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November 24, 2016

Shower Thoughts with Stardust Crusaders (Part 3)

So if you could have a Stand, what would it be?

That’s kind of a dirty question, because according to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as we know it, you don’t get to choose your Stand.  It’s a reflection of you.  Granted that reflection tends to be tailor-made to suit the Stand user personality-wise, but it’s like the X-Men: you make do with what you’ve got, because what you’ve got is…well, you.  Still, there’s a ton of allure in imagining what it’d be like to have your own ghostly companion.  I’ve certainly indulged.

I’ll hold off on describing my ideal Stand for now, because that’d take a bit of time, I haven’t completely nailed it down, and (since this is the intro) there’s a lot of more relevant ground to cover.  I can tell you right now that it’s not too dissimilar from Echoes in Diamond is Unbreakable, barring some stuff that I’m pretty sure counts as a spoiler or eight.  So let’s go back to talking about Stardust Crusaders for the third and final time.  The premise?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Stands in Part 3 are an embodiment of what you want to be, but fail to be.

And I’ll drive that point home one last time…with spoilers aplenty.  But then again, is there any better way to celebrate Thanksgiving Day than with theory-crafting for JoJo?  Probably.  Also, I hope I didn’t date this post super-hard.

There was a part of me that contemplated skipping over Iggy.  It’s not like I have anything against him (occasional nightmare face aside), but he isn’t done any favors by having a cameo at best throughout the first 26-ish episodes of the anime.  And even when he does become an official team member, what does he reap?  What does he add?  As a dog, he’s not exactly equipped for meaningful heart-to-heart talks; plus, in most instances he’s content with treating the Crusaders worse than the poop he leaves on the Egyptian sands.  Hardly a compelling character, right?

Much like JoJo at large, it’s not that simple.  Yes, Iggy spends nearly the entirety of the anime’s run in silence.  Yes, his gimmick is basically to chew on coffee-flavored gum and fart on people’s faces.  Yes, he splits off from the group whenever he gets the chance.  The search for DIO and the salvation of Holly Kujo mean nothing to him -- and that’s kind of the point of his entire character.  He’s selfish, pragmatic, and loyal to himself more than his would-be masters.  He’s a dog second and a wild animal first.  It makes sense, then, that Iggy wants to be a survivor

In any case, what would you expect from an animal?  Granted Iggy is more than just some dumb mutt Joseph and the Speedwagon Foundation found on the street one day; as a Stand user, he can give his thoughts, spirit, and willpower form.  Even so, he’s still ruled by instinct and base desires.  To paraphrase Homer J. Simpson, all he wants to do is eat, and mate, and roll around in his own filth.  Oh, and sleep, too.  That’s basically his dream.  And in order to achieve that dream, he needs to keep on living -- no matter what it takes.

So while Iggy at a base level is low-key and antisocial, it’s all in the service of staying alive.  Again, it’s a basic instinct; it’s one that rules him, and he knows how important it is thanks to the old rule of “survival of the fittest”.  Is it any wonder, then, that his Stand has the ability to transform?  The Fool can shift forms as needed, from a basic automotive form to a glider, to a dome, to a clone of DIO -- all done with the magic of sand.  They’re all for the sake of making sure Iggy can make it through the next enemy encounter, and resume his mission of living the good life.  Or any life, if we’re being honest.

It, uh, doesn’t work out.

It’s an assertion of his intelligence -- of his humanity -- to have Iggy die in the crossfire of a battle that doesn’t involve him.  True, he ended up going full tilt against DIO and the baddies because he wants to settle the score (having lost a chunk of his front leg to DIO’s guardian, Pet Shop).  By extension, that means he could’ve avoided the final battle entirely if he’d just left that one kid to die.  But he didn’t.  His instincts and drive couldn’t match up to his buried nobility.  And while it cost him majorly -- he gives the last of his energy to save Polnareff from a dire situation -- it keeps him from being the worst of the worst.

It just doesn’t make him a survivor.  By journey’s end, he’s bitten it, and would’ve bitten it eventually even if he didn’t help Polnareff get out of a bad situation.  Was it entirely avoidable?  Yes.  Someone who put himself and his safety over others wouldn’t stick his neck out for anything; he’d take the direct, practical, and/or pragmatic approach in order to stay alive.  Iggy at the start of Part 3’s second act might have bailed, but once he comes to terms with the people around him, he becomes a genuine -- if rough-edged -- hero.  Unfortunately, being a hero and being a survivor don’t always overlap in a nice, neat Venn diagram.

*sniff* How many tears can you shed in the frozen time?

