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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – Review

by Anthony Sulwer

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When taking one of the most popular, voluminous manga series in history and adapting it to an anime, there is a chance for many things to go wrong. The latest adaptation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, unfortunately, falls short in the most important of respects. With a deep mythology and history to draw upon, aspects such as the quality of the animation, the effectiveness of the writing, and the progression of major characters have no reason to suffer. This project seems to be a case of two, long-standing anime flaws colliding with one another – 1. Everyone involved, on paper, seems too good to be true. 2. Those involved in putting the anime together – Directors Naokatsu Tsuda and Kenichi Suzuki, and writer Yasuko Kobayashi – stayed overly dedicated to the source material without bringing anything new to the table.

In the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, the initial nine episodes follow the original five volumes of the manga series, “Phantom Blood.” In the beginning of the debut episode, “Dio the Invader,” we’re introduced to the fathers of the anime’s protagonist and antagonist.

In the English countryside of 1868, an overturned carriage reveals the unconscious body of George Joestar I. Standing next to him is a sleazy old man, Dario Brando, who happened upon the aftermath. As he sifts through the wreckage, Dario finds the driver of Joestar’s carriage impaled on sharp rocks. He also discovers a woman inside, but she died in the accident protecting her still-alive infant boy, Jonathan Joestar. Dario, assuming George Joestar is also deceased, begins removing the prone, wealthy man’s jewelry. He also sees a briefcase, its contents nothing more than a white, plain stone mask he tosses away. George Joestar regains consciousness, believing Dario Brando is there to rescue him. Seeing nothing but possible gain in return, Dario does not correct him. This chance encounter sets off a chain of events over the next fifty years – all the way through three generations and the First World War – befitting the title of, “Bizarre.”

Following the opening credits of the first episode, we come in twelve years after the accident. From his deathbed, Dario sends his son, Dio, to be the adopted son of George Joestar as repayment for rescuing him all those years ago.

Immediately upon his arrival, Dio begins tormenting Jonathan Joestar, better known as ‘JoJo’. Within the first thirty seconds of meeting JoJo, Dio sucker-kicks his dog, elbows JoJo in the sternum for trying to help him with his luggage, then threatens him by telling him flat out he’s out to ruin him. He follows through on his promises by turning JoJo’s father against him, spreading rumors amongst all of his classmates, and fighting dirty in a boxing match to humiliate him further in front of his peers.

When Dio forces himself onto the object of JoJo’s affection, Erina Pendleton, our protagonist has finally had enough and confronts his adoptive brother in their shared home. In this fight, we discover JoJo’s gift of becoming tougher the more punishment he takes. Surprising and overcoming Dio in their fight, the mask from George’s briefcase at the very start of the episode is splattered with blood, thus unleashing the masks evil powers.

Another eight years pass at the start of the second episode, “A Letter From the Past.” We find both Dio and JoJo pretending to get along and care for one another. When JoJo discovers Dio’s plot to kill their father however, the family dynamic becomes tense and dire. Dio puts on the stone mask and becomes a vampire, and still ends up killing JoJo’s father.

The remaining seven episodes of Part One, “Phantom Blood,” follow in line perfectly with the manga as JoJo hunts Dio with the help of an Italian Hamon Master named, Will A. Zeppeli. Hamon is the mystical power of an ancient martial art that has all but died out. In addition to Zeppeli, a former London roughneck named Robert E.O. Speedwagon (yup, you read that right, R.E.O. Speedwagon, I’m not makin’ this stuff up, folks) also joins the fray.

The remainder of the first season – seventeen more episodes – is a straight adaptation of Part Two in the manga, “Battle Tendency.” We enter on New York in 1938, fifty years after the climax of “Phantom Blood.” Our protagonist is now the grandson of Jonathan Joestar, the cocky, self-assured Joseph Joestar – also known as JoJo. Joining the party along the way is Will A. Zeppeli’s grandson, Caesar, the return of Robert E. O. Speedwagon, and the racially insensitively named, African-American character, Smokey Black.

The flaws in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure come mostly from lazy animation and irritatingly bad writing. The animation is, at brief times, beautifully done and detailed. These instances are few and far between however, as the majority of the first season seems to be a rehashing of the old Fist of the North Star anime, i.e. the same body types, the same hairstyles, etc. At times, the animation seems rushed and two-dimensional, with “camera pans” used to give the illusion of motion. The face we get one or two instances of exceptional animation each episode makes the rest of the effort unpalatable at times.

The most unforgivable shortcoming of this latest JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime, though, is the writing. This is a shock coming from Yasuko Kobayashi, who was the head writer on Witchblade and the more recent, critically acclaimed, Attack on Titan. Watching twenty-six episodes of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and listening to every character give a constant monologue of every thought and every piece of action happening is nothing short of maddening. An example would be a villain stabbing an innocent bystander in the back; only to have JoJo exclaim, “He just stabbed her in the back!” it eventually feels like my intelligence is being insulted over and over again.

As much as I wanted to like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, I ended up feeling a bit cheated and, ultimately, let down by leaders in the industry who should know, and have done, much better. In my opinion, if you want to present your audience with a mature premise, evolving characters, and a deep mythology, then you have to give your audience the credit they deserve for having half a brain. We don’t need to have every detail spelled out for us. By having each character narrate every piece of action, every thought, and every nuance, you make your intended audience – both fans of the magna and fan of quality animation with superb storytelling – want to stop watching after the third episode.

One final note: Playing “Roundabout” by YES during the end-credits of every episode is just plain cruel and unusual punishment. You’ve already hackneyed your way through adapting the manga, there’s no need to pile on the abuse.

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Author: Anthony Sulwer

A freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado, Anthony fell in love with anime while working part time jobs at video stores in the 90s. Nights off were spent watching Akira, Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star, and anything else to appear in the small "Specialty" section of the large chain stores.

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