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January 30, 2017

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Blogging (Part 7)

Hey, welcome back to Cross-Up.  You know, writing about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure posts has gotten me thinking.  I’ve come to realize that --

NO.  

SHUT UP.  

EVERYBODY SHUT UP.  

No long, meandering intros.  No tangential anecdotes.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.  So you know what?  Screw it.  Screw everything else.  We’re getting in there, right here, RIGHT NOW.

JoJo.  Part 4.  Diamond is Unbreakable.  

LET’S GO.

The SPOILERS we have fly flowing free
As we bicker the day away
Dancing all the while in this
Crazy noisy bizarre SPOILERS



(This is such a fun song that I’ve listened to it 100+ times and I’m still grooving…but it’s still not better than the first opening.)

Part 7: Diamond is Unbreakable
(Or: So That’s What That Means -- A Side)

So here’s the setup.  It’s been more than a decade since the defeat of the dreaded DIO; life has gone on without fear of assault from his cursed cronies and cabal of psychic killers.  That era of peace extends all the way to the humble town of Morioh; our hero, Josuke Higashikata, is content with going to school and looking cool (as is the standard).  But trouble comes a-knocking when a crazed serial killer slips back into town -- and with powers that defy belief.

Josuke’s peaceful days come to an end thanks to a slew of revelations.  For starters: Stardust Crusaders alum Jotaro shows up and announces that they’re both members of the Joestar bloodline (with Jotaro being the nephew of our new hero), which puts Josuke in line for a major inheritance.  More pressingly, Josuke learns firsthand about the power he’s been using for ages, and the power that others may use or abuse.  DIO may be gone, but there’s a slew of Stand users still out and about in the world -- including his town.  When the quest to nab the serial killer takes a personal turn, Josuke rises up and declares that he’ll protect his town.  It just so happens that he’ll have to fend off Stand users, conspiracies, and another serial killer before the end of his summer of ’99.

All right, cards on the table: I think that Part 4 is the best JoJo installment yet.


That comes from a biased place, arguably.  I hopped on the JoJo train late, even after I said I’d start watching it specifically to be caught up in time for Part 4.  I wasn’t, but I really wanted to be; having watched his GHA in All Star Battle dozens of times, I was wholly convinced that Josuke was the hypest of the JoJos, and thus the best of the eight.  (Also, I unabashedly think that his hair’s cool, because I have a soft spot for delinquent-type characters.)  I had high hopes for Diamond is Unbreakable, and crammed in as much as I could until I caught up with the broadcast -- all so I could suffer alongside fellow fans as we collectively waited for each new Friday, and each new episode drop.

Was it worth the wait?  Hell yes.  Is it perfect?  Hell no.  But there’s so much to enjoy about Part 4, and so much to take away from it -- stuff that’ll stick with you long after seeing the “Fin” in the final episode -- that it proves the overall worth of the series.  I’ll keep typing it out until everyone I can reach understands it: JoJo is more than just memes.  It’s rock solid, airtight, legitimately good fiction that deserves every last fan it’s got.


On a technical level, the anime has seen another general uptick in quality -- and a different art style entirely, ostensibly.  Jotaro doesn’t just look different because of the 10-year time skip; he looks smoother, with more vibrant colors.  And really, Part 4 as a whole has more vibrant colors.  The palette is brighter and the visuals are sharper -- and the former’s pretty easy to notice because of the ridiculous palette swaps in the environment.  Yellow sky, green streets; lavender clouds, purple plants; it’s the work of a blind artist in the middle of a fever dream, but it works.  Even if the setting is superficially mundane, you’d be hard-pressed to find a show that looks like JoJo.

Speaking of upticks in quality, there are some scenes in this anime -- whether still or in motion -- that look absolutely incredible.  Stand battles have become more active affairs, for example, so you’ll get to see guys like Crazy Diamond going full tilt on a regular basis.  As it should be.  Also, I don’t know what happened or who during Episode 16, but the shift in art is so striking and thorough that you’d swear they blew every last coin in the purse to make it. 


Leave it to JoJo to take an absurd situation -- a sniper duel with a rat -- and turn it into one of the raddest things ever.

Unfortunately, the whole “blow every last coin thing” might actually be the case; while Part 4 as a whole looks great, the tradeoff is that it makes the episodes with less-than-stellar art stand out.  A lot.  A whole lot.  The frequency of those animation dips increases in the latter half with some awkward-looking faces (and even before then, there’s repeated footage), buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I can overlook that because the rest of the anime compensates.  And I’m not just talking about the way it looks.  Though that helps.

