Dio, in repose. ‘Stardust Crusaders’ [Credit: David Production]
(Article originally hosted on Creators.co)
Now that school is back in session, I’ve had to split my focus somewhat between my personal projects, like writing here, and getting together lesson plans for my students. Sometimes that struggle runs me ragged, pitting all my different priorities against each other in competition for my time and energy. But sometimes it also proves to give me a new vantage point I wouldn’t otherwise have on an old project, as it did today.
You see, I recently introduced one of my mentees to the Redwall series by the late Brian Jacques. It was something I really enjoyed growing up with, at her age, and I knew that a kid who was already into reading about swords and sorcery and really liked to learn about animals would have a heyday with the tales of Matthias and the other woodland creatures of the abbey. And while perusing other instructors’ materials on the subject, I came across an idea: the way that the heroes win because they’re willing to find and adapt new information, while the villains never learn and thus are doomed to failure. It’s a really clever way to look at the series, but it automatically got my mind jumping somewhere else: Oh my God, is this why Jojo’s works so well?
Joseph always gets me. ‘Stardust Crusaders’ [Credit: Shonen Jump, Hirohiko Araki]
But if you take a step back and think about it, the theory holds up surprisingly well. Throughout all of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the vast, vast majority of the main villains are shown to be men of striking intelligence. Not only that, they’re wise enough to know that they cannot rest on their laurels and assume they have all the cards they need to win. Virtually every single one of them is on a parallel quest with the heroes to obtain not just power, but information. As the old #GIJoe slogan goes, “Knowing is half the battle,” and the main antagonists are always looking for any edge to give them the upper hand.
I mean, let’s break it down: Dio literally uses his wits to bring himself from rags to riches, then uses Jonathan’s own research on the Stone Mask to try and use it as a subtle murder weapon. When he finds out it actually unlocks more power in humans, he changes course and makes himself a vampiric overlord. Skip ahead a good century and now he’s studied across the world, learned about Stands and Tarot and various other elements he can use to solidify his power and eliminate the Joestar line once and for all.
Or take Funny Valentine, Big Bad for Steel Ball Run. Not only does the use of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap require an immense amount of study and knowledge to truly wield as well as he does, but we’re talking about a man who funds an entire race to get people to basically do archaeological digs pro-bono. And then he gets to reap the rewards, as he tests his previous knowledge against what the Corpse Parts do in reality. Top that off with the fact that the man seems to be competently leading the United States only shortly after the Civil War… Guy’s clearly got some schooling under his belt.
He also hosts really swanky dinner parties. ‘Steel Ball Run’ [Credit: Ultra Jump, Hirohiko Araki]
But there’s two I want to focus on today who I think really embody the imposing nature of a villain who knows the worth of information: Battle Tendency’s Kars and Enrico Pucci from Stone Ocean. Spoilers Ahead! as always, team!
Kars is probably the cleanest example: guy literally got sentenced to death by his own people for doing research. This proto-vampire wanted to help his kind overcome their aversion to sunlight, thus creating the Stone Mask. But in so doing, his creation caused the user to become even more demanding of life force, thus its creation branded him a heretic, a threat too dangerous to live.
Still, the narration tells us how Kars was “a prodigy,” even among his own people. We see throughout Battle Tendency that Kars remains the most brilliant and calculating of the Pillar Men, and that his pursuit of knowledge and evolution drive his every action. This is how he discovers the need for the Red Stone of Aja: Kars designs a new mask that will better expand the powers of the Pillar Men, allowing them to thrive in the sunlight. Yet in order to trigger it, he knows that his design will need something to refract light, amplifying its power and driving the bony claws further into the brain to complete the transformation. As a good scientist, he tests this with an average crystal to test his hypothesis. But his attempt shows that while the theory is sound, he will need the flawless Aja stone to complete his work.
Apparently ancient vampires were the first to create the Scientific Method. ‘Battle Tendency’ [Credit: Shonen Jump, Hirohiko Araki]
Kars is all about gaining new information to use in the struggle. His final showdown with Joseph, though it comes at the expense of his allies, shows that he has taken careful consideration of how his opponent thinks and acts. He can quickly assess how JoJo will react to the situations put in front of him, prey on his protective urges, and prepare for his trickster schemes. The fearsomeness of Kars comes not from an overpowered ability or an ultimate weapon: it’s the way in which he is perfectly suited to Joseph’s clever wit, and uses every piece of data to devastating results.
Plus he’s just SO fabulous! ‘Battle Tendency’ [Credit: David Production]
So let’s talk about the big Prime fanatic, himself: Father Enrico Pucci. Much like Kars, there’s a superficial level that’s actually quite telling here: Pucci’s Stand, White Snake, is, itself, completely centered around the gathering of information. It can compact a person’s soul and Stand into physical disks, which Pucci can utilize to his own means or insert into another person to give them the revelatory insight necessary to do his bidding. Much like the monks of old who would study science and math in their personal hours, Father Pucci can use his Stand disks to enhance his own understanding and manipulation of the world. Hell, he actually creates sentience when he gives a disk to a colony of plankton, creating Foo Fighters.
Eat your heart out, Mendel. ‘Stone Ocean’ [Credit: Shonen Jump, Hirohiko Araki]
Moreover, it is Pucci’s relationship to Dio where we see these ideas truly take shape. For you see, like many of the underlings in Stardust Crusaders, Enrico comes to see this vampire as a sort of god. But what’s important here is the way in which Dio positions himself during their flashbacks throughout the arc: he always makes it clear that he doesn’t need Pucci’s blind faith and loyalty, but his intelligence and friendship. What Jojo’s biggest bad values in the villain of Part 6 is his superior reasoning abilities. Though a man of the cloth, Pucci is always one to value tangible facts, as can be seen with his meditative reciting of the prime numbers, as a sort of self-calming method. This is why Dio makes Father Pucci his closest ally, and imparts to him the secrets he’s learned over decades of travel and study. He realizes that this man, above all others, has the intellect and the wherewithal to unravel his puzzle, attain Heaven, and finally rid the world of the Joestars, once and for all.
Yeah, you probably need some sort of Master’s degree to solve this one. “Stone Ocean” [Credit: Shonen Jump, Hirohiko Araki]
These drives are what make Pucci so ominous, and the way that he can manipulate the intel at hand to throw off Jolyne and her team until he can choose the proper moment to strike. As his Stand evolves, he has to put more and more scientific knowledge to work immediately, calculating for the new powers within his grasp. Even the slightest misunderstanding of its properties would spell instantaneous defeat – a result Pucci cannot allow.
Dude, I can’t even re-calibrate properly when you give me a whole level to figure out “gravity shifts.” ‘Stone Ocean’ [Credit: Shonen Jump, Hirohiko Araki]
Where other shows may rely on the idiotic blunders of their villains, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure leans in and shows just how truly daunting an adversary can be when they’re smart enough to see the value in continuing to learn. Their successes draw from their fortitude not just of might, but of intellect, and their failures stand apart from a willful ignorance of their position and their opponents. It’s just one of the many great ways that #JJBA and Araki are so great at crafting realistic and engrossing antagonists.
If you’ve got a brainy baddy or a conniving criminal worthy of further examination, let me know in the comments! Or, hey, if you’ve got a counter-point to one of mine, that’s all in good schooling, too! We’ll see you all next week for another #30in30, gang!
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