Looking Back on the Shibuya Incident: Jujutsu Kaisen’s Chimera Ant?

Shibuya Incident color page

Well, it’s finally over. After 57 chapters, 472 days of publication, and over 1200 pages, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Shibuya Incident arc has finally come to an end. Arguably, the series has been building for this since the very beginning: we first heard mention of the plan to seal Satoru Gojo all the way back at the end of the Cursed Training arc, almost three years ago. Now that it has ended, this arc has become not only the series’ longest but also its most ambitious and most important.

Spoilers for Jujutsu Kaisen up to chapter 136.

Further preeminence is given to the Shibuya Incident because of its clear similarities to Hunter x Hunter’s Chimera Ant. Although original author Gege Akutami has always more readily cited Yu Yu Hakusho as inspiration in interviews, the links with Togashi’s other masterpiece (mainly stemming from the Cursed Energy power system) have always been obvious. The Shibuya Incident, meanwhile, takes this to the next level, aping not only Chimera Ant’s fixed geographical and temporal nature but also its domino-like narrative approach.

With this in mind, the big question is: was it worth it? Did it deliver after years of anticipation? Furthermore, does it measure up to the shonen pedigree that it so clearly holds itself to? The answer is yes, but not in the ways that you might expect.

Shibuya Incident vs. Chimera Ant: Not a Fair Comparison?

Hunter x Hunter's Chimera Ant arc

One of the big problems with trying to compare Jujutsu Kaisen to Hunter x Hunter is that the two series are actually very different beasts. While there are certainly surface-level similarities, they both ultimately aim to be different types of stories: it’s possible to calculate with almost mathematical precision who would win against who in Hunter x Hunter and why, but Jujutsu Kaisen prefers spectacle over consistency. Everyone is given unique powers in the form of ‘Cursed Techniques’ so that Gege Akutami doesn’t have to adhere to a set theme in the first place, and while Cursed Energy is certainly rooted in something akin to Nen, the outcome is very different.

An apples-to-apples comparison between the Shibuya Incident and Chimera Ant isn’t therefore possible, although a comparison is still worth making, if only to stress just how monumental this arc truly is. Chimera Ant, and more specifically the Palace Invasion segment, is widely considered one of Hunter x Hunter’s best arcs, if not one of the best arcs in shonen manga history, so comparing it to the Shibuya Incident creates some huge expectations. I’m happy to say that it ends up fulfilling those, in its own special way.

To start with, it’d be impossible to try and examine the Shibuya Incident in isolation. Manga is a serialized medium, after all, and Akutami took great pains to set up for this story beforehand: most especially during the previous arc, Gojo’s Past. Delving into the strongest jujutsu sorcerer’s previous friendship with Suguru Geto, this lays the basis for some of the revelations to come. Toji Fushiguro is also first introduced here, being revived later on.

The Shibuya Incident arc also initially begins by looking backwards. Suspicion as to whether there is a mole at Jujutsu High has been around ever since Mahito and the other Cursed Spirits found out about the Goodwill Festival, and in this first segment, we finally get our answer: yes, there is a mole, and it’s Mechamaru.

Picking Mechamaru (real name: Kokichi Muta) as the traitor was a great decision because it gives him so much depth: he wasn’t a bad character before, but in exchange for information, Mahito promised that he would use Idle Transfiguration to free Muta from his Heavenly Restriction. All he ever wanted was a body of his own to walk alongside his classmates: it’s hard not to empathize with Mechamaru’s actions, because even if they did put countless lives in danger, they’re intensely human.

Sealing Satoru Gojo

Jujutsu Kaizen manga page

The struggle to seal Satoru Gojo is probably one of the series’ best fights thus far because of one simple question: how does exactly one defeat the strongest jujutsu sorcerer? The series has proved plenty of times in both words and action that he’s pretty damn strong, so we can’t help but be intrigued.

