By now, my immense adoration for (some may say “obsession with”) the manga series, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and its creator, Hirohiko Araki, should come as no surprise. I’ve recently gone on a campaign of rolling back the buffers protecting my fanboy-side from the world, and Jojo was at the forefront of that movement. But the sad part is, as much as I love the series, as much as I champion its design, its wonderfully intricate writing and character arcs, its deep use of symbolism and philosophy, its subtle yet massive impact on pop culture around the world… I constantly find myself fighting to figure out how to bring it up to others in a way that will get them engaged and make them see it for the equally ridiculous and glorifying work that it is.
So when the 30th anniversary events started to roll around (Yes, I know that technically the first issue came out in December of ’86, but since Shonen Jump is celebrating based on the “first full year of publication,” then, dammit, so will I!), I only knew the issue would compound. I had to figure out a way to condense my love for everything JJBA and do whatever it took to get some number of you to watch, read, or even just Wiki this beautifully wacky trip. Here goes:
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a multi-generational action-manga that follows the members of the Joestar lineage. The first arc is set in Victorian England and sees the protagonist, Jonathan, learn to use magic-sunlight-karate to fight off his adopted brother, Dio, who has turned into a vampire. Part two follows his grandson, Joseph, who travels to South America to fight off resurrected Mezzo-American proto-vampire gods with the help of an Italian who can channel his sunlight magic into bubbles and a Nazi cyborg who’s a good guy, no really, seriously, he’s a good guy, trust us, he’s so good that he’d go on to inspire Guile from Street Fighter, look it up. Then we skip forward a few decades when Joseph’s grandson, Jotaro Kujo has to form a super-squad with his old man (who’s still in really good shape despite being like 80 and having fought Incan vampires because sunlight magic), and a rag-tag group of other rad dudes who manifest sunlight magic in a new form called STANDS because they STAND next to you and can PUNCH things for you and also do other rad stuff but mostly STAND and PUNCH and ORAORAORAORAORA YOUR FUCKING FACE OFF… Oh yeah, so DIO’s back and that’s bad, so we gotta go around the globe to deal with him before his power kills Jotaro’s mom and DIO takes over the world. Then in part four we’re back in Japan with the teenage Josuke Higashikata, Jotaro’s uncle (it’s weird and semi-spoiler-y). Turns out there’s a Stand-powered villain in the town, and Josuke and pals have to figure out who he is and stop him before he kills all the nice ladies in the city! Next in part five we travel to Rome, where one of Josuke’s friends follows a lead from a part four plot-thread that leads us to our newest protag, Giorno Giovana, bastard son of DIO, whose main goal appears to be getting to the top of the infamous Passione mob, all of whom, of course, are Stand users. Jump to part six, and we’re in Florida and it’s time to WOMAN UP, because we’re following Jotaro’s daughter, Jolyne, and her new friends Hermes Costello and Foo Fighters, among others, race to stop Father Pucci from resurrecting/continuing the work of his maybe-lover, maybe-just-mentor, (you guessed it) DIO. Next we see a total swap as part seven jettisons us into a whole new universe where our hero, the paraplegic jockey, Johnny Joestar, tries to win the Steel Ball Run race to reclaim his glory and self-worth. Also there’s espionage, political intrigue, and, of course, Stand battles. Which brings us to the present arc, where one Josuke Higashikata (no relation), is found naked, buried in the rubble of a shattered mountain, with no knowledge of himself or his past, having to retrace it all with the help of the friendly girl who finds him and the strange family who takes him in.
As you can tell, I did a piss-poor job of explaining any of it, and that was a HUGE unload of information. It was quippier in my mind when I concepted this bit, but it’s almost impossible to actually pull off, because Araki is a madman who crams as much detail into his stories as he does into his panels. Seriously. Fucking look at one of these, they’re ridiculous:
There’s so much going on, in just this one panel of three primary characters standing. Their outfits are all so outlandishly overdesigned, yet they fit perfectly. But I should stop myself before I digress – analyzing Araki’s art and design is a fantastic idea for another entry for my 30 Years in 30 Posts. Today, I just want to give a brief overview of each arc and highlight its strengths. I intend to do a more in-depth look at each, later, and that’s where I’ll value grade and rank them. For now, I just want to give you a taste and give you a reash to get excited about every entry in the Jojo saga to date.
Part 1: Phantom Blood
Protagonist: Jonathan Joestar
Strengths of the arc: This is the setup for all of Jojo to come, so you gotta lay the groundwork somewhere. Also, you introduce the awesome art of Hamon, or Ripple (the aforementioned “sunlight magic karate”) . It’s got some really great side-characters, and probably one of the best villains in Dio Brando, obviously, since they either bring him back, or reference him, basically in every other arc.
Part 2: Battle Tendency
Protagonist: Joseph Joestar
Strengths of the arc: Joseph, by a country mile. Easily one of my favorite Jojos in the entire series, this guy is just great. He’s hilarious, he’s witty, he’s strong, but he also is sort of a coward and a cheat. But he knows how to use all of these and always plays three steps ahead of his opponents, which makes his fights less about beating you in the face, and more about the trick he has planned and when he’ll pull it, which is so much fun. His friends Caesar Zeppeli and Rudol von Stroheim are also top-notch, and even the villainous Pillar Men are pretty awesome to downright amazing, in their own right. Also, if you’re watching the anime, holy shit, they have the best theme. I’ll just link it here, either way. You’ll thank me.
