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February 6, 2017

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Blogging (Part 8)

All right.  Let’s talk about “Chase”.

I think that all of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure openings are special -- top-notch work, and a joy to behold and listen to alike.  Personally, that extends to the sixth opening “Chase”.  It’s not my favorite, but it’s still plenty impressive.  From what I can gather, not everyone feels the same way; there have been complaints that the song doesn’t fit JoJo (and belongs with other shonen/anime as per its “generic” nature).  Or, alternatively, they’ll say that the dreary aesthetic and harsh tones are too stark a contrast for a show that revels in its randomly shifted -- and shifting -- color palette.

My argument is that it always seemed as if “Chase” represented a logical progression for the Diamond is Unbreakable anime.  I guessed as much once “Crazy Noisy Bizarre Town” dropped.  Okay, first opening?  Lots of happy sounds and poppy visuals, which can help an audience start falling in love with Morioh and its people.  But since this is JoJo, a series that revels in horror and suffering, it was only a matter of time once the plot kicked in -- and of course, it kicked in right around the time when “Chase” made its debut.  You can’t exactly have the cast dancing and goofing off when one of the story’s major, plot-propelling moments is a serial killer’s murder of an innocent middle school boy who just happened to learn too much.  All because he wanted his sandwich.

So yeah, I like “Chase” as a song, as an opening, and as a representation.  Still, there was one thing that bugged me for the longest time.  I kept asking “Hey, what’s with that weird stony heart with an anchor on it?”  Luckily, I did eventually get my answer -- and like Diamond is Unbreakable at large, it was glorious.

I’ll SPOIL you anywhere
I’ll SPOIL you anytime
You know I’ll SPOIL you
There is no escape (from SPOILERS)

Part 8: Diamond is Unbreakable
(Or: So That’s What That Means -- B Side)

Now that Part 4’s anime adaptation is officially over (and has been for a good while), it’s probably safe to say that the honeymoon period is over.  Those who follow JoJo now know JoJo, which is a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s good because people like me now know what makes it so consistently, thoroughly, irresponsibly strong.  It’s bad, however, because its faults are growing more and more obvious -- faults that are possible to live with, but faults nonetheless.  So if you’ll let me be so bold (as if you have a choice), let me sum up my issues with JoJo in one word: inconsistency.

That’s a strange case to make, given what I’ll say in a few paragraphs, but it still strikes me as fitting.  Not even The Hand could scrub away the fact that sometimes stuff happens in this series for no raisin -- well, except for when the exact, perfect chain of events needs to happen for a predetermined conclusion to happen.  There have been times whether the heroes (probably as far back as Part 1) have seemed like strategists and geniuses in one scene -- and then you get to another scene where they’ve substituted their brains for piles of sauerkraut.  The final battle in Part 4 ends up being fought almost entirely one on one because the other three good guys agree that the sounds of screams, grievous wounds, and explosions just a block away are just the rain.  Granted that sounds more like an issue with the anime instead of the manga, but…well, that doesn’t make it any less grating.

For a series that prides itself in Stand battles and the clever defeat of each successive foe, there’s a lot of rule-bending to struggles entrenched in painstakingly-defined rules.  So Star Platinum is strong enough to punch through giant teeth that are harder than diamonds and currently crushing him, but not strong enough to punch through what might as well be an RC car?  (Or a steamroller, while we’re at it?)  Kakyoin getting a hole punched through his torso = death, but Koichi getting a hole punched through his torso = continued life?  What?  Also, it seems like Crazy Diamond’s ability to fix things has a really flexible definition; is spaghetti really broken or in need of fixing just because it’s cooked?  Does the ability to revert a meal to an original (uncooked?) state tie into repair?  Why is it that when going up against Surface, Crazy Diamond has a limited range for punching but a dramatically-greater range with its healing?

I could go on, but that’s venturing into Nitpick County and there are more pressing things to talk about.  When I say “inconsistency”, I don’t just mean that as a way to try and drive a Bowie knife into the mix to widen plot holes.  I mean it because the further into JoJo we get, the more and more it seems like there’s a fatal flaw: there isn’t enough space or time for Hirohiko Araki (and David Production, by proxy) to give all of the characters the time in the spotlight they deserve.