Even though this is true of all the Parts thus far, Part 4 has an incredible soundtrack.  I was convinced when the first trailer dropped, and listened to it over and over again for even the slightest taste of the track playing.  Wouldn’t you know it?  A version of it basically became Josuke’s leitmotif, and it’s a struggle to get through days without getting my dose of “BREAKDOWN, BREAKDOWN!”  Then you’ve got real winners like “The Hand” and “Courage”, along with some high-tension and atmospheric tracks in “Sudden Battle” and “The Fate Which Still Remains”.  But if you ask me, the real standout in the soundtrack is “Irreversible Sadness”.  Listen:


You know, it’s funny.  I went into Part 4 thinking that it would be a lighter, softer romp compared to its predecessor -- the Persona 4 to Stardust Crusaders’ Persona 3.  You saw that opening, didn’t you?  Lots of fun to be had!  A funky fresh mix!  All sorts of wacky goobers getting into trouble!  Plus, I’d heard that Part 4 leaned more towards slice of life -- a credible claim, since it does away with the globetrotting of Part 3 and focuses on a single town.  I thought I’d be in for a smooth, easy ride.

Fuckin’ NOPE!  There’s a serial killer who bites the heads off a dog and spews the blood into his owner’s mouth to kill him!  And then Josuke ends up learning about the futility of his efforts and limits of his power -- even with his Stand -- as he becomes the unwilling instrument of his grandfather’s demise!  And then you get to Okuyasu, who’s got such a miserable home life that it’s a wonder he didn’t become a serial killer!  And then his brother gets murdered!  And then there’s a con artist who nearly makes innocent bystanders commit suicide just to settle a grudge and earn some cash!  And then another high school nerd uses his Stand to get revenge on others by stabbing their eyes out!  And all the while, there’s a major serial killer with a hand fetish and dozens of murders to his name, as per his decade-plus streak of perfect crimes!

Save for that last part, all of those events/soul-crushing moments are within the first half of the series.  Or rather, the first quarter.  Or rather, the first seven episodes.  And it does NOT STOP THERE.


There’s an article up on Anime News Network that has an interesting take on Part 4.  You know going in that it’s going to end by saying that Part 4 is the best installment yet, especially if you read the blurb on the main page beforehand.  But said article goes on to explain, in that writer’s opinion, why it’s a real piece of work.  Since the entirety of the adventure takes place in a single town, there’s more time and effort put into characterizing the setting of Morioh.  That’s fair and true (if not expected).  The more pressing point, however, is that Diamond is Unbreakable tackles the underlying threat and terror in suburbia -- that most people don’t know their neighbors and what they’re hiding, and there’s real fear to be harvested from that.  That’s also fair and true.

So on one level, you could say that Part 4 picks up the ball that Part 3 already slammed through the hoop -- the theme of fear, albeit reexamined thanks to the new setting and cast.  In typical JoJo fashion, there’s a LOT to be afraid of; most of that fear is generated by this new batch of Stand users, but the point remains (and if anything, is enhanced by it).  Even if that’s the case, though, I don’t think this is a case of “more of the same”.  I won’t act like I know exactly what went through Hirohiko Araki’s head when he made Part 4 -- from start to finish -- but the amount of evidence piled up stands higher than the average volcano.  So unlike Part 3, the theme isn’t based on fear.  Unlike Part 2, it’s not based on respect.  Unlike Part 1, it’s not based on bonds.  No, Part 4 focuses on something a lot less pleasant, but a lot more tangible -- and it’s stronger for it.

So here it is.  The key thrust of Part 4, and the crux of its thematic heft, comes down to one word.

Mistakes.


The biggest mistake in the series is, incidentally, its main character.  Josuke may be a Joestar, but it’s only because his father Joseph hooked up with Tomoko Higashikata about 16 years prior.  In other words, Josuke is a literal bastard -- the offshoot of a night of passion that A) forces Joseph to get reamed by his actual wife Susie Q, B) throws the Joestar estate into a panic over this new heir, and C) leaves Josuke out to dry, given that his blood father didn’t even know he existed until recently.  And yet Josuke’s the one to apologize once he learns the truth -- not to mention his treatment of his blood fatherWell, at first.

