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November 17, 2016

Shower Thoughts with Stardust Crusaders (Part 2)

I’ve always believed that you can make any story sound bizarre if you describe it as directly and plainly as possible.  I mean, have you ever really put much thought into Harry Potter?  “A young boy who lives in his abusive family’s cupboard finds out that he defeated an all-powerful evil wizard as a baby, and is whisked off to a British castle so he can go to a school for wizards.”  There’s a lot to unpack there, but context in-universe makes it easier to swallow.  That’s true of every story, I bet.  Break it down to those base elements -- removed of context and flourishes -- and you’re bound to get something bizarre. 

With that in mind, maybe JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is deserving of its name for a reason.  Some of the stuff in the last post -- and this one, inevitably -- sounds absolutely insane, and it feels like it’d take a conversation just to explain a conversation.  What’s a Joestar?  What’s Hamon?  What’s a Stand?  And so on, and so forth.  It’s not to JoJo’s detriment, of course, but it does make for a harder sell.  Though now that I think about it, I’d LOVE to see some kind of “Parents react to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” video someday.  If it’s anything like having mothers describe Overwatch characters, it’ll be a hoot.

Enough of that, though.  It’s time to get back to action, and the thrust of my argument: Stands in Stardust Crusaders are the embodiments of what you want to be, but fail at being.  Am I wrong?  Am I right?  Judge for yourself, because I’ll make a case with the core six characters of the series.

Also, get ready, because I’m about to spoil the CRAP out of Stardust Crusaders.  But I would’ve guessed that I’m the last horse to cross the finish line, soooooooooooooo…if you haven’t watched the show yet, fix that.

Joseph Joestar!!
From what I can gather, Joseph is THE most beloved JoJo.  Maybe not the most popular -- that honor no doubt goes to Jotaro -- but it’s not hard to see why.  Whether it’s his Part 2 or Part 3 incarnation, he’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch in action.  And much like the franchise at large, there’s more to him than just a mass of memes.  So why the hell is his Stand a bunch of vines?  What does that say about him, given that one of the mouthiest leads in the franchise gets a spiritual manifestation that doesn’t even have a face?

Well, think of it this way: does Joseph even need to have his inner self laid bare?  His personality was on full display back in Battle Tendency, and he displays it yet again throughout the franchise’s third outing (more so than his grandson and the ostensible main character, in fact).  His stage presence is nothing short of overwhelming, though it’s different going from one saga to another.  Some think that it’s a turn for the worse, while I think it’s a natural, welcome evolution of his character.

So here’s the clincher.  Joseph may not need an overstated Stand (least of all because he still has Hamon to fall back on).  But he still has desires -- and in this case, he wants to be the resolver.

Hermit Purple is supposed to be among one of the weakest Stands around; depending on how you look at it, however, it’s actually the secret S-tier Stand.  I started out thinking that it only worked when Joseph destroyed a camera, but it seems like it’s capable of doing whatever the plot needs dishing out information and manipulating elements (apparently it can help with mind-reading).  The ability to scoop up information -- especially information that gets the plot in motion in the first place -- seems like it could make for a hell of an advantage, even more so than the average ORA ORA ORA.

Whatever the case, Joseph in Part 3 isn’t the same as he was in Part 2.  He’s significantly older and (maybe) wiser, burdened with responsibilities from all angles.  There’s no way he can be the same joker he was fifty years ago, especially with DIO breathing down their necks; naturally, it leads to one scene after another where Joseph’s center stage, giving orders and making sure that the people around him -- ally, bystander, and everyone in between -- stays safe.  He’s more of a leader than Jotaro in that respect.

The problem, of course, is that Joseph’s time has passed.  Yes, he goes a long way towards trying to solve the messes that come his way (immediate and overarching), but in the end he can’t quite pull it off.  He gets some licks against enemy Stand users, sure, yet it’s Jotaro and his lone wolf tactics/affect that crush nearly everything in their path, or land the finishing blow.  Plus, it was practically a given that it’d be the new blood that beat DIO, not an old-timer who already lucked his way into banishing the ultimate life form to an eternity of drifting among the stars.  The youngsters need their time to shine.

What I’m getting at here is that Joseph wants to be the man that fixes everything -- with his powers, with his experience, with his resources, with whatever he’s got -- but he’s ultimately unable to seal the deal in the way that Jotaro can.  Much like Hermit Purple, he can do a lot, but he can’t do everything (though I got a kick out of seeing the old man do his best web-slinger impression -- as one should).  The saving grace is that Joseph’s sheer force of personality means that he doesn’t need to show off some hidden side to himself; he is what he is, and that’s what you’ll get without filter every time you run into him.  And in turn, that makes his Stand’s true nature much more direct.  No one has the power to be Mr. Fixit. 

