Put yourself in the shoes of one of Japan’s most successful manga-ka. You’ve completed four highly lauded parts to your increasingly popular series. You closed the book on the most iconic villain you’ve ever made, then followed him up with a haunting yet somehow still charismatic threat who was the polar opposite in a much more secluded story after your world-traveling extravaganza. Where are you supposed to go. How do you top yourself now?
For Araki, this meant going back to the soul of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: telling a team-building story like Part 3, and finding a clever way to bring back the spirit of perhaps his greatest creation, Dio.
That answer is Giorno Giovanna, bastard son of the vampiric mega-villain, and protagonist of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Vento Aureo.
It’s a really clever concept: what if the main character of your legacy-spanning series was the child of its historic villain? And this is what initially really pulled me into Part 5. I really wanted to see how Araki would play off the idea of Dio’s son being a good guy, wrestling with his dual-ancestry, trying to inherit the nobility and valor of the Joestars while wrestling with the wrath and single-minded drive of his father.
This is further compounded through his Stand, Gold Experience, much in the same way that we saw with Josuke in the last arc. You see, Gold Experience has the power to give life to non-living matter, meaning that he can, say, turn a briefcase into a frog or a railing into a blossoming morning glory. On top of this, any damage directed at these altered lifeforms will be reflected back at the attacker. This gives Giorno a mastery of lifeforce, much like his father, but in a less parasitic way. He’s a healer and a protector, but his powers are still more violent in their application than other healing-based Stands, such as Crazy Diamond.
As I mentioned earlier, the setup for the arc is actually pretty novel. Vento Aureo focuses on the exploits of a six-man branch of an Italian mafia group known as Passione. Lead by the charismatic Bruno Buccellati, Giorno starts off the story as the newest recruit, quietly spearheading their mission to take down the mysterious leader of the crime syndicate, as it has always been his life’s goal to lead. And he phrases that in the most perfectly Jojo way possible:
Oh yeah, take it in. You just experienced that.
Anyways, since this is another ensemble arc, let’s look at the main members of our crew in detail:
Bruno Buccellati, as mentioned earlier, is the leader of the faction of Passione which Giorno joins, eventually rising to the rank of Capo. We learn quickly that Bruno is a man of honor, looking to use his position to help the downtrodden of Italy’s streets and rid the drug trade from their business. This is why he decides to secretly team up with Giorno in taking down The Boss and creating a new order in the mob. Bruno’s Stand is called Sticky Fingers, and has the ability to place zippers on objects and people by touch, which can then be pulled at will for a variety of effects, such as allowing him to hide in the “zipper’s pocket,” swapping out limbs with other zippered parts, or wholly removing the zipper for a gruesome dismemberment.
Guido Mista is one of the group’s key assassins, and a skilled marksman. Spared from jail by Bruno, Mista quickly dedicated himself to the team’s missions. He’s a passionate teenager who isn’t afraid to let those around him know exactly how he feels. Mista is also highly superstitious, wary of anything involving the number four (this is a common fear in Japan due to the slang pronunciation, “Shi,” which is also the word for “death,” though here Araki gives him a history that better makes sense of it all for an Italian perspective). He has the Stand Sex Pistols, which takes the form of six tiny humanoid sprites who live in his revolver and help control the flight of his shots. They are talkative and rash, requiring Mista’s care and attention like pets, and each have numbers labeled on their heads, one through seven, skipping four, obviously. It should also be noted that unlike our previous gunslinger Stand User, Hol Horse and his Emperor, Guido Mista must actually maintain and reload his revolver during a fight, as it is simply a mundane weapon – the Stand are the six Sex Pistol entities, not the bullets or the gun, itself.
Narancia Ghirga may not be the youngest member of the team, but he’s definitely the most rash. And, yes, once again, that is a boy. Narancia, like Bruno, confused a lot of us on first glance. Anyways, Narancia is a playful, loudmouthed youth who’s also quick to violence and anger, often drawing his knife on anyone who tries to even hit at insulting him. One of his biggest sore spots is the fact that he dropped out of school in his elementary years, leaving his spelling and math skills stunted – and although he looks to the other members of the team for tutoring, there’s still ample opportunities for them to hold his lack of education of his head. Narancia wields the Aerosmith Stand, which takes the form of a small airplane which he can control with a heads-up display in front of his eye to devastating effect. It is as brash and unsubtle as its user.