Part 1 didn’t really have that problem, because A) its main cast was basically half a dozen, and B) it wasn’t long before it broke down into The Jonathan and Dio Show -- as if it wasn’t already.  Same goes for Part 2, which whittled down its cast on both the hero and villain side and made sure the side characters stayed as exactly that.  But with Part 3, the story had five (and eventually six) characters to keep track of -- characters that couldn’t get dumped just ‘cause.  But if you know Part 3, you know that that’s exactly what happened.  Avdol and Kakyoin got shafted to an insane degree, and Iggy was a latecomer who couldn’t even be arsed to care until the last few episodes.

With Part 4, the problem gets a magnifying glass hung over it.  True, the core cast -- Josuke, Okuyasu, Koichi, and Jotaro -- are given priority…more or less.  But unlike Part 3, they can’t just move to the next location once the Stand user of the week has been defeated.  Nor can they just murder an enemy, or leave him to die; good guys and bad guys alike are stuck in Morioh, and battles that end in death won’t do anyone any good.  That means that even if the number of key players is four, they’re in a position where they have to share space with someone who becomes a fan favorite in spite of their brief time onscreen.  Or to put it a different way, it creates situations where even if the plot is saying one thing, an audience member might be impatiently tapping his or her foot and asking “Where’s Okyasu?  Where’s Okuyasu?  Why is Okuyasu not on the screen right now?”

And that’s the clincher -- the crux of JoJo’s greatest strength and deadliest weakness.  So let me say this to start: Okuyasu is my favorite of the bunch.

(I want to protect that smile.)

As far as I can tell, he’s a 16-year-old delinquent with wits as sharp as a muffin and a voice that sounds like he’s been chugging sandpaper.  But that doesn’t make him any less lovable.  He’s by far one of the most sympathetic members of the cast, with a backstory that -- in a straight-up drama -- would leave even the hardiest of men in tears.  You’d never be able to guess that if it wasn’t revealed before episode six rolled around; he’s a tough guy who puts his faith in brute force, but he’s also incredibly loyal, strong-willed, and may in fact have a poetic soul (if his description of Italian cuisine is any indication).  Notably, he’s also the wisest of the bunch when it comes to using lottery money…which takes on a dark yet poignant point when you remember why he might want to spend wisely

It kills me inside knowing that in the grand scheme of things, Okuyasu doesn’t get to do very much over the course of some 39 episodes.  He gets some good licks in during the Red Hot Chili Peppers arc, and he does manage to save Josuke in the final battle, but other than that?  He’s usually a victim, a passive bystander, or simply absent.  True, the justification is that The Hand is utterly broken if used effectively, and Okuyasu is too dumb to tap its full potential.  But damn it, I want more of him.  There should’ve been more ways to slip in one of the core four characters, especially when he’s the third face you see in the opening.

And yet, despite that, Okuyasu is still my favorite character of Part 4.  That should tell you plenty about --

On second thought, no he isn’t.  It’s Yukako.

If you’re coming into JoJo to find a bevy of strong female characters, you should probably look elsewhere (though maybe come back in a few years).  And while I wouldn’t dare say that someone like Yukako is a role model for young women everywhere, that doesn’t stop her from being hugely entertaining.  At the outset, she seems like a cool beauty that’s hard to approach; once she falls head over heels for Koichi, she’ll practically melt at the thought of him.  But if you tick her off, you’d best start running for the nearest fallout shelter -- because her rage turns her into a screaming, murderous lunatic.  Incidentally, so does her love.  Psychopathic as she may be, it’s because she’s such a nutcase that she’s basically my favorite --

No wait, I take that back.  Rohan’s my favorite.

This guy is such a shitlord and I love him for it.  Just like Okuyasu, his Stand has story-breaking levels of power (if you look at something he draws, which eventually includes his Stand itself, then he can crack you open like a book to learn your secrets and rewrite you/your actions/reality as he sees fit).  Just like Okuyasu, he ends up being mostly ineffectual -- but it’s because his problem is his overwhelming hubris coupled with lethal curiosity.  The biggest threat to Rohan’s life is Rohan himself, to the point where he -- despite being a reasonably intelligent and contemplative manga artist -- puts himself into dangerous situations in every instance after his debut (and even during it) because he pushes the envelope to the nth degree.  Also, don’t play dice games with him because he gets super into them.  Either way, he’s definitely --

Crap, I just remembered that Koichi is in this series.

