The Christmas Blog Series 2 (III) – Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure 2

The previous article in this series focused on how Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure explored the idea of responsibility in use of super-powers in its first arc, culminating in the final showdown to apparently defeat Dio and lay to rest the destructive rivalry that had erupted into a much grander plot. By establishing its protagonist as someone for whom the “right thing” was the avenging of past wrongs and for whom super-powers were a means to fight a supernaturally-enhanced rival on even terms, it effectively ruled out the idea that one could abuse the Ripple; it was the positive energy to Dio’s negative energy and its use restored balance.

The second arc sees Dio out of the picture and the first Jojo dead, with his descendant taking up the mantle of titular and fighting new enemies with a new generation of sidekicks. Here, rather than a quest of one empowered figure and several mundane heroes, there is a whole ensemble of heroes all with different agendas but chasing the same goal and fighting the same villains – Jojo, a descendant of Zeppeli, mentor figure Lisa Lisa and the insane Nazi super-soldier Stroheim. As the stakes are now higher, and the plot has moved away from the personal rivalry with Dio, the theme of appropriate use of power must be impressed in a different way – through a genre-traditional training arc with Lisa Lisa a very different mentor to Zeppeli. The new Jojo is a cheat and a sneaky character, trying to fast-talk his way out of fights and deceive villains to make up for his ineptitude as a fighter, and the training is not so much to teach him how to unlock his powers as to let him use them in ways that suit his style. This trickster archetype makes the narrative structure – of chorus-like sidekicks and narrator, of flashbacks and twists – all the more apt. If a hero’s power is based on misdirecting his foes and winning with deception, then a straightforward linear fight sequence cannot communicate this well. What this also does is redefine the Ripple as a super-power; time has passed and now it is used in different ways and taught in different ways. Jojo and his new partner Caesar are rebellious youths who look to show off with their powers rather than move towards efficient killing blows, and this is shown to create complications at first as they fight against the new breed of far more capricious and powerful villains, the Pillar Men. His actions are motivated by good, but at the same time are irresponsible and selfish – he wants to win his way, and the journey of development is not one of coming to terms with super-powers but instead one of realising his limitations and the need to work as a team.

This is shown subtly through the development of his sidekicks; at first there is little harmony among them and they cannot really keep up. For example, an early fight against the Pillar Men sees Jojo’s bravado leading to him attempting – and failing – to trick them and ending up on a countdown to death which necessitates his maturation as a hero. By the end of the arc, when the time comes for the final battle with the last of the Pillar Men, Cars, the new team of sidekicks are up to speed with the new Jojo’s fighting style and can see his deceptions as they happen. The moment of epiphany when this is made clearest is in the battle against Wham, the second of the three villains – at first it is a fight which seems to comprise a number of bizarre decisions from Jojo that apparently put him at a disadvantage, but the constant reversals and counter-plots eventually lead to victory. The second arc is set in the 1930s, with a background of Nazi occultism and globe-trotting adventure chasing a magical gemstone, and here a trickster hero fits – the Victorian-set first arc needed a noble and tragic rivalry to suit its town, but this new aesthetic offers a fresh perspective on the Jojo story. It is ultimately a pulp pastiche, embracing the ridiculous nature of old adventure serials and comics, and so the elaborate death-traps like Wham’s killer chariot race or the early battle against Santana are thematic choices. Yet despite the many tonal changes, as Jojo develops as a character the generational aspect of the story shines through; much as the first Jojo’s rivalry with Dio came as he sought to avenge his father, the second’s rivalry with Wham is heightened when Caesar dies. By the time of the fight with Cars Jojo is the driven hero that his ancestor was, simply manifested in a different way for a different world. Yet it is an enjoyable evolution – the kind of learning that power brings with it responsibility that is not quite the norm. Ordinarily a superhero must learn to moderate their powers and be above pettiness and impetuousness; Spiderman, to return to the previous article’s example, learns that chasing vengeance is the “wrong” approach to getting justice and that his super-powers should be used to fight super-villains. Jojo, on the other hand, is given his catharsis through vengeance because this is also the quest to save the world. Little changes in how he uses his powers except that now his plans are actually successful.

Thus one can argue that the progression of the second arc of Jojo is one about a hero learning not so much modesty or humility but instead how to fulfil his boasts; Jojo’s progress begins when he meets and is outclassed by Caesar and Lisa Lisa, and by the end he is just as cocky and cunning but now has the skill to capitalise on it. Even his ultimate defeat of Cars is based around undermining and misdirecting a more powerful villain; his use of the Ripple is not the powerful fighting-style that the previous arc highlighted but instead a way of manipulating the world. There is a thematic elegance here – the first Jojo fought the immensely powerful warrior Dio to a standstill with both using powerful attacks. The second Jojo fights the Pillar Men, who cheat and bend the rules of nature (Cars’ final attacks involve him summoning animals and taking the abilities of other creatures) by using ingenuity empowered by the Ripple. To conclude, the generational aspect of Jojo is its defining feature as a superhero story – by considering a (fairly) fixed world of heroes and villains from different angles by subtly changing the nature of their powers and having different personalities use them both for good and evil, it keeps a narrative continuity while remaining fresh and exciting.

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5 comments

  1. rikuo06

    Excellent! And a neat way to tie the two arcs together in one anime season. From here on out, not only is the Ripple replaced by Stands as the series’s trademark superpower, but Stands are used equally by heroes, villains, and anyone (or anything) in between, being unique to each character. Furthermore, focus becomes far less centralized on the given arc’s Jojo, giving more spotlight time on members of the rapidly growing supporting cast.

  2. maeru

    Fantastic series of posts! I really enjoyed your discussion on the difference in motivations between our first two JoJos. I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on the contrast in heroic motivations between Battle Tendency and Steel Ball Run (assuming you’ve read it; if not, then if/whenever you get around to it), and how it plays into the characteristics of their respective genres: Johnny and Gyro are often compared with Joseph and Caesar based on personality alone, but I found the contrast between selfish deeds done for ultimately selfless reasons and ultimately selfless actions taken for selfish reasons between the two duos really fascinating…

  3. milesvibritannia

    Battle Tendency really does take a different turn from the style of Phantom Blood, and in my opinion it only makes JoJo all the more fascinating. I found the cunning trickster Joseph to be a good deal more interesting than the straightforward good-natured Jonathan. Joseph’s an interesting case in that he has clearly grown from beginning to end yet he’s still not all too different from how he was at the beginning. With Jonathan, he’s certainly been a good person at heart from the start but you can tell that he’s matured a good deal as far as his personality and heroics. While Jonathan initially can’t stand even the possibility of forgiving Dio for his evil deeds, by the end of the story Jonathan feels regret about having to take Dio out despite just how much Dio’s villainy has grown since childhood. Joseph’s certainly the same hotheaded, impulsive guy he was at first but he becomes a lot more capable with the Ripple, and perhaps that’s for the better since it means Joseph never stops being an entertaining protagonist.

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