I’ve Returned From Yet Another Anime Pilgrimage…
My last multi-year journey in anime saw me visiting Hunter x Hunter but even before that I had begun an even longer journey back in 2016, now five years later, I have returned from one bizarre adventure, the story of which I am prepared to share with you here today. I’ll be walking through each leg of the journey, my thoughts, the things I took away, and naturally, any regrets that came along with my travels. So sit back, enjoy a fine wine, and let me regale you with the anime legend that is: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
The Journey Begins…
Now before I can properly begin this tale, I must take a moment to place you in my position back when I originally started this epic journey in 2016. My university years, a time of exploration and self-growth unlike any other, and as such, what better time than that to set off on an adventure spanning several years? In anime there are several cornerstone series and I pride myself on experiencing those that have transcended time in order to bring my revelations before you now. And so I set off, but alas, fate had other plans…
You see I only made it out of the gate with Part 1 (Phantom Blood), the first 9 episodes of the first season before I regrettably had to suspend my travels. The reason being fairly similar to why Hunter x Hunter found itself in such a similar situation. Hark, though I was waylaid I did not give up! Now, in 2021 I have finally sailed the vast seas that are JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Everything past these first 9 episodes (and even then, I did rewatch those) has been viewed throughout the course of the 2021 year.
Everything discussed here is in regards to the English dub experience, I will also note when I was joined by others for the viewing of any particular parts. With this context out of the way, the true story can finally begin.
The End is the Beginning – JoJo OVAs (A Prelude)
Though this was the last stop on my journey, I felt it prudent to start here with the 1993-1994 OVAs. Every tale such as this finds itself with a humble beginning after all, and so it should act to set the stage quite nicely. The focus of this section of the story is to reveal the most pressing question: Are these worth watching?
It’s clear that these 90’s OVAs show the viability for what would later become the modern JoJo experience provided you could look past the rather terrible dubbing, being dropped right into everything with little context (unless you’ve already seen Part 3 but then why watch this?), and the fact that it lacks a lot of the style and pizzazz that we’ve come to appreciate today.
Still there’s a certain charm here, and this being the last stop on my journey, it was quite fun to see how JoJo evolved over time and what things changed vs what didn’t. The biggest change I picked up on was that everything was toned down, which if you’ve seen any modern JoJo, you’d know that sometimes it can be a little too spicy for its own good. Given that this is also just a chunk of Part 3, I found the pacing to be far more tolerable even if you require the context of said Part 3 to really follow anything in a meaningful fashion. It’s the catch-22 of the OVAs.
To answer my previously posed question though? I would tell you to skip these. While it’s true that every great story has its humble beginnings, there really isn’t much point to troubling yourself with this iteration of the story. The modern experience is cohesive, stylish, and a lot more fun to watch in general.
Part 1: Phantom Blood – The Evolution of JoJo
As I previously told you, I actually started, and finished this arc in 2016. For many this is their least favorite arc, and I can kind of understand why. In just 9 short episodes the series isn’t anywhere near the heights it will one day aspire to. No, instead this feels a lot more like your typical shonen affair that eventually builds to something a bit bigger but never realizes its full potential. It’s also not helpful that at this point “Stands” aren’t a thing, the series’ biggest memes are nowhere to be found, and if that’s what you were expecting, then it simply wouldn’t be able to deliver on expectations. Upon my initial viewing I actually rather liked this arc, it was simple sure, but all of what makes JoJo, well, JoJo was still present.
Later, in the year 2021 I would revisit this same arc when my sister came to me wanting to watch the entire franchise. I got her, along with her boyfriend started and rewatched these initial episodes alongside them. Even now, I can say with confidence that this more “grounded” (if such a thing could even be said for JoJo) nature of this story, and its simplicity has appeal. While the later, more bombastic entries are superior in my opinion, there’s certainly something to be said for this more even experience.
Alas, 9 episodes isn’t a lot and the show decides to move on. This is where we leave this more “grounded” world and enter a more familiar JoJo universe. Enter Part 2, Battle Tendency.
Part 2: Battle Tendency – Setting up for the Future (but Suffering for it)
Did you want a very traditional battle shonen? That’s what you are getting here just in the JoJo flavor. Really, you could say that for any of the parts except perhaps Part 4, but I digress. It’s here that the series sets up everything it wants to do in the future. After a twice over on Part 1, I was eager for more content and curious what would be on offer here.
