Are you bored with Western Television? With the endless stream of legal dramas taking place in samey court rooms? Or the tedious sitcoms about lazy 20 somethings? At this point many people will turn to Anime for it’s famously more diverse stories, only to find themselves stuck in the same situation. Overrun with shows where some Otaku gets trapped in a fantasy world or shows about adorably generic girls with candy-coloured hair doing cute things in school. So people will dive yet further into the annals of the anime catalog; eventually discovering the truly eccentric. Stories about pole-dancing, crime-fighting angels or cyborg samurai cats, or even a terminally ill girl being possessed by a penguin that brings her back from the dead. These shows, are often referred to as “Capital A Anime” and this is where JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure comes in…
Beginning publication in 1987, Hirohiko Araki’s seminal manga is one of the most iconic comic books of all time. It’s been parodied and referenced in everything from Food Wars to Steven Universe. This series is famous for its intense and vibrant art style and was even the first manga to be featured in The Louvre. Needless to say that this series’ legacy is not to be understated. With most successful manga there is usually an anime adaptation planned at some point. There were several attempts to adapt it into anime before David Production stepped up to the scene but I think it is safe to say that none of them truly lived up to Araki’s art and as such we waited 25 years for technology to catch up with Araki’s skill. David Production’s 2012 animated adaption skyrocketed the series’ popularity in the west, bringing it to a new market that had never before encountered it. It had always had popularity in Asia along with mainland Europe, but it didn’t catch on in the British Isles and the Americas until the award winning adaptation. And it was David’s adaptation that made it into the online phenomenon that it is today. JoJo has become a huge meme online with image macros and reactions gifs galore but unlike most other similar online trends, people are not laughing at the subject but instead laughing with it.
This is in large part due to how the series presents itself. Just by looking at it you can immediately tell that something is off kilter. The tone of JoJo is surprisingly different from that of it’s contemporaries. Like most of its ilk, JoJo uses a lot of comedy. More so that usually in my opinion. But JoJo’s humour comes from a different place than most of its peers. If we look to a show like Dragon Ball Z, most of it’s comedy comes from characters that are specifically designed to be goofy or regular characters acting goofy anyway. JoJo’s humour is the opposite. At it’s core, most of the comedy comes from the fact that Araki is telling serious story through an absurdist lense, exaggerating everything about it to the highest extremes. So when Goku is being an idiot we chuckle but when Joseph is about to get his hand cut off and his reactions are like this
we roar with laughter.
This absurdity isn’t just present in characters screaming, it’s woven into every aspect of the show. The anime adds to this even more, bringing the manga’s iconically paradoxical colouring effects to more scenes than a black and white manga ever could. These are used sparingly enough as not to get dull or ineffective, but frequently enough that when they are used you are instantly told something important or interesting is going to happen. Any passive viewer is immediately brought back into the fold and everyone else is drawn in further anticipation.
But in the end, flashy lights and pretty colours can only hold the attention for so long. Were that all JoJo presented than it would hardly reach the heights it has. The heavy lifter of JoJo’s absurdity comes in its characters. It is incredibly rare for Araki to create a boring character. Virtually everyone in the story is interesting on a design level alone and as you see them in action you only become more intrigued. From Dio’s brandish assholery to Hol Horse’s cowardly bravado every character has something unique going on with them. Each part’s respective JoJo’s are some of the most finely crafted characters you will encounter. Even Jonathan in part 1, who rather bland in comparison to his later descendants, is able to pull his weight as a main character with ease. And while he never stole the show he was always a joy to watch. Joseph in Part 2 on the other hand is the exact opposite to his grandfather in every way. Lunacy, ornate & flamboyant clothing along with more confidence than DBZ villain; Joseph coalesces with the Battle Tendency setting so much that it’s a beauty to behold every second. And on the flip side Jotaro and Josuke are so masterfully characterised that they work in almost every situation.
This isn’t to insinuate that only the main protagonists can hold people’s attention when it is usually the opposite. Each member of the main cast from Speedwagon to Rohan pull their own weight and then some. Even minor antagonists like J. D’Arby are given such memorable personalities that they stick with the audience long after they’ve left the story. Araki’s attention to detail when it comes to his characters is truly staggering. Every character you encounter has a unique personality that draws you even further into the world making it feel incredibly diverse and lived in. This diversity is enhanced by all of the little details that Araki implements. Have I mentioned the music references yet? Cause holy crap there are a lot of music references. Describing Araki as having a penchant for musical references in his work would be an understatement. From the beginning of the series up to where we are now, almost every character has some form of musical reference associated with them. Starting off as mostly hard-rock bands being twisted into character names the range soon broadens eventually encompassing genres like Soul, J-Pop and R&B.
