Reviewby Nick Creamer, Jan 4th 2017
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable (Episodes 1-39 Streaming)
After crossing swords with vampires, grappling with the mighty pillar men, and chasing the undying Dio back to Egypt, you would think the Joestar family had earned some rest. Unfortunately, the threat of Stand users with dark intentions still plagues this world, and now the danger seems closer to home than ever before. In the winding hillsides and cheerful suburbs of peaceful Morioh, Josuke Higashikata lives through uneventful days at school, unaware of his legacy or the violence that follows it. But something is lurking beneath the surface of Morioh, and Jousuke will need all the strength and cleverness of a true JoJo to survive.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has certainly gone places. With Battle Tendency ending on a fight for the sake of the world, and Stardust Crusaders focusing on a globe-hopping battle against a vampire with time powers and laser eyes, it'd be hard for JoJo's fourth arc to raise the stakes in terms of scale. Instead, Diamond is Unbreakable does the opposite by focusing on one single Japanese town, Morioh, and bringing JoJo to a smaller scale than ever before. In theory, this would make Diamond is Unbreakable feel less consequential and less exciting than previous arcs. In practice, this ends up being one of the smartest choices the series has made yet.
One of JJBA's great strengths that's allowed it to endure without getting stale is its creator Hirohiko Araki's wide stable of interests and influences. While Phantom Blood was essentially a gothic fantasy story, Battle Tendency hewed closer to something like Indiana Jones' camp adventure serials. Stardust Crusaders married that adventure serial aesthetic to an increased reliance on horror archetypes, centering conflicts on staples like “the evil doll” and “the treacherous mirror.” In Diamond is Unbreakable, the focus is very specifically suburban horror - the surface calm of the suburbs and the dark terrors that lurk beneath.
Early episodes of Diamond is Unbreakable mine great drama out of this horror vein, embracing classic formulas like the home invasion and the creepy house at the end of the lane. If you've gotten this far into JoJo, you can probably guess how effectively these narratives contribute to its usual tricks; the first home invasion involves trying to defeat a Stand that can conceal itself in any liquid, while that creepy house at the end of the lane conceals a guy with a tiny militia ready to do his bidding. But even beyond simply branching out into a new set of evocative episodic battles, Diamond is Unbreakable rides on the strength of its key ingredients: a great cast, Araki's growing ambition toward Stand powers, and a newly revitalized visual aesthetic.
Diamond is Unbreakable's uniquely excellent cast builds naturally out of its suburban setting. The new JoJo this time is Josuke Higashikata, the illegitimate son of Joseph Joestar. Diamond's first episode unites Josuke with last season's Jotaro Kujo, who warns Josuke that malicious Stand users are lurking somewhere in his neighborhood. Shortly after that, the pair learn that a certain magic bow and arrow have actually been granting random people Stand powers, meaning that basically anyone around them could be a Stand user. And shortly after that, they learn there's a serial killer on the loose, who's using the power of a particularly vicious Stand to cover his tracks.
While Stardust Crusaders restricted Stand users almost solely to the main cast and their antagonists, Diamond is Unbreakable posits a world where a whole bunch of random people have been given strange powers they barely understand. Not only does Diamond is Unbreakable's “anyone could be a Stand user” premise naturally facilitate the arc's focus on suburban distrust, it also means this arc's use of Stands is far more complex and intriguing than prior material. Some Stand users are simply using their powers to make a quick buck or ensure their crush falls in love with them. Some Stand users end up becoming friends of the main cast, while some construct grudging rivalries or firm alliances with others. Diamond is Unbreakable's newly democratic approach to Stand powers makes its world a far more interesting place, allowing the show to pull off absurd conflicts like “we have to find this invisible baby” or “this Italian chef seems a little too talented.”
Diamond is Unbreakable also feels far more like an ensemble piece than prior arcs, which works to its benefit. While previous arcs have had endearing central crews, this arc establishes a living town full of charismatic characters who pop in and out of the narrative. This more complex focus pairs nicely with this arc's more complex Stands - in contrast with the prior arc's simple powers like “speed” and “fire,” Stand abilities now range from “can reconstruct any destroyed object” (Josuke's specialty) to “can read your life story like a biography and make changes to your personality,” or even “can crush you under the weight of your own guilt.” Not only is Diamond is Unbreakable's cast a diverse group, but both their unique powers and this arc's more mundane context allows the show greater dramatic range than ever before.
It also helps that this arc looks great. While the first season of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure used glamorous palette shifts to make up for a lack of animation, Stardust Crusaders cut back on that visual experimentation, sticking to a more conventional color palette and design sensibility. Diamond is Unbreakable throws that restraint out the window, presenting Morioh as a technicolor whirlwind of sickly pastels and dynamic color shifts. The character designs are also quite different; far less burly than the previous arcs' mountain men, the designs here have a slim and even graceful look while still maintaining JoJo's general macho appeal. While the animation is still relatively limited, the direction is generally strong - from disarming fisheye shots to dynamic closeups and beautiful pans of the Morioh countryside, Diamond is Unbreakable's visuals represent the series at its best.
JoJo's sound design continues to be more of a role player than a standout, though this arc's three opening songs all deserve notice. JoJo wisely matches this arc's shift in narrative genre with a shift in musical one; instead of the thunderous hair metal of seasons past, Diamond is Unbreakable dabbles in disco, punk, and even funk rock for its openings. Both the songs and their accompanying opening segments are excellent, making for the strongest opening sequences since the unparalleled Bloody Stream.
While it's easy enough for me to tour the merits of this season in isolation, it's how well they come together that tells the true story. Diamond is Unbreakable has JoJo's most interesting cast, most creative selection of powers, and most substantive setting of any arc so far. It feels like the payoff for all that Araki has learned; from its cohesive genre tone to its creative episodic adventures, everything feels confident and engaging. There are certainly weaker episodes, and the fact that Diamond ran for three seasons straight means its visual execution gets murky at times, but the show's fundamental design sense and sturdy narrative variations are always strong enough to carry it through. If you were put off by Stardust Crusaders' villain-of-the-week approach, I'd still recommend giving Diamond is Unbreakable a try. The JoJos have never been better.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Offers JoJo's strongest cast, most compelling powers, and most inspired visual design yet, suburban horror focus gives the arc a great sense of cohesion and place
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