This took longer than expected…again (I really need to work on that).
Anyway, continuing on from the previous installment!
O Senpai, My Senpai
Much to my admitted shame, I assumed that Hirohiko Araki was a gay man when he is, in fact, not, and based that on his work than anything more empirical like statements from interviews. He’s actually married to a woman named Asami (huh, “Asami Araki,” quite the alliterative Marvel name…like Peter Parker, Susan Storm, or Warren Worthington!) and they’ve had two daughters together. Heck, here she is doing a very JoJoesque pose:
It’s unfortunate how certain stereotypes become so socially ingrained that, though you do know better, you still accidentally use them for reference. Men having an interest in fashion design, being effeminate in mannerisms and taste, or objectifying the male form (it is a thing but uncommon like the “female gaze”) doesn’t necessarily make one gay, obviously, but you still make the association after years of hearsay and pop culture hammering it into your skull. Even shows as recent as Venture Bros. – with one of the two titular characters exhibiting effeminate traits and tastes but nonetheless attracted to women – or as far back as Mr. Show have made such point:
Nonetheless, JoJo’s has plenty of character moments that can be read as queer-coded. Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando may be adoptive siblings and intense rivals, according to the text, but it wouldn’t be too far off to compare their interactions to that of quarreling lovers whose relationship has soured and lead to overwhelming contempt. They speak to and fight each other with a sense of passion that isn’t really there with Jonathan’s love interest, Erina, who’s not a character as much as an object to be acted upon. Even the conclusion of “Phantom Blood” comes off as a romantic tragedy between them and, in “Stardust Crusaders”, it’s revealed that Dio is still very much alive a hundred years later (’cause vampirism)…but now has Jonathan’s body to replace his own. A body he’s quite fond of showing off as much as possible.
There’s a reason I said “read as queer-coding” than “is queer-coded.” Most examples of such, up until the “Golden Wind” story-arc, aren’t even implied by the text. It’s purely interpretation on my (or anyone else’s) part and shouldn’t be factualized, especially if the creator has not confirmed it elsewhere. That isn’t to say I think authorial intent is absolute – Upton Sinclair admitted as much when it came to The Jungle (“I aimed at the public’s heart and, by accident, I hit it in the stomach.”) – yet it’s important to consider to some extent than be flippantly dismissed. Moreso when it’s done for the sake of projecting one’s sensibilities onto a work than trying to understand what it is actually about. It’s an all-too-common form of online solipsism that I’ve come to despise, moreso when done with this unwarranted sense of authority over the material.
However, with all that said, interpreting various scenes in JoJo’s as being queer-coded is definitely more legitimate than, say, arguing the Star Wars Prequels are secretly brilliant ’cause reasons – which (in my experience) have little or nothing to do with the movies themselves (no, goddammit, The Clone Wars being good doesn’t make them better by proxy nor should I have to read novelizations or comics to “get it”). It may be accidental on Araki’s part but, well, it’s hard not to see it as queer-coded in moments like this one:
For context, Old Joseph and Abdul (again, not “Avdol”) have been affected by an enemy’s Stand that not only magnetizes them but gradually increases that magnetism with time – to both one another and metal objects. It’s actually from two of my favorite episodes in “Stardust Crusaders”, since it’s less of a battle than it is a Buster Keatonesque set-piece that’s downright farcical, with the pictured scene as one of the many gags featured. The whole situation actually gives you a sense of how both Joseph and Abdul have been a team for a while now and dealt with events similar to the one encountered, especially as they cooperatively defeat the enemy Stand-user by using their Stand’s power against them rather than with Magician’s Red or Hermit Purple. At face value, it could be viewed as homophobic – I can’t really agree given a few small, but important, details; neither Joseph or Abdul are embarrassed of the physical contact by itself for “looking gay” (they’re quite comfortable being in close proximity while traveling together) but that, since this is happening out in public with numerous bystanders around, their failed attempt to try separating from one another ends up being misunderstood as a sexual act done out in the open.
Oh and, by the way, that enemy Stand-user is a woman named “Mariah” (as in Carey). In case you’ve lost count; I’ve now mentioned only three female characters so far – four, if you want to include Erina (I wouldn’t).
