Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Jojo's Bizarre Adventureby Jason Thompson, Dec 23rd 2010
Episode XXXIV: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
A man who opens people's faces like the pages of a book, reading the memories within. An invisible stag beetle that shoots a spiked chain from its mouth, ripping out people's tongues and dragging them behind it like tin cans on a string. A creature that turns sound effects into physical objects, blasting and crushing people with the power of "DON" and "GO GO GO GO". And our hero, a 6'4" Japanese teenager in a torn blue trenchcoat and a cap that seems to blend with his hair. You know I'm talking about JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, although it's never been adapted into live-action or an anime TV series, is one of the most popular and longest continually running manga in Japan (by some definitions, since it's been on several hiatuses). Its creator, Hirohiko Araki, is the one person on Earth I would be tempted to swap lives with. His work is technically boys' manga, shonen battle manga, but it's also got the strangeness and artsiness of a cult hit. In a world of manga which are rip-offs of other manga, there's nothing else like Jojo.
Araki got his start in manga in 1980 with a Wild West short story, Busô Poker ("Armored Poker"), which won a Tezuka Award and started his career. In 1982 he began his first continuing serial, Mashônen B.T. ("Magic Boy B.T."), about a young stage magician who solves mysteries, inspired by Araki's love of Sherlock Holmes. Both these stories featured some of Araki's signature style - his funky backgrounds, his love of narration, his taste for the grotesque, his love of the colors blue and pink - but other things were missing, such as his love of gore. This burst through the doors in 1984's BAOH, a very '80s direct-to-video story of a bioengineered superhuman monster, an evil corporation, and lots of melting and exploding heads.
But Araki's art was still immature; his characters' faces and expressions were flat, and their arms looked like pipe cleaners. Compared to other popular artists of the time like Tetsuo Hara and Tsukasa Hojo, his art looked cartoony, and this had to change. "Muscular actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were extremely popular back then," said Araki in an interview in the back of VIZ's Jojo's graphic novels. "At the time, I was creating a story with a theme focused on the physical body, so my drawing style changed to a more muscular look." In BAOH he had already started to focus more on figure drawing, but it wasn't until Gorgeous Irene (1985-1986) that his characters started to really get buff. Pecs, deltoids and glutes start to jump out of the characters' skin. Biceps and triceps are suddenly bigger than the heroes' faces. Although sophisticates may scoff, the truth is, most people apparently *love* men with massive pecs and chests as big as Optimus Prime's. Look at the giant man-chests on most kids' action figures, or at how everybody complained when World of Warcraft tried to give male Blood Elves slender, ectomorphic bodies. Call it gar if you will, but apparently, people love beefcake.
And beefcake - and Western suspense-horror - is exactly what they got in Araki's new 1987 manga, the manga which would become his signature work, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. The story begins long ago in ancient Mexico, where an Aztec human sacrifice is underway. At the height of the ceremony, the priest dons a strange mask which absorbs the blood of the victim, then comes to life and extends bony spikes into the wearer's brain. The priest's eyes glow and his muscles swell with power, turning him into an immortal vampire!
Then, cut to 1880s Britain! Jonathan Joestar, a good-hearted lad with shoulders broad enough to land a plane on, is the son of George Joestar, a kind and overly trusting nobleman. To repay a debt to a dead man and ease Jonathan's loneliness after his mother's death, George adopts a poor boy, Dio Brando, to be Jonathan's new brother. But what George doesn't know is that Dio, despite his handsome looks and silver tongue, is irredeemably evil. (Maybe he had a bad upbringing, since his father was also a dick. It could also be that he's blonde, the hair color of evil bishonen.) On their first meeting, Jonathan tries to make friends, but Dio rebuffs his efforts and kicks Jonathan's dog, Danny, in the face. In subsequent chapters, he (1) tries to gouge Jonathan's eye out in a boxing match, (2) steals a kiss from Jonathan's sweetheart and (3) puts Danny in the incinerator. (Araki's villains hate dogs. They REALLY hate dogs.) Eventually the stepbrothers come to a sort of truce, and years pass, but there is no love lost between them. Eventually, Jonathan realizes that Dio's true goal is to win over his father's affections and become the inheritor of the Joestar estate…through MURDER.