Well, there might be one person out there.  But we’ll get to him another day, maybe.

Muhammad Avdol!!

That was one of my earliest experiences with Avdol, and to say it colored my expectations would be an understatement the size of a blue whale on steroids.  I went in expecting to see a sick badass, and came out with…well, I still think he’s a sick badass, and I’ve got no problems admitting that he’s still my favorite character.  It’s probably got something to do with the fact that he’s one of the scant few black guys in anime who are…uh, not…that.  Granted he’s Egyptian, but that’s in Africa, so just let me have this one.  I need someone to project onto, too.

If you haven’t seen JoJo, then I’ll be upfront: the Avdol in that clip -- and that scene at large -- isn’t the same one throughout the rest of Part 3.  I’m OK with that because I still see Avdol as a cool guy, but those expecting a character that spews lots of Engrish and pretends to be a cigarette lighter are in for disappointment.  Then again, maybe that’s the entire point.  Not the disappointment part, oh no; it’s that maybe, just maybe, Avdol isn’t the guy he wants to be.  Instead, he has to live vicariously through his Stand, Magician’s Red -- a bird, as it so happens.  And we all know the symbolism behind that, yes?

For Avdol, his Stand embodies the fact that he wants to be free.  On the surface -- i.e. throughout the majority of Part 3’s run -- he’s a composed and reasonable fellow.  When we’re first introduced to him, he’s more or less the loyal follower and supporter of Joseph; in the episodes that follow, he acts as one of the most mature members of the Stardust Crusaders, maybe even more so than Mr. Joestar despite the age gap.  Avdol even gets called out on it at one point, and named (derisively) as the one who’s always playing to the mature, cool archetype.

But that’s impossible, right?  How can Avdol be calm and cool when his Stand revolves almost exclusively around playing with fire?  He should be the most hot-blooded mofo around!   But he isn’t.  Not on the surface, at least.  There are times when he shows flashes of anger and passion, for sure; in one instance, he’s about ready to deck Polnareff for mouthing off, and Joseph has to hold him back before the teeth start flying.  But more often than not, he’s in control and using his head.  He pretty much has to; up until the last few episodes, no one knows their enemy better than he does.

(Real talk: I know Avdol gets crap for running away from DIO, but he made the right choice.  That’s the choice I would’ve made, at least -- assuming I didn’t die on the spot.)

I think that there are two layers to Avdol’s hidden (and unfulfilled) desire.  The obvious one is that he wants to be free to lash out -- to be more than just the Smithers to Joseph’s Burns.  It’s understandable, of course; people want to be trailblazers in control of their lives, free to make their own way without having to bow down to a superior.  How do you think Avdol feels, having to constantly play the level-headed assistant to everyone around him?  Is it any wonder that his Stand strikes a ton of dynamic poses, as a way to assert his presence and ability to do whatever he wants?

On the other hand, it’s not quite that simple.  Avdol may not always want to play the role of Smithers, but I think it’d be a bit to reckless to assume that he hates it.  He could’ve run away from the battle with DIO the moment he found out about the vampire, but instead decided to follow through on the journey.  There’s a part of him, I think, that enjoys playing the role he has.  The Mariah fight (such as it is) gives him a chance to show off a different side of himself, and he -- in a bit of meta commentary -- asserts that he’s not supposed to be this kind of character.  He has a role that he sticks to, and has grown accustomed to it.  So what’s the problem?

I can take a guess.  Maybe Avdol is afraid of being himself -- and being free in general.

Last time I checked, fire is pretty lethal (though it’s the smoke you have to worry about as much as the flames).  Even if Avdol can mold and twist the flames at will, they’re still more than capable of murdering people and dishing out incredible collateral damage…well, except for that time he set Polnareff on fire, but whatever.  If he ever lost control -- of his Stand, or his personality -- then Avdol would do unforgivable amounts of harm.  So given that, he pretty much has to be in control.  He notes late in the series that he is, ultimately, a man too governed by his emotions to keep the cool head needed for victory (which is what makes Jotaro so adept at taking down enemies).  Much as he hates to admit it, the fortune teller needs to be chained up so someone doesn’t get hurt.