Araki’s portrayal of women throughout the series greatly confuses me. Erina exists merely as a love interest (or, perhaps, so both Jonathan and Dio had a case of the “Not-Gays”) that leads to Joseph being the primary protagonist in “Battle Tendency” yet with Joseph’s mentor, Lisa Lisa, it’s the polar opposite. She’s an indominable figure and stern instructor who does not suffer fools like Joseph so gladly, betraying her outward appearance as this porcelain-skinned and raven-haired Englishwoman who wouldn’t be out of place as a more subservient lady-in-waiting from the works of Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde. Even when she does end up becoming a damsel-in-distress at one point, it isn’t due to suddenly being rendered incompetent or powerless but because her opponent – aware of how dangerous a foe she was – played a dirty trick to win a fight they may’ve otherwise lost. She is sexually objectified earlier on, with Joseph peeking through a keyhole as she bathes, but Caesar chastises Joseph (and the audience by proxy) for it upon his notice. In fact, the story-arc has many moments where Joseph says some misogynistic bullshit – which almost every other character, thankfully, chastise him for rather than treat it as endearingly “quirky” behavior.
So, what the fuck happened with “Stardust Crusaders”…?
Maybe one of the reasons I dislike Jotaro is that, when introduced, he keeps calling his mom – who is literally the nicest woman alive – a “bitch.” This isn’t helped further when Holly, Jotaro’s mom, ends up terminally ill and whenever a character brings it up later on – she’s displayed as fully nude with thorny vines covering up areolas and genitalia as if it were a centerfold in Playboy. Just…fucking what?!
Another reason to dislike Jotaro? After rescuing Anne, mistaken as a prepubescent boy at the time, he feels her up to confirm she wasn’t a boy as first assumed as if that isn’t sexual assault or anything. Some episodes down the line, when Jotaro and co. end up on an abandoned freighter, Anne is stalked and leered at by a perverted orangutan while she’s taking a shower – which wouldn’t be so bad if her fully nude backside wasn’t displayed. It was already confirmed that she’s twelve goddamn years old and yet she’s sexualized by the cinematography while portrayed as, somehow, having the wide hips and buttocks of a woman twice her age. I never thought I’d make an argument like this but, at least when Lisa Lisa was being sexualized, she was a surprisingly youthful-looking woman in her 50s – not one year away from being a teenager.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg and, even if I could go further, thinking about all those other equally atrocious moments involving women in the story-arc just upsets me too much.
It makes “Golden Wind” and Trish Una’s somewhat lackluster presence refreshing because, though she too is sexualized, Trish wears (though somewhat skimpy) clothing than none (at any point) and is closer to the age of the main characters. I hate even writing that out – but, perhaps, that’s a bit unfair to Trish as well. She definitely had the potential to be a more active participant, rather than simply escorted from place to place, as a Stand-user herself and hints of a romance between her and Guido Mista, but the former happens too late within the story-arc and the latter is underdeveloped. It doesn’t help that, when her Stand is eventually revealed, their power is to…make non-rubbery things rubbery. It’s suggested earlier on to be far more powerful than that, perhaps enough to rival “The Boss” and their Stand called “King Crimson” (after one of the best rock bands ever), but I’m not sure how that can compete with weaponized time-skipping straight from that one episode of Futurama.
However, with that said, I want to end on a more positive note. For all the issues I have stated about the series – I do, in fact, like this series overall. It’s why I saved the best for last…
I think what many people like about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, more than anything, is Araki himself – or, specifically, his Artistic presentation. It’s a creative vision that is just as distinct as Hideo Kojima’s and, erratic in quality as it may be, that’s to be appreciated in a world where it’s becoming a rarity and many creatives can end up feeling interchangeable (upper-management meddling doesn’t help). There’re a lot of issues I have with auteurism as a concept since film production, videogame development, and even making a superhero comic are collective efforts than a product of one person’s endeavor but it’s also hard to deny that films directed by David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino always feel like one made by Lynch or Tarantino and no one else. So, in that sense, Araki is an auteur – but his style is an acquired taste like sardines or caviar.