However there is a limit to how much you could twist a character in order to make it into a musical reference; but this limitation is non-existent when applied to ethereal personifications of life energy. After the second part of the story Araki changes out the magic systems that he uses. I am not trying to say here that Stands were introduced solely as a means of more faithful references or that every character is shaped around their reference. Only that these were byproducts of the new system. Hamon, the basis for the first two parts was a clearly limiting factor for Araki, only being able to be used on undead beings and not having any clear structure. Stands on the other hand are one of the most diverse and creative magical systems I have seen in anime or elsewhere. Rivaling, if not surpassing Hunter x Hunter’s Nen system.
Stands are where Araki really begins to flex is creative muscles. The range of Stand designs are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, even in JoJo and Araki further incorporates his musical love into these Stands. With their designs and abilities being clearly inspired by the songs and bands they are making references to. Stands like Keicho Nijimura’s Bad Company being a military company or how Achtung Baby’s name seems to act as foreshadowing works as examples.
The designs of these Stands should not be overlooked. Virtually each Stand is so bizarre and weird that it could easily be the main character of it’s own series displaying such a vast array of design concepts and influences from outside of the realm of music or manga.
Stands also carry some of the most inventive sets of powers in anime. It’s loose yet well defined structure lends itself well to the immense amount of insane and ingenious abilities that Araki is able to dream up. It feels natural to catagorise everything from Star Platinum’s precise punching to Super Fly’s complex imprisonment mechanics under the umbrella of stands. Even when they get to their bizarrest, like the aforementioned Super Fly, they never feel like they are deviating from what a Stand power should be. In other series, this can pose a problem as it often feels hard to keep to the guidelines that the authors have for themselves. Look no further than Naruto’s magic system and compare its scope to the beginning of the series. At the start of the series it all felt cohesive and did so even past the introduction of nature combinations but began to feel kind of ridiculous around the introduction of all of the different transformations.
Stands have no such issue however. Being the manifestation of someone’s psyche and being in a series with so many different and unique personalities, it seems only natural that Stands would be equally as diverse and out-there as their corporeal counterparts.
These Stands are the direct reason that JoJo’s fights are as masterful as they are. With each character carrying their own wildly unique superpower with them, the fights are never as simple as a punch fest. They, instead, rely on the careful application of these powers and how characters react to them. The fights will typically start off with each participant trying to deduce the abilities of the enemy Stand and hence trying to figure out a way around them. Since Stand powers are often like mechanics of a video game, much of the fights are all about exploiting loopholes in the Stand powers for effects that you wouldn’t think possible. The result are fights that are more often than not, exemplars of their kind. I say this because, admittedly the fights aren’t perfect. They way Araki writes his fights, they are usually very text heavy and incredibly strategic. The downside to this is that he occasionally has trouble following through and as a result the ending of fights sometimes feel like ass-pulls. Star Platinum’s upgrade in Part 3 being a particularly egregious offender.
Either way, the setting alone would threaten to get stale over time, this is part of the reason One Piece has been able to stay fresh with it’s ever changing background. Araki is able to easily work around this by reinventing the series every couple of years. As it stands, there are currently 8 different parts to the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure story. Each of which has its own distinct and unique protagonist, side characters and setting. There is occasionally some carry over with one or two characters from previous parts, but never enough to diminish from the effect of this being a unique story. Each part is wildly different as well. Part 1 is mostly straight faced and unwilling to acknowledge its absurdities. Part 2 on the other hand, much like their protagonists, is completely different. Filled with people with muscles than you know what to do with. Shirtless, flamboyant men and a complete tongue and cheek attitude throughout. This keeps the story from being stale for too long and if you ever feel like one part isn’t for you, you can skip to the next one and without being terribly confused.
For the most part, JoJo’s is a madcap adventure filled to the brim with insane characters, situations and fight scenes. This brings the viewer in and invests them in these characters which makes the inevitable gut punch all the more devastating when the emotions kick into high gear. And while its absurdity is often a factor of why people are drawn in there are so many more reason that people stay. All of the series is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll and if you haven’t checked this series out I highly suggest you do, especially if you are a Shonen fan such as myself.