An ex-cop turned to the criminal underground, Leone Abbacchio is a reserved man whose trust is hard-won. He joined Bruno out of a mutual sense of honor, and is the type who will set anything aside to see a mission to completion. His cold exterior puts him at odds with Giorno as the new guy, constantly having to prove his worth to the eldest member of the team. Abbachio’s Stand, Moody Blues, is a further evolution of the non-combat types Araki started to explore in Diamond Is Unbreakable, but I believe he really started to get it right here. Moody Blues has the power to copy a person and “rewind” the history of events they went through, up to a certain point, as listed by the timer on its head, which remains when it takes on a new form. This allows him to play investigator for the team, setting his Stand to a known person and replaying events to give them a clearer picture of what happened before they arrived, or seeing things from a different angle. From his personality to his wildly original abilities, I have to say that Abbachio is probably my second-favorite character in Vento Aureo after Bruno.
Finally we have Pannacotta Fugo, the youngest member of Bruno’s crew. He’s good friends with Narancia, and is in many ways his foil; where Narancia is loud and cheerful, Fugo is quiet and calculating. Both are dropouts, but the younger boy has a raw intellect his older friend can only dream of. Fugo also has some of Narancia’s hotheadedness, but he contains it better… at least until it overflows, shown to manifest in much more sadistic ways. All of this culminates in his Stand, Purple Haze, one of the most terrifying creations in all of the Jojo cannon.
Purple Haze is a maniacal creature, constantly huffing and twitching. Its sole power are the yellow pustules on its fists, which, when burst, release a flesh-eating virus that will eradicate any life within thirty seconds – including Fugo, himself. The Stand is so violent, so terribly wild, that even Fugo has not wholly mastered control of it and is often loathe to brandish it in a fight unless it is absolutely necessary.
So regular readers may be wondering – Hey Ben, you seem to be saying a lot of great things here, and heaping a lot of praise on this arc – how come you sounded so dour at the end of last week’s post? Well, my friends… Let’s get into my full thoughts on Vento Aureo, and in so doing: *SPOILER WARNING AHEAD KIDDOS!*
So first of all, in writing this arc, Araki fully admits that he took inspiration not from outside sources, but from himself. He wanted to recapture some of the zeal of Part 3, Stardust Crusaders. And you can see that in the group dynamic, the way that it’s much more of a “Villain of the Week”-setup, things of this nature. Now, is this necessarily a misplay? No, not at all. Stardust Crusaders was and still is his most successful work, so he was completely right to go back to it for stylistic inspiration. And it’s not like he ripped it off whole-cloth: in fact, most of the parallels are very slight, and you probably wouldn’t even notice them unless they were pointed out to you (sorry if you’re diving into Part 5 after reading this). But I simply lay this out as I think it’s the first in several pitfalls he made when creating this arc that lead to it being less than it could have been.
After that, we see Araki starting to wheel back a lot on the rules he had so carefully laid out for himself in previous parts for the way in which his world was set up. For me, this has always been the most problematic issue with Vento Aureo, but to those who aren’t as critical or perhaps don’t write stories or design games professionally or in their spare time, maybe you won’t even notice. If you’re into power fantasies, you probably think this stuff is great! Lemme start getting concrete with you, since I already threw up a BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING: Characters don’t stay dead in this arc, and not in a satisfying way. True, there are real deaths, but those all happen right at or near the end, as the identity of the Boss and his powers are revealed. No, I’m talking about the stuff with Bruno, where he sort of becomes a Stand zombie, somehow kept alive by fate and sheer will. Now, granted, I read this several years ago under an early translation, so maybe Bracketier and the guys at Jojo’s Colored Adventure have done it better justice (I’m re-reading it right now to find out, so expect me to return to this later in the year), but it really just felt silly to me. And I LOVE Bruno – I agree with the author, because he really is one of Araki’s best characters ever. But treating him like this was just wrong.