This Dickensian family drama lasts for more than an entire volume before any supernatural elements are introduced, except for the initial flashback showing the ancient Aztec mask. (But did I mention that the mask now hangs on the wall in the Joestar house? Now that's foreshadowing!) Jojo's slow beginning is sort of amazing, since most modern-day Shonen Jump manga take pains to set up the whole premise in the first chapter. (That was the best thing for me about Black Butler, the fact that it took an entire volume to explain the big twist, positively novel-length by shonen manga standards.) With little inkling of what is to come, we watch as Jonathan does detective work and slowly uncovers Dio's insidious scheme to poison his father. Meanwhile, Dio accidentally splatters some blood on Joestars' heirloom Aztec mask, which comes to life and twitches around. Dio soon figures out the mask's power, and when Jonathan and the police have him in a bind, he goes to Plan B: put on the mask and become a vampire! In a flash, Dio transforms into an unbelievably powerful monster who walks on walls, turns people into zombie slaves, sucks blood through his fingers, and takes bullets to the head like they're nothing. A flame catches the curtains on fire, and soon the Joestar mansion is ablaze. Then, somehow, Dio and Jonathan suddenly have their shirts off. With sweaty courage, Jonathan engages Dio in hand-to-hand combat and somehow wins! Leaving Dio impaled on a marble statue in the burning mansion, the wounded Jonathan somehow makes it into the hands of his beloved Erina Pendleton, who tends to his injuries.
But Dio isn't dead, and after his burnt and decomposing body crawls out of the ruins, he gets bishonen again and starts to recruit zombie allies for his revenge against Jonathan. Together with the legendary serial killer Jack the Ripper and a bunch of other jerks, Dio lairs in a remote castle and begins to raise an army of slimy undead monsters. (I love how Jojo, and for another example Zatch Bell, thinks Britain is such a dangerous and Medieval place that a monster can just take over a castle and terrorize the populace like it's nothing.) Jonathan must fight Dio again; but before he can chase after the vampire, he is approached by a strange man with a top hat and a big mustache. The man is Will Zeppeli, a world traveler and a former sailor who went to the Himalayas where he learned the mystical martial art of hamon (often translated as "ripple," which unfortunately makes it sound like an ice cream flavor). Among its other useful powers, hamon produces the same energy as sunlight, so it allows hamon masters to destroy vampires with their bare hands! Zeppeli teaches Jonathan how to use hamon in one of the shortest training sequences I've ever seen in a manga, and thus armed, the fearless vampire killers set out to the wilds of Britain to kick Dio's ass!
And kick ass they do. Hamon gives one the power to not just destroy things with a punch, but to infuse other objects with energy so they blow up other things, basically letting you set up chain combos. One by one, vampire faces are melted off and liquefied into puddles of slime by the Apollo-like solar power of Jonathan's biceps. However, Dio has also gained new vampire powers, such as the ability to freeze things, and to shoot beams out of his eyeballs. In the ensuing battle, Zeppeli dies, and Dio's head is torn off and flung to the bottom of a ravine. Jonathan marries Erina and everything ends happily. Except that DIO STILL LIVES! When the happy couple leaves on a ship for their honeymoon, a zombie smuggles Dio's head onboard and the head attacks Jonathan. As the ship sinks in the chaos, our hero sacrifices himself to give his bride a chance to escape, grabbing Dio's head in a death grip and taking them both to the bottom of the sea.
Intermission time. Take a break, get a drink of water. We have 75 volumes of Jojo to go, not counting the currently ongoing sequel series Steel Ball Run. Jojo is loosely one manga, but it's really divided into six (seven counting Steel Ball Run) story arcs which all have different protagonists, different settings and different forms of madness. The Jojo I've just described is just the first series, "Phantom Blood," which was adapted into an anime movie in 2007. (Strangely, the movie has never been released on DVD.) Each Jojo series has one thing in common with the others, the presence of a "Jojo," a character sharing the same heroic bloodline as Jonathan Joestar ("Jojo" for short).