Koichi is to Part 4 what Polnareff was to Part 3 -- someone who gets a HUGE amount of play and threatens to overshadow the lead because of it.  The balance isn’t quite so skewed in Part 4 thanks to Josuke’s strong presence, but it’s not as if one has to devalue the other here.  Koichi is, without question, a straight up badass.  While he acts meek and cowardly in a lot of instances, it’s when the chips are down that he shows his true colors.  Again and again he’s able to prove himself worthy of standing alongside his fellow Stand users (including the man who once busted open the skull of an immortal vampire).  He’s not the most powerful Stand user, but he doesn’t need to be; the sheer versatility of Echoes -- across all three of its forms -- coupled with his untamable courage makes him the best --

Uh, wait, no, never mid.  Tonio’s the best.

He comes off as a shady guy at first, but his heart is in his cooking.  While he becomes legitimately dangerous if you try to mess up his kitchen or bring uncleanliness into his culinary base of operations, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still

I can’t even finish that thought, because Mikitaka is still bumping around.

It’s unclear whether Mikitaka is a Stand user or a full-on alien as he claims, but

Actually, I think I’m really fond of Tamami.

Tamami is a con artist who -- wait, forget it, I’m giving the crown to Aya.

No, never mind.  Yuya’s the real MVP.

No, wait.  It’s -- I mean it’s -- I mean it’s -- yikesy mikesy, I can’t decide.  They’re ALL so cool!

That, I think, represents the optimal scenario in fiction.  Characters are one of, if not THE most important element of a story; it’s what people are likely to glom onto when given the chance.  Do you think anybody besides giant-headed nerds puts stock into “thematic heft” or “execution” of the stuff they like?  Hell no.  People didn’t go see Captain America: Civil War to watch (or have) a rational, well-argued debate on the merits of government regulation; they wanted to see their favorite heroes get in a big dumb punch-up.  Give an audience good characters, and they’ll swan dive into the fires of Hell.

That’s part of the magic of JoJo.  I’ve made it through every episode released thus far, and there hasn’t been a single instance where I said “Ehhhhhhhhhhh…I don’t know, this character’s kind of lame.”  I like some more than others, yes.  Even so, there’s been a level of charisma and/or intrigue with pretty much everyone that’s been introduced.  It’s a damn cornucopia of unforgettable faces -- and Part 4’s expanded cast is proof of that.

And what makes it all the more painful is that a lot of these cool characters -- past, present, and likely future -- will never get the time they so rightly deserve.  Tonio’s done after his episode of origin save for a couple of cameos and mentions.  Aya gets murdered.  Tamami might as well not even exist.  It’s such a shame, seeing so many characters squandered.  And yes, I know that it’s a non-complaint to say that these characters don’t get enough screen time.  I know that I’m making a selfish demand, and arguing for something likely unfeasible -- for the story to grow bloated and meandering while putting extra pressure on Araki (or a past version of him).  But god damn it, I want more Okuyasu!  Let me have this, please!  His smile gives me life!

I’m left wanting with JoJo.  And yet, I’m sated by it in a way few anime/manga franchises have before.  See, even if it doesn’t focus on every character, it still manages to focus on the characters it needs to.  And to that end, we have the main villain of Diamond is Unbreakable.

So.  Let’s talk about Yoshikage Kira.

Look.  Dio Brando, Kars, the Pillar Men at large, and DIO aren’t suddenly worse characters just because of this new guy -- well, new in a relative sense.  All of their fans have legitimate reasons for adoring them.  Likewise, I’m not about to go back on the praises I’ve sung about each of them.  It’s just that in the face of Part 4, I’m ready to assert that thus far, Kira is the best villain JoJo has had yet.  The baddies thus far have been a ton of fun to watch -- bold, hammy, flamboyant, larger-than-life criminals who are lovable because they’re so easy to hate.  The problem that follows is a simple one, then: how do you one-up yourself when you’ve basically written the book on scenery-devouring maniacs?

