JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of those anime that you may have noticed popping up on your radar time and time again, but it isn’t until you give it a try that you really appreciate exactly what it represents.
It’s flamboyant and electrifying, building to a crescendo and then pivoting wildly towards the next chapter.
The manga debuted all the way back in 1987 as a part of the venerable Weekly Shōnen Jump, written and illustrated by Hirohiko Araki. This run lasted a dumbfounding seventeen years before it transitioned to Ultra Jump, the monthly seinen equivalent for young adults, where it has remained active to this day.
Since then, it has produced a wealth of video games, a live-action film, an exhibit in collaboration with Gucci (suitably bizarre) and various anime adaptations — the 2012 edition is what we’ll be focusing on today.
This franchise is the inspiration for countless memes, and so revered in the echelons of Japanese pop culture, it’s frequently referenced in other anime (including but not limited to No Game No Life, Food Wars and Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!). It’s time to wrap our minds around the insanity that is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Take some deep breaths, because your Hamon training begins now!
Cue the ゴゴゴゴ, ドドドド and even the occasional ズキュン for good measure!
The Joestar Legend
One of the most impressive feats in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is its ability to engage viewers in a tale of grandiloquent heroism, before wrapping things up and moving on with reckless abandon.
Each arc actually follows a different generation, meaning that the cast and the locales are never static. It takes you on a journey of chivalry and misadventure throughout history, with the only constant at the heart of things being the lineage of the Joestar family.
As this is a beginner’s guide, we’ll refrain from going too deep, and focus primarily on aspects relevant to the first two seasons. If you want to learn more, you’ll just have to watch for yourself, and/or request guides for advanced, veteran, expert and masters of JoJo. I’ll do it, gosh darn it, there’s just that much to discuss.
The genesis of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure comes down to one fateful day in the mid 1800s, when a stagecraft carrying the wealthy George Joestar and his family tumbles off a precarious road. Though his wife is tragically killed as she protects their infant son, George’s life is narrowly saved the moment Dario Brando arrives on the scene.
George believes Dario’s actions to be altruistic, though in actuality, Dario just happened to partaking in some early grave robbery of the fallen aristocrats. Regardless of the scoundrel’s true motives, George feels indebted to the Brando family, so when Dario finally kicks the bucket, George adopts his son Dio without question.
If Dario was wicked, Dio is evil incarnate, attempting to surreptitiously kill George and claim the Joestar fortune for himself. Once he is caught in the act, he resorts to utilising an ancient stone mask with dark powers.
The origin of this mask is unknown, but it allows the wearer unfathomable brawn and durability at the cost of their humanity. George’s son and Dio’s foster brother, JoJo, is the only thing standing between the tyrannical ghoul and world domination — a burden that his family would have to bear for centuries to come.
Who is JoJo?
The eponymous JoJo is at once the particular protagonist of the current arc, while simultaneously representing multiple people. Pardon the contrarian oxymoron, it’ll make sense in short time.
The initial JoJo, Jonathan Joestar, is a mountain of a man who always has the best of intentions. He holds a strict moral code and values family above all else. Jonathan employs a unique fighting style that consists chiefly of tanking any damage that comes his way with stunning disregard. Punch to the face? He’ll wear it. Thumb to the eye? No sweat. Knife to the arm? Do your worst! But also, ouch.
His grandson, Joseph Joestar, shows none of Jonathan’s milder personality traits. He is a boorish lout led by his fists and his emotions, though thankfully, he is no less heroic; he will let no injustice slide, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. In actuality, he proves quite the thorough tactician when he takes the time to properly consider the situation, capable of constructing elaborate ruses to throw his opponents off-guard.. Needless to say, he applies this with as much hubris as humanly possible.
Overall, the Joestars are known for being courageous and unwavering, and nearly 200cm tall on average. Definitely a potent mix!
Friends and rellies, plus the bad guys, too
As deeply entrenched as the Joestars are in the fabric of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Dio Brando is the true driving force behind the events to come.
Jealous, scheming and ambitious, Dio was raised in poverty in the slums of London, subjected to a childhood of torment from his drunkard of a father.
He possesses what some have branded as an intoxicating charm, and he uses it to worm his way into the Joestars’ world, intent on destroying everything they have. When his plans go awry, he makes the ultimate sacrifice, donning the mask and embracing its demonic influence.
As a vampiric lord, Dio is the quintessential antagonist. He appears infallible with his regenerative abilities, rippling musculature and seductive countenance (aka, dude’s a babe), and his zombie army grows steadily by the minute.
To combat this, JoJo gains allies such as Robert E. O. Speedwagon, a lowly thug with a heart of gold. He’s a passionate man who wears his heart on his sleeve, and my goodness does he love a good shout!
Once he encounters the wise and enigmatic Baron Zeppeli, JoJo’s true potential is unleashed. The good Baron may have a questionable taste in fashion, but he definitely means business, capable of feats most humans could only dream of.
