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January 23, 2017

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Blogging (Part 6)

You know what really gets to me?  Jotaro’s hat.

I don’t have a problem with the way it looks.  It’s just that for the longest time -- before I seriously started getting into JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure -- I was under the impression that he never took it off.  Plus there’s his look in the Stardust Crusaders anime; with his black uniform and black hair, it looks as if his hat is essentially a part of his skull.  Where does one end and the other begin?  Nobody knows.  Granted that ambiguity was drastically reduced in the Diamond is Unbreakable anime by virtue of Jotaro’s white outfit, but still.  The point remains, I think.

…Is what I would like to say.  But in the very first episode of the anime, Jotaro’s hat gets blown clear off.  And then in the very first arc of the second half of the story, it gets blown off again.  It’s like, how can anyone say that the hat never comes off when it comes off almost immediately?  And on more than one occasion?  The mind boggles.  I blame memes, I suppose; it’s another instance of JoJo being pared down to absolute basics.  A generalization.  And when you generalize, you’re that much more likely to get it wrong.

So I guess I’ll get into specifics -- and use most of the rest of this post to explain why I think Stardust Crusaders is the weakest of the JoJo parts so far.  Hold on to your butts hats.

Their SPOILERS have begun!  Their SPOILERS are running out!
They will SPOIL this!  They won’t stop!

Part 6: Stardust Crusaders (again)
(Or: In Which Roads are Rolled -- B Side)

(That’s a strong-ass opening…but still not better than the first one.)

Let’s not get too hasty, though.  I’m not even going to begin to suggest that Part 3 is bad.  As far as I’m convinced, it’s not.  The entire last post should’ve gone a long way toward proving why it isn’t.  Is Part 3 my favorite part?  No.  It’s behind Part 2, which in turn is (however slightly) behind Part 1.  But even if it’s a step down from that high plateau, it’s still sitting pretty above ground level.  Far be it from me to take that away from the series -- most of all because I want to avoid the “it’s popular, so it’s bad” mentality.

By the same token, I can’t help but raise complaints whenever they crop up (because I’m me, and it’s kind of my thing).  Pound for pound, Part 3 has more issues than its predecessors -- at least for me.  Others might feel the same way, though, precisely because this is likely the part with the most exposure.  This is likely what people think of when they think of “JoJo”, so it’s only natural to want to give it a closer look.  So with all that in mind, what exactly is wrong with Stardust Crusaders?

The answer: this guy.

This guy.  This is it.  This is the one.  This is the problem with Stardust Crusaders, bar none.

I’ve already talked about Jotaro and the other Crusaders before, and I’ll repeat what I sad (and believed) back then: no, I don’t think Jotaro is as bad as it gets.  No, I don’t think he’s completely devoid of personality.  And so on, and so forth.  I know how bad characters can be, so the Part 3 lead is nowhere near the bottom of the barrel.  With all of that in mind, I have a hard time looking at the installment and saying “Nope, no problems here.  Carry on.”  And yeah, a lot of my gripes stem from our hero.

Here’s the thing.  I can count on/look to anime to feature men and women to bear every last shred of their passion -- usually by screaming with enough force to vaporize their necks.  That’s something that personally appeals to me; others may feel differently, but I’d bet that some people watch anime specifically to get a taste of the hype they provide.  JoJo is no exception across its myriad forms (including this one, to be sure), but there’s a difference here that’s worth highlighting.

In Phantom Blood, you could always count on Jonathan to react (or overreact) to any situation beyond “dote on his main squeeze”.  Even if he was a good guy and gentleman by nature, he made his passion incredibly obvious -- whether it was to punch out zombie knights or to decry anyone who gave his dog a Tiger Knee.  Then you move on to Battle Tendency, and you get Joseph -- a guy who lets his energy, will, and inner fire spew out of every orifice.  Are their personalities and reactions realistic?  Not always, or even often.  But look at the story they’re from, and look at the medium they’re from.  They have every excuse to go all guns blazing, because it’s what we expect.  It’s what we never knew we wanted, but can love when it does come our way.

Then you get to Stardust Crusaders, and Jotaro’s response to all sorts of scenes -- tense, action-packed, silly, and beyond -- is a resounding “_______________________”.

He still gets his moments (like telling Joseph off for crashing virtually every plane he’s ever flown), but the ratio of moments to nothingness is pretty far-flung in the latter’s favor.  He doesn’t even speak in a lot of instances, so it leads to weird cases where it’s as if the main character is actually just a background character.  If I remember right, he’s even shifted into the background at times.  It’s not exactly a death knell for Part 3, but it leads to a really unfortunate situation where the guy almost specifically brought in to beat the enemy Stand users/DIO is less of a character and more of an attack dog.  Or, in meta terms, he’s only there to fix problems that good writing the others can’t.