The second part of Jojo, "Battle Tendency," jumps forward fifty years to 1938. Turns out that Jonathan Joestar fathered a child before he died, and now Jonathan's grandson - Joseph Joestar - has grown to a young man in New York City! Yes, it's New York in the '30s, the era of pulp adventure a la Indiana Jones, which "Battle Tendency" seems loosely inspired by. Unlike his grandfather, Joseph is a rude young punk, but when vampires reappear and start attacking him and his family, he uses his awesome hamon vibratory powers to fight back. Nazi archaeologists have discovered strange creatures (with the physical forms of incredibly buff, near-naked men out of a 1950s men's bodybuilding magazine) imprisoned in the stone at remote archaeological sites. These humanoid monsters - whose names are Santana, AC/DC, Wham and Kars - are the progenitors of the vampires, who thirst to awaken after thousands of years to reconquer the world. Realizing that the vampire-lords are too powerful for him to fight in his current state, Joseph gets hamon training in Italy from the gorgeous LisaLisa, a rare exception to the damsels-in-distress who make up most of the female cast of early Jojo. Soon, he is doing handstands on one finger on top of spiked pits, and fighting the vampire-lords - who are honorable opponents - in arena matches, pseudo-Roman chariot races, and mine cart rides all over Europe! Aiding Joseph is his opponent-turned-ally Rudolph von Stroheim, a Nazi cyborg. After numerous battles in which big chunks of flesh are torn out of Joseph's body with no apparent permanent damage, and one sequence in which Joseph puts on women's clothing to fool the Nazis, our heroes triumph and the world is saved.
But it's the third part of Jojo, volumes 13-28 of the Japanese version, which is the Jojo to many people, not to mention the only part of the series currently available in English translation. (It sort of stands on its own.) Flash forward another 50 years to 1988, when Joseph's half-Japanese grandson, Jotaro Kujo, is the new hero. Whereas Jonathan was a chivalrous British gentleman and Joseph was a globetrotting pulp adventurer, Jotaro is another kind of heroic archetype, the bancho. The star of countless 1970s manga and retro video games, the bancho is the unbelievably macho blue-collar Japanese teenager wearing a torn school uniform. (According to bancho-ologist Usamaru Furuya, they can often be seen standing on a riverbank silhouetted in the sunset thinking of past battles. They also like to chew on a piece of grass.) Just his 195cm height and cold-as-ice attitude (in contrast to the spazzy, goofy personality of many shonen protagonists) would be enough to make Jotaro a hero, but furthermore, he has a power never seen before in the Jojo universe. Jotaro is possessed by a spirit, a "Stand."
Stands are the defining trait of Jojo from Volume 13 onward, and were the inspiration for tons of other manga, like Shaman King, in which the heroes control spirits or ghosts that normal mortals can't see. (It's a good way to keep from having to deal with the real-world consequences of all this mayhem, like police showing up, crowds of people screaming and running, etc.) Stands (which are initially named after Tarot Cards, until Araki runs out of cards) are essentially a way to make psychic powers more visually exciting. As Araki explained it at one point, there's tons of psychic manga where the hero grimaces or grunts and the wall explodes, but that's boring to look at. But in Jojo, when Jotaro grimaces, his Stand jumps out of his body in the form of a fierce-looking blue humanoid and pummels the wall to pieces with its mighty fists! The Stands are partners; they're expressions of the heroes' inner selves; and they're usually freakish, weird-looking things, with inorganic/organic forms similar to ancient statues and masks. They all have different powers; the villains' Stands usually have sneaky, complicated powers, and the heroes' powers are usually simpler, like Jotaro's Star Platinu, which has super-speed and ability to destroy things really good. The ability to use a Stand makes Jotaro even more badass; he's a hero who can literally punch you in the face a thousand times at the same time that his physical body is kicking back smoking a cigarette.
