JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Episodes 1-21
by Hope Chapman, Aug 30th 2014
It's rare that a show comes along where every episode in its run is wildly entertaining. Of course it's rare. Sculpting a long-running continuous story for air in twenty-minute chunks on a breakneck production schedule almost guarantees some bumps in the road. Viewers are used to having to wait our turn for the tire swing, and just enduring the lows alongside the highs in the hopes that the end result will balance out high enough to be worth our time. This is never a concern with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. In this case, we might as well rename it JJBA: Perpetual Motion Tire Swing.
Jojo's is not an "every episode is entertaining" show. Jojo's is an "every second is entertaining" show. It's the very roughest of diamonds sculpted solely for the purpose of holding you in rapt attention, barring dignity, barring sense, and barring taste. Passion with a capital P is the alpha and omega of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure legacy, and Stardust Crusaders is its most famous and widely-loved entry.
As we approach the halfway point of Jotaro Kujo's adventure, it's hard to catalogue even a fraction of the insane things that have happened to him, his three new friends, and his flamboy-diddly-abulous Grandpa Joseph. The short version is that our five butch n' bara heroes must travel to Egypt to destroy the immortal vampire Dio, so Jotaro's mother can be saved from the Joestar family curse before 50 days have passed. Dio knows they're coming for him, so he sends scores upon scores of assassins to delay their voyage. Each new foe is named for a classic or modern rock icon (circa 1987) and wields an anthropomorphic psychic power called a "Stand," each named for a card from the Tarot. Fortunately, the heroic Stardust Crusaders have their own Stands to fight back with, and the result is globetrotting mayhem a breed apart from any other seinen story.
Head-scratching plot aside, it's hard to dispute the tightness of Jojo's scripting. Every action leads to the next big setpiece, every line is a piece of the puzzle our heroes will eventually need to defeat an unstoppable evil, and the only places it decides to waste a little time are in the avenues of wonderfully goofy jokes that seem to play as well today as they did decades ago. Stardust Crusaders leaps effortlessly from shock to shock and gag to gag, and even if not all of them go down easy depending on the state of the audience's stomach, the journey is never predictable. If nothing else, it puts the show in showtime for every second that it's on.
That's not to say JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a perfect experience. While the visual direction, score, and acting are sublime, the animation is severely limited by the dated character models' chiseled inflexibility. For as much crazy imagery as you get per episode, Jojo's is a show you almost listen to more than watch. This is largely due to the poetic rhythm of catchphrases, repetition, and onomatopoeia the Jojo's manga is known for. The anime integrates these elements aurally as much as visually, giving the whole experience a simplistic pop-rock-song-as-story feeling that's both ludicrous and musical. It's sugar to some, but salt to others. It is for lack of any better description: "beautifully stupid."
On that note, the number of people that might run screaming from Stardust Crusaders' idea of a good time isn't much lower than the number it entices. It's a ridiculous, uncensored passion project from a man who was writing to suit tastes from over 20 years ago, and the result is justifiably polarizing. Every woman is a silly bimbo in need of protection (unless they're evil of course,) every puppy dog is a victim of violent mutilation, and every man is a disturbingly ripped amalgam of superhero, rock star, and racial stereotype. As offensive as this may sound at first, Jojo's doesn't have a mean bone in its body. Its brand of irreverence has an ignorant and infectious glee more reminiscent of a story written by an over-caffeinated child than any nihilistic, bigoted adult. (Well, let's assume this is a child with an incredible acumen for good storytelling.) It's hard to be truly offended, but that doesn't mean Jojo's is fun for all modern audiences either. Take stock of your tolerance for 80's-style bombast, gore played for spectacle, and perpetual potty humor before diving into the madness.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is cut from the same cloth as classic manly-man seinen like Fist of the North Star and Riki-Oh, established entries in what was once a booming style of manga snapped up volume after volume by young male readers. That species of seinen entertainment has since ebbed and softened into different modern genres, and there's even less of a hunger for it in the West than there ever was...and yet, this new anime has enraptured a fresh audience for the first time in many years. Stardust Crusaders is a slice of something special. Its blend of sincerity and silliness both fully adopts and plays fast n' loose with the muscle-bound chivalry holding it aloft. It is exactly the kind of show that should open with a vintage-sounding power ballad anime theme and close with The Bangles, and every new episode brings us the very best kind of blast from the past.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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