Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure ‘s exhilarating mix of action and beautiful design makes for an energetic anime whose vibrance cuts against the gloom of quarantine.
My attention span has shrunk to nothing. In quarantine, I discovered coffee for the first time. I have fidgeted and jitterbuged in the studio apartment I share with my girlfriend and have tried to wait out the days. We’ve watched a lot of TV together as the COVID numbers climb, and as much as I want to write about all the art I’ve consumed, I feel the elephant in the room grows larger as these four walls we’ve huddled together in for the majority of the year get smaller. It was and still is common practice for publications large and small to qualify criticism with the note “this movie/album/TV show/video game is perfect for quarantine,” and I think I’ve found mine. In the late evenings, when I can’t sleep and our kitten finally calms down, I watch Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
David Productions’ hit adaptation of Hirohiko Araki’s acclaimed, 30+ year-running shōnen manga of the same name is perfect. Its lightning-fast pace, gorgeously over-the-top animation style, and colorful cast of dozens and dozens (and dozens) of characters is exactly what I needed to take my mind off of things. Spanning the course of over 100 years, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is the story of the Joestars, a ridiculously jacked family of superpowered fighters, and the many friends and enemies they encounter in their fight against the villainous DIO Brando.
Almost every episode revolves around a specific fight, but Araki, both in devising the manga and as a credited screenwriter on every episode, along with David Productions’ team of animators and writers, find exhilarating ways to avoid repetitive storytelling. Part of this is helped by the large cast of characters – any hero can receive significant focus in one episode against a one-off villain. But the magic of Jojo comes through in just how confidently it can switch gears; each season takes on a new cast of characters, setting, and major conflict. Sometimes a globe-trotting adventure story, sometimes a murder mystery, sometimes a fight between an angry dog and terrifying bird: Jojo covers it all, usually with a lot of punching and brotherly bonding along the way.
As an adaptation of an already visually wonderful manga, Jojo is a joy just to look at. Its pace may be frenetic, but visual information is cleverly arranged, oftentimes stacking images on top of each other in a way that is at once overwhelming but still chronological and legible. In moments of confusion, a character might receive an extreme close-up, but their face will be stacked on top of or next to the object causing confusion. Each detailed frame makes this both expositionally clear and emotionally intense, so even expositional dialogue takes on a wonderful delirious quality. Character designs are fabulous, the dialogue is good and goofy, and all the magic abilities take their names from Western pop music, covering a broad catalogue from Black Sabbath to Boyz II Men to Oingo Boingo.
At over 150 episodes detailing the first five of eight current Jojo manga stories – each focused on a new member of the Joestar clan, usually set sometime in the future following the previous protagonist’s story – the anime is a major undertaking. I usually watched anywhere from two to four episodes a night, but taking the series slowly has been part of steeping myself in its charm, and helps me lighten up, even if for only 20 minutes at a time. Any long running TV show or film series takes on a level of comfort and familiarity, and while Jojo’s variety keeps the material from getting stale, it was good to have something to keep coming back to. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has, for this reason, been one of my most significant and gratifying pop culture discoveries in this impossibly difficult time.
Some episodes to dip your toes (I have no idea how well this show works out of context, but I feel like it might heighten the general insanity it’s going for):
- Darby the Gambler (from part 3, Stardust Crusaders)
- Let’s Go Eat Some Italian Food (from part 4, Diamond is Unbreakable)
- Lisa Lisa, Hamon Coach (from part 2, Battle Tendency)
- DIO the Invader (from part 1, Phantom Blood)