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February 13, 2017

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Blogging (Intermission)

And here we are at last.

So.  Let’s go ahead and breakdown, breakdown JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure one more time…for now, at least.

 Part 9: Intermission
(Or: When Are They Gonna Get to Italy?)

I guess I should start by saying I feel like more of an idiot than usual for waiting so long to get into this franchise.  Like a ton of people, it was thanks to memes that I even learned about it -- and for months (if not years) afterward, only learned about it through/pared it down to memes.  I’ve personally heard recommendations for the anime since…I don’t know, at least 2013.  I didn’t step into the pool until years later, much to my discredit.  But now I’m on the same page as everyone else.  Well, I’m on the same page as the anime-only audience, at least.  It does beg the question of whether or not I should try and get my hands on as many manga chapters as possible, or if I should wait for the AV-rich adaptation (and experience the plot/spoilers raw).  I’ll have to think about it.

But until then?  I can say with absolute certainty that I’m glad I went on the JoJo journey.  Incredibly glad.  Is it my favorite thing ever?  No.  Is it utterly flawless?  God no.  But now I understand why it has the fans that it does.  I know the story, the characters, and the spirit that weaves through it.  I can prove conclusively that it’s more than a gigantic mass of memes and jokes ripe for posting across the internet.  JoJo is 100% legitimate as an anime, as a manga, as a franchise, as a story, as a piece of fiction, and as a work of art.

And to explain why, I’ll go ahead and say this: Josuke is my new favorite JoJo, partly because he embodies everything I think makes the franchise so great.

To be honest, though?  Saying “Josuke best JoJo” is something that pains me immensely.  I’m a massive, unrepentant Jonathan fanboy, and I still am.  Liking one doesn’t mean hating another, after all.  But as biased as I am, I can still take a step back on occasion to look at the bigger picture.  While Jonathan is someone that appeals to me, there’s a character out there that -- based on my line of reasoning, such as it is -- does a better job at making a case for JoJo.  Most people would say that that’s Joseph, and they’re not wrong for doing it.  But I have to give the crown to Josuke.

I was kind of worried about the man with the shining pompadour, though.  For a while, it seemed like he would embody one of the franchise’s biggest issues (IMO): its inconsistency.  Josuke would have one personality type in one scene, then swap to another as the plot demanded.  Is he a tough-as-nails delinquent?  Is he a kind and caring altruist who wants the best for his mom and his town?  Is he a materialistic high school freshman who wants lots of cash and the chance to look cool?  There were times where any given answer could fit in -- where he seemed less like a new lead and more like a hodgepodge of JoJos past.  Hell, one of his most infamous traits -- the “what did you say about my hair?” gag -- pretty much vanishes after the first half, and maybe earlier.  Though to be fair, it vanishes after an impossible-to-top high note.

It made me tug at my collar for a while.  But as the show progressed, I had a thought: maybe I had it wrong.  Maybe it wasn’t necessarily about making Josuke into the proverbial square peg in a round hole.  Maybe it was about going down one of two (or both) diverging paths.  Path one: infuse Josuke with the traits of his predecessors, because they’re absolutely good traits to have as a hero, a character, and a person.  Path two: offer up a character that, despite his newness, is still more than worth following because he cribs off of a trio of pre-established, much-adored characters.

So if you ask me, Josuke at his worst -- if you could even call it that -- is someone who has the best aspects of the three leads before him.  That’s to be expected when he actively has the blood of said leads flowing through him.  Still, it’s not hard to see the parallels.  From Jotaro, Josuke inherits an unmistakable level of steely coolness and quiet determination.  From Joseph, Josuke inherits a level of cunning that would make Sun Tzu jealous, alongside a steadfast dedication to whatever he holds dear.  From Jonathan, Josuke inherits the nobility to fight evil, the gentility to help his friends, and the passion that lets his soul burn bright.  That’s not a bad deal; most people usually just inherit bad eyes or baldness from their ancestors.

In any case, Josuke is a character that has all of these positive qualities about him, which makes him the ideal guardian of the “heart of justice”.  I wouldn’t expect any less, given the medium/genre/demographic Hirohiko Araki worked in, but there’s a level of appeal that transcends all borders and definitions when it’s done well.  It’s why both little girls and grown women (and little boys and grown men) can enjoy Disney fare, despite -- or because of -- its mighty deluge of pretty princesses. 

Certain ideals and values speak to all of us.  And in a number of ways, JoJo and Josuke alike speak to those sensibilities.  We want to believe in heroes, and guardians, and everything in between.  We want to believe in goodness.  JoJo isn’t all platitudes and good feelings, given the mere presence of guys like Dio, but that’s part of what maximizes its appeal.  You can’t go full ham over justice without going full ham over villainy.

