Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #18 by Drew Barth
Got a Feeling So Complicated
Last week, I mentioned some issues inherent in many Shonen series—from the ways in which the continuous powering up of characters only leads to ridiculous escalations to the weekly (rather than monthly) production schedule that makes constant character growth difficult. I also mused on whether or not there was a long-running Shonen series that found an interesting solution to these Shonen problems.
Let’s talk about Jojo.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure began in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1987 and centers around not the first protagonist we see, Johnathan Joestar, but rather the entire Joestar family bloodline. Creator Hirohiko Araki could focus on more characters, and give each member of the family his or her own arc that begins and ends without having to resort to exponentially more powerful villains to defeat every couple months as the main dramatic engine. Because of this, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventureis divided into— currently—eight different parts that focus on eight separate members of the Joestar family throughout history (and dimensions).
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of those manga series that typified what a Shonen series is and what it could do with the genre. There are fights throughout the series—Shonen is still an action oriented genre—but through Araki’s almost boundless creativity, there is always something fresh to each conflict.
Take for example Part 1: Phantom Blood, which begins with the rivalry between Johnathan Joestar and his adopted brother, Dio Brando, in 1880. And to be clear and upfront about everything, Dio’s an asshole. He poisoned his own father, attempted to poison his adopted father, and burned Johnathan’s dog. If anyone you know talks about their admiration for Dio, be wary. And because Dio is an asshole, he becomes a vampire. Araki, however, treats vampires very differently in Jojo. Vampires don’t bite; they just shove their fingers into a person’s neck and suck out the blood like that. They also get eye lasers. “Bizarre” is in the title for a reason.
The series continues with Joseph Joestar in the 1930s in Part 2: Battle Tendency while he fights ancient Aztec vampires named Cars, Wham, and AC/DC due to Araki’s love for western music.
Part 3: Stardust Crusadersfocuses on Jotaro Kujo going across the world to punch Dio (again) in his undead face.
Joseph Joestar’s illegitimate son, Josuke Higashikata, is the protagonist of Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakableand must stop a serial killer who looks suspiciously like David Bowie.
Giorno Giovanna (“gio gio” sounds like Jojo when spoken with an Italian accent) aims to take down the leader of the Italian mafia to keep kids from taking drugs in Part 5: Vento Auero.
Part 6: Stone Ocean follows Jolyne Cujoh as she attempts to stop a Dio (DIO!) obsessed priest from resetting the universe.
Johnny Joestar must collect pieces of Jesus scattered across America in a coast-to-coast horse race to keep the president from becoming too powerful in Part 7: Steel Ball Run (I’m not kidding).
And Part 8: JoJolionis a special case since that part is still being written and no one really has an idea what it’s about yet.
Considering Jojo has been ongoing for over thirty years, there is quite a lot of history in the series. Luckily, many of the parts have been animated to ease a new reader into Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. If you would like to read a good majority of the series, though, then that is a completely different issue. As newer series were being bought by US publishers and brought into bookstores here, Jojo was strangely left out for the vast majority of its lifetime. Only three parts of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure are available in English in the US legally: Phantom Blood, Battle Tendency, and Stardust Crusaders.
For decades the only way to read Diamond is Unbreakable or Vento Auero was through fans buying Japanese copies, scanning them onto their computers, translating every single bit of dialogue and action, and putting them online, let’s sat extra-legally, for free. Many fans desperately wanted to read the rest of Jojo, but no US publisher wanted to publish anything past Stardust Crusaders.
That lack of access is only beginning to change now. This Tuesday marked the official English release of Diamond is Unbreakable on the part’s twenty-seventh anniversary.
For me, this is massive, since this is my absolute favorite part of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure due to the utter bizarreness of it even compared to the rest of the series. Do you want an antagonist who looks like David Bowie? We got that. Do you want rats with dart guns that melt things into gooey flesh piles? We got that. Do you want a break from the drama so the main characters can enjoy a nice meal at an Italian restaurant? That’s my favorite chapter. Do you want an alien? Because we got an alien.
What makes Diamond is Unbreakable so unique within Jojo and within Shonen in general is how much the series wants to do. Araki shows us action throughout, but he also gives us these quiet moments of being delinquents in school or visiting a local author to cheat them out of money. The characters are allowed to breathe and react and just do small things that don’t have any bearing on the overarching plot.
And that’s great. Because sometimes the reader just wants to take a breath. Sometimes the reader just wants to have fun. So finally, after twenty-seven years, I can show you how much fun Diamond is Unbreakablecan be and how great it is to hold this story in your hand for the first time.
Get excited. The Excitement is Unbreakable.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.