Paradoxically, Josuke the mistake has a Stand tailor-made to undo mistakes.  Even if Crazy Diamond has a skill set similar to Jotaro’s Star Platinum (i.e. a super-fast, super-strong brawler that punches a thousand times a minute), the key difference is that Josuke can restore almost anything he gets his hands on.  Though he can’t heal himself, he can heal others to full health in a matter of seconds.  If there’s something broken -- a motorcycle, a pipe, a boulder -- he can piece it back together so that it’s as good as new.  He can even restore items to their original state, so he can do stuff like peel the ink off paper (for “perfectly noble purposes”).  Or, alternatively…


It’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder what sort of life Josuke has had up to that point -- i.e. everything that followed once he found out he had Crazy Diamond and its exceedingly useful power.  Imagine it: if you disobeyed your mom as a kid and played soccer in the house, then you may have broken that ultra-rare vase that’s been in your family for generations.  For some kids, that’s grounds for the leather belt; for Josuke, all he has to do is take ten seconds out of his day and POOF.  He’s back to playing soccer in the house.

Before the plot kicked in, I suspect that Josuke lived a life without fear of repercussions.  If the consequences involved breaking something, then he could fix it up near-instantly.  With Crazy Diamond at his side, he could bash anyone he wanted and they’d be none the wiser -- and he could fix them right back if he felt like it.  Given that he’s an ace with his Stand at the start -- and shows an insane amount of ingenuity/versatility throughout Part 4 -- Josuke knows what he’s doing, how to get the most of it, and how to do pretty much whatever he wants.  The only thing he’s likely had to concern himself with before learning about his Joestar heritage was looking cool and getting rich.

And then the plot kicks in.  And suddenly, he’s got to learn firsthand what it means to make a mistake -- and a pretty big one at that.  Remember the name of that song?  “Irreversible Sadness”?  Yeah.  It’s pretty damn relevant.


Josuke manages to catch the Stand of the serial killer Angelo, but thanks to his cockiness and recklessness, he left the Stand where any old Joe could drink it.  So while Angelo is the one to blame (and gets punished for it severely), it’s still thanks to Josuke’s mistake that he lost his grandpa.  After his Uncle Ben/with great power moment, our resident Joestar decides that he’ll protect the town instead -- a noble sentiment, for sure, but it means that there’s a lot of pressure on him now.  He understands that, once somebody dies, he can’t fix them up with some kooky magic powers.  He has to be proactive and preventative -- because otherwise, he’ll have more blood on his hands.  No mistakes.  Only perfection.

Since this is JoJo we’re talking about, virtually every crime, mishap, and shenanigan is linked to a Stand and/or its Stand user.  Fair enough.  But the battles (such as they are) in Part 4 are a marked step up from Part 3; Araki had time to refine the concept, so all of those improvements show up here in full force.  Granted you could see this trend in the back half of Part 3, but there’s a front-and-center procedure this time around.  In a lot of cases, Stands follow an “if-then” formula; if Condition A is met, then Effect A will be triggered.  If The Hand swipes at something with its right hand, then that something will be scrubbed away -- even if it’s just empty space.  If a person does his or her nervous tic twice, then Enigma can trap them inside a sheet of paper.  If you walk into Superfly’s territory, then you can’t leave until someone else enters -- unless you want to become a metallic part of it.

By the way, Superfly is an electrical pylon.  I probably should’ve led with that.


What I’m getting at here is that, for the most part, using Stands in Part 4 usually goes beyond raw displays of brute force.  While Crazy Diamond is just as strong as Star Platinum, it’s one of the major examples of the franchise’s overall revisions: range.  It plays a much bigger factor here, to the point where Josuke’s Stand only has a range of one or two meters -- so anyone looking to avoid a DORARARARARA punch rush just has to stand a couple of feet away.  It adds an extra layer to Stand battles, making them unique and emphasizing their abilities.

But as always, using a Stand effectively means that the user has to think and act creatively.  It’s commented on in-universe that The Hand is theoretically one of the most devastating Stands to ever exist; it can scrub anything it wants out of existence.  The problem is that its user, Okuyasu, is an idiot who in most cases seems to forget that he even has a Stand, let alone a game-breaker like The Hand.  Clever applications of powers, range, opportunities, environments, and more mean that the heroes and baddies alike turn simple engagements into superpowered games of chess.  That’s a thrill for the audience, without question.  The tradeoff is that it’s probably not as thrilling for the users locked in a Stand battle -- because one simple mistake, misstep, or miscalculation is all it takes to lose.  Badly.


(Real talk: this has become one of my favorite anime moments ever.  That punch is way more satisfying than it has any right to be.)