The biggest problem for Part 2 is the departure of Dio as our main antagonist. While he has a lot of charism on screen, these blokes that replace him don’t. However, what story would be complete without a sense of theme and motif? In JoJo there’s a clear fascination with Egypt and the culture surrounding it. You are going to get a great taste of that here and then be overloaded with it in Part 3.
If I had to point out what I really didn’t care for in these earlier installments is that JoJo relies heavily on “shock” for its comedy or making its villains seem more heinous. This could be some casual racism, sexism, or the killing of an animal or two. Granted the source material is older, so some leeway can be afforded, more often than not, it leaves the series being memorable for the wrong reasons. Additionally, I find it difficult to recommend to more casual viewers, especially in today’s climate.
This is not meant to condemn JoJo, however, merely to point out these tendencies which, while they do improve over time, never truly go away. That’s why I mentioned back with the OVAs I was surprised to see that most of that wasn’t present. I can admit that sometimes these “shocking” moments did land, just look at this Lisa Lisa meme, but its a strange tic of the franchise that can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.
Minor spoilers but just… look, I couldn’t NOT share that!
Still, I could see something there in the franchise, so along with my sister and her boyfriend we took together on this journey onward…
Part 3: Stardust Crusaders – Around the World in 80 Days (and BOY Does it FEEL like it)
As we entered Stardust Crusaders it was as if the show underwent an instant evolution, this is likely the JoJo you have come to know and love. After all, we’re introduced to Stands, have a great deal of memes, and a shift in structure. Individually, there are a lot of excellent changes that elevate the series to new heights, but as with any change, it brings with it new lows.
If you are familiar with Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, you have a decent idea of the concept that this part is going to focus on. The gang needs to get from Japan to Cairo in order to beat up Dio, the villain from Part 1. This is the first of many times where the story disregards previously established ideas and just blindly charges forward, it’s not a bad thing per se, but it is a habit that persists as it can turn into deus ex machina moments that undercut the value of the storytelling but I digress.
While watching it was easy for all of us to agree that the start of Stardust Crusaders is quite strong. The show is a lot livelier for the inclusion of Stands and it’s fun to have this whole intergenerational bit between the various JoJo members. I’d even argue that this ride stays pretty fun overall up until the introduction of Polnareff.
Upon his introduction, a lot of Araki’s worst writing habits come into clear view. Maybe not immediately, but especially over time, you’ll come to see various tricks employed that are almost always centered around this character (even later in the franchise). As a result, he kind of represents the worst parts of JoJo.
Putting that aside, this is very much a monster-of-the-week installment. JoJo and company must beat up the relevant Stand user for an episode or two and then move right on to the next. There’s very little breathing room, which is why I say that this truly feels like one has gone around the world in eighty days. It can be a grueling watch, but with it comes some pretty big highs.
Of those high points I’m reminded of the Oingo Boingo Brothers. This is one of the best episodes in Stardust Crusaders as it sees two brothers using a magical manga that can peer into the future to bring down the JoJo crew. Naturally, things don’t go to plan, but the resulting spectacle is legitimately one of the funniest bits in the entire season. Outside of that, I genuinely enjoyed the quality meme content that you have no doubt seen. Here’s one such example, but there are countless others:
All said, this leg of the journey does drag on for quite awhile. This is most egregious when the main gimmick of the season is played out (tarot cards) and extended with another extra set. It’s not like any of these episodes or moments are bad individually (except the pedophile episode, that one was just a bit too much even by this show’s standards), like I said, there’s a lot to like here, but this feels like running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace with no breaks between.
The result is a very uneven experience that outstays its welcome. Being the longest part of JoJo at the time of writing, both parts clocking in at 24 episodes for a total of 48 episodes, I can say I enjoyed the season but wouldn’t want to revisit it in full like I might the other parts of this long journey. For me, it’s quality is higher than what came before but the enjoyment suffers for the length. Overall impression is positive though. My travel companions agree here as well if you were curious.
Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable – JoJo’s Shining Diamond
It might sound odd to describe Part 4 as a slice of Americana, but that’s exactly what it is. The whole season is like a big nostalgia throwback while acting as a big change in the franchise. As if Araki learned from all the mistakes in the previous parts, Diamond is Unbreakable is easily the finest section of the journey to date. I started this off with my travel companions from before, but they quickly had to depart early on, so know that a bulk of this section is my thoughts exclusively unlike the prior.
The biggest difference in this part of JoJo is that it’s not just a bunch of fights, I mean, there’s still a lot of them, but the show allows the characters opportunities to just exist in the world. Sometimes this is a bait-and-switch deal, where it’s framed like legitimate danger, while other times it really is just characters hanging out. It’s a massive improvement after the rather exhausting segment that came before it and something I was quite pleased to see.
On top of this, the dynamics of the cast and Stands are more carefully considered. To see the best example of this, just look at our main character, Jousuke. His Stand’s ability allows him to fix/heal anything except for himself. That allows for some interesting scenarios that don’t devalue the tension and stakes, while allowing the story to progress in ways you likely expect. It’s a nice balancing act that’s taken on here, and one you can see throughout a majority of the season.
Amazingly, Araki also seems to have toned down his more… let’s say indulgent moments. The “shock value” things that he seemed to love so much in older iterations. This was a big plus because you still get plenty of “JoJo moments”, but they are a lot healthier, and as a direct result of that, stand better on their own.
Still, some bad habits rear their ugly heads but the impact of such habits is softened considerably as a result of the careful consideration I just mentioned. Even when Araki totally doesn’t have a self-insert manga artist character in Rohan, it equates to fun vs cringe. As a direct result of this, Diamond is Unbreakable is a breeze to watch with only minor instances of irritation.
Seeing that Dio was taken out in the previous season, this one needs a new villain, and he’s one that almost overshadows Dio. Seriously, this was quite well-done in that regard. The central mystery and conflict in Part 4 is that the gang needs to hunt down a serial killer, who wouldn’t you know, also has a Stand. It’s a great ride right up to the end, which is where I do need to talk about the major shortcoming of the season.
Without spoiling things, the one BIG complaint I have about this season is its ending. There are two reasons for this:
- It feels quite rushed. There are several threads and ideas that simply aren’t wrapped up by the end. This does benefit the length, and it’s not like everything needs a neat and tidy conclusion, if anything it bolsters the idea that these characters live day-to-day lives, still, there’s that sense that it is a bit lackluster compared to some of what came before.
- What really makes you feel point 1 is in how the villain is defeated. Again, no spoilers, but there’s absolutely no catharsis in it. The big battle is promised, and right before the final blow, you get cheated out of the gratifying win and get… well, if you’ve seen it, you know. It’s underwhelming and undercuts a lot of the narrative excellence the rest of the season otherwise displays.
Unfortunately, this does leave Diamond is Unbreakable in a difficult position. On the one hand, I think it is easily the best full season of JoJo hands down, but on the other, I struggle to elevate it to the heights it should be at due to the missteps of the finale. Still, it says a lot that I think a newbie fan could almost jump right in here and fall in love with what this franchise has to offer. It’s true that they would miss out on a bit of context, but it really is that good and basically stands on its own.
Further material for your enjoyment, does a better job covering the series in more detail as this is just a general overview than anything else
Before we move on to a brief interlude, I wanted to mention something I failed to in the Stardust Crusaders section that also applies here. That has to do with the openings of JoJo from that point onward. In their second halves, they like to play with those and do something pretty cool with them. So this is a series you won’t want to be skipping openings and endings for, trust me, it’s pretty cool!
Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan – An Interlude
Chronologically, I didn’t watch this short 4 episode OVA series until after Part 5, but it is best discussed immediately after Diamond is Unbreakable given its connection to Rohan Kishibe. This series sees the titular character recounting four tales of horror and intrigue anthology style. I expected these to be more closely tied to the lore and canon of what had come before, but shockingly, these stand on their own remarkably well. You need almost no knowledge of JoJo to enjoy these, and as such, may actually be a decent entry point into the visual style and storytelling of the greater franchise.