Joseph Joestar, now more like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Sean Connery than Raiders of the Lost Ark Harrison Ford, recruits his grandson Jotaro from jail, where he has voluntarily imprisoned himself to keep from unintentionally harming people with his Stand powers. Joseph needs Jotaro's help, because he has bad news: Dio has arisen from the ocean, his severed head now controlling Jonathan Joestar's body! Furthermore, Dio has developed a Stand, "The World," whose powers are unknown and possibly omnipotent. Dio - now a truly refined evil overlord, suave and sophisticated to near-mystical levels - goes to Cairo in Egypt and recruits an army of Stand Users, whom he sends (one at a time, for no good reason) to kill his old enemies the Joestars. Some of the Stand Users are mind-controlled, and after Jotaro and Joseph beat them they switch sides: Kakyoin, a sensitive and artsy high school student, and Polnareff, a French muscleman with crazy hair. Polnareff, earnest and stupid, becomes the comic relief of the series. There's also Mohammed Avdol, the fortune teller, and Iggy, a grouchy Stand-using dog. He doesn't speak English. He's just a dog. They must defeat Dio, and they're on a time limit, because Dio's powers are slowly killing Jotaro's mother, growing a spectral rosebush of Stand thorns which pierce her body from within. Together, they travel around the world from Japan to Egypt, stopping in Singapore, India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia along the way.
And here, the formula for the next 60+ volumes of Jojo is perfected. On every step of their long journey, the heroes are attacked by villains, by monstrous Stand creatures and assassins and just plain freaks. Each new villain is the subject of a 4-to-6-chapter sequence, in which the heroes encounter weird phenomena, uncover a mysterious enemy, and fight for their lives to defeat them. Unlike most shonen manga, the battles are more often won by cleverness (or ridiculous luck, or author fiat) than by sheer power and determination. There's the Stand which lives in reflections, like mirrors and pools of water, and kills you by killing your reflection. There's the blind Stand User who detects the heroes with his amazing hearing and touch, and attacks from a long distance using his Stand which hides under the desert sands. There's the gambler who has no physical powers, but who can steal your soul if you lose a bet to him, whether in poker or tic-tac-toe. And of course, there's lots of enemies whose power is just to kill you in gory ways. Araki's ultraviolence reaches its stylistic peak here; one of his trademarks is drawing splattering blood that looks like it's sticking out of the characters' bodies like spikes, blood which hangs like icicles in the air. The heroes are continually losing gallons of blood, and toes and things, with no lasting effect; it's not until Series 4 that we meet a character with a healing Stand, but mostly, they just grit their teeth and endure the pain in a he-manly fashion.
The travelogue format of Series 3 was based on a real trip through Asia and Africa taken by a young Hirohiko Araki. (Dio at one point mocks the heroes, calling them "the Joestar tour group".) Sadly, Araki's interest in foreign settings came back to bite him in the ass in 2008 when someone in Egypt paused an Arabic-fansubbed copy of the Jojo OAV and noticed that Dio, the villain, is depicted in one scene being his usual evil self while reading the Qu'ran. This was actually the animators' fault; in the original version of the scene in Araki's manga, Dio is just reading a generic illegible book from his huge library of ancient lore, but the Studio A.P.P.P. anime version used Qu'ranic text in a closeup. (Studio A.P.P.P. made a statement that the animators didn't intend to use the Qu'ran, they just scanned an Arabic book at random. It's a nice dodge, but frankly I highly doubt it, since what animator could resist having a character named Dio reading a book about God?) Egyptian Islamic fundamentalists freaked out and demanded an apology. Shueisha not only apologized but pulled the anime from distribution, they agreed with further demands by censoring scenes in the manga in which the heroes and villains are fighting on the rooftops of Cairo, knocking pieces off of centuries-old mosques. (Araki redrew the art himself, as he did when Viz requested changed to scenes of dogs getting brutalized.) Were Christian anime fans, who are used to seeing Christian iconography trampled like grapes in a winepress in anime like Devilman, Bastard!!, Angel Sanctuary and Evangelion, annoyed by all the attention paid to the Qu'ran scene? It's worth remembering, though, that the whole thing started because Jojo was fansubbed by Arabic anime fans, who presumably liked Jojo and weren't too bothered by the Qu'ran bit, until someone got offended and told his dad or whoever. ("I think we shouldn't be too sensitive…So what, the guy was reading the Quran while he gave the execution orders," wrote a Muslim commenter on a Pakistani website. "It is understandable to get angry about people making fun of Mohammed, but this is not the same thing.")