The important thing is that there’s a single question that needs answering: “How bizarre is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure?”  For an outsider looking in, the level of absurdity could be a barricade as tall as the Empire State Building.  For a seasoned fan, it’s business as usual as ridiculous superpowers are used and zany scenarios play out.  For me, though?  I’d say that even if you pull back and try to explain the plot or individual scenes as starkly as possible, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a universal appeal that keeps it grounded.  There is a basic, simple, yet overall well-executed story -- a through line armored in all of the essential elements -- that does what it should do.  For that reason, the “bizarre” isn’t nearly the repulsive force that you’d expect.  JoJo is, at the end of the day, an everyday story.

It’s only fitting, then, that the franchise takes a turn with its fourth installment to include an everyday hero.  Josuke isn’t a genetically and financially blessed heir with a murderous brother.  He’s not a scheming genius who struts through the streets of New York City.  He’s not an Adonis masquerading as a high school boy who gets all the girls to fawn over him or fall headfirst into owning the single most powerful weapon in his story of origin.  No, part of what makes Josuke special is that on the whole, he’s an average guy. 

He does average things like go to school and play video games.  He has average desires like a spiffy new pair of shoes.  If not for the plot, he would have had an average home with a mom who makes him breakfast and a grandpa who tosses out good-natured jokes.  The biggest sticking point is that Josuke just so happens to have a pugilistic phantom at his beck and call -- a juxtaposition of the normal and the abnormal that accents both.  That extends to Diamond is Unbreakable at large, since it’s a sleepy little coastal town inundated with superpowered individuals.  Most of them are (or are close to) insane, but it’s the grounded and reasonable Josuke who ends up sorting out all of the issues as the star player -- enforcing his will and his hope of average, yet great days on others.

With all of that in mind, there’s another reason why I say Josuke is the best, or at least my new favorite: his greatest strength, and the quality that elevates JoJo into something more, is unpredictability.

Sure, if you only read about what happens in the franchise through summaries -- or catch glimpses of it via YouTube clips -- then you’ll know how things play out.  You’ll probably barrel straight through a spoiler or two.  But there’s a difference between knowing which Stardust Crusader will die, and actively seeing who that Crusader was over the course of three dozen episodes before his death.  I say that as a guy who likes to know exactly what’ll happen in a story ASAP, and spoiler warnings be damned.  I need info.  I need details.  I need closure before I’ve even got the opening.

But watching JoJo has shown me just how important it is to experience as much as possible with a raw perspective.  Reading up on what Josuke does in this fight or that fight is one thing, but seeing his unpredictable, volatile nature in action is another -- and vastly superior -- thing entirely.  I’ve said before that Josuke bashing Rohan’s brains in just for dissing his hair became one of my favorite anime moments ever, and I mean it.  The sheer potency of that scene made me feel like I was on the receiving end of Crazy Diamond’s punch rush.

It goes beyond that, though.  If you’re a good enough writer, then you’ll be able to make characters that are bold, but still consistent.  Even with a story arc in mind, the words and actions in one chapter should sync up with words and actions in a later chapter.  That’s a given, and that’s certainly respectable, but the drawback is that it can, on some level, put a perfectly-decent hero in a rut.  It’s the same problem that Superman has, I think; you know he’s going to do the right thing because that’s…well, his thing, but it makes for a character that’s easy to deride.  To generalize.  Maybe that would explain why a lot of fiction is intent on turning him evil to “fix” him, but that just flings him out of one rut and straight into another.  But I digress.

I’ll still contend that Jonathan is a good character, yet that won’t stop me from acknowledging the likely complaints made by others.  Jonathan is a noble guy, so you expect him to do noble things and say noble things and act noble.  That’s consistent with our understanding of him, almost from the first minute of his introduction.  Conversely, Josuke is allowed to be more things -- polite, apologetic, nervous, panicky, brash, furious, petty, greedy, sneaky, cool-headed, hot-headed, and more.  It gives him a level of versatility that his three predecessors don’t have quite so obviously.  It makes him a wild card -- and because he’s a wild card, he can make the unpredictable into a daily occurrence.

Actions speak louder than words, so let me put it this way.  Jonathan is a man who, when confronted with an undead knight, breaks free from his hair restraints and punches him hundreds of times with the spirit of the sun.  Josuke is a man who, when confronted with a mad bombing serial killer, dupes said serial killer into blowing up his own father.  The level of variability leads to a level of unpredictability; sure, neither one will decide to not beat the bad guy (or try, at least), but the means to their ends are on different planes.  Jonathan’s actions are entertaining, but they’re on a stable line that matches with his character and our understanding of them.  If you were to graph Josuke’s actions, there would be spikes sharp enough to skewer an elephant.