The list goes on and on, from the foppish ladies’ man Caesar to the Hamon expert Lisa Lisa, and let’s not forget the villainous Pillar Men, Kars, Esidisi, Wamuu and Santviento (puns upon puns)!!
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve dropped the term Hamon on you a few times so far, and you may not have even noticed. Such stealth is appropriate for this mysterious source of power, and we’re going to let you in on the secret…
Powers beyond your imagination
Before we unveil the methods of Hamon, we should probably elaborate on the aforementioned stone mask, and what it’s all about.
This eerily beautiful mask sprouts dreadful-looking tendrils when exposed to blood, creating vampiric monsters with baffling strength and severe bloodlust. These ghouls’ only weaknesses are energy attacks and exposure to the sun (as well as their dreadful manners).
Their strength increases with the more human energy they consume, though they aren’t exactly tactical geniuses, and can be outsmarted if you can survive long enough.
Let’s talk about these ethereal energy attacks, then. Most people would put such critical information behind a paywall, but not us here at AnimeLab!
…We can’t bear the guilt of watching you get violently ripped to shreds, and we definitely don’t want to clean up the mess.
Hamon energy comes from the flow of one’s own blood. By steadying their emotions and harnessing their breathing, the user can control the flow of blood throughout the body, and conversely, create Hamon energy. This ability allows for superhuman feats of strength and even healing capabilities.
The drawback of this technique is that it is reliant upon the user’s breath, and as such, it cannot be used underwater, or if the airwaves are being cut off by strangulation. It probably wouldn’t work in space either, but that’s an unlikely scenario. You’d surely have worse problems by then.
As time goes on, greater techniques are unlocked, with the most significant one being Stands. They won’t come into play until much later in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, however they’re such a critical part of this franchise’s fabric, we’d be remiss not to mention them.
The basis of Stands is similar to the art of Hamon, created by the user’s life energy. The major difference, of course, is that it appears in a completely different form: that of a unique spiritual entity.
Because of this, a lot of Stand Users fight by proxy, directing their Stands in battle and sharing in their pain as they sustain damage. Should one be felled by a mortal blow, the other will typically fall too, making their usage something of a double-edged sword. To oversimplify things, you could think of it as a VR game gone awry.
The other issue is that, while Hamon practitioners are wilfully channelling their own energy, Stand Users don’t have a choice in the matter — once a Stand manifests, its host is stuck with it, for better or worse. Not everyone is capable of handling such a burden.
…And yes, Stand Users are drawn to each other. The meme holds up.
Making sense of the nonsensical
Think you can resist the temptation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure after reading all this? If so, you’re merely deluding yourself (laughs in Stroheim).
To summate the majesty of this anime into a single phrase, it’s unabashed carnage. JoJo is rich with fabulous aesthetics and character designs that truly pop off the screen.
Battles are compelling, bombastic and often hilarious displays of oneupmanship, with plans and counter-plans piling upon one another in rapid succession. It’s like a game of chess being played out with some very muscular pawns.
In most anime, arcs represent a plot point or a significant antagonist, whereas in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, they encapsulate an entire generation. To shuffle the cast with each chapter is not only bold, it’s downright scandalous, and this anime does it with aplomb. The epic nature of each finale is equalled only by the mystery of who or what comes next — it’s a tectonic shift that changes the characters, the era, and the continent.
As the protagonist goes, so too does the tone, carrying itself with increasing pomp and absurdity. Jonathan is every bit the upstanding, iconic hero. He’s mild mannered, honourable and stoic. His heir, Joseph, is practically an antithesis, carrying a temperament and swagger about him that would make old grandpa blush. Later, the aloof Jotaro goes on to up the ante further still, and so on, so forth.
This kind of storytelling is practically unfounded beyond even the constraints of anime and manga, and you could write a thesis about it. It refreshes itself, regenerates itself and reinvents itself willingly. This is practically several unique anime series all rolled up into one thrilling product.
Timelines, technologies and abilities shift, but the series also does an excellent job of easing you into each new saga with characters who crossover between seasons, a little older and (hopefully) a lot wiser. Because of this, the transition is never too jarring to accept, and the narrative remains seamless.
As a final aside, since JoJo is set in various places around the world, it can be a neat way of learning little factoids about global societal particularities. I wasn’t aware of Chinese tea culture prior to watching this anime, but now I’m so ready to tap those tables in appreciation.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a rollicking good time that is versatile enough to appeal to a wide range of audiences. It’s essential viewing for any anime fan, and at last, you’ll be able to understand why people are always shouting ‘ora ora ora’ and ‘muda muda muda’.
Hopefully they’re not shouting that last one at you, though. It actually translates to ‘useless’ or ‘futile’, so it’s not a great icebreaker.