JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

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What is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure?

It’s hard to summarize jojo’s overall storyline. The title may give you some idea, that it is going to be quite bizarre story, but still too many questions remain.  Who the hell is JoJo, what is so bizarre about the story, and what kind of adventure is so bizarre?

The title of the work usually gives some idea about the work itself. Look at Dragonball – you know the work has something to do with this thing called Dragonball, and for Kinnikuman(muscle man in Japanese) you know it will be about this funny looking muscular guy.

Even a name like Naruto gives you some idea – it’s about guy named Naruto, and it must be something exotic because that name doesn’t sound European. Well, he looks white but that’s for another article

But JoJo?  What kind of image comes to your mind when you hear the name JoJo?  If this is The first time you’ve heard of JoJo’s bizarre adventure, I’m pretty sure you’re not thinking of 2m tall British gentleman fighting vampires using mysterious breathing technique. Of course you wont think it is about the half Japanese half British high school student who can instantly heal and fix people and physical objects, seeking out the local serial killer who can turn people into bombs. And you probably won’t think of Italian teenage gangster fighting the mafia kingpin to wipe out drug from the street. You won’t think of these scenarios when you hear the title “JoJo’s bizarre adventure”.

But of course, it is about them. And there are more I haven’t told you about.  That’s one bizarre series, and it’s been ongoing for more than 25 years.

Brief history(and random facts) of JoJo

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is written and drawn by Hirohiko Araki, a man who is also well known for his bizarre youth.  He wanted to draw a comic about vampire because vampires are dandy, and a monster with many rules. So he started out by creating the monster, named Dio Brando(Ronnie James “Dio” + Marlone “Brando”) who was inspired by his earlier character B.T, then decided that the story should be set in 19th century Britain because thats where vampire became popularized. After that, Araki came up with his opponent. The opponent to his monster was the young British gentleman named Jonathan Joestar a.k.a JoJo. So here’s JoJo, designed as an antagonist to Dio Brando, the true protagonist of the story(Araki commented that Dio was the de-facto protagonist of part1). The nickname was given because long foreign name would have been hard for the younger readers to memorize.

So the basic premise was made and the title was given; JoJo’s adventure wouldn’t give enough idea about what the work was about, so Araki added “bizarre” to the title, and added the additional title “Phantom Blood” to give the reader better idea about the story.  As the story progressed, Araki introduced the power called hamon(or “Ripple”), which was a psychic ability that produced sunlight like energy by breathing in certain rhythm. Rather bizarre technique, but JoJo fought vampires using this technique. Ripple was Araki’s attempt to visualize psychic energy. He was a big fan of psychic manga such as Babel II, which displayed psychic power as a form of electricity. Ripple, like vampires, had sets of rules(you will see that Araki is obsessed with rules).  First of all, you had to breath in certain rhythm otherwise you can’t produce Ripple energy. Ripple energy needed blood flow to send the energy to the owner’s body, so if the blood can’t circulate, you can’t use Ripple(Dio figured this out and fought JoJo by body freezing technique). Also, Ripple could be transferred through other objects but transfer through solid object was either temporary or ineffective.  Jonathan had to overcome these limitations to defeat Dio and he succeeds in flamboyant way.

And that was the part 1 for the epic now known as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Yes that was only the part 1. It occupies only 5 volumes among 100+ books in JoJo ongoing series and its style was drastically different. Actually, each part of JoJo has different protagonist and different styles. In the end of the part 1, Jonathan Joestar sacrifices himself to save his newly wed wife and unknown baby from Dio. So in part 2, 50 years after part 1, stars Jonathan’s grandson Joseph Joestar, who has very different personality and fighting styles from his grandfather. While Jonathan was a gentleman, Joseph was more of a rogue, and while Jonathan fought like a honourable knight, Joseph fought like a trickster. This change eventually helped to differentiate JoJo from other battle manga of the time, such as Hokuto no ken or Kinnikuman. The characters of JoJo did not fight with guts and muscles(they helped but you don’t win the fight with brawn in JoJo) but with their wits. Joseph’s signature trick was his string trick, which he used to lure his opponents into his trap.  This battle of the wits, along with “the stand”, aspect is what made JoJo series cult classic.

JoJo’s popularity boomed when the part 3 began. Araki planned to make his epic trilogy from the early stage, so you can say this part is the climax of the series, and to many readers it was. The protagonist of this part, Jotaro Kujo is the half Japanese grandson of Joseph Joestar, who must travel to Egypt to kill Dio in order to save his mother from the curse. Once again, we see very different type of protagonist; Jotaro is calm, always poker faced, and perfect. That was the motif for this character; The perfect mythological hero who can stand against the ultimate evil. By the way, Jotaro is heavily inspired by Clint Eastwood as well. Araki met Eastwood in person and gave the framed picture of Jotaro as a gift.

