Kosher Kuts: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Guest Post

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is the manga equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield: it just doesn’t get any respect. It was released in Japan after hits like Fist of the Northstar and Dragonball had captured the attention of Japanese fans several years earlier. Despite its reputation as the second-longest ongoing manga series for Shonen Jump in Japan, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure just doesn’t seem to garner much attention from American audiences. It was only recently released in the United States and skipped much of the initial storyline. Furthermore, the title is not as easily made kid-friendly as other popular martial arts manga (Believe it!). I finally pursued the series when I heard that several parts of it were skipped in its passage to America. So, is this series derivative of its Shonen Jump predecessors, or does it carry its own distinctive traits?

Unlike most manga titles, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manages to summarize itself perfectly. Weird characters and brutal battles are the hallmark of this series and, if you don’t have the stomach for one or the other, this book might turn you off quickly.

The story begins rather innocently in Victorian England. The plot quickly unfolds with the kind of lies and deceit you might remember from your high school English classes on the subject. It all serves to set up a single, all-encompassing idea: Dio Brando is an absolute jerk. He quite possibly is evil incarnate and the reader becomes keenly aware of the sick thoughts brewing in his mind as he tries to lay ruin to the Joestar family. Once the plot is discovered, though, the series reveals its furtive intentions. Dio is consumed by a mysterious power and his inner demons are brought to the fore. Meanwhile, young Johnathan Joestar (known as Jojo to his friends and family) slowly matures from spoiled child to a responsible heir. The final act of the first part of the series plays out like a scene from Castlevania with zombies and demons and a final dramatic fight to the finish with the villainous Dio.

Jojo’s peculiarities are a double-edged sword. They definitely add uniqueness to the presentation. The “ripple” technique, for example, has not really been duplicated in manga and assists the series by being an interesting technique with myriad uses. Battles are relatively few in this part of the story, but their intensity is immense. Dio has his hands in every part of the plot and the reader feels like every confrontation is just bringing Jojo one step closer to him.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure was not an originator of concepts such as the “warrior spirit,” “sacrifice for a greater good” and the false ending, but it perfected the presentation. The ending in particular is one of my favorites in manga thus far. It makes you appreciate the protagonist and the antagonist for their roles and will leave you foaming at the mouth when you realize that this part of the series is merely one of seven. Other aspects, including the naming of characters after musicians and musical groups, add a subtle layer of fun for readers who might think the proceedings blasé. If you can appreciate the fact that the “ripple” technique was taught to Jojo’s teacher by a monk named Tompeti who has two disciples, named Dire and Straights, I think we are working on the same wavelength here.

Issues with the series stem from it being too focused or too off-kilter for its own good. Beyond Jojo and Dio, the characterization is pretty bare bones. You are beaten over the head with how good the Jojo family was and how rotten Dio and his family were. Potentially great characters like Robert Edward O. (REO) Speedwagon are poised to be awesome characters if they had a little more time in the spotlight. Most of them, however, sit on the sidelines and add little exclamations while Jonathan Joestar goes to town on the evildoers. In the spirit of its martial arts predecessors (i.e., Fist of the Northstar), “going to town,” in Jojo’s means that limbs are severed, faces are mangled and the occasional organ is put on display. These scenes were indeed gruesome; however, they never became excessive. I wasn’t particularly bothered by them. The fact that the art was so well done, reminiscent of 1970s Marvel comics but with greater detail, also made the really graphic content more tolerable. I did have a problem with misogyny, though, which rears its ugly head a few times in this part of the series. I’m aware this title takes place in Victorian England and is written by a Japanese mangaka in the 1980s, so maybe I should have seen it coming. For whatever reason, I think the demeaning of women through constant characterizations of weakness and helplessness detracts from a story. You should read the title for yourself and decide if I’m overreacting.

Read part one of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure anyway. It’s an excellent starting point for the series and plants the seeds for not only its own future success, but also the success of the martial arts genre of manga. Jojo’s takes old ideas and imbues them with enough originality to maintain reader interest. Unfortunately, it is that originality that can also hinder some enjoyment of the title. This part of the Jojo manga hasn’t been released in the United States, so I recommend checking your local Internets for information on how to obtain a copy of the series. This part is not only done well, but it acts as a wonderful stepping stone for the rest. Any fan of martial arts manga should check out this series. It’s a classic manga that is one of the initial contributors to the large tapestry of martial arts manga and should not be ignored.

The Final Kut

Mazel Tov!

  • Great hero and villain characterization
  • Pretty art hilights some graphic content

Oy Vey!

  • Characterization for other characters is next to nil
  • Misogyny