JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure chronicles the extraordinary tale of the Joestar family and its decedents throughout the years. The story begins in the late 1800’s in Great Britain when an adolescent Jonathan Joestar (Okitsu Kazuyuki) first encounters his rival Dio Brando (Koyasu Takehito), after his adoption into the family. Dio endeavors to maliciously ruin Jonathan’s life and supplant him as the rightful heir of the Joestar family. After Jonathan circumvents his schemes, Dio resorts to using an ancient Stone Mask which transforms him into an immortal vampire. It then falls to Jonathan and his allies to stop Dio and his plans for world domination. After the resolution of that story, the legacy of the Joestar family resumes some 50 years later in New York City and details the adventures of Joseph Joestar (Sugita Tomokazu). An archaeological dig unearths ancient beings of incredible power called the Pillar Men who are mysteriously linked to the Stone Mask and vampires of his family’s past.
With each event and outlandish development, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure proves time and time again that its title is, if nothing else, undeniably appropriate. The show itself is quite absurd. It isn’t characterized by rapid pacing or a reckless abandonment of its plot but rather by its exceedingly flamboyant nature and irrational behavior. There exists an almost beautiful harmony within JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure where the show never pretends to operate by any conventional sense of storytelling or action and yet the show takes itself incredibly seriously. It’s truly bemusing to watch something which offers no discernible ramifications for the outcome of its narrative, attempt to create real drama and meaningful characterization. Yet there’s something naively endearing about JoJo’s straightforward disposition. The characters are very demonstrative of all of this and not only exemplify the show’s flashy charisma but its machismo and ridiculousness as well.
Jonathan Joestar, the protagonist of the first half of the show, is perhaps the blandest of the important characters. As a British gentlemen, he subscribes to a strong sense of morality and proper conduct. He is prideful but very sympathetic and respectful of others though this can sometimes manifest as naivety. There isn’t much else to him and similar to the show, he’s best characterized by just how straightforward he behaves. His poise and upstanding behavior really sets the tone for the early part of JoJo’s. His ideals of respecting and even admiring ones opponent are built into the intrinsic masculinity of the series.
Dio Brando is just as unapologetically one-dimensional and simplistic. His lust for power and interest in world domination are about as cliché of attributes as they could be. Dio’s primary appeal stems from just how easy he is to hate. His introductory scene establishes him as quite literally ‘puppy-kicking evil’. He’s malicious, manipulative, and offers no redeeming qualities in how he goes about achieving whatever it is he desires at the expense of others. He’s not a complex villain or even a good one yet his simplicity and explicitly evil nature are married very closely to the kind of unapologetic style and atmosphere that JoJo’s establishes.
For the most part, the supporting cast follows an expectedly similar design. None of them are all that complicated and many of them exist almost purely for the sake of shouting exclamations and delivering JoJo’s all-important, ceaseless stream of exposition dialogue. There is a good sense of comradery between a number of the cast members and despite their simplistic design, they can sometimes be quite memorable.
The cast as a whole somewhat improves in the second half of the show. Joseph Joestar, cocky, energetic, and unexpectedly strategic, is a far cry more interesting than Jonathan and his fellow lead characters and supporting cast mirror this minor shift in characterization. The cast remains woefully uncomplicated but there’s an undeniable passion and endearing quality to their interactions. JoJo’s is proof that you don’t need multi-layered, complex characters in order to have a memorable cast though there’s definitely something missing all the same.
If the characters weren’t enough, then the visuals certainly put the ‘bizarre’ in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Between its towering, muscle-bound protagonists and absurd supernatural abilities, there are plenty of visual elements that set JoJo’s apart however what makes its presentation especially distinct is its dynamic use of color palettes. With little warning, the show will occasionally swap its standard color scheme for a more varied, brighter design, replacing its more mundane hues with vibrant greens, blues, and purples. It’s flashy and flamboyant and though the shift in colors possesses no explicit meaning, it further accentuates JoJo’s exuberance and glamour. The show also infrequently uses abstract, hued backgrounds to a similar effect.
The animation isn’t anything spectacular and though JoJo’s revolves very significantly around its battles and rivalries, there aren’t that many true fight-sequences in the show. JoJo’s energy stems from its dramatic emphasis on individual exchanges and surprises rather than fast-paced action. The show makes frequent use of still images but never finds itself lacking momentum in the way it cuts back and forth rapidly from each startling development to the astonished reactions of the characters. This blow-by-blow style works well for JoJo’s. Each scene attempts to fervidly underscore its twists and important moments just as the characters do with their exclamations.
Given the simplistic design of JoJo’s cast members, it should come as no surprise that the story isn’t terribly complicated either. The first 9 episodes tell the story of Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando whose rivalry begins when Jonathan’s father first adopts Dio into the family. After his transformation into a vampire, Dio sets his plans for world domination into motion while Jonathan teams up with the honorable Robert E. O. Speedwagon and William Anthonio Zeppeli from whom he learns to master the manipulation of Hamon energy in order to defeat his immortal adversary. With that premise in place, the rest of the story more or less tells itself with hardly any other narrative developments.
JoJo’s isn’t as much about the story as it is about the characters and how the story is actually told. While you might think that the one-dimensional cast would direct the focus of the show elsewhere, JoJo’s as a whole is very character-centric and it invests a lot of screen time towards their relationships with each other. The fights are absolutely ridiculous. They aren’t just over-the-top, though that certainly is a consistent factor – they’re absurd, nonsensical, and utterly illogical. Each battle is defined by a constant stream of reversals as each character reveals a new ability or a previously planned attack that swings the momentum back into their favor while the spectators verbally shout out each and every notable interaction.
In a big way, JoJo’s is just dumb. It’s full of logical impossibilities and unfounded developments. The show has absolutely no subtlety in how it flexes its hyper-masculinity and punctuates every exchange with dialogue that only affirms what the viewer is already seeing. That being said, JoJo’s builds a distinct kind of charm out of its brutal honesty and unapologetic exposition. What it lacks in coherency it makes up for with style and passion. The characters are simple, the plot is really simple, and practically nothing makes any justifiable sense. Yet it’s entertaining.
Issues that would cripple another show are instead embraced by every aspect of JoJo’s presentation and incorporated into its distinct style. There’s a kind of endearing hilarity to JoJo’s preposterous nature. Amidst all of the ridiculousness – the superpowers, the superfluous dialogue, and the outlandish color schemes, the show still finds moments to be poignant and sentimental.
The second half of the story offers some marked improvements over the first. Joseph Joestar is a more interesting and varied protagonist and the plot, while similarly straightforward, offers more twists and meaningful developments than the first. The supporting cast is considerably better as well and though the shift in setting to 1930’s New York from Victorian England feels drastic, you’ll have been acclimated to far stranger things before then.
Despite its abrasive exposition and laughably senseless developments, JoJo’s was surprisingly engaging and fun. The characters were memorable and distinct, the fight scenes, bewildering as they were, were entertaining, and the overarching attitude of the show practically justified its own flamboyant lunacy. JoJo’s isn’t the kind of show that will leave you thinking. It’s upfront and never pretends to be anything it isn’t. Its flashy design and captivating simplicity creates a remarkably amusing experience. Though it lacks depth and immediate intrigue, JoJo’s is inexplicably hard to walk away from nonetheless.