So Avdol is stuck between a role that he wants, and a role he doesn’t want.  He’s a man who has to be cool, but wants to be hot, but also wants to be cool.  He’s a conflicted person, basically, and Magician’s Red only makes his decision that much harder to make.  In the end, though, Avdol does more or less settle for being the cool, loyal supporter.  Was it the right choice?  I don’t know.  Playing that role ends up costing him his life -- twice -- but I doubt he has any regrets.

But man…Avdol got a raw fuckin’ deal in this series.  Araki-sensei, any chance we can get an Avdol Gaiden?  Or AvdoLion?

Noriaki Kakyoin!!
Avdol’s my favorite character in Stardust Crusaders and always will be, but I’ve got no problems admitting that Kakyoin’s right up there with him.  He’s got all of these delightful “blink and you’ll miss it” moments of weirdness.  Even though the whole “rero rero rero” bit has ascended into legendary meme status, it becomes even weirder in context; Kakyoin ended up doing the exact same thing an obvious fake did for reasons only a mountain sage could understand.  Apparently he sunbathes in a school uniform he never takes off, can instantly deduce bizarre hand signals so he can engage in esoteric handshakes, and he’s got no problems feeding a baby its own poop.  He may come off as a savvy charmer, but it’s no stretch to assume that he’s the weirdest of the Crusaders -- and that’s saying something.

In any case, Kakyoin makes a lot of good plays on the team’s way to Egypt/a vampire ass-kicking.  Even though all of the characters show a decisive amount of intelligence, he’s the overtly smart one.  He pretty much has to be; Star Platinum and Magician’s Red are ripped, while his Hierophant Green is barely a cut above the average man (if that).  Still, his Stand makes up for it with versatility and ability.  Whether it’s with far-reaching tentacles, possession, or just the tried-and-true flurry of projectiles, Kakyoin has an answer to a number of situations.  Makes sense; after all, I’d argue that Kakoyin wants to be the one in control.

At the start of Part 3, he’s under the control of one of DIO’s flesh buds, so he has no choice but to do evil as his master commands.  Then again, it may be a situation where DIO didn’t actually have to force Kakyoin to do anything; that is, the flesh bud simply brought his dark, dormant desires to the forefront.   While “evil”, he’s more than willing to carry around a puppet to “symbolize” his “genius”, which isn’t the smartest move when you’re up against Jotaro.  More pressingly, though?  He uses Hierophant Green to take control of an innocent, and never uses it again.  Good guys have standards, after all.

Still, I’d bet that the thought crossed his mind a few times.  He doesn’t get a ton of opportunities to use it against enemy Stand users, to be fair (they tend to stay hidden and snipe at the Crusaders from hiding), but his route to victory is obvious and simple.  “If I can get my Hierophant inside them, then I can stop them,” he might think.  Or to be more direct, “If I can get my Hierophant inside them, I can remove their free will and have them do exactly what I want.”  Okay, that’s not even remotely more direct.  But work with me here.

Kakyoin’s life would be a lot easier if he could just have people move as he dictates, with or without Stands.  Everyone’s would, if we’re being honest.  Still, he knows that doing so would cross a boundary that only a straight-up villain would leap over.  He doesn’t want to go that far, but I suspect that he’s at least thirsty for something he can’t get under normal circumstances.  It’s revealed late in the anime that he was alone and alienated as a child, ostracized because of his Stand powers (which only other Stand users can see).  Fair point, but there’s a disconnection that’s worth mulling over: did others reject Kakyoin because their sixth sense took heed of his otherness?  Or did Kakyoin reject others because he felt like no one could ever understand him unless they could know about his Stand?  From what I can gather, it’s more the latter than the former.

That would imply that Mr. Cherry-Licker isn’t quite the hero, innocent, or victim he’s made out to be -- but it’s not too big an issue.  It’s a part of his character, the weakness in his heart that he’s forced to acknowledge.  More than any other Crusader, Kakyoin stares his fears and doubts in the face, his self-doubt in particular.  His inability to be the victor or mastermind is one thing, but the fact that he’s left shaken so regularly -- even by a baby -- has to weigh down on him.  Controlling others means that he can minimize his exposure and damning self-reflection…but maybe, more than anything else, the one Kakyoin wants to control is Kakyoin himself.

…That’s some heavy shit.  Let’s take a moment to laugh at something delightfully irreverent.

And that’ll just about do it for now.  Check back soon, and I’ll round things out with the other Crusaders.  And maybe then I can finally get to talking about Phantom Blood.  Because sometimes in order to go forward, you have to go backward.

I’m sure that line makes sense to someone, somewhere, somehow.

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