I’m wary of calling it “shock value” because of the negative connotations.  So, alternatively, I’ll call it “stun value” (and to hell with semantics).  Even if Joseph made some amazing plays in his time, his son manages to do so much more in a fraction of the time.  His solutions are stunning, his thoughts are stunning, his victories are stunning, and even his very presence is stunning.  His delinquent poise makes him stand out from the crowd and his fellow cast members, and that’s saying something.

There are only two things about Josuke that are predictable.  One is that he’s unpredictable.  The other is that no matter what he does, he’s always, always, always going to entertain.  So while the other JoJo leads may have an audience asking “How will ___________ get out of this one?” I feel like the question I ask when Josuke is involved is “What will Josuke do next?”  And for that reason, he’s the best character.

I wish it could’ve been Avdol, though.  But there’s no sense in worrying about what could’ve been.  Besides, I can buck up from here on out; it’s not as if anyone will ever die in JoJo again.

I…I, uh…I actually don’t know who dies in Part 5.  I guess we’ll find out together.

You know, I have to be honest.  Before I actually sat down to write this post, I was thinking about having it go into a larger point -- a statement headlined by the question of (in all caps, natch) “what the fuck happened to anime”.  If you’re reading this, then you probably know about the issues.  They’ve been highlighted all over the net, and even here on this very blog on multiple occasions.  Oh, it’s all just a bunch of moe fluff!  It’s all otaku pandering!  It’s all lowest common denominator garbage!  And so on, and so forth.  And yeah, there are a ton of legitimate complaints to make about anime in this modern era.  Too many to count.

It doesn’t say kind things when JoJo -- which got its start back in the 80s -- has somehow managed to, in my eyes as well as the eyes of countless others, dance circles around present-day fare that should know better.  I would’ve thought that the lessons and inspiration from the past combined with the savvy and technical know-how of the present would create the awe-inspiring stories of the future.  That hasn’t really happened.  That’s not to say we don’t get gems, but let’s not pretend like the landscape is peachy-keen right now.

You know what, though?  I’m not really that worried -- or at least, I’m not so worried that I have to harp on the point I intended to.  Yes, we have bad anime (and manga) out there.  But we have good stuff, too.  JoJo is proof of that.  How big of an influence did it have on anime and manga, if not an entire subculture of nerdom back in its heyday?  I wouldn’t know, but I’m guessing it’s “more than a little bit”.  And because of its resurgence -- because of its popularity, especially in the west -- how much of an influence will it have now?  What future content creators have seen the Joestar clan and been inspired, or have taken the exact lessons they need to from its myriad arcs?  Alternatively, how will execs at home and abroad proceed, knowing that there’s a market for what JoJo is offering?

I’m not just talking about nostalgia-mining or OTT poses.  I’m talking about the non-bizarre elements that make JoJo so entertaining.  At some point, people are going to have something -- some story, like a bolt from the blue -- that shows them what can be done in the infinite world of fiction.  Is that JoJo?  For some people, probably.  And that’s a hell of a good place to start.  For some people, it won’t be JoJo.  That’s fine, too.  There’s no one road to a good story, but people need to realize that there’s a road to begin with.  I think, or at least hope, that JoJo -- a classic with a refreshed sphere of influence -- shows people those roads.  Likewise, I hope that people on all rungs of the fandom ladder -- artists, writers, execs, fans, and more -- walk down those roads with minds swimming in ideas.

As of this writing, there hasn’t been a formal announcement of the anime adaptation for Part 5, Vento Aureo.  I’m going to go ahead and guess that it’s coming, though; leaving it hanging seems like leaving a briefcase full of money out in the rain.  You can bet that I’ll be writing about it once every last episode has gone up; I’m a JoJo fan, and it’s the least I can do for a franchise that’s left me tickled pink.  But I hope that from here on, its popularity leads to more than just references, jokes, and memes.  I want people to take the story seriously and learn from it.  To grow from it.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is something special.  I hope that people -- as many people as possible -- realize that, and use it as a foundation from here on.  If a blast from the past has to make waves in the anime industry and show what can be done, then so be it.  Let the bridge to the future be built by the efforts of yesteryear.  And who knows?  When it’s all done, and when we can all appreciate every last supernatural punch, then we’ll have more than just a good anime to feast on.

We’ll all be in for some great days.

That’s a really strong opening, but it’s still not as…strong…as…

…Okay, you know what?  “Great Days” is the best opening.  “Sono Chi no Sadame” may be one of the manliest, most hot-blooded songs in existence, but how often do you get a song that touches the heart so purely and sincerely as “Great Days”?

The answer: you don’t.  And to that end, I have one last thing to say about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Let the voice of love take you higher.

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