Part 3: Stardust Crusaders
Protagonist: Jotaro Kujo
Strengths of the arc: As said above, this is where Araki changed the rules a bit and swapped his mystic martial arts for the “punch ghosts” known as Stands. These psychic manifestations of the soul would go on on to have the biggest impact on the series and the world, drastically changing the kinds of stories that could be told in the pages and influencing the Persona series, among many others. Stardust is also great for bringing back Dio as the key villain, introducing a smorgasbord of new weekly memorable antagonists, and giving us some great badass quotes (“How long can you move in the frozen time?!”).
Part 4: Diamond Is Unbreakable
Protagonist: Josuke Higashikata
Strengths of the arc: Josuke is another great addition to the long line of Jojo protagonists. He’s just a high school kid with a heart of gold, but if you push him too far or threaten his friends, he will fuck you up, no questions asked. Add to this the way that his Stand, Crazy Diamond, has to fight as more of a puzzle than less of a straight beater because of its repairing powers, and you have a really nice spin to the already intriguing new formula. Plus, Diamond Is Unbreakable is framed for most of its run as more of a slice-of-life story than an action manga, which is really refreshing after the action-road-trip of the previous arc. Top it off with the hauntingly charming serial killer antagonist, Yoshikage Kira, and you have one of the best storylines in all of Jojo’s cannon.
Part 5: Vento Aureo
Protagonist: Giornio Giovanna
Strengths of the arc: Going to Italy is super-cool. Getting another traveling team-arc is super-cool.The idea of having the protagonist be the son of the series’ most iconic villain as a legit good guy is a FANTASTIC idea. This arc has some of my favorite characters and Stands in the form of Buccellati/Sticky Fingers, Narancia/Aerosmith, and Guido/Sex Pistols. Oh, and you have all the logistical, philosophical fun of the King Crimson Stand and how its powerset works. I swear, kids, it’s not that hard, I’ll draw you a graph, you’ll get it.
Part 6: Stone Ocean
Protagonist: Jolyne Kujo
Strengths of the arc: Feminists rejoice: this is the friggin’ one for you. Seriously, there are few women as purely badass as Jolyene, nor stories as trying. In truth, the arc doesn’t totally stick the landing, and it doesn’t measure up to being completely favorable to a Feminist reading, but it’s a bold start, and definitely interesting to note as the arc with the only female lead is also one of the toughest and “manliest.” I love almost all of the cast in this one. I love how Jolyne’s relationship to Jotaro further reframes his character from the two arcs we already had with him (he spends a fair amount of time helping the gang in Part 4). There are some really wacky Stand encounters. There are some really wacky powers. I love how weird Foo Fighters is, but how she comes around and learns how to fit in and be one of the girls. I like that we get more details about Dio’s bastard kids. I LOVE Pucci, the menacing way he’s slowly introduced, and the way his power builds. I love the desperate ending to this arc. I know that Part 6 gets a bad rap for some reason, but that really just makes me love it more. Jolyne and company are awesome, dude.
Part 7: Steel Ball Run
Protagonist: Johnny Joestar
Strengths of the arc: With this psuedo-soft-reboot of the series, I think Araki got a lot right (it’s weird. That’s just par for the course with Jojo. You get used to weird). His writing levels up considerably. The artwork is superb. He goes back to a more mysterious tone like with Part 4, and it works even better. THE ZEPPELIS ARE BACK! He introduces a new power in the Spin, which is super cool. There’s a lot of neat Easter Eggs for old fans. The arc has a nice, grounded feel, while still maintaining the ridiculousness inherent in the concept of Stands and the magic of the Golden Ratio. Honestly, if you didn’t want to get mired in the whole 30 years’ history and wanted a sort of best-of to just get caught up ASAP, you could do a lot worse than just picking up issue one of Steel Ball Run and reading from there – it’s actually a pretty damn good starting place.
Part 8: Jojolion
Protagonist: Josuke Higashikata
Strengths of the arc: This arc is still in print (six years running), and we estimate it’s about 60-75% of the way through its story, so it’s hard to judge in total, but I do still have strong opinions. Namely, that it’s very good. Josuke (the fans call him “Josuke VIII” or “Gappy” because of his teeth) is interesting and very well-written. There’s very little open combat in this arc, most of it being more about puzzles, escape, or battles of wits, which is super cool. All of the Higashikata family are interesting, even the ones who seem creepy or scummy, because, you know what, that’s different and real, and I’m okay with both! The mystery here is by far the best, though as has been pointed out by some fans, it’s possible that it could fall apart, due to the way that Araki just kind of writes what intrigues him and sounds cool in the moment, more than working in a structure. We’ll have to see how it pans out, if any of the “bait” he’s left us is actually of any use, but right now the fun of “who is the actual Big Bad here?!” has been dragging me along for about a year and a half, and I am LOVING every new issue!
So 2000+ words later, and that’s my first entry in 30 Years in 30 Posts! I really want to get more people hyped in Jojo’s like I am, so I hope I can find clever ways to engage new people without just overloading everyone.
Next up: a deep-cut look into Part 1! See you then!