To start off with, civilians on either side of the tracks are pushed in, limiting Gojo’s usage of Cursed Techniques. Hanami, Jogo, and Choso then all gang up on him at once, forcing him to fight at full capacity while also surrounded by non-sorcerers. This presents him with a dilemma: does he risk getting killed, or determine that a few civilian casualties are ultimately worth it if it means defeating these dangerous foes? He eventually chooses the latter, supporting Mahito’s later claim that there isn’t that much difference between his morality and that of jujutsu sorcerers.

Even so, all the Cursed Spirits were trying to do was buy time for Geto to prepare the Prison Realm, but it’s not like they get away scot free: Hanami dies, for one, following a brilliant moment where Gojo deactivates his Cursed Technique and relies on pure physical strength. There’s also his split-second deactivation of Domain Expansion, which Mahito copies later on.

When Geto finally enters the scene, it’s immediately clear that something is off. Gojo’s eyes tell him that the man before him is indeed Suguru Geto, but his ‘soul knows otherwise’: he killed him one year ago after the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons, after all. The sheer shock of seeing Geto again is enough to make time come crawling to a halt in Gojo’s extraordinary brain, thus activating the Prison Realm: his lingering regrets, therefore, seal his fate.

Jujutsu Kaizen manga page

It is at this moment that the four teams stationed around Shibuya move into action, leading to some excellent individual and team battles. This is probably where the Shibuya Incident most resembles Chimera Ant: we’re asked to follow several different battles in very specific locations that often intersect with each other. It feels like something Togashi could’ve written.

The first thing we should discuss is Toji’s resurrection. To be honest, his return never felt exactly warranted: he’s summoned accidentally, and Granny Ogami and her band of Curse Users had never been introduced up until this point. It feels more like Gege Akutami just really liked the concept behind his character and wanted to use him again, whatever the consequences.

Admittedly, he does play a really compelling role in the fight between Kento Nanami, Naobito Zenin, Maki, Megumi, and the Special Grade Cursed Spirit Dagon: he shows Maki very clearly the limits of her current power and what she could become, given that they have the same Heavenly Restriction. Moreover, it’s nice to see Megumi meet his father for the first time, even if he’s not aware of it.

The fight with Dagon is excellent in and of itself (not least because Nanami and Naobito end up losing their lives because of it) but Choso vs. Yuji Itadori has to be my favorite: the usage of the setting is genius (a public bathroom), and it perfectly encapsulates Itadori’s character development thus far. He eventually loses, but not without a fair amount of struggling.

Sukuna’s Awakening and the Bomb That Hit Shibuya

Jujutsu Kaizen manga page

Greatness begets even more greatness as Itadori’s incapacitation gives way to Sukuna’s awakening and what is quite literally the most explosive part of the Shibuya Incident arc.

Earlier in chapter 93, Akutami did a good job highlighting the differences of opinion on Sukuna among the Cursed Spirits (Jogo wants to resurrect him, Mahito thinks it’s ultimately unnecessary) but they agree to a compromise based on who encounters Itadori first. Once Jogo senses Sukuna’s presence, he must get there ASAP.

The only problem is that he isn’t the first to arrive at the scene: that’d be Mimiko and Nanako Hasaba, two of Geto’s disciples from back in the day who distrust whoever is in his body right now. They want to feed Itadori fingers and get Sukuna to do their bidding, but quickly learn the hard way that no one gives orders to the King of Curses.

Sukuna’s awakening feels like a moment akin to Meruem’s entrance into the fight in Chimera Ant as it completely changes the dynamics of the narrative and introduces a very explosive element to the mix. Granted, Sukuna doesn’t end up being the final obstacle for our protagonists to overcome (that’d be Mahito) but that isn’t readily apparent in the moment. It truly feels like anything could happen, holding the entire arc on a knife’s edge.

That feeling is established almost immediately when Sukuna mercilessly and without a second’s thought kills Mimiko and Nanako. Another excellent narrative choice by Akutami is to begin following a fight between Atsuya Kusakabe, Panda, and some Cursed Spirits, only for it to be interrupted by Sukuna: we get a real sense of what it’s like to be on the ground, looking up at his power. It’s even funnier when you consider that Kusakabe wanted to avoid anyone strong!