If you aren’t exactly on Araki’s wavelength, which I occasionally wasn’t, it’s understandably difficult to connect with the material. There’s a reason I didn’t get into the series any sooner and it’s that those who are on Araki’s wavelength, despite their enthusiasm, do a poor job of explaining what JoJo’s is or why the series is worth time and energy to one who’s unfamiliar. It’s as if they’re speaking a different language only they can understand, in having inundated themselves with anime and manga while lacking all other points of reference. It’s a sadly common behavior across all fandom – this inability to properly communicate to anyone outside their group about their chosen hobby. All due to fixating on a single form of entertainment or franchise, while neglecting all others, that creates an increasingly insular and inaccessible community. Why would someone with a passing interest in superhero comics get into them, if introduced to fans obsessing over canonized minutiae only they care about and demand memorization as a prerequisite for entry? Who’d want to become a “Gamer” when something that’s meant to be enjoyed causes you to be an overly-defensive, needlessly competitive asshole who only cares about “gittin’ gud”? I mean, even as someone who likes anime enough to consider Perfect Blue and Princess Mononoke two of my favorite films next to Blade Runner, it’s hard to fault someone for staying away when so many series portray underage girls in the creepiest way imaginable. It’s impossible to notice any of those red flags when unwilling to take off your rose-colored shades and put on a different pair.
If there’s any aspect about Araki that I find absolutely charming, it’s that he imbues the series with this rock-and-roll sensibility throughout. If it wasn’t already obvious from before; whether it’s a character, their Stand, or a Stand’s ability – they’re likely named after a band, a solo musician, a song, or even an album. The way in which they’re applied doesn’t always make sense, like a millennia-old Aztec vampire being named “AC/DC”, but it’s hard to not love it in certain cases like “Robert E.O. Speedwagon” (which is, like, the best name ever!), “Steely Dan”, or the Stand “Killer Queen” with special attacks called “Sheer Heart Attack” and “Bites The Dust.” How about the songs I used at the beginning of each section? They’re all featured in the end credits and, in having no prior knowledge of this, made the usage of Yes’ “Roundabout” a pleasant surprise only to then become gleefully nostalgic upon hearing Savage Garden’s “I Want You” and Jodeci’s “Freek’n You.” It was like watching Jordan Peele’s Us and getting giddy as fuck when “I Got 5 On It” is sung by the main characters – it’s a feeling I don’t get as much as I’d like these days.
Each story-arc also feels like you’re getting a glimpse of Araki’s pet obsession at the time as “Phantom Blood” seems inspired by Victorian literature like, duh, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “Battle Tendency” by pulp adventures like Indiana Jones, and “Stardust Crusaders” comes off as equal parts Spaghetti Western – Jotaro is basically a Japanese Clint Eastwood – and 80’s Cannon Film action schlock. He definitely goes all out with his Italophilia in “Golden Wind”, which was only hinted at in previous story-arcs, to the extent characters are named after specific cuisines (it’s really weird to be reminded of Sorcerer Hunters…) and the road trip format features many scenic landscapes of the peninsular nation – it’s like marketing material to promote tourism (shit, it made me want to visit the place more than I already did). That leaves “Diamond Is Unbreakable” as the odd one out, but for good reason.
Whereas the foreign locales in most other story-arcs acted as background for the action set pieces, akin to a James Bond movie – save for the visually underwhelming Ye Olde Britain of “Phantom Blood” – the central Japanese suburbia that is Morioh is a very lived-in place that exudes personality. It’s as much a character as primary protagonist Josuke “JoJo IV” Higashikata and his wide array of supporting cast members, as one grows familiar with the layout of its streets and geographical points of interest that remains consistent from beginning to end. There’s never a point where it looks like the characters are hundreds of miles away in an entirely different environment, as specific areas and notable landmarks are revisited regularly enough to assure you this all takes place within a single township. More importantly, due to its superficial mundanity, the events that play out really does put the “Bizarre Adventure” in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It makes the appearance of an invisible baby and a new resident who may or may not be an extraterrestrial feel far more momentous than a steady stream of back-to-back battles.