The answer: you don’t.  You swing in the opposite direction.

That’s not to say that Kira doesn’t indulge in the time-tested art of spewing out all your plans and feelings like you’re on the Broadway stage.  But compared to the others, Kira is significantly more subdued.  His whole gimmick is that he doesn’t want to be noticed; he wants to slip into the crevices of modern suburban life and indulge in his fantasies in private.  In his own words, he wants to live quietly -- as a plant that doesn’t have to think, stress out, exert effort, or even act.  Hell, “Yoshikage Kira Just Wants to Live Quietly” is the title of A) his introductory arc, B) his episodes in the anime, and C) his theme in All-Star Battle.

Speaking of themes…

Kira’s theme makes it immediately obvious that he’s a pretty unhinged, unsettling person -- as if his penchant for going on dates with the severed hands of his victims wasn’t enough.  He doesn’t want to get involved with anything or anyone, and goes to great lengths to disconnect from the pulse that runs through Morioh.  He’s pretty good at it, too; even though he’s a serial killer, he went undetected for a full 15 years.  He’s cunning enough to know when to hide away, how to destroy evidence, and how to escape from nasty situations.  Yet he’s always got to look over his shoulder to make sure no one’s following his proverbial paper trail.

This is why I’d say that the main theme of Part 4 is mistakes.  Yes, Kira’s had the perfect run up to that point, but his quest for perfection -- whether it means living an ideal, fully-controlled life or engaging with the hands he so adores -- has made him into a distorted person.  We all need the randomness of daily life, and the troubles they may bring about, in order to become more than just what (and where) we think we should be.  We need to make mistakes, and learn and grow from them.  Kira didn’t get the memo.  So instead of adjusting to the niceties of life and figuring out how to reasonably deal with mistakes, we have a man who’s willing to blow up innocent children who grabbed his sandwich bag on accident.


All of the JoJo villains thus far have been morally reprehensible, Kira included.  Yet somehow, Kira manages to make all of the others look like saints.  Say what you will about the vampires, but at least they had ambitions and aspirations.  Kira just wants to be free to idly suck up whatever gives him life.  He says he wants to be like a plant, and he’s already pretty much there -- an unfeeling devourer of whatever will help him stay sated.

Naturally, the killer ends up getting some serious karmic retribution later.  In an effort to not make mistakes, he ends up making a string of huge ones -- and because of it, his identity is revealed to the Stand user crew.  Kira has to scramble into hiding, up to and including stealing the identity (and face) of an innocent man.  You’d think that he’d be sitting pretty from then on, but it’s plainly obvious that the stress has long since started getting to him.  In an effort to avoid making mistakes -- to avoid getting caught by the good guys -- he has to push, and plan, and ponder ways to acclimate to his new life as “Kosaku Kawajiri”.  In doing so, Kira ends up destroying his peaceful life by paradoxically trying to ensure his peaceful life.

He’s imprisoned himself in a version of hell he made.  Wearing the right shoes; practicing his victim’s handwriting; sucking up to his victim’s bosses; worming his way into the Kawajiri family, whether it means winning the heart of his “wife” Shinobu or his “son” Hayato.  It’s pretty cathartic for an audience, seeing the guy who was so cocksure about his ability to escape from trouble become obsessed with protecting his identity -- and sweating profusely about every minor detail.  And yet, despite all of his efforts and considerations, he ends up getting discovered again thanks to the sneaky observations of Hayato and Kira’s own hubris.  Because as it turns out, announcing your identity as loudly as you can in public when you’re a wanted, face-stealing murderer isn’t the best idea.  Who knew?

Still, Kira doesn’t make it easy for Josuke and crew.  Setting aside the fact that he does manage to stay hidden for a good while, he’s actually rewarded for his biggest mistake.  In a fit of rage and panic, he ends up killing Hayato, and desperately needs an out.  The Stand-awakening arrow is there to provide, though; after ramming its way up his arm, his Killer Queen -- already capable of blowing up anything it touches -- gains a new ability.  It’s his “third bomb”, Bites the Dust.


