Reviewby Caitlin Moore,
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean
Even 20 years after his death, Dio's plots against the Joestar line live on. Jolyne Cujoh, daughter of Jotaro Kujo, was an ordinary teenage girl until she agreed to take the fall for her boyfriend after he hit a pedestrian while driving. However, instead of leniency, the judge throws the book at her, and she's sentenced to 15 years at Green Dolphin State Prison. Now she's developed a strange power to turn her body into strings, which her once-absent father calls a Stand. That wouldn't be a big deal, except there are other prisoners with Stands, and most of them are out to get her!
Jolyne, Jolyne, Jolyne, Jolyne… As an anime-only fan of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and a chronic heroine addict, I've been looking forward to david production's adaptation of the Stone Ocean arc for a long time. I'd heard about Jolyne, seen panels demonstrating her stone-cold badassery in the face of prison life. And truly, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean has risen to my highest expectations and then some, as between the battles it has proven to be one of the most thematically rich and interesting parts of the franchise so far.
It's just… has JoJo's Bizarre Adventure always had so little actual animation, or has David Pro gotten overstretched these days? The animation in Stone Ocean is little more than a slideshow, just a step or two above a motion comic. Characters rarely move more than their mouths, maybe gesturing but almost never moving more than one limb at a time. Movement is more often expressed through backgrounds with action lines than animation. It's strange to see in a series so driven by action, with fight sequences that often span multiple episodes carrying most of the plot, especially one with an enormous audience, and it makes me wonder if something went sideways during production.
The production team finds ways to make up the difference. As little as the characters move, they still have distinct physicalities. Araki drew this arc well into his high fashion era, taking a lot of inspiration from models at magazine shoots, and the animators carried that sense of expressiveness from facial expressions, dynamic poses, and some very interesting fashion decisions into the anime adaptation. The storyboarding and affective color scheme carry a lot of the visual storytelling as well, using camera angles, lighting, and shifting color palettes to set the appropriate mood in any given scene.
And where the visuals fall short, the audio elements do more than make up for it. Yūgo Kanno's musical score never fails to express the emotional tenor of any given scene, communicating the tension of a fight, the cramped feeling of imprisonment, and the soaring sense of relief when a character fulfills their purpose. The way Jolyne's leitmotif, a further variation on the evolving themes of her ancestors, kicks in every time she's found a way to get the upper hand over her opponents creates a beautiful sense of recognition, both for her impending victory and a sense that she truly is a continuation of the Joestar line we've been following for generations. The theme songs are excellent as well, from the opening “Stone Ocean,” which encapsulates an angry, 90s-style Riot Girl energy that's perfect for its 90s' season, to the wistful closer, “Distant Dreamer” by Duffy.
The voice casts in both English and Japanese are excellent overall. Jolyne's actors in both languages, Ai Fairouz and Kira Buckland, both got into voice acting in the hopes of playing Jolyne someday, and they truly do the character who inspired them proud. Jolyne is a complex character, angry and frightened and simultaneously powerful and powerless within the prison system, and they portray her layers with aplomb. The weak points in the dub, unfortunately, are Pucci and Dio, who are voiced by industry powerhouses Tomokazu Seki and Takehito Koyasu in Japanese. Patrick Seitz may have been the right choice for Dio in earlier seasons, but he doesn't do sultry particularly well, and he and YongYea lack the necessary chemistry to pull off the two characters' scenes together.
I've been told that Stone Ocean is the worst part of JoJos and, two-thirds of the way through the story, and I cannot begin to fathom why. (Well, I do have some guesses, but I'm not about to start casting aspersions in this review.) It has some of the most interesting, complicated characters, best-paced storytelling, and richest themes of the entire franchise thus far. I fell in love with Jolyne instantly, not just because I was excited for a female Jojo, but because of the complexity she showed within the first few episodes. She is at once vulnerable, angry, scared, and loving, holding all those traits within herself without ever coming across as inconsistent or contradictory.
She reminds me in a way of her great-great-great grandmother Erina, and how she changed between Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. Erina, who was so sweet and kind but also fierce, who washed her mouth with dirty water because she preferred it over the remnants of Dio's stolen kiss, who became hardened over the years from the sadness of losing her husband on their honeymoon, then her son who she raised herself, and finally raising her grandson on her own after so much loss. Jolyne was never exactly a “good” girl – she acted out due to her father's absence and drank underage – but she's had to grow up hard and fast to survive prison. At Green Dolphin State Prison, she's under constant assault from other prisoners who have been granted Stands by an unseen enemy, as well as the institutionalized state violence deeply embedded in the American “justice” system. This is not a rah-rah girl power narrative, but a tale about facing victimization and how trauma echoes through generations, because while Dio may be gone, he is certainly not forgotten, and that memory remains an active threat to the Joestar line.
Like her forebears, Jolyne attracts a squad of staunch allies, and they might be weirder than any of the ones before. Sure, Ermes could be the protagonist of a fairly typical revenge story, but you also have characters like Emporio, an 11-year-old boy who was born in the prison and has been using his Stand to live in the walls ever since. And then there's FF, who… well, to say basically anything about them would run the risk of spoilers. Stone Ocean approaches its mixed-gender cast similarly to how it has its all-male casts before, unafraid to portray them as transgressive or ugly or weird, without exploiting them for fan service or sex appeal. Well, except for Johngalli A in the shower. That man's ass has to be seen to be believed.
The Stand fights may be hit or miss for different viewers, depending on how much they care about their “rules.” A lot of them sound pretty simple, like making targets weightless, but in practice things can start to feel a bit like Calvinball. This may frustrate more logic-inclined viewers who think of the Stand fights as puzzles to be solved, which is more or less how the story presents them, but enthrall viewers who are willing to throw up their hands and just accept things as they come and prioritize thrilling action over the laws of physics. It's all in service of a well-paced plot, where Jolyne and her allies are pursuing a threat who constantly manages to stay just one step ahead of them, throwing obstacles in their way to slow them down just enough that they can never seem to keep up. It keeps things tense and, combined with the oppressive atmosphere of prison, a bit bleak and often lacking levity.
I've been anticipating Stone Ocean more or less since I first got into JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. It hasn't cemented its place as my favorite Part – we'll see if the ending is enough to unseat Diamond is Unbreakable from that throne – but I can tell I'll be thinking about it for a long time. Jolyne has carved her way deep into my heart, and Netflix only knows when I'll get to see the conclusion.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Music : A
+ The most interesting and emotionally complex Jojo yet; strong vocal performances in English and Japanese; great cast of characters; strong pacing
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