Kayleigh McKee on how ‘Jujutsu Kaisen 0’ delivers a refreshing take on the shōnen protagonist

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 still
Image via Crunchyroll

With the debut of Jujutsu Kaisen 0 in North America upon us, fans of the award-winning anime from MAPPA will be welcomed by the series’ first protagonist, Yuta Okkotsu. 

Yuta was introduced in the series’ original manga, Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School, but since MAPPA began its adaptation of the manga’s popular sequel series, Jujutsu Kaisen, many fans that haven’t read the manga were introduced to the world of curses and sorcery through the athletic and friendly Yuji Otadori. 

Yuta could not be more different. He’s shy, lonely and often fumbles his words. And like just about every Jujutsu Kaisen character, he’s traumatized. That originates from the curse looming over him: Rika. Rika was one of Yuta’s only childhood friends, but she died in a tragic accident at a young age, six years before the film. Upon her death, the girl transformed into a curse and has haunted, or rather protected, Yuta ever since. 

“One of the things that resonated with me is he is a traumatized teenager,” admits Kayleigh McKee, Yuta’s English-language voice actor. “Sometimes you’ll see the trope of ‘shōnen protagonist doesn’t want to do the thing’…but he’s more complex in that he thinks it’s hopeless.” 

Yuta’s certainly no optimist, but he’s not a reluctant hero either. McKee continues: “When someone tells him ‘Hey you can help people!’ he’s still not sure about even wanting to be around or if he deserves to be around, but he immediately thinks ‘If I can help, I should try.’ So he begins to work on himself and explore relationships with others and begin to open up for the first time ever and deal with that trauma.”

Why’s that characterization so important to McKee?

It’s the way that people actually heal, by finding an internal goal and finding a support network. So, I really love that aspect of him and I think that makes him very real and different in a way that’s really refreshing.

But we can’t talk about Yuta without talking about the curse Rika, who at first bests Yuta’s foes for him. Anairis Quiñones, the character’s voice actor, says that while their relationship is morphed by Rika’s cursed energy, their foundation is “all based in this very innocent love, this very sweet love that I think even as the movie goes on it still persists. The juxtaposition between them is very interesting and while it is a tragic thing, it doesn’t lean too much into the tragedy of it all. It leans into the beauty of life.”

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is in U.S. and Canadian theaters now. The series is available to stream on Crunchyroll.