I was under the impression, prior to watching this Part, that Jotaro was the leader.  He’s not; it’s Joseph.  And in turn, the true MVP this time around -- if not the actual hero of the story -- is Polnareff.

Like I said before, Polnareff gets an INSANE amount of play here.   I don’t know the stats intimately, but I’d wager that the French avenger takes down almost as many Stand users as Jotaro.  He certainly clashes with more -- Devil, Death 13, Judgment, Anubis, and Sethan, to name a few -- and more importantly, Polnareff’s struggles against the enemies feels more genuine.  He’s more than capable of outperforming the baddies with skill or power, as you’d expect, but he’s put into much direr situations.  He’s allowed to be closer to the brink of defeat (more often than Jotaro, at least), and allowed to be thrown off his game, and allowed to be humiliated, and allowed to be afraid.  Polnareff’s wider range of emotions -- and the gusto behind them -- makes him more exciting to watch, compared to Jotaro’s muted nature and limited range (stoicism and anger…the classics, without a doubt). 

It leads me to believe that, whether people are aware of it or not, JoJo is at its best when it’s allowed to go full tilt.  Jonathan and Joseph went a long way towards bringing out the passion in their stories and their audiences; Jotaro doesn’t put up nearly as strong an effort, but Polnareff picks up the slack.  It leads me to believe that in pumping out the chapters for Stardust Crusaders way back in the day, Araki did a course correction to shift the spotlight away from Jotaro and onto Polnareff.  It was either that, or pressure/suggestions from editors or fans.  I don’t have any proof of that, but, well, that’s what I’d do.

Well, either that, or actively put in work to develop or fix characters that aren’t working.  But I digress.

Obviously, this is the part that introduced the world -- in-universe and out of it -- to Stands.  The best way to enforce their presence was to feature as many as possible -- and obviously, the way to accomplish that was to have the heroes go up against the villains and their myriad powers.  Given that JoJo’s still going to this day, I think it’s safe to say that it’s an approach that works.  Some have decried Part 3 for devolving into a “Stand user of the week” format, but it doesn’t get to me that much.  As a Kamen Rider fan, it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to call out one show while slobbering over another.  Still, I get why people might take shots at this outing.

The full title is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, after all, so people are going in expecting to see a band of good guys going on an adventure.  Pretty straightforward stuff; Part 2 had Joseph more or less travelling the world after any given story beat.  Obviously there’s still an adventure to be had in Part 3, since Jotaro and crew have to go from Japan to Egypt (and hit every possible speed bump along the way), but there’s a difference.  Virtually every foe in the first two Parts, give or take a few, had a purpose in the grand scheme of things.  In Part 3, a decent-sized chunk of them don’t feel very special -- which makes it a hell of a lot harder to swallow the more regimented format.

It almost feels like they’re playing a Mega Man game, albeit with 75% of the budget blown on making sprites bend into borderline-impossible poses.  Here is an enemy.  The enemy has this skill.  Learn how to beat the enemy.  Beat the enemy.  Move on to the next enemy.  Repeat as needed.  JoJo is built in such a way that the repetition is easier to stand -- thanks to how engaging its “boss battles” are -- but it couldn’t avoid all of the trappings of said repetition.  The bad guys lose their uniqueness and potency when you think of them as mere dominoes to knock down on the way to the end goal.  And yeah, that’s basically what happened with me.

My biggest gripe with this installment I that a lot of the arcs/engagements end in the same way: even if the enemy Stand user shows up and acts like a smug little shit, it’s only a matter of time before they’re reduced to crying, sniveling cowards on all fours or begging for mercy.  It happens with Rubber Soul.  It happens with Steely Dan.  It happens with ZZ.  It happens again, and again, and again.  It gives the good guys (Jotaro especially) a chance to look like a bunch of slick badasses -- and provide some catharsis for the audience -- but there’s a limit to how many times you can use the same trick.  JoJo wasn’t aware of that limit, so you get a situation where the much-hyped nine Egyptian God Stand users are just as likely to break down.  It really takes away the menacing nature of guys like Alessi and D’arby the Gamer when you’re just waiting for them to get down on their knees.

