Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #18. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is the kind of series that’s just as fun to describe to someone as it is to watch; and since it lives up to its title, it helps to start off any discussion of the series with an explanation. Drawn by Araki Hirohiko, the Jojo manga ran in Weekly Shounen Jump from 1986 through 2004, and has continued running in Ultra Jump ever since. This makes it one of the longest-running manga in existence; but unlike most long-running shounen manga, Jojo doesn’t follow just one main character across its run, and takes place over an enormous stretch of time.

The first arc, titled Phantom Blood, begins with the early life of Johnathan Joestar and establishes his epic rivalry with an ancient demon mask, as possessed by his cruel childhood enemy Dio. This arc chronicles the entire life of Johnathan Joestar, ending with his simultaneous death and the sealing away of Dio; and then the second arc, Battle Tendency, stars his descendant, Joseph Joestar. This is the basic formula of the series: each arc stars a new descendent of the Joestar family, takes place in a later time period, and features a new riff on the ancient evil which Johnathan once fought.

The Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency arcs were both adapted into animation last year, and were massively successful thanks to the awesome work of David Production. I was excited for the modern Jojo adaptation as soon as I knew David Pro was handling it because of their excellent work on Level E, which has a similar sense of tone and design. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with these Jojo adaptations is that the TV broadcasts heavily sensor the gore, meaning that it may be more worthwhile to wait for DVD and blu-ray releases before bothering with each arc; though from what I’ve seen, the third arc wasn’t censored nearly as badly.

Stardust Crusaders, which was adapted this year, has always been by far the most popular arc of the manga, because it introduces the concept of Stands–spirit creatures which represent the powers of the people using them. You can easily watch Stardust Crusaders without watching the first two arcs, as it explains anything you needed to know about them, although it’s important to realize that this arc isn’t actually over yet. The twenty-four episodes released this year are only part one Stardust Crusaders, which will be continued in January.

The reason I’m giving all this backstory on Jojo is twofold: not only because it helps if you understand all of this, but also because the biggest appeal of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is the IDEA of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Just hearing about how it follows an entire bloodline over the centuries of their battles with an ancient evil was enough to make me interested in the series; though on the more basic level, the appeal of Jojo is in how utterly insane it is.

Stardust Crusaders part one might be the stupidest anime series that I’ve ever watched to completion. If I described the overarching plot and characters, it would sound boring and lame and no one would care. Jojo is all about the moment-to-moment ridiculousness and the overall tone of its presentation, which make every bizarre stop on the heroes’ journey something memorable and fun.

Imagine if you took The Village People, jacked them up on steroids, and had them make good on their advice to Go West while fighting all the bad guys from Ninja Scroll and Yu Yu Hakusho, and an evil Orangutan ship captain and a demon hell-baby, and you’ve basically got Stardust Crusaders. It feels like the creative stream-of-consciousness of a six year-old boy–not unlike the webcomic Axe Cop which is exactly that.

Every important character is seven feet tall and ripped to an extent that doesn’t make sense. They strike hilarious poses, scream hilarious things, verbalize the sound effects of what they’re doing, and no one in the series is more intelligent than the average twelve year-old. Massively violent scenes of major characters getting murdered occur in the same episode where a toilet has a pig in it that eats your shit. The humor is frequently scatological, and the gore is always as over-the-top as it can get, though no matter what injuries the main characters might sustain, they’re always totally repaired by the next episode. Stardust Crusaders is a series that asks you to check all of your logic at the door and surrender yourself to the madness on screen.

It’s also worth mentioning that most of the villains are named after 70s and 80s rock bands like Steely Dan and Oingo Boingo, and that the ending theme is Walk Like An Egyptian, which fits the tone of the series perfectly. Roundabout by Yes was a perfect fit for Phantom Blood as well, and the difference between these songs might be indicative of the difference between the arcs.

As much fun as Stardust Crusaders is, I would ultimately say that this half at least is less engaging than the parts which came before. Jojo has always been silly, over-the-top, and wild, but the early arcs had more interesting characters and conflicts that carried a lot more weight. Phantom Blood felt almost mythical in its portrayal of Jojo and Dio’s rivalry, while Stardust Crusaders feels like a gigantic filler arc. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that you could watch the first five episodes and then pick up part 2 in January, and you’ll have missed almost nothing of importance. The arc is almost completely episodic, and none of the enemies that the main crew faces are even remotely interesting. Even the main characters are only fun to watch because they’re so incredibly dumb.

There’s no way that I would’ve finished Stardust Crusaders had I been watching it alone the entire time. I watched the majority of it with my younger brother, and most of the appeal came from having someone else reacting with the same incredulity that I was–laughing and screaming at the screen that this was really happening. Watching it alone, it becomes too apparent that the show is going to be the exact same episode after episode, and that the pacing is never going to even out.

Jojo characters have a tendency to explain every single thing that happens at great length, and to repeat themselves a few times to make sure they get the point across. At times this can be hilarious and add to the overall wackiness of the show, but it can also be exhausting, and results in less getting done in the long run, which is a common problem in shounen action shows. Jojo has enough big memorable moments to keep it entertaining across its run, but I found myself thinking about how Hunter X Hunter, which I’ve been watching on the side, manages to get a lot more done in the same amount of time, while also being pretty out-there and memorable for much of its run.

All in all, I don’t think Stardust Crusaders is the best part of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure so far, nor is it something I’m ever likely to rewatch; but I nonetheless find the mere idea of it so exciting that it’s hard not to love. It’s easy to see how this series got to be so influential, especially on stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, and I like it in a lot of the same ways that I like those shows. It appeals to the ten year-old boy in my heart whose mind is still blown by seeing crazy, ridiculous action scenes, and the presentation is just unique enough that it doesn’t feel tired and boring to my adult self.

I recommend Stardust Crusaders to anyone who listened to my description of it earlier and thought, “that sounds fucking awesome;” and to no one else. You can watch both seasons of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure legally for free on Crunchyroll, which I will link below.

So what did you think of Stardust Crusaders? Let me know in the comments, and in case you missed it, click the annotations on screen to watch my videos on #20, No Game No Life, and #19, I Can’t Understand What My Husband I Saying, and stick around on my channel to see what my seventeenth-favorite anime of the year is tomorrow.

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