A fourth TV season has been announced. An American dubbed version is on the way (featuring Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer as a lead, no less!). If you haven’t hopped onto this magical mystery tour bus that is Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure yet, then it’s high time you did.
For 25 years, Hirohiko Araki’s aggressively surreal series has re-shaped Japanese pop culture with a long parade of highly-imaginative sagas, freely swinging from over-the-top comedy to spine-tingling horror and two-fisted drama. For those who’ve missed out on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so far, here are five arguments to dive into an anime that quite thoroughly lives up to its own title…
#1 – IT’S MANY SHOWS IN ONE
As in, literally. This is a generational saga about a whole dynasty of martial artists. As such, each major arc stars a different hero, in a different era…
The first, “Phantom Blood,” takes place in Victorian England and centers on the straight arrow, Jonathan Joestar, and his Dickensian feud with his adopted brother–the vampire, Dio.
Then, “Battle Tendency” features Jonathan’s hot-headed grandson, Joseph, who must save Earth from the Pillar Men, ancient, godlike warlords the re-awakened during a secret Nazi experiment.
And “Stardust Crusaders” starts in 1980s Japan, when Joseph’s anti-social grandson, Jotaro must battle an endless gauntlet of international villains to rescue his mother from a supernatural curse.
At any moment, one of these heroes could die horribly! And some do, in fact. The show keeps you on your toes at all times, and regularly switches its vibe up (as all these Joestars have markedly different personalities). While certain themes stay constant, each arc definitely feels like its own beast.
#2 – DESPICABLE VILLAINS (NAMED AFTER ROCK STARS)
Araki draws on bewildering breadth of Western pop culture. One plot plays like an anime version of Dracula. Another features a legion of villains fashioned after “video nasties” like Videodrome and the Blob. Yet another features enough Tarot symbolism to make Alejandro Jodorowsky blush. And pretty much every major character is named for some rock or pop act. If the notion of The Cars, Terrence Trent D’Arby and the J. Geils Band as cold-blooded, murderous super-villains makes you snicker, you’ll be cracking up. Every. Single. Episode.
The references get even more amusing in the American dub, as certain villains must be cleverly renamed due to thorny copyright issues. Like, when the evil brothers Oingo and Boingo become Zenyatta and Mondatta (after the marginally-more-obscure Police album). Playing this name game, with deep cuts getting progressively more obscure, is honestly a good chunk of the fun.
Though Jojo’s lampoons classic tough guy anime like Fist of the North Star, Araki follows the edicts of gripping storytelling better than many ostensibly-more-serious adventure serials. That is, he’s an absolute sadist to his heroes. Where other anime may use “moral complexity” as an excuse for having wet noodle antagonists, this show routinely pits the Joestars against ruthless, remorseless killers.
And Jojo’s dials up with the rapidity of a pinball. A given episode may start as a cheeky farce where, say, a Joestar gets magnetized and must then keep fending off the metal junk that’s flying at him. In a moment, though, the stakes will jackknife. Larger machines will fly, until our hero must desperately dodge frighteningly-large vehicles in a visceral flight for survival. Do or die, the only way he’s walking away is if he find the bad guy, and crushes him to death.
No exaggeration, for all its laughs, Jojo’s has just as many scenes of riveting, edge-of-your-seat tension.
#3 – POP CULTURE HISTORY
Even though the manga has been a superlative success since the 80s, it didn’t get a proper anime adaptation until just recently. And since this is a faithful adaptation, it serves as a fascinating time capsule. You can clearly chart how many other titles paid homage to Jojo’s later–or ripped it off wholesale.
To focus on video games alone… there are blatant similarities between Street Fighter II‘s Guile and the evil military man, von Stroheim. Street Fighter Alpha alum Rose is also directly modeled off of the heroine, Lisa Lisa. Likewise, Ogre from Tekken and Benimaru from King of Fighters bear more than passing resemblances to warriors Kars and Polnareff. And that’s only naming a few!
Also, since Jojo’s predates Dragon Ball‘s shift to Dragon Ball Z by a few years, it captures a fascinating moment in the evolution of manga when action-adventure strips found a very particular balance of comedy and drama. If DBZ eventually came to acknowledge the absurdity of its tropes, and then continued to celebrate them, Jojo’s grabbed its cake and ate it too, from the very onset. Newer shonen juggernauts like One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist feel free to shift tones whenever it suits them because of the precedent Jojo’s set.
And the craziest part? For a story plotted in the 80s, Jojo’s still feels fresher than most contemporary anime. Araki is a creative genius who’s always been several decades ahead of his competition.
Image Credits: Warner Brothers