True, not every Stand battle ends in the same way.  And sure, there are some real golden apples in the basket; the fights with Hanged Man, Judgment, Geb, Bast, and Cream are some of my favorites.  (Although incidentally, only one of those has Jotaro playing a role.  Make of that what you will.)  But it happens enough times for it to be an issue for me.  More pressingly, there’s the fact that there ARE so many Stand battles, and against characters who aren’t going to matter mere minutes after their defeat.  Oh no, Forever is a super-smart orangutan whose Stand is an entire cruise ship!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand he’s gone.  Oh no, Oingo can slip into your group by changing his appearance, and he’s planning to blow up any threats to DIO!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand he’s over. 

I don’t know how you’d resolve that issue, because in some ways there might not be an easy fix.  The chapters had to keep coming to the pages of Jump, after all, and the fans had to be sated.  Honestly, it may just be a losing scenario, one where the special stuff gets diluted by the “business as usual” formatting.  And it’s diluted even further for the obvious reason: length.  Part 1 told the story it needed to (edits and omissions aside) in nine episodes.  Part 2 did the same in 17, even with (or despite) its grander scope.  Part 3 took 48 episodes, and couldn’t even be arsed to say the names of some of its baddies.  Because that’s how you know you’re a valued member of the story: an utter rejection of your identity.

Speaking of identity: does anybody know what the point of Anne was?  I thought Araki was playing the long game with her, but then she just gets on a plane and never appears again.  Was she important?  Was she?  Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and say “nope”.

This may be the Part that introduced Stands, but it’s also firmly cemented the bullshit that’s basically the lifeblood of JoJo.  It’s always been there, ostensibly, what with Joseph’s antics back in the 30s.  But the nature of Stand battles means that sometimes, the only way for things to happen as intended -- and draw the most shock value -- is to bend the rules as far as they’ll go.  JoJo manages to stay under the line where “suspension of disbelief” is still possible, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t caressed like an impassioned lover who’s had one drink too many.

I mean, the entire arc is predicated on bullshit.  Part 1 ended with Erina using Dio Brando’s specially-prepared coffin to escape an exploding ship on the high seas, with Dio’s head left wrapped tight in the arms of his adoptive brother.  Part 3, meanwhile, starts with DIO -- head, body, and all -- making it back to solid ground because he got in the coffin instead.  That’s a continuity error that’s pretty friggin’ hard to overlook.  But I guess I have to, because pretty much the entirety of the Jotaro vs DIO fight is predicated on bullshit -- like Star Platinum and The World apparently being the same type of Stand, Jotaro moving in the frozen time, Jotaro stopping time, and Jotaro learning to fly for no raisin.

There is more that I could go off on, but there are more important things to talk about.  Like this obscure and not-too-popular character.

I’ll be upfront: I like Part 1’s Dio more than Part 3’s DIO.  Dio is more active, more direct in his procedures, more explicit in his relation to the hero, and, well, he’s just more interesting.  In the same sense that Polnareff gets to show off various sides of himself, so too does Dio -- his anger, his joy, his envy, his frustration, his sorrow, his confusion, his desperation, and more.  I mean, how many baddies do you know that manage to stay credible, terrifying threats after they get beaten up so badly by 12-year-olds that they burst into tears?  Not a lot, I’m guessing; Dio manages to pull it off, so that he’s a hammy tyrant as well as a striking villain.

I heard before going into Part 3 that DIO is lamer than his earlier incarnation, mostly for the reasons I just named.  I’m inclined to agree, BUT it’s not a complete wash.  Nothing in Part 3 is.  DIO is more or less a different character than Dio (partly because of the body he’s hijacked), with elements that make him praiseworthy in all sorts of ways.  He may spend 90% of the story sitting around in his mansion, but he’s interesting regardless.  Why?  Because even if he’s more static in his procedures, he still plays to the thematic heft of Stardust Crusaders -- and the ongoing idea that fear is a key part of the human experience.

Or, to simplify: DIO’s too scurred to face the good guys.

Joseph isn’t the only one who’s changed with age.  Back in the day, Dio was (or became) a megalomaniac with ambitions to rule over everything, a willingness to discard his humanity, and a penchant for chewing on the scenery like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.  DIO is…well, he’s still that, which he proves handily once every single one of his cronies is forced to “retire”.  But think about it for a second: why would an immortal, ultra-strong vampire need cronies in the first place?  Sure, he needs subordinates to do his dirty work during the day, and it’d be a hell of a hassle for him to leave Egypt and go on a journey of his own to personally kill the Joestar crew.  And as a VIP, he shouldn’t have to dirty his hands when the help can do it for him.

