks to Eiko Grafton for performing this interview.

You can watch the first season of JUJUTSU KAISEN on Crunchyroll now and be sure to catch JUJUTSU KAISEN 0 September 21!

Kristine Don is a Senior Manager on Crunchyroll’s editorial team. She oversees our global newsrooms in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Arabic and Russian.

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