Part 3 introduced the new concept called “the Stand”, a form of life energy visualizes and materialized.  Each stand possessed distinctive looks and powers influenced by the personality of its owner; flamboyant man will possess the stand controlling fire, swordsman will possess the fencer stand. The editor of Shonen Jump thought Araki did all he could with the concept of Ripple(after all, part 2 featured the villain who was immune from Ripple so it would be natural to move onto different concept) and Araki had to come up with a new idea. The stand was a sort of improvising idea but then it became the signature feature of JoJo series.

The Stand was another concept full of rules. One stand per individual, one stand has one distinctive power, the most of stands could not be seen by non-stand users, stand and its user shares physical pain etc etc. there were plenty of stands that broke all these rules, but the fights in JoJo ever since the stand was introduced, became a sort of mystery stories where the good guys had to figure out the weakness of the bad guy’s stand. The stand expanded the possibility of villains in JoJo series, and now we see even more bizarre enemies.

Previous parts had bizarre enemies. One villain will cry to calm himself down at the moment of anger because his emotion was explosive. There was a vampire who bred snakes in his veins. But from part 3, the rogue gallery got even more weirder. A fog that can control people, a baby who could kill people in their dreams, a man who had two right hands, a gambler who can suck the soul out of you etc etc. some of them may not be the most original, but the way Araki described these characters were unique.

That’s another appeal of JoJo. It’s unique. You see the drawing style, the character designs, and postures, then you can recognize them as JoJo or something inspired by Araki. The characters of JoJo often stand and pose in rather bizarre ways(nowadays it is called JoJo posing), and that made this series very memorable and stylish in its own way.

The JoJo series continued after the part 3, after Jotaro killed Dio once and for all. The concept of the stand continued to evolve and part 4 showed this better than any part. But as the concept developed, the series became more complex and strange that it became even harder to attract the new readers. Eventually the series seemed to end in part 6, but part 7 soon followed, set in the new world. Part 8 is being serialized at the moment, and the new game called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle is scheduled for release in summer 2013.

Bizarre art, bizarre sound

JoJo is well known for its strange and unique art style as I have mentioned above. The characters pose in renaissance art like style(Araki was heavily influenced by Italian art) and the frames are full of sound effects. The sound effects are another things that catch people’s eyes. Araki begins his rough draft by positioning the sound effects first, and they are definitely crucial parts of the art. The sound effects fill the screen to emphasize the intensity of the scene. Araki personally asked the Korean publishers to not modify the sound effects on the Korean translation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure because it was such a crucial part of the work.

The signature sound made by enemies works like a chorus in the song. In crucial moments, Dio would shout “wryyyy!”(pronounced ureyyy) to intensify the scene or make it more creepy.

Music has been big influence on JoJo. Many characters’ names came directly from songs or musicians. Jonathan’s mentor Baron Zeppeli’s name comes from Led Zeppelin, there are stands named “Black Sabbath”, “Notorious B.I.G”, “Stone Free” etc etc. no wonder Araki decides to express music in visual form. This incorporation of musical construction into visual art gives unforgettable impression to the readers.

What hooked me?

At first I was curious. There were so many JoJo parodies on Internet and I wanted to read the original source.

I think what really hooked me was its unique artwork and the way characters behave. So the bad guy has a hostage?  Punch through both the hostage and the bad guy but heal the hostage only. You have to fight the immortal monster?  Launch him into the space where he will be frozen and wander forever. JoJo does not pull punches and they solve problems in very interesting ways.

Plus the characters felt distinctive too. I still consider Joseph Joestar to be one of the most creative characters in Japanese manga, and it’s hard to predict what the characters will do next.

The best of all, this manga promotes humanism. The main theme of the series according to Araki is “the praise for humanity”. In his work, humans find strength in themselves and work hard to overcome the odds. So even villains can get spotlights and show growth. The gangster brothers in part 5 is a good example. The younger, wimpy gangster learns from the dead brother and becomes a formidable foe.  Seeing such drama even in villains is one of my favourite aspect in reading JoJo.

Should you read this?

I must admit that JoJo is a bit of acquired taste. At first it may look strange and plain bizarre, and not everyone finds it fascinating.  There was an official English translation  but it wasn’t too popular I believe because they only translated part 3.

But if you’re looking for something unique, I suggest you hunt it down and read it.  Its unique style is worth checking out and Araki’s recent art style is just gorgeous(his recent collaborations include the promotional manga for louvre museum, and promo for Gucci. Actually, all the Gucci stores showcased Araki’s art in their display for limited time early in 2013. You may have seen Araki’s art without realizing it).

Acquired taste, but worth trying.

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