Sukuna ends up killing countless civilians and the Cursed Spirit Jogo, but we’ll take the last thing first. I don’t think anyone could have imagined that Akutami would be able to make us feel sorry for old Volcano Head, of all characters, but he did: when Sukuna remarks ‘Stand proud. You’re strong’ and Jogo weeps for the first time, only the stone-hearted could refrain from shedding a little tear, too.

With regard to the civilian casualties, this comes about as a result of an intense fight with one of Megumi’s shikigami that no single user of his Cursed Technique has ever been able to defeat. The clash itself we won’t dwell on, but rather the effect that its fallout has on Yuji Itadori’s state of mind.

Mahito vs. Itadori and the Golden Age of Curses

Jujutsu Kaizen manga page

Going into the final battle, Itadori is broken. Witnessing the devastation wreaked on Shibuya by the Cursed Spirit that inhabits him, he vomits and remarks, ‘At this rate, I’m nothing but a murderer.’ He doesn’t even really truly believe that he deserves to be alive.

Aping the Chimera Ant arc too much and making Sukuna into the final battle wouldn’t have made sense technically (how would Itadori fight himself?) or thematically, because it’s ultimately Mahito that the protagonist hates, ever since the Vs. Mahito arc. Capping off the Shibuya Incident is a grudge match of epic proportions.

Is there really that much difference between Itadori and Mahito, though? As the Cursed Spirit remarks at one point during the fight, ‘Tell me, Yuji Itadori… Have you ever stopped to count how many curses you’ve killed?’ Is there any real difference between the survival instincts of jujutsu sorcerers and Cursed Spirits? Both are fighting for their lives, after all: it just depends on which side you end up on. Why is it okay that Itadori can be the predator while Mahito is the prey?

Moral quandaries aside, two characters arrive during this fight to alter its course and prevent it from turning into an incessant slugfest: Todo, who provides Itadori with a bit of inspiration, and Nobara, whose death serves to further darken Itadori’s psyche. Todo plays a good role, especially when he fakes Mahito out with an ‘acclamation of the soul’ (one of the best moments in the entire arc), but Nobara’s sacrifice is robbed of a bit of emotion by the later implication that she actually survived.

Mahito is only saved from certain death at the hands of Itadori thanks to Geto, who promptly absorbs him so that he can get access to his Idle Transfiguration technique. This undoubtedly lays the basis for some sort of comeback in the future, but in the meantime, Geto drops some bombshells: he’s not actually Geto, and he just let loose about ‘a hundred malevolent Yuji Itadoris’ on Tokyo. This sets up beautifully for the next arc, seeing the Shibuya Incident out on a high note.

The Shibuya Incident Arc in Hindsight

Shibuya Incident on the front cover of Weekly Shonen Jump

To be honest, I never really appreciated the Shibuya Incident arc enough as it published week-to-week. I think I was holding out too hard for another Chimera Ant, encouraged by the surface-level similarities: at heart, though, Jujutsu Kaisen and Hunter x Hunter are very different stories. That much has already been discussed.

Where the Shibuya Incident does ape the Chimera Ant arc and benefits from doing so, however, is in its fixed temporal and geographical nature. The idea of having all of these characters fighting in one place at the same time is endlessly compelling, and it’s fascinating to see how developments in different fights spill over and affect the overall situation. Stemming from this, it really does feel like anything could happen.

The Shibuya Incident is only Jujutsu Kaisen’s Chimera Ant in terms of narrative and structure, not core identity or final execution. The two series are ultimately very different beasts, although the comparison is still worth making.

In hindsight, the Shibuya Incident probably is one of the best arcs published in Weekly Shonen Jump in a very long time, and gets me even more excited for the series’ future. Especially if it does Greed Island next!

You can read Jujutsu Kaisen for free via VIZ Media.

Shueisha via VIZ Media
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