So that covers religion; while we're going through a list of potentially offensive things, what about racism then? Araki's ability to draw good backgrounds brings the locations to life, but his love of drawing human grotesques turns most of the inhabitants of the countries into kooky stereotypes. (White Americans too; an American politician who shows up in Series 3 comes off as an arrogant, toad-like scumbag.) The scene in India in which the villain uses a crowd of beggars as cover to attack our heroes, and Polnareff panics to find himself surrounded by a swarm of doddering, groping, brown-skinned men asking him for money, is much squickier than any religious scene in my opinion. Of course, Avdol (aka Abdul, which isn't a real Arabic name either, and is probably a reference to singer Paula Abdul) the not-explicitly-but-probably-Egyptian Stand User, is one of the heroes of Series 3, but since he's like the faithful Punjab to Joseph Joestar's Daddy Warbucks, he's probably also objectionable to someone. Anyway, it's Jojo, so everyone comes off as a bunch of freaks. At the end of Series 3, after hardships and sacrifices, our multicultural heroes save Egypt (and the world) from the depredations of the fiendish old white guy vampire, Dio.
The final battle between Jotaro and Dio, and the ending of Jojo series 3, is one of the most awesome manga endings I have ever read. And then, it continues, although it becomes less like an ongoing story and more like a series of separate manga under the Jojo name. In series 4 Jotaro and Joseph are side characters and the scene shifts to a small Japanese city (one of the all-too-rare manga set in parts of Japan other than Tokyo) where Josuke, another Jojo descendant, must solve the mystery of a serial killer. In series 5 the scene shifts to Italy, where a bunch of very pretty Stand User gangsters fight one another for power. Series 6 is set in America in the near future, where Jotaro's daughter Jolyne Kujo gets involved in crazy ultraviolence in a women's prison in the swamps of Florida. And "Steel Ball Run," the unofficial Series 7, is set in the late 1800s Wild West, where Stand Users go on a horse race across the country. The title is probably a reference to Cannonball Run, but the series itself, with its Western theme, is a return to Araki's very first manga, Busô Poker.
The world of Jojo owes its strangeness to a mixture of many things. For one thing, it's clearly horror-influenced. In an interview, Araki said "I prefer suspense over horror," but this feels like a tomato/tomahto distinction to me, since every Jojo series, even after the vampires leave the picture, is full of creepy stuff, horrific gore, and sequences where the heroes are stalked by killers, caught in deathtraps, and generally put into scary situations. Apart from the vampires, the first part of Series 3 is possibly the most horror-esque; not only is Jotaro Kujo's name a reference to Stephen King's Cujo, the heroes fight Stand Users which seem to have been pulled off the shelves of 1970s-1980s low-budget horror movies - a creepy voodoo doll which comes to life, an intelligent tumor which grows and takes over people's bodies, a Nightmare on Elm Street dream killer (with an added Araki power-up), a flesh-eating blob, a killer boat looking much like the poster art for the 1980 movie Death Ship (but much better than that crappy movie), and a killer car whose segment is directly copied from Stephen Spielberg's 1971 TV horror movie Duel. Araki is a master of drawing slow, creepy sequences which seem inspired by horror manga (particularly by the works of Kazuo Umezu), and unusually for shonen manga, his heroes are often frightened. (Although the secondary heroes, like Polnareff and Kakyoin, are more frighten-able than Jotaro, and perhaps it's for this reason that Jotaro leaves the picture for several chapters at a time, so his more emotional friends can freak out.) But Jojo isn't all serious scares. In fact, it's often pretty absurd; storylines from series 3 onward often end with a serious situation defused in a comical way. The typical formula is 80-100 pages of the heroes being terrorized by some monstrous villain, followed by 5-10 pages of the heroes kicking their ass, and/or having a group laugh at the bad guys' expense, like at the end of a G.I. Joe cartoon. Series 3 also includes a lot of trivia on local bathrooms across South Asia and the Middle East. Poop humor tends to dispel the terror of a zombie attack.