But it goes further than that.  Even if DIO is a lot of things, “a fool” isn’t one of them.  He won’t rush in and risk death by facing off against his mortal enemies, because he knows that A) they’re likely the only ones in the world that can beat him, and B) he already lost to a Joestar once.  He has to play things smart.  Cool.  He shouldn’t have to exert himself when his charisma and promises (most of which, money aside, are likely empty) are enough to bring Stand users under his wing.  “Let them go on a manhunt that’ll take them into deserts, ghost towns, and general hellholes!  I’m staying here and reading books in the dark!”

I don’t know why DIO’s worried, though.  It’s not like anyone will ever die in JoJo again.

Really though, DIO doesn’t have to do his hammy song and dance.  And outside of the last four-ish episodes, it seems like he doesn’t want to.  He’s soft-spoken, contemplative, and open minded; he wonders about more than just whose blood he’s going to suck, or how he’ll deal with those meddling Joestars, or which concubines he plans to have wrapped around his waist like a tutu.  I guess wondering about the nature of man has become his favorite pastime and comfort, since that’s all he could do in his Retcon Coffin.  Regardless, for almost the entirety of Stardust Crusaders he’s calm and collected -- which might be a reflection of his newfound confidence, or a façade to make sure his image doesn’t crack in the face of his peons.

It’s an interesting turn.  DIO has every advantage in the world, including…well, The World.  That’s the ultimate Stand for inspiring fear; before it’s fully revealed, it leaves guys like Hol Horse and Polnareff shaken to their cores because they’re incapable of processing what just happened.  It’s hard to blame them; The World crosses over into some quantum physics territory, and the latter of the two wanted to use a genie’s wish to make his own amusement park.  The powers of The World are just a smidge beyond the average man.

At a base level, DIO has no need to fear -- especially because so many aspects about him inspire fear.  Even if you’re the strongest (like Jotaro) or the cleverest (like Joseph), it doesn’t matter when you’re left immobilized; it’s even worse when you can’t even perceive that you’ve been immobilized.  It’s like an RPG with a game-breaking glitch: whatever battle-winning turn you’re about to take will never come, because it’s been stolen and you’re already dead because there’s a knife in your throat.

But DIO lives in fear regardless.  You could argue that he’s always lived his life in fear -- afraid of death, afraid of failure, afraid of humiliation, afraid of living in squalor, afraid of unfulfilled ambitions, afraid of being powerless, and probably a dozen more.  Becoming a vampire was supposed to help him overcome all that, but paradoxically he’s been linked to the fears and the consequences of them.  He can’t even go out in the daytime…which in hindsight seems like a horrible quality for the would-be ruler of the world to have, but whatever.  It’s only natural for him.  He could’ve done so much to live a peaceful, successful life (before and after his “rebirth”), but he strove for more without being able to handle the consequences.

Despite his bluster and abilities, DIO is a man who lives in fear.  Jotaro isn’t.  Like I’ve said in earlier posts, Jotaro’s ability to rise above fear -- to stay calm, focused, and always ready to beat an enemy’s ass -- is what makes him the perfect counter to DIO and his gaggle of Stand users.  The vampire overlord may hope to wear down the Crusaders over the course of their 50-day journey psychologically (if he can’t outright have them killed), but in the end Jotaro’s courage manages to break through DIO’s fear -- and ultimately, DIO himself.

Jotaro’s perma-chill state may be tough to bear at times.  But like most of Stardust Crusaders’ content, it’s 100% intentional.

I can’t bring myself to hate this Part.  Why would I?  I’m not even close to that threshold.  I enjoyed it, was surprised by it, and felt like I walked away with something gained.  I don’t feel like my time investment has been wasted with this, the longest installment of the anime so far.  Are there things I’d like to have been improved?  Yes.  Are there too many Stand users weighing down what could’ve been a tighter, leaner production?  Arguably.  But you should be able to judge a story by what it is, not what it isn’t -- and you know what this story is?  Good.

I’m assuming that this is one of the most popular installments in the whole franchise.  If that’s true (and I suspect it is, especially in the west), then I can rest easy knowing that curious onlookers have something whose popularity is, for the most part, entirely justified.  It’s not just about dumb memes or recognizing something that’s only been heard about; it’s about the fact that once again, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure proves that it’s got more going on than what’s on the surface.

So, if I had to rank what I’ve seen so far, it’d go something like this: 4 > 1 > 2 > 3.  Granted the gaps between one Part and another may vary, but I want to stress that just because Part 3’s at the bottom doesn’t mean that it’s…wait.  Hold on a second.  Isn’t there something strange about that ranking?  Why is there a 4 at the beginning?

Oh wait.  I know exactly why.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.  Here we go, baby.

Time for…a trip to Olive Garden…?

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