Hooo boy. This is a hard one to write about.
There’s certain anime that you point to (if you’re an anime fan) that you use to settle arguments about the quality of the medium. Conversely, there are examples of anime that completely and utterly destroy arguments about anime being a serious art medium.
And then there are the ones that fall right in the middle. These are anime that have interesting and distinct elements with great character moments but also simultaneously have some outrageous shit in them.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is such an anime.
Don’t let the image fool you. Shit gets out there and doesn’t take a map.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure began its run as a manga in 1986 and has continued to this day under the pen of Hiroko Araki. The story has permutated in many ways since its inception but it has never truly permeated the west until recently, despite attempts over the years.
Why is that? A couple of reasons really. Throughout the entirety of the manga run Araki has continually used the titles and names of bands as the names of characters in his manga. This is largely due to his great fondness for western music but, as you can imagine, copyright issues became a massive concern when porting over manga as well as game adaptations. Hence why several character’s names get distorted accordingly.
The other reason is that the manga goes through several different story arcs migrating to new lead characters and story settings despite being set in the same world. Because of that, there is a massive tonal shift each time a new arc starts that crests of the previous one. Thusly each story becomes… well more bizarre then the one that precedes it.
So to say the least, it’s a hard story to jump in on the middle of.
Prior to 2012, the only storyline to receive a anime adaptation was the third story arc Stardust Crusaders, arguably the most popular one of the franchise. Only recently has an anime been conceived that shows the first two arcs of the adventure.
Recently that anime began a sequel season covering the third arc and it isn’t certain if it’ll continue after that. But, because this is a manga that has an ongoing story dating back to 1986, I’m going to focus on the new 2012 anime that covers the first two story arcs of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
For my own sanity at any rate.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure begins in 1880 in England. During a carriage accident the wealthy lord George Joestar loses his wife and almost his newborn son. A man by the name of Dario Brando comes by and attempts to rob it, only to realize that George is still alive. George, realizing what is happening takes pity on the man and convinces Dario that he; George, believes that Dario is here to save him.
As a result George makes a pledge, that he will adopt Dario’s son and raise him along with his own son Jonathon Joestar (or Jojo for short).
It is a promise that condemns human history for one hundred years.
When Dario dies, his son Dio goes to the Joestar manor and begins a calculated campaign to destroy Jonathon’s life and become heir to the Joestar fortune. This includes turning close friends against Jonathon, abusing young women and cooking Jonathon’s dog in a fire.
Jonathon confronts Dio and assaults him. During that exchange Dio realizes that beating Jonathon head on is folly as his spirit is unbreakable and each adversity makes Jonathon stronger.
And that’s when the vampire shit starts. Sort of. Let me explain.
In the background of all of this is an old ritual stone mask belonging to George. During that first fight Dio’s blood strikes the mask causing spikes to come out. Examination of that effect by both Jonathan and Dio (separately mind you) over the next seven years reveals that the spikes will penetrate the human brain if the mask is worn. Both assume it is a mask for ritual sacrifice as a result.
Eventually both boys graduate college and return home. Dio has attempted to poison George and Jonathan has deduced it. In a drunken stupor Dio escapes as Jonathan goes to get evidence. Taking the mask with him Dio experiments on a drunkard only to learn that the mask turns the drunk into a vampire.
Dio barely survives the encounter but is saved by the sun. Heading back to the Joestar manor Jonathan confronts Dio and Dio dons the mask, killing George Joestar. And then shit goes sideways. As in Dio starts climbing walls because he’s a vampire now.
The adventure goes from there, echoing shades of Fist of the North Star as Jonathan learns a martial art to produce sunlight in order to combat Dio. This first arc, titled Phantom Blood ends at episode 9 of the anime and volume 4 of the manga. I will not spoil the final encounter of Dio and Jonathan as it’s something of a powerful moment that I don’t think was truly executed in manga prior or since.
Part two of the manga and 2012 anime is Battle Tendency. Starting fifty years later in 1939 in America Jonathan is long past and his successor to the Jojo name, his grandson Joseph, is a Hamon prodigy and an all-around low brow flirt with a madman’s genius.
Joseph is my favourite character if you hadn’t guessed.
This arc deals with the origin of the mask as Joseph is forced to train his talents in Hamon and engage in a battle for the world with a new breed of vampires, stronger than Dio. Their names are Wam, AC/DC and Cars.
Not even going to make that up.
As I said there’s a lot to compare the anime to that of Fist of the North Star, especially the Battle Tendency arc and that includes visuals and villain motivations. What makes the story unique is that of how vampires are used in their traditional fashion as horror creatures (especially in Phantom Blood) juxtaposed against the heroic anime protagonist archetype. Thusly you have the unique effect of having heroic moments buffeted and reinforced with classic horror tragedy. It’s surprisingly effective.
Of the characters Jonathan Joestar is an ideal hero. He is noble, selfless, and well mannered. He is considered such a great spirit that bitter thieves become beloved friends and his tenacity earns the respect of his enemies. Even in battling the vampire Dio Jonathan is filled with regret at fighting someone he grew up with. He remains a character of great dignity and nobility throughout his story arc.
Joseph inherits the Joestar trait of righteous indignation against evil and tenacity in battle that triumphs over evil. Conversely he’s a genius that loves to fight dirty to win. In his first battle with a vampire he pulls a tommy gun and covers the vampire in grenades.
He also tries to sneak into a Nazi base disguised as a woman. His failure is a blow to his self-esteem.
Not enough tequila in the world Joseph.
And then there’s Dio. As cruel as a petty child with a genius mind to boot. Despite his assertions of his superiority Dio delights in wreaking pain upon anyone he considers his inferior. Which is anyone who isn’t Dio. In fact, I think if he met another Dio he’d hate that Dio too for trying to imitate perfection. For Dio cruelty is the bonus for the way he conducts himself for victory.
Conversely the three elevated vampires (Cars, Wam and AC/DC) that fight Joesph, consider humanity little more than insects by comparison and view the murder of a human akin to stepping on an ant. Only Joseph really earns their respect and attention, at which point they view fighting him much like a cat playing with a mouse.
There are a host of other characters worth mentioning but length prohibits what I can say, (that includes talking about Lisa Lisa, the queen of cold hard badass and Joseph’s teacher). Especially when I have to address the visual style and movement of the characters. The first two arcs represented in the anime reflect the manga’s Fist of the North Star influence. What sets it apart is largely character posture which continues to be a presence as Araki developed his own artistic style.
Rather than have strong defiant stances, Araki’s protagonists are often caught in fluid transition moments or wavy poses displaying their flexibility. As such there’s a heavy implication in both the manga and the anime that Araki’s true vision of movement for the characters is one well beyond conventional means to animate.
The series overall is one of great interest, especially if one has an appreciation for classic manga storytelling conventions of epic heroes and such. If that’s within your disposition it’s well worth the viewing.
So too does this work exist.