I don’t want to spend a ton of time on this section, but this was a great way to close out the watch-a-thon that ended up being Part 4, 5 and this over the course of a week basically. I had to go through these parts at lightspeed due to my access leaving for another state, but I digress. Each of the 4 stories here ranges from somewhat spooky to outright goofy, with only the 4th and final story leaving me mildly disappointed. Not a bad hit rate! 3/4 stories being winners is commendable for an anthology.
This is my highest rated part of JoJo but take that with a grain of salt considering it is only 4 episodes. Again, big recommend on this if you are curious. Only on Netflix as far as I can tell, but if you have access, even though spooky season has already passed us at the time of writing, it should make for some good times.
Part 5: Golden Wind – Anti-Drug PSA & Fighting Crime with Crime
As with all good journeys, they do come to an end at some point. We find ourselves in Italy with the goal to become the world’s best mafioso in order to get heinous drugs off the street. There’s a small amount of spillover from the past seasons, but this one basically stands on its own as those elements don’t matter too much excluding one plot point. What’s more, it seems a lot of the lessons learned from Part 4 were all but forgotten.
This isn’t to say this season is bad, it’s decently enjoyable, but the writing trickery is incredibly transparent. I’d go so far as to say that once we get equivalent powers to Diamond is Unbreakable‘s main Stand (without any real downside), it eliminates almost all tension and stakes for our characters. No, more than that, I’d argue it really doesn’t even make all that much sense.
Still, the trip down Golden Wind’s winding countryside roads is pleasant. I can’t say it is the nicest trip I’ve been on, but I don’t regret taking it. Unlike some of the older versions, this is fairly well-paced, featuring interesting ideas with yet another likable cast. Really, it’s just a shame that the consistency of the writing is out the window in this go, like Araki kind of phoned in this part.
What really emphasizes that for me is the fact that the series features a flashback epilogue for the final episodes that “justifies” a pretty major plot point in this part. Instead of coming off as clever or whatever, it read as if Araki needed to slap a quick fix onto a plot that had run a bit off the rails.
I don’t mean to sound so negative on Golden Wind, it’s not as good as the previous installment, but it is better than a lot of the other JoJo’s. At the very least I had a great time with the character Doppio, who’s voiced in English by the same guy who does Childe in Genshin Impact (try unhearing all the Genshin people in JoJo, there are so many). Perhaps I’m rambling now as our journey is about to come to a close. Well except for one thing…
Waiting for Stone Ocean & Baki’s Lessons
Now that we’ve talked some about each part of JoJo, the big question remains: Will I watch Stone Ocean? The answer is, yes, but I’ll probably wait a little bit before doing so. In part, this will be because I’d like to watch it dubbed like I did for everything else, but also because I think I could use a bit of a JoJo break. This is a good series, sometimes even a great series, but it’s one that’s best taken in moderation.
There are a lot of people who claim JoJo is a “man’s man” kind of show, but I’d like to refute that sentiment. Sure, it has it’s manly (boarding on fully homoerotic) moments and a lot of the conflict is fist-driven, but that’s where I’d like to talk about Baki, a series that on the surface seems to share some kinship with this franchise. After all, a lot of people say if you like one you’ll like the other but I don’t think that’s really true.
The lesson I learned when trying out Baki recently in the wake of topping off JoJo for this article is that style and presentation goes a long way when it comes to making something enjoyable. Baki has these bizarre moments much like JoJo and is even more fist-driven, but it lacks the flair and fun. I’d go as far as to say that Baki is lowkey horrifying and unpleasant to watch as it dives deep into hyper violence, body horror, and generally is just kind of gratuitous with the whole affair. Meanwhile, JoJo has some restraint and presents the whole thing with an air of fantasy that makes its more extreme moments easier to swallow (not to mention there are just less of them).
I know it might have seemed like I was rough on JoJo in this retrospective, but in reality I quite liked the series overall. Compare that to Baki, which I can comfortably say I hate, and you can see that two are practically an ocean apart. I’m off on another adventure here soon into a long-standing franchise, and I’ll be taking this experience with me along with a few friends. I hope you’ll look forward to that, but until then it’s time to take a breather so I’ll leave you with this: Isn’t it time you set off on a bizarre adventure of your own?
Thanks for reading this article, it’s pretty long! Let me know what your thoughts on JoJo are in the comments below. Like what you see? Consider a donation via the buttons below. And as always, thanks for reading!