Other times, the whole plot is a joke. One of my favorite stories is in Series 4 when the heroes, on the hunt for a serial killer, meet a weird yushoku Italian chef, Tonio Trussardi. Trussardi acts really creepy, but he insists that he is just a cook and invites the heroes to try the food at his restaurant. The hero is suspicious and says no, but the hero's dumb sidekick of course agrees. The hero sits by and watches as his dumb friend, against the hero's advice, eats the appetizer…AND HIS SKIN STARTS TO DISGUSTINGLY FALL OFF HIS BODY! The hero is freaked out and prepares to attack the chef - but wait! Beneath the fallen-off skin the sidekick's skin has regenerated, and now his acne is gone! Furthermore, the food was so tasty that the sidekick insists on trying the next course. Then the next course causes HIS INTESTINES TO BURST OUT OF HIS CHEST IN A BLOODY AVALANCHE -- but wait! His intestines immediately regenerate, and now his digestive problems are cured! This goes on for course after course, for 80 pages, until eventually the chef explains that he has a special cooking Stand which makes food so good that people purge their damaged bodyparts and immediately grow them back better than ever. He was just trying to cook them a good meal. The end.
Araki is also one of the minority of shonen manga artists who I would say writes something like real dialogue (as opposed to just "I'll show you how strong I am...!" "I must get stronger!" "Impossible! You can't be so strong!"). His characters go on long rambles, make crazy boasts and demented threats, make references to Weird Al Yankovic and movie stars and baseball players. Most of the villains in Series 3 are just bad to the bone, but later on the enemies have deep backstories, and Araki often goes into long digressions about the characters' messed-up, tragic, bizarre lives. Then (as readers of this review may have noticed) there is Araki's habit of naming his characters after rock musicians or albums he likes, similar to how everyone is named after heavy metal bands in Bastard!!. He probably listens to music while he's drawing.
And last but not least, another strong Araki-ism is his penchant for drawing hot, sultry men with ripe, plum-like lips. Not so noticeable in Series 1, where the characters are too burly to be attractive to anyone of any gender, Araki's male characters eventually shed their 1980s "macho men" phase, go through a Tom of Finland buff-yet-sensual phase, and gradually become more and more flamboyantly dressed and beautiful, not to mention their incredible hip mobility. This may explain some of Jojo's popularity among female readers; CLAMP loved Jotaro so much they did fan art of it in their official art book, and some think their manga Wish is a thinly disguised Jotaro/Kakyoin dojinshi. No messageboard conversation about Jojo in the 1990s would be complete without some troll calling everyone gay. And yet, is it really all unintentional? Araki definitely emphasized the forbidden attractiveness and super-charisma of Dio in Series 3, with characters thinking "He has a dubious sensuality…the kind you wouldn't expect in a man." And there is the Jotaro-Kakyoin pseudo-kiss scene in Series 3. That much is on paper, but it's pure speculation to guess that Araki (who is married) made Jolyne Kujo, the heroine of Series 6, a woman in order to give Jojo more hetero male sex appeal. And yet, the Jolyne experiment didn't entirely work; throughout Series 6, Jolyne gets more and more butch-looking, and one Series 6 side character, who is first drawn as a woman, changes into a man between chapters with no explanation. One thing we can definitely say about Jojo is that both the men and the women are gorgeous. His ideal of beauty seems to be more androgynous than anything.