The slice-of-life elements of “Diamond Is Unbreakable” is something the rest of the series really needed more of because, as amusing as moments like the “Torture Dance” may be, it does a better job at characterization. Seeing these people go about a daily schedule – whether it’s attending school, working their job, or stopping by the local bodega for another box of Pocky – help differentiate them better, as personality traits are more clearly defined through such interactions than the all-too-brief lulls in between fights. When there is a confrontation, it’s more often framed as an elaborate puzzle or mind game than straightforwardly violent as it is elsewhere. It’s when the series is at its most character-driven that makes for a world of difference, reminding you that action sequences should be built up to in order to act as pay-off, and that endless action just bleeds together after a while. If I were to recommend JoJo’s to anyone, I’d always clarify that “Diamond Is Unbreakable” is where they should start – it’s the only story-arc I’d actively rewatch like “Battle Tendency” but unlike the rest, save for a small handful of episodes (definitely the Iggy/Pet Shop fight).
I’ve actually considered reading that part of the manga, as well as future story-arcs that’ve yet to be adapted into anime…and this is where I’ll conclude my rambling.
Neon Genesis EvanJoJolion
After watching all of the anime and writing about it, I think I’ll need a bit of a break from JoJo’s – but that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to future story-arcs. Quite the opposite, actually!
The fact “Star Ocean” has a primary protagonist, Jolyne (I can only hope they’re named after the Dolly Parton song), who’s female is interesting enough by itself – due to how downplayed the presence of women have been in the series so far – but that she’s also Jotaro’s estranged white trash Floridian daughter is just as intriguing. Though I’m more interested in both “Steel Ball Run” and “JoJolion” as the series pulls a Devilman: Crybaby where the timeline is rebooted, having characters sharing the namesakes of those from the previous timeline while being entirely different people. “Steel Ball Run” especially as it’s framed as a Western (a genre I’m quite partial to) about a cross-country horse race with a paraplegic protagonist, Johnny Joestar, and a fictional U.S. President named “Funny Valentine” as the villain. So, like Hidalgo, but with superpowers! Trying to describe “JoJolion” – based on the Wikipedia page about it – wouldn’t do much justice as it’d be confusing without experiencing it firsthand. Well, save for involving magical fruit and silicon-based humanoids infiltrating society, which is…different. You’d almost assume, by the story-arc’s title alone, it was in reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion but there are no biomechanical giants piloted by traumatized teenagers fighting Angels from the Old Testament (though there are mysterious structures called “Wall Eyes” that make me think of SEELE’s logo and their monoliths).
However, none of them have been officially published in English nor have they been adapted into anime. I could pursue the fan-translated manga online but I’m already reading Dorohedoro, which I’d prefer to finish first, and my comicbook backlog in general is big enough to break the back of many a camel (if they were physical rather than digital). As David Production’s anime adaptation of the series has popularized it and “Golden Wind” only finished its run on Toonami this late October, it’s possible – when including David Production’s project schedule as well as COVID-19’s presence – that a “Stone Ocean” anime will appear sometime in the middle of next year or early 2022. Maybe I’ll just wait, until then…
Okay, that’s it – time to make some changes on this site.
Having just one review – or, in this case, two halves of one review – a month isn’t working out for me. I’m still going to write such pieces but there’s going to be more in the style of opinion-editorials or brief observations about a current interest of mine, because I don’t get as much exposure as I’d like for my writing and it only discourages me. I don’t think I can ever be a YouTuber with a following to justify a Patreon (my ko-fi account is still incomplete due to my moving to SoCal) and a single video every few weeks as a feasible method of income, since I am an opinionated nobody who hates being in front of a camera (suppose that gives me something in common with Thomas Pynchon) and can’t listen to their voice on a recording without getting violently embarrassed by it. Writing’s basically all I got and it seems no one is going to read unless I make some changes, preferably for the better.
All that said: my next Non-Fan Review will be on…The Clone Wars. ‘Cause, holy shit, I need to get some stuff off my chest about Star Wars as a franchise.
Happy Holidays, y’all!