Bites the Dust does more than just blow up a target.  It blows them up and then turns the clock back by an hour -- but even if the exact same chain of events doesn’t happen (if Hayato doesn’t run into Rohan, for example), then the victim STILL blows up at the exact same time.  And I’ll be honest: when I finally got to see Bites the Dust explained in full, with the proper context, I was grinning from ear to ear.  From a plot perspective, it raises a hell of a good question: how do you beat someone who automatically wins the moment the heroes try and stop him?  What do you do when even getting the heroes involved seals their fate and immediately negates any progress on bringing down the baddie?

But what really makes Bites the Dust exciting is how it fits in perfectly as a thematic element.  Yes, it autonomously blows people up.  Yes, it resets the clock so that the engagement doesn’t happen (though the lethal effects do).  Yet its real merit lies in the fact that, because of it, Kira never has to worry about making mistakes again.  Anyone who tries to find out about him is automatically erased, with no clues that’ll link back to him.  And Kira knows he’s effectively become invincible; as soon as he gets his hands on Bites the Dust, his persona as Kosaku switches from OCD plotter to High Lord of the Cocky Swagger.  All smiles, all laughs, all sauntering about the house.  It actually made me think of him as a 50s sitcom dad or something.

Kira does eventually get brought down, though, thanks to a combination of his arrogance, Hayato’s ploy, Josuke’s offense, and a hidden drawback to Bites the Dust (it can’t cover Hayato and fend off Crazy Diamond at the same time).  It’s not any of our heroes that end up bringing him down, even though the big baddie is left a bloody mess…and he’s technically put into the plot-resolving position by an ORA ORA assist from Jotaro.  Kira’s luck runs out when he’s punched into the path of an ambulance backing up to save him; rather than try to slip out of the incoming wheel’s path, he’s obsessed with trying to activate Bites the Dust again.  As a result -- because he’s desperate to run back his mistakes and reclaim perfection -- his neck gets snapped, his face gets ripped off, and he dies without another word.  Well, after getting dragged and torn apart by a bunch of angry spirits.  But you get the idea.

Before any of that, though, there’s still something Hayato announces in the last few minutes of the penultimate episode.  Even though the other heroes don’t hear Josuke’s rain-soaked battle with Kira at first, it does eventually become too hard to ignore; Kira’s furious attempts to kill Josuke lead to explosions too large to muffle, with the collateral damage to show for it.  So by trying to off the good guys for foiling his plans, the bad guy ends up foiling his plans and attracting a hefty crowd of Morioh townsfolk -- including Jotaro, a guy you don’t want to cross.  (As Kira learned the hard way.)  It was another cathartic moment; the face Kira makes signals exactly how fucked he is.

Having faced psychological torture, the threat of death, and a really uncomfortable scene featuring a naked serial killer (YOSHIKAGE KIRA JUST WANTS TO CREEP ON LITTLE BOYS), Hayato calls out Kira.  He announces the obvious: his time is up, he can’t escape, he’s screwed up too badly, etc.  More importantly, he announces that the heart of justice remains strong -- and that Kira’s about to pay for his crimes.  And when I heard the “heart of justice”, it hit me.  The heart that shattered in the sixth opening and restored in the seventh -- the one that Crazy Diamond refused to let break, even when Bites the Dust tried to run back the opening itself -- was the heart of justice.  It symbolized the enduring, irrepressible, omnipresent force that pervades JoJo.  If there are villains that try to wreak havoc on the world, then heroes united by blood -- no, by the human spirit itself will rise up to fight back.  No amount of space-time shenanigans can erase that.

I think it speaks to a fundamental desire we all have deep down: if a bad guy does something wrong, then he has to be punished for it.  That’s what heroes are for, in fiction and beyond.  Still, part of what makes JoJo great is that even if it has all of these themes and symbols and deeper meanings, it’s still 100% enjoyable as a simple, straightforward romp.  It can be about as much or as little as you want.  It can be a string of battles executed with surgical precision, or it can be a big dumb punch-up where you’re just waiting for someone to go ORA ORA ORA or DORARARA.  No matter the route, the end goal is clear.  All roads lead to satisfaction.

And to that end I have to say…that there’s more I have to say.  And I will.  There’s still one last post I have to make about JoJo before I can wrap things up.  And if you’ve been paying attention, you can probably guess what that is.

See you soon.

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