But beneath all the scares, comedy, androgyny, rock references and blood-vomiting, Jojo is really about heroism. And although Araki has never said he's influenced by any American artists as far as I'm aware - he says Italian culture is his favorite, and that he gets inspiration for poses from classical sculpture - at times it seems to take aim at Western superheroes. Someone I talked to once proposed the theory that the whole idea of Stands was inspired by a 1984-1985 New Mutants storyline, in which Professor Xavier leaves his body through astral travel and fights astral bad guys, but there's no proof of this, just as there's no evidence that Araki's chosen English title JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (for the Japanese "Jojo no Kimyô na Bôken") was inspired by the old Marvel comic Bizarre Adventures. Some of the Stands look a bit like superhero costumes, but no more than they look like mecha, tokusatsu heroes or college art projects. Joseph Joestar is seen reading a Superman comic in one of his early appearances. In a pinch in Series 3, Polnareff wonders if his friends will save him, then thinks "They're not American comic book heroes that save the day. I can't count on them to make a grand entrance and save me!" In Series 4, we are introduced to Kishibe Rohan, Araki's self-insertion character, a super-mangaka who has Stand power but only needs his natural talent to draw the world's greatest manga at blazing speed. At one point the arrogant Rohan explains that his manga is popular everywhere in the world: "Except for America…they don't understand my genius!"
And it's true. We Americans don't understand his genius. The Jojo OAVs, video games and manga were never very popular in America, despite its cult success and things like the WRRRRYYYY internet meme, which give Jojo some street cred but don't translate into manga sales. Jojo is just too bizarre and gory (and possibly too Western-influenced for the Orient-craving American manga audience; we seem to always like ninjas more than pirates and samurai more than snipers). Viz planned to bring Jojo to America in the early 1990s - they ran a little blurb about it in their promo newsletter Viz-In under the name "The Strange Adventures of Jojo" - but the plan collapsed when BAOH flopped. Again in 2002, there was talk about doing Jojo as a monthly comic series, but that stalled too because the monthly manga "floppies" market was obviously collapsing, and it wasn't until 2005 that the series came out in graphic novel form.
And I'm obviously biased, as I edited Viz's edition of Series 3 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. It's my favorite manga, with the possible exception of the works of Kazuo Umezu, and there's nothing more fun than getting to work on something you like. My younger self borrowed the tankôbon from Toshifumi Yoshida in a paper bag before getting my own copies. I spent two weekends one summer traveling around arcades in the San Francisco Bay Area looking for Jojo's Venture, the extremely unpopular translated version of CAPCOM's JoJo's Bizarre Adventure arcade game. (When I talked to a CAPCOM USA employee that year, they told me that there was no way CAPCOM would release the game in English for the home market "unless CAPCOM Japan forced them to"; guess what happened!) Annoyed that CAPCOM was doing a bad job explaining the backstory of Jojo for the American release, I wrote a Jojo's Bizarre Adventure FAQ, although I stopped updating it years ago when I got the editing job. Of course, I can't boast, since this means you can blame me for anything you don't like in the Viz release of Jojo.
I could write much, much more about Jojo, but if I can explain just a fraction of its appeal, I've said enough. Although Jojo has its formula (mystery-scares-fight-resolution), it's an extremely imaginative series with great storytelling, great art and just plain great manga. Hirohiko Araki is a true manga lifer, one of those artists who thrives in the week-after-week deadline struggle, pumping out stories at an amazing pace. In recent years he's switched to a monthly schedule for Steel Ball Run, but he's still producing manga, and the extra time is making his art more sumptuous and his plots meatier. And since Araki looks pretty much the same today as he did in 1987, lending credence to the rumors that he is a vampire and explaining why "Hirohiko Araki doesn't age" is the top googlesearch suggestion for his name, hopefully he'll still be drawing Jojo 50 years from now. If not, perhaps his grandson will be drawing it. Draw on, Araki, you crazy diamond, and thank you for going-on-100 volumes of psychic ass-kicking and strange, fabulous times.
Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide and King of RPGs, as well as manga editor for Otaku USA magazine.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.
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