One of the big, world-building reveals of Part 4 is that there’s actually a bow and arrow (multiple arrows, as it turns out) that can draw the Stand out of whatever person it hits.  Granted the person has to survive getting shot -- Angelo more or less had the arrow shoved through his mouth -- but the point remains.  Even if it’s possible to naturally awaken to a Stand like Josuke or Jotaro, artificial means can reveal them just as quickly.  Hell, that might actually be preferable in some cases; apparently, DIO and Enyaba used the arrow to amass their band of assassins much faster than the ol’ fashioned way.

Having watched Part 4 from start to finish, I’m convinced that forcibly filling Morioh with Stand users was a mistake -- and by extension, a lot of the new users are mistakes, too.  You could even take it a step further and say that bringing the arrow itself to Morioh was a mistake.  At the outset, it’s just a tool for the Nijimura brothers -- Keicho primarily, with Okuyasu helping out -- to create a Stand user that’s strong enough to mercy kill their mutated, ever-regenerating father.  But one of the first guys they empower (by virtue of the arrow acting as a compass to those with the potential) is the serial killer Angelo.  It doesn’t end well.  Worse yet, Keicho ends up getting knocked off by a user he created, with the bow and arrow stolen so that this new, electric murderer can take command of a private gang of superpowered goons.  I don’t think I need to tell you that that’s a bad thing.


My personal theory is that if you get shot by the arrow, you’re a lot more likely to go off the deep end.  Once he gets his Stand, the crafty con artist abuses his power to line his pockets -- even if it means putting the lives of people or animals in danger.  The muted high school girl abuses her power to thrash anyone who crosses her, and to kidnap the boy she has an obsessive crush on (all so she can forcibly rehabilitate him into an outstanding citizen).  The injured delinquent with his squadron of fangirls abuses his power to try and get healthier -- even if it means becoming an accomplice to villainy and putting innocent lives at risk.  Admittedly, you could argue that forcibly turning into a Stand user simply brings out a person’s inner asshole, but is that really much of an improvement?

It’s hard to know for sure if the Stand users who lash out actually feel bad about what they do throughout Morioh, whether it’s theft, kidnapping, or murder.  Do they realize the enormity of their crimes?  Do they feel like they need to repent?  Do they claim that they’ve made mistakes?  Off the top of my head, there’s maybe one character who feels remorseful -- and that same character is one Josuke and Okuyasu partner up with to cheat the system and win the lottery.  With the rest, it’s up in the air.  But the important thing is that even if they don’t perceive their wrongdoings as a mistake, the damage that they can and will cause is 100% palpable.


So that’s where Josuke comes in.  Having taken on the role of Mr. Fix-It in Part 4, he has to clear up the mistakes his fellow Stand users have made and keep Morioh (and its people) in perfect condition.  It does put a lot of pressure on him, even though he doesn’t say as much out loud -- really, he handles the role like a champ -- but it’s all for the sake of a town people don’t have to be afraid to walk through, or be ashamed to call home.

Of course, there is a downside to all of that.  Yes, keeping a town safe, secure, and serene is a noble endeavor, but maybe it’s not the absolute right thing to do.  If you’re reading this, then you probably know by now that Stands can’t be seen by normal people; effects like property damage, assault, and murder still can, but the cause of it goes unseen by the populace.  The fact that so much of it goes unseen may have, in fact, left the townsfolk with a desire to eschew the bizarre events in their lives for the sake of normalcy.

What I’m getting at here is that even if mistakes have a negative connotation, they can be positive, too.  By turning a blind eye to them -- by seeking out things like perfection and flawless stability -- the people of Morioh may in fact make themselves more vulnerable, or at the very least more foolish.  Complacency, ignorance, rejection; it’s bad enough that normal people can’t see Stands, but it’s even worse that they outright refuse to step out of their comfort zones and acknowledge that something has gone wrong.  I can’t blame them, in all honesty (I’d be just as guilty, as would a lot of other people in the real world), but in this case?  The quest for perfection allows for a certain man to pervert it -- a man who, paradoxically, seeks perfection himself.

Yep.  That’s right.  You can’t talk about Diamond is Unbreakable without talking about its core villain, Yoshikage Kira -- someone who might, in fact, be even better than Dio and DIO put together.


We’ll see how he, Josuke and the rest measure up…next time.  Because it seems like my STANDO POWAH is making posts that regularly saunter their way to the 4000-word mark.

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