But on top of this, you also have characters like the aforementioned Fugo and Purple Haze with Stand powers that are literally ridiculous. Purple Haze’s poison is written to destroy the flesh of any living creature in under a minute of exposure. How are you supposed to deal with that? How do you write around that? How? The answer is you don’t, and that’s why Araki literally had to write him out of the plot. Yes, he also didn’t want to have him revealed as an insurgent in the crew, but in later interviews, the author also pointed out how he noted that he simply couldn’t have encounters where Purple Haze was involved because he was basically a nuclear bomb. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you have your lead character as Giorno “Plot Convenience” Giovanna, and his Stand that can “create life.” “Oh, but that’s not so much,” I hear you say. Oh yeah? What about when he turns a button INTO A FUCKING EYE?
YES THIS HAPPENS AND IT’S WHEN I GAVE UP ON THIS BS STAND.
Eyes are not “life.” They may be a part of “life,” but they are not, themselves, “lifeforms.” Being able to turn his shirt button into an eye to replace his own is nonsense. And his Stand only gets more ridiculous from there. And this isn’t some Star Finger nonsense from Part 3 that’s just used once and then gone, or a micro ability to level the playing field like when Star Platinum is shown to be able to ever so slightly be able to manipulate frozen time. No. Giorno and Gold Experience continue to build power even before the Stand-enhancing Golden Arrow are introduced.
And the final sad sonata for this arc? Its villain. Yes, The Boss, once revealed… Is kind of a let-down. Now let me explain, with FULL SPOILERS ENGAGED: I actually like Diavolo. I think he’s got a cool design, his Stand power is cool, and the mystery surrounding him is clever. It’s the execution of all of these elements with which I take issue.
So let’s parse this out. First of all, I think Diavolo is a cool-looking antagonist. I don’t think that can be argued, really – it’s just a matter of opinion. I like the weird ringlet-shirt-thing he wears, I like the flowing pink hair, I like the tall, muscular build that at once pulls together elements of Araki’s early style with his new, more streamlined and effeminate characters in the post-Diamond Is Unbreakable arcs. Guy just looks good, by being imposing and statuesque, like a Renaissance sculpture.
His Stand, King Crimson, is awesome. Now, I know that it’s one of the biggest issues with the original release – it spawned the seminal Jojo-meme, “It Just Works.” But I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand: King Crimson alters time, like virtually all major antagonists in the series. Here, Diavolo is able to “remove” a portion of time, allowing him to essentially negate cause but retain effect. So imagine a scenario where you put your hand on a hot stove. King Crimson activates and cuts out the time between you turning on the stove and you moving your hand. So now all you know is that one minute you’re in front of an unlit stove, the next your hand is firmly pressed onto a lit burner and your fingers are frying. Not so hard, huh? Fifth-dimensional movement, you got it, kiddos. Oh, and also he can predict the future by looking into the locks of his hair that hang over his eyes. Because Diavolo is a boss. Literally.
Lastly, the whole arc is played around “Who is the Boss?” until it’s finally shown that Diavolo is actually an alter-ego of another member of Passione. In fact, the agent in question, Doppio, doesn’t even know he is a split-personality; he just thinks he’s the boss’s right-hand man. So when he’s pushed to the limit and has to reveal himself, it’s a big deal – this is a man who holds his secrecy above all else, so having to actually come forth and display his true self to defend his station is a huge deal.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that all of this is done in the final moments of the arc. We get all of this reveal about our main villain in the last half-dozen or so chapters of the manga, while we’re having the massive showdown. You’re trying to cram an all-out fight, character reveals, major deaths, plot dumps, new powers like the Golden Arrow, and so, so much more, all at the same time, and things get muddled. This isn’t a character like Dio who we’ve learned to hate for multiple arcs or seen grow through a life of trauma. It isn’t Kars, who we had as a constant threat waiting in the wings. He’s not even close to Kira, looming in the shadows, giving us hints and clues to the dastardly schemes he’s set in motion. He’s just a guy with vague plans that may or may not become menacing until they all come tumbling out.
So with all of that spoiler-ific fun out of the way, I think it’s about time I draw this installment of my retrospective series to a close! Don’t get me wrong – I still very much enjoyed my time reading Vento Aureo, and would by no means tell a first-time reader to skip the arc. Like I said, I’m happily re-reading the latest translations between Jojolion releases and excitedly await the announcement of its anime adaptation (fingers crossed that we hear from David Productions soon!). But with all the problems I’ve laid out, I’d have to say it’s the current contender for my least-favorite part in the series.
Come back next Thursday when we travel to the Sunshine State and I make more bold and controversial statements about the series! We’ll see you then!