The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)

Title: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: David Production
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 6 Oct 2012 – 6 Apr 2013

Synopsis: Jonathan Joestar lives a peaceful life that is interrupted by the nefarious Dio Brando, who undermines Jonathan and becomes his sworn enemy. The two do battle in a world of vampires, mystics and the living dead. In later years, Jonathan’s grandson, Joseph, embarks on an adventure of his own, taking the fight to a trio of ancient, powerful warriors who seek to become ultimate beings.

The Highlights.
Phantom Blood: The first arc. A solid shonen story that ends with a bang.
Battle Tendency: The second arc. An all-time great shonen story that never ceases to surprise and thrill.
Art: The creators have great fun with color, the famous “JoJo poses” and other little details that breathe more life into the stories.
Sound: Excellent sound design and fantastic music.
Animation: Mainly ranges from decent to outright bad. A couple of notable exceptions are quite thrilling to watch.
Joestars: Jonathan is OK but bland. Joseph is charismatic and kooky.
Bizarre: You bet your life.

I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe this: David Production was created to adapt JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. That studio’s sensibilities have tended toward the strange, with anime like Level E, Ristorante Paradiso, Inu x Boku SS and Book of Bantorra under their belt. Previous¬†JoJo adaptations — the 1993 and 2000 OVAs of the third arc, Stardust Crusaders — are OK, but in the shadow of David‘s TV adaptation of the first two arcs, it’s clear those previous tries just don’t get what makes JoJo unique. They’re more like transcriptions than adaptations; whatever appeal they garner comes from the actual events of the manga and not how they’re put into motion. Not so with David. Those folks get it. They live and breathe JoJo.

It all starts with the art. JoJo author Araki Hirohiko has an interesting style in that many of his characters are large and muscular but somehow also lithe and flexible, which makes no sense considering their girth. But how else to explain the striking poses the characters are so fond of doing? David gets how dynamic the JoJo characters are meant to be. Even when standing still, their poses and the angle at which they’re shot gives them a unique energy. The way the series plays with color is also appealing; particularly during the second arc, there’s a vibrant, psychedelic feel to the color that meshes well with the story’s tone. JoJo is pulpy, thrilling fun, and everything about the visuals feeds into that. The main weak point of the visuals is that the animation ranges from decent to poor most of the time, with a couple of notable exceptions. The sheer pop of the art normally makes up for that, but not always.

A perhaps underrated contributor to JoJo‘s success is the sound design. The sound effects are perfect, in particular the show’s signature “rush of wind” noise when a character hits an especially powerful strike. I can think of few anime whose sounds have the impact of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The music is quite fun, too. The first arc features music that is suitably grand given the setting (Victorian era England), but it’s during Battle Tendency where the soundtrack truly shines. It matches the pulpy ridiculousness of the plot step by step and becomes appropriately outsized and insane. There are bombastic, militaristic themes, there are songs that have leaped straight from the opera, and there are tracks that translate the mystery and power of Joseph Joestar’s enemies to song. Perhaps my favorite song is loaded with dubstep, which should not work at all and yet fits the madness to a tee.

But what of the story itself? This version of JoJo sets the first two arcs, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, to the screen. Phantom Blood is interesting in that it hasn’t aged particularly well; it starts off slow and doesn’t become truly bizarre in the way JoJo fans expect until about halfway through. That’s when you get random monsters named after the members of Led Zeppelin, mystics who have inherited their names from Dire Straits and the like. Part of what hurts is that while Jonathan is good-hearted and well-meaning, he isn’t particularly interesting as a protagonist. Dio Brando, meanwhile, is made more appealing by Koyasu Takehito‘s gloriously over-the-top performance. David‘s production gives this portion of the story the energy it needs until it becomes more memorable.

Battle Tendency, though … now that’s a trip. Joseph Joestar is the perfect hero for this mad, pulpy ride, a larger-than-life trickster who thrives on improvisation and possesses the ability the guess what his opponents will say just before they utter the sentence. His charisma makes him one of the most exciting shonen protagonists of all time; David also hits a home run with the casting of Sugita Tomokazu, whose naturally sarcastic edge gives Joseph a necessary aural verve. The antagonists — the menacing “Pillar Men,” Wham, ACDC and Cars — just about match Joseph with the sheer power of their quirks. This is also where JoJo earns its legendary reputation for creative battles. Joseph uses his brains and brawn in exciting ways to overcome his opponents right until the very end, such as in a battle near the beginning where he uses sleight of hand to produce a group of grenades on a villain’s back.

While JoJo starts a bit slow, it soon becomes apparent why it’s one of manga’s most beloved and enduring stories. Araki‘s twisted, deranged story has a method and madness all its own that David Production captures perfectly and even enhances at points. The creative team not only understands what makes this world tick, but also how to make that essence come to life and breathe onscreen.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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