Taking place after the previous events of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Stardust Crusaders jumps forward another 50 years to the year 1989. Centering around Jotaro Kujo (Ono Daisuke), the grandson of Joseph Joestar (Ishizuka Unshou), Stardust Crusaders begins its story in Japan after Jotaro awakens a supernatural ability known as a Stand – a powerful manifestation of psyche and life force. After his arrival, Joseph explains Jotaro’s newfound abilities and reveals that each member of their family has awakened such a power due to the revival of Dio Brando (Koyasu Takehito), an age-old evil and storied enemy of the Joestar bloodline. Due to this development, the health of Jotaro’s mother begins to fail which sparks his and Joseph’s quest to travel to Egypt and vanquish their immortal enemy. They are joined by various allies as their group endeavors to reach Dio and defeat the many Stand users he has amassed under his control.
In many ways, Stardust Crusaders upholds the classic stylings of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. From it’s bold-faced exposition to its contrived developments, the story and characters mirror much of the ridiculousness of the previous installments. The characters are still primarily towering, musclebound men and the show retains its distinctive style of comedy however it’s the way in which each of these elements are handled and the various ways in which Stardust Crusaders differs from its predecessors which makes it so tiresome and dull. Though the show’s fundamentals remain, the way in which the series previously justified some of its eccentricities is gone. While not necessarily integral to the identity of JoJo’s, Stardust Crusaders lacks the flamboyancy and charisma of the earlier installments which, when combined with the absurdity of the proceedings and the personalities of the characters, made for something laughably ridiculous yet engaging.
What is doubtlessly Stardust Cruaders’ most glaring issue is its narrative structure and pacing. It’s premise is quite simple and even reminiscent of some of the series’ earlier stylistic contrivances. Jotaro comes into possession of a mysterious ability called a Stand and shortly after Joseph’s arrival, his mother’s life becomes jeopardized by her inability to control her own newfound ability. The show then assigns an arbitrary countdown of 50 days until the time of her death before which time Jotaro, Joseph, and their allies must defeat Dio. The threat to Jotaro’s mother is an entirely unapologetic McGuffin but this is practically expected within JoJo’s. Rather, it’s the strained plot that follows which damages the show’s appeal so grievously.
The most pronounced difference between the first series and Stardust Crusaders is that originally, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, absurd as it was, felt like it was genuinely trying to tell the tale and legacy of the Joestar bloodline. It’s characters were simplistic and its developments almost nonsensical but it had a sense of storytelling and plot. In regards to Stardust Crusaders, you are merely given the premise and what follows amounts to an episodic adventure detailing the group’s journey to Egypt and thereafter. There aren’t any major developments which transpire over the course of their journey save for a sparse handful of character moments. It’s a tiresome slog from point A to point B and Stardust Crusaders does almost nothing to deviate from its formulaic and uneventful proceedings for the entirety of its 48-episode run.
Because the show possesses very little in the way of overarching narrative, it falls to the characters in order to become the show’s primary source of entertainment however their expectedly simplistic nature, routine gags, and catchphrases don’t lend themselves well to the longevity of the journey. One marked difference which Stardust Crusaders brings to the table is an entirely different cast dynamic. While the the show still revolves around Jotaro and the Joestar bloodline, there is much greater attention paid to the members of his group as opposed to the previously more individualistic narrative of the first series. Thtat being said, there isn’t much to say about any of the characters. Though a delinquent, Jotaro himself is calm, composed, and aloof to the nth degree however this renders him pretty uninteresting from scene to scene. When he isn’t decisively ending the battle or circumventing the enemy’s strategy, he’s typically sitting idly by reciting his catchphrase at regular intervals.
Jotaro aside, the rest of the cast is equally one-dimensional. Though Joseph was once rambunctious, hotheaded, and clever, he’s calmed down considerably over the years. He’s relegated to playing the victim more often than not and while his change in temperament is a good reflection of his growing older, his characterization generally feels like a pretty blatant disservice given his idiotic behavior. Muhammad Abdul embodies the voice of reason within the group and is best characterized by his seriousness. Kakyoin Noriaki is diplomatic and educated while Jean Pierre Polnareff is loudmouthed, arrogant, and confrontational. They’re each pretty distinctive but their simplistic personalities and chemistry with one another as well as their repeated gags don’t do much to liven up the show.
JoJo’s format is intrinsically predictable and cliche because of its style of characters, exposition, and storytelling and so it becomes a glaring issue when its design is stripped so bare. Practically every episode unfolds in the same way and while the absurd antics of the cast leave room for some creativity, the uninspired villain of the week approach utilized by the show for its entire length leaves each confrontation feeling unimportant and pointless. Each enemy Stand user will predictably appear equipped with one gimmick or another in respect to the nature of their Stand. After battling with one or two of the members of Jotaro’s group while the others sit around and scratch their heads about what to do next, the enemy is inevitably defeated. Practically none of the enemies give way to any kind of meaningful development or impart any kind of significant information. They are as one-dimensional and contrived as they could be and the resulting issue is an aggressively tedious baseline experience.
Because Stardust Crusaders uses an approach wherein the ability of the enemy is their most interesting and defining trait, one of the major issues which arises is that Stands hardly make any sense to begin with. Admittedly, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure isn’t generally in the business of making sense however, take for example the relationship between Jonathan and Joseph’s Hamon energy and the vampires and Pillar Men of the first series. The battles often unfolded and wild and nonsensical ways however the fundamental understanding of what the protagonists were capable of was relatively certain. Stands however never felt like they possessed a rhyme, a reason, or even a concrete definition.
They were supposedly some kind of projected manifestation of their users psyche or supernatural ability but what they were capable of, what they could be, and when they could do what they could do was entirely subject to each individual situation. The most iconic stands would take the forms of humanoid combatants however they could also be animals, vehicles, and objects. At times they could change size and it was occasionally referenced that they may operate on some kind of abstract resource. What could have been a relatively cool and inventive addition to the show instead played out as an endless series of meaningless, half-baked gimmicks which made Stardust Crusaders’ already dangerously senseless proceedings feel even more irreverent and vague.
By this point, I’ve said a lot of negative things about Stardust Crusaders and that should reflect upon the show’s quality, though it was not all together devoid of redeeming moments. While it boasted a slightly different art style, it presented many of the same aesthetic appeals as the original series. It’s fights were predictable as ever but the show occasionally featured a compelling enough gimmick to become engaging if only for a short while. You’d imagine that after over 40 episodes of buildup and countless shadowy insights into his scheming that our heroes final confrontation with their fated enemy might offer some kind of payoff and in several ways it did. Ultimately however, it too was about as senseless as everything which proceeded it and despite its flashy nature, it wasn’t remotely worth trudging through the entirety of the show to see.
Stardust Crusaders was a slog. There’s no other way to say it. The prolonged absence of any narrative developments combined with JoJo’s iconic ridiculousness made for a large number of rather insufferable episodes. The show isn’t able to justify and contextualize itself in the way that its previous parts once did which leaves it feeling inscrutable and pointless. With the flamboyancy, charisma, and nearly-endearing story of the Joestar bloodline of the previous series stripped away, all that remains is an endless stream of meaningless battles lacking any and all suspense wherein the majority of the developments are dependent upon the ignorance and stupidity of the characters involved. It’s frustrating to watch and the painstakingly, drawn-out nature of it all further impresses just how little transpires each episode.