Jean Pierre Polnareff!!
Okay, so here’s everything I knew about Polnareff before starting JoJo at large:

1) Is French
2) His stand is Silver Chariot
3) His hair probably inspired the creation of Benimaru and Paul Phoenix

That’s pretty much it.  So I never, ever would’ve guessed that such a wild card in the deck would be a pivotal character throughout Part 3.  Nor would I have guessed that I’d get to know him best.  Polnareff gets a MASSIVE amount of play throughout the series, and I’m frankly left in awe by it.  Really?  This guy?  Really?  But yes, it’s true.  Is it a good thing?  Well, I’ll sort out my thoughts on that over time, but I can tell you right now that I’m leaning strongly towards “yes”.

In any case, Polnareff is the 5th member of the Stardust Crusaders.  Just like Kakyoin, he gets his start as a mind-controlled puppet of DIO, though a fight with Avdol helps him get back on the side of justice.  The problem is that at the outset, Polnareff’s “justice” doesn’t sync up with the others; he’s out to find a man with two right hands, AKA the person (and Stand user, natch) who raped and killed his sister.  So in that sense, Polnareff wants to be the knight in shining armor.  And if we’re going strictly by Silver Chariot’s appearance, he nails that in an instant.

But it’s not just about appearances.  Truth be told, I can’t blame Polnareff for wanting to be something straight out of a fairy tale.  The nobility!  The prestige!  The sense of accomplishment!  The power to protect those you love, and those you’ve only just met!  Heroism has plenty of allure, if not an addictive quality.  It takes a man or woman of superhuman qualities (physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual) to be a hero in line with the loftiest of ideals.

Polnareff is…uh…he’s not

If there’s an opportunity for someone to be the butt of a joke, it’s him.  He’s got bad luck with bathrooms, he’s consistently victimized by enemy Stand users, and even his closest friends treat him like a toddler on a leash.  He’s no bastion of intelligence, either; he’s part of a team that could come under fire from spiritual assassins at any minute, but he treats virtually every instance in every locale like it’s part of a free vacation.  Admittedly he’s not infuriatingly or impossibly stupid -- I’m convinced that you can’t sneak up on him at all -- but in the face of Jotaro and the others, he’s got the dunce cap on tight.

(Not gonna lie, though: I love this scene.  I covet it.)

Paradoxically, it’s the borderline joke character that ends up getting some of the show’s most serious moments -- not only the more serious ones, but also the ones that give major insight into his character.  Polnareff fails to be the knight in shining armor, and not just because of that one time when he had to lick a toilet.  It’s because for the most part, he’s incapable of saving the people around him.  Avdol gets shot in the head (seemingly) lethally because the Frenchman decides to chase after vengeance alone.  And then Avdol bites it for real so he can save Polnareff from getting erased.  Then Iggy has to save him from the same guy, even if it means a heroic sacrifice.  And even though Polnareff gets his revenge (shockingly early), it’s still not enough to bring his sister back -- except for when he used an enemy Stand’s power to revive a bloodthirsty, zombified version of her.  Oopsie-daisy!

Polnareff endures incredible amounts of pain and loss throughout JoJo, whether it’s because of his mistakes or simply a twist of fate.  As he soldiers on, he’s reminded of how important his bonds are -- typically after someone precious to him dies.  In those instances -- and likely more -- there’s nothing he can do but lament his powerlessness, and his failure to be the knight he wants to be.  And even in the one instance where he unequivocally gets to be that knight -- when he saves an Egyptian woman from dying as an out-of-body fetus -- he doesn’t even get to indulge in it.  Even though she’s ready to welcome her savior with open arms, Polnareff brushes her off so he can continue his mission unabated.  So yes, he even fails at getting the girl.

Why is it that the more I think about JoJo, the bleaker it gets?

Jotaro Kujo!!
And here we are.

If there’s one character that’s become the face of JoJo, it’s Jotaro.  And if there’s one Stand that’s become the, uh, other face of JoJo, it’s Star Platinum.  What happens when you put the two of them together?  You get a virtually unstoppable team.  Like his ancestors before him, Jotaro’s got a sharp mind as well as a jackpot in the genetic lottery; he doesn’t need Star Platinum to destroy his foes, but it sure does help.  After all, Star Platinum is incredibly strong, incredibly fast, and incredibly precise.  We’re talking about a being that can potentially move at the speed of sound just to catch a microscopic bug.  You can’t beat that.

Compared to his comrades (poor Joseph…), Jotaro is blatantly overpowered.  He pretty much has to be; nobody else has a chance at beating DIO, unless they put 100% of their effort into cheating -- or if they somehow conned DIO into getting drunk off his ass.  To defeat a monster, you need another monster; given that even a pre-tween Jotaro could beat a grown man bloody, I wonder if Joseph brought along his grandson to act as a sort of attack dog.  And I wonder if Jotaro had any objections, even beyond the quest to save his mom.

So, what does Jotaro want to be?  If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the opposite of Avdol: he wants to be wild.

