To quote the Grateful Dead (which is something I never thought I’d do in my life), “It occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.” I can’t think of a better song lyric to sum up JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure—a manga that’s been going on for twenty-five years and is as strange as they come. And it really fits the Stardust Crusaders arc, as it is a big, crazy road trip around the world. It fits the arc figuratively and literally.
The Stardust Crusaders arc is the defining arc of the series. While the first two arcs were amazing in their own rights, everything came together for this one. To use another musical reference, it’s like the discography of a legendary band. The early stuff is great, but there’s that one defining album that propels the band through the stratosphere. This arc is that album.
And here are the reasons I think that...
For one, it has a great main character. All the JoJo's arcs do, but Jotaro Kujo is the ultimate antihero. He’s the “Jojo” everyone thinks about when the series is mentioned. A foul-mouthed delinquent hero with an attitude problem. Perpetually annoyed, his sarcastic catchphrase “good grief” is uttered with disdain in between beating villains up so bad they’re barely recognizable. But despite that gruff exterior, he’s very likable. He’s got a good heart, although he hates to show it. He’s really funny, but rarely makes jokes, so when he does it packs more of a punch. He’s really strong and has one of the most powerful Stands, ghost-like projections with fantastic abilities, in the series. And he’s willing to put himself in extreme danger at a moment’s notice if a friend or ally is in trouble. He’s also got incredible battle instincts. Never one to overanalyze the situation, he flies by the seat of his pants, but instinctually understands what it takes to win. He’s basically the perfect antihero, right down to his cool, dark and dramatic outfit.
Aside from an attractive main character, the rest of the cast in the series is also charismatic. There are no generic manga tropes here. And one of the most interesting characters is Jotaro’s grandfather, Joseph Joestar. The same hero that fought the Pillar Men in the previous arc, is now older, wiser and the perfect mentor for his grandson. This kind of continuity is rare in manga, and it’s fun to see how much the older JoJo has changed and in what ways he’s stayed the same. The rest of the cast is also appealing, although I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling the fun for new readers.
But a Shonen Jump manga needs more than a cool cast of characters to reach the legendary status this one has, it needs a few other ingredients. One of which is—well thought out superpowers that give battles a fantastical feel. And the introduction of Tarot-based Stands provides that in a stylish, downright riveting way. Stands come in many forms and can do nearly anything. While the first two arcs had characters with fantastical powers, Stands were the match that ignited Araki Sensei’s explosive imagination. For many characters, they manifest in ghost-like humanoid forms that are projected from the user. Some have armor, some are dolls, some bug-like, and some aren’t humanoid at all, but objects. The variety is astounding. Each is tied to a specific Tarot card and shares some trait with that card. But as the series progresses, Stands get even more fantastic, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Yet they are still completely believable within the world Araki Sensei has created due to his deft storytelling.
Many manga has characters with fantastic powers, but few are this intelligent and undeniably cool. With Araki Sensei’s stylish art and knack for visual flair, when the Stands erupt from the characters and fly out to battle each other, it looks magnificent. Especially when the main character Jotaro calls forth Star Platinum, his stoic, blue, muscular Stand capable of astounding feats, including throwing thousands of punches in seconds. But Stands are more than just weapons, some have personalities of their own. It’s very subtle, but Star Platinum seems to genuinely care for Jotaro like a brother or a very close friend. Another stroke of Araki’s genius, making the Stand of the main character more than just a cool weapon, making it a character too.
Yet still, this manga has more to offer the reader than the things I’ve tried to describe above, it has something that is hard to quantify—it has a sense of fun. One of the reasons it’s so easy to swallow every outlandish thing that happens in the manga is that the story never takes itself too seriously. It feels like Araki Sensei is having a blast with the characters and is laughing right along with the reader. I mean, of course, it’s dire and important things are at stake, but among the many grim brushes with death, there are intentional goofy moments that lighten the experience and make the characters that much more endearing. It’s remarkably balanced in that way, rarely going too far in either direction.
It’s also really gory! It is one of the goriest manga I’ve ever read. Lots of body parts getting cut off, chunks of flesh being torn out, people impaled, skulls cracked and faces being bloodied to the point of parody. I love gore and so to me it just adds yet another layer of entertainment to an already incredibly entertaining read. But if that stuff bothers you, you might have to turn these pages fast, or crack the pages for a peek before opening them.
If it seems like I’m praising this manga too much, please allow me two final ovations. And the first of which is—the artistry. The art in this series transcends the base requirement of just showing the reader what’s happening with a series of pictures, it has a life of its own. It truly is artistic. Shedding some of the previous arcs’ ultra-macho trapping and streamlining everything with finer line work and sharper angles, Araki Sensei comes into form here. The organic line work and liberties with anatomy, which are a trademark of his style, are still there, they’re just more refined. And his character designs have also evolved. They are a true testament to his unique creativity. This is character design taken to the level of high art. Each new one is a wonder to behold and looks like it would be at home on a Paris fashion show runway. Not just in the 80s when the series was made, but even now. Ornate, excessive, outlandish, stylish, bizarre and a lot of fun to look at. Without a doubt, he’s in a league of his own in that department.
And lastly, the reason I think this series exploded in popularity and became a global hit—it has a villain attractive enough to match the main character. To me, villains are the most important part of the story. If the villain is weak, the story suffers greatly. And Dio, yes, that Dio from the first arc, not only comes back but is more powerful than ever. In this arc, Araki Sensei takes him to a place that cements him as one of the best, and most memorable Shonen Jump villains of all time. He may actually have more fans than the main character does! Now, that’s how you write a villain!
Very few manga reach the legendary status this one has and it’s mostly due to this arc. Aside from the qualities I’ve mentioned above, there are plenty more that you can discover on your own. If you haven’t read it already, you’re missing out on a masterpiece. Not just of manga, but of comics and storytelling in general. If you want to see a true creative genius at work in the prime of his career, this is it, folks.
Read a free preview of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Part 3--Stardust Crusaders Vol. 1 by Hirohiko Araki here!
by Urian Brown
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