by Rebecca Silverman,

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Part 2

GN 4 - Battle Tendency

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Part 2 GN 4
After Caesar's tragic death at the hands of Wamuu, JoJo and Lisa Lisa are both heartbroken and more determined than ever to put an end to the Pillar Men. To that end, they make a deal with them: JoJo will duel Wamuu and Kars will take on Lisa Lisa with the red jewel Kars covets as the prize. JoJo's gotten a lot stronger both physically and emotionally, but is he really ready to fight Wamuu one on one? And can Kars really be trusted to keep his promise?

The world of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a strange one, even by the standards of shounen or seinen battle manga. Part of this is the necessary supernatural element of the story – the hamon, the Pillar Men's powers and lifespans, and the amazing way limbs can lengthen to fill up panel space. But the rest of it is pure, insane imagination from the mind of Hirohiko Araki, and that's what makes this series so memorable. We may come for the awesome powers and Aztec vampires, but we stay for the vampire horses and killer squirrel hands.

This volume marks the end of the second part of the saga of the many JoJos, and that alone makes it fairly intense. The death of Caesar at Wamuu's hands in the previous book struck a major blow to JoJo and Lisa Lisa, as well as to the reader – while Araki isn't shy about killing characters (R.I.P. Danny), this is arguably the death with the most impact since Jonathan Joestar, at least in terms of plot. Much as readers may not like it, it is often important for an author to kill a favorite character in order to force the protagonist to grow, and that's the technique we see Araki employing here. With Caesar's death, JoJo comes to a fuller understanding of how dangerous the Pillar Men are and that just being his usual flippant self isn't going to be enough. While he's always been serious about the fight, the loss of Caesar pushes him into a new bracket on that front. He'll never be as tough or down-to-Earth as Lisa Lisa, but he's starting to pick up more from his teacher than just hamon use.

That's an important thing to notice as this volume progresses, because Lisa Lisa's true role is revealed towards the end of the book. It may not be a huge surprise, especially to readers who have finished Phantom Blood right before beginning Battle Tendency, and it certainly falls well within the realm of Victorian melodrama, but it also makes a lot of sense and works with JoJo's evolution as both a person and a warrior. The question of what it means to be a fighter versus an honorable warrior is raised once again, bringing the comparison we saw between the first JoJo and Dio to this JoJo and the Pillar Men. Kars considers the idea of “honor” laughable, and he denigrates Wamuu and JoJo for adhering to it, feeling that it makes them weaker on the battlefield. What's interesting is that when the two more “proper” fighters take to an ancient arena for a Roman-style chariot race (with some hints of Boudicca-style weaponry), the battle is much more interesting and prolonged. Although I'd be hard-pressed to say that Wamuu is a gentleman about things, and he and JoJo really aren't evenly matched in terms of power, their give-and-take fighting style allows for more innovation and tension than when Kars just flexes his many muscles and lets his fabulous hair fly free. Whether Araki is making a point about fighting as a spectator sport or just trying to show us how much more ruthless Kars is isn't clear (although I lean towards the latter), but from the aspect of assessing the spectacle, the Wamuu fight is both longer and more intense.

That could also be due to the fact that Kars is grossly overpowered. While he absolutely needs to be ridiculously mighty, it does take away a bit from the middle of his final battle, with his clear superiority making things feel like they're dragging even when a page count shows that they really aren't. As the final boss of the Battle Tendency chapter, he does need to be a big enough deal to merit the cavalry riding in to the rescue, but most of the reinforcements seem to have been brought in for commentary rather than to actually help with the situation. Yes, they reveal important information, but when you come down to it, they don't necessarily add much to the actual fight. They also bring us to one of the more uncomfortable aspects of Battle Tendency, which is the inclusion of Nazi soldier Stroheim as one of the good guys. This is likely to be much more of an issue for Western readers, but seeing the Nazis ride to the rescue is definitely a button-pusher. Not that all people deserve to be painted with the same brush, but it is such a cultural deviation for post-WWII Europe and America that it is a sticking point, even as we understand that it comes from someplace without the same baggage.

As always, Araki's artwork is flexible in a variety of ways, from the total refutation of normal human body structures to his ability to draw an incredibly crowded page without fully losing the reader, although there are a few pages that definitely push that last one. Amusingly enough, Araki's faces have gotten sweeter atop those super-muscly bodies, and there's a marked improvement in facial expression seen in this volume as JoJo goes from looking perpetually belligerent to having a grumpy “WTF?!” face for much of the book. Araki's women are also looking more like women and less like men with breasts, and while he still doesn't use his female characters particularly well – Lisa Lisa is definitely disappointing on that front – he is getting better at drawing them. Probably the visual highlight, though, is Kars' ever-increasing flamboyance. The more he powers up, the more fabulous he looks, culminating in an image of him daintily holding aside his loincloth to show off his bulging underwear while his hair flows around him.

The final volume of Battle Tendency delivers on all of the important JoJo fronts: epic battles, insane powers, and outrageous artwork. It also sneaks in some emotional hits, bringing things to a satisfying conclusion that also leads into the next chapter, Stardust Crusaders, much more smoothly than the transition between parts one and two. In its usual gorgeous JoJonium Edition, the only complaint about which is how well it shows fingerprints on the matte black cover, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure continues to be the wildest of weird rides that'll both put hair on your chest and make you think about melodrama in a whole new way.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+

+ The usual delightfully insane storyline and fighting keep you reading, art is improving in faces and women. Sneaks in some emotional melodrama with the manly battles.
Panels can be far too crowded, some uncomfortable use of Nazi characters. Lisa Lisa never quite gets her due.

Story & Art: Hirohiko Araki

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JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (manga)

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JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Part 2 - Battle Tendency (GN 4)

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