There’s a moment in the first half of Part 3 where the gang manages to thwart the Stand user of the week, and everybody’s laughing at what a stupid pansy he is.  Jotaro isn’t laughing out loud, per se, but he does have a smile on his face and the shut, crescent moon-eyes you’d sooner expect from Nurse Joy -- a symbol of happiness under normal circumstances.  But on Jotaro, I legitimately thought that someone goofed and made an animation error -- especially since just seconds later, his eyes are blacked out thanks to his shadow-casting hat.

Showing emotion is…not really Jotaro’s thing.  It does happen, for sure, but it’s rare and easy to miss if you’re just in it for the ORA ORA ORAs.  I’ve heard theories and/or insights from the creator that he’s actually an extremely shy person, and some think he’s actually got some kind of social disorder.  Either way, he needs to express himself somehow -- and what better way to do that with a Stand?  I mean, if you ignore the fact that only other Stand users can see it, but whatever; what’s important is that Jotaro can see the side of himself that’s either kept hidden, or virtually incapable of coming out.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Jotaro clean-cut, but Star Platinum has long flowing hair, rippling muscles, and wears little else besides a loincloth.  That says a lot, I think.

Crucially, Star Platinum does a lot of the shouting, raging, and general emoting on Jotaro’s behalf.  Again, our hero gets his opportunities to express himself -- with anger, more often than not -- but 50-60% of the takeaway from the character is always going to be his big purple ghost buddy.  (Except when it’s green.  Or blue.  Or pink.  Or yellow.  Or whatever colors the animators happen to spot first.)  In the second episode, Jotaro himself notes that sometimes it feels like his Stand is more savage than he is.  Depending on your interpretation, that could mean one of two things:

1) By using his Stand -- a reflection of his inner self -- Jotaro has to come to grips with a level of savagery that even he, a world-class delinquent, can hardly believe exists.
2) By using his Stand -- an exaggerated facsimile of what he wants to be -- Jotaro realizes that not only is he not his Stand, but he shouldn’t be his Stand.

Star Platinum may have practical support abilities like enhanced sight and surgical precision, but its claim to fame is its power to punch hundreds of times a minute.  In other words?  Whereas Joseph’s Stand is built to help others (or the user himself), Jotaro’s Stand is almost strictly devoted to imparting violence upon others.  And as rough-necked as a person he may be, let’s all take a minute to remember that he’s only going to Egypt to punch out a quasi-reincarnated hellion so he can save his mommy.

Jotaro can’t be the wild man his Stand suggests, because there’s more to him than that.  It’s a consequence of being human; there are more aspects to us than just basic instincts and founts of desire.  It’s something shown off several times throughout the series, whether it’s Jotaro giving Polnareff a soothing, silent pat on the shoulder or breaking into raucous laughter with his pals when they’re on the ropes.  Just because he doesn’t often show his emotions doesn’t mean he’s lacking them.  He just doesn’t show them off for reasons that likely only make sense to him.  And what would he stand to gain by becoming more like Star Platinum?  More violence?  More bloodshed?  More busted teeth?

But there’s more to it than that.  Even when he’s got every reason to fly into a rage (and has no problems making his anger clear), Jotaro on the whole is a cool, calm, collected customer.  Star Platinum gives him a chance to vent and express his frustration, but it doesn’t consume him as it does his Stand.  And that’s exactly the point.  I’d bet that the Joestar heir has the highest count of beaten Stand users, and that’s likely because he’s able to outplay them at crucial moments.  The ORA ORA ORAs finish the job, but it’s the wits and counters -- born from a cool composure -- that help Jotaro win again and again.  A wild man couldn’t manage that; he’d be dead faster than you can say “Star Finger”.

As the main character, it’s up to Jotaro to do more than beat the bad guys.  He’s carrying the thematic heft of the show on his stupidly-broad shoulders -- and by rejecting the inherent power of violence his Stand affords him, he comes out of it as a stronger character.  In-universe, it adds a texture to him worth digesting over time.  Out-of-universe, it makes him more than just someone who can win every fight instantly by getting angry and punching infinitely.  He fails at being wild, and I’m thankful for it.

But let me back up one step.  See, “thematic heft” isn’t just a phrase I’m throwing around lightly, or to sound smart.  Part 3, Part 2, and Part 1 all manage to accomplish something very important.  I’m assuming the same for Parts 5, 6, and 7, given that even at the outset Part 4 is an overwhelming success.  So I’ll go ahead and say this: part of the reason why I like JoJo as much as I do is that, even if different parts do different things, they’re all united by a dedication to a specific theme.  And each time, they follow through on it with amazing results.

So what’s Part 3’s theme, then?  Well, the answer is…something I’ll get to another day.  But we’ve got a long way to go before we get to that point, so let’s leave it here for now.

See you guys around.  And of course, consider every word I’ve written thus far a ringing endorsement for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.  Because we’ve all got a long way to go before the last train heads home.

Man, fuck you, Polnareff!  I can’t believe you got Avdol killed TWICE!

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