Final Thoughts: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

jjscOPcrewNearly three years since the start of the new JoJo anime and over a year since the start of the world-famous Stardust Crusaders arc, things finally come to a close. What was it like finally seeing the entirety of JoJo‘s best-known story in anime form? Read on to find out.

Zigg’s Final Thoughts

On a purely technical and narrative level, I’d have to say that Stardust Crusaders falls some distance behind its illustrious predecessors in the JoJo‘s saga. This is a long, drawn out and clunky tale, one that’s shameless in its use of endless filler and unafraid to gently meander its way through an unusually long quadruple-length season. Its characters are largely established archetypes or puddle-shallow jokes and there’s very little progression or notable development as we go. Intriguing sub-plots spring up and disappear with only minimal resolution, and the entire thing feels extremely slapdash and thrown together, typical of the week-to-week scramble of shonen anime.

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The magical thing is though, it’s the scramble which is what makes Stardust Crusaders so truly special. Freed of the restriction of a direct sequel to his earlier works, Araki allows his imagination to wander far and wide, and the serialised nature of this adventure permits us to hop through  a multitude of different places, enemies and situations with little need for connection in mood or style. Sure, not every one of the party’s many, many diversions is a hit, but there’s always enough clever new stuff flowing in to make the ride enjoyable. Furthermore, the lengthier, more ‘bitty’ style of Stardust Crusaders, together with the basically limitless invention afforded by the Stand concept, means we can diversify and get ever weirder in what we bump into a long the way. Half the fun is seeing just how bizarre the adventure will get this week.

There’ more than just comedy mismatches to the Stardust Crusaders experience though. There’s also a timeless sense of adventure and escape. While Phantom Blood channeled moody Victorian gothic, and Battle Tendency crackled with 30’s serial energy, Stardust Crusaders echoes the pulp adventures that sired Indiana Jones, full of globetrotting through exotic locations, outlandish looking people and a team of dependable heroes who may be shallow but are friends through thick and thin. Polnareff may not have much to him beyond hating toilets and Joseph may be better known for his horrible English than his deep personality, but they’re larger-than-life legends who we’ll root for every step of the way. Jotaro Kujo may have about as much personality as a brick wall, but who cares when you’re a walking, talking symbol of 80s anime cool?

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And that, more than anything, sums up why I think this adaptation of Stardust Crusaders worked so well. Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency were fantastic, rich and marvellously realised productions. But the key scenes of Stardust Crusaders have weight and authority in a way few other anime productions can have. Not because of their themes, which are flimsy and base as any shonen adventure. No, because there’s a very real feeling at every turn that the very flesh and bones of battle manga are being laid down onto the screen. David Production glory in the legend that is the third part of JoJo, and that confidence in their source material soaks through, with the show taking on the same self-aggrandizing swagger that the original work. Every step of the journey oozes the knowledge that a masterpiece is being built, and by the time Jotaro and Dio are facing off in the middle of a street in Cairo the story-telling and the myth-making have become one and the same. No show has ever been so keenly aware of its own iconicism, and no show has ever done such a good job at turning the iconicism into breathing, screaming, blood-splattering life. Now that, that’s an adventure worth having.

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Gee’s Final Thoughts

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the most iconic shounen manga of all time. This is an indisputable fact. Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency had a quirky sense of style and some truly unorthodox execution, but had Hirohiko Araki stopped there, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure would have merely gone down in history as a couple of very strange, yet undeniably entertaining manga. Uncommon outliers appreciated by die hard fans. It’s Stardust Crusaders that put JoJo on the map, and for both good and ill, codified the battle shounen genre.

David Production’s adaptation of the iconic story does a fantastic job of capturing the titular bizarre adventure in all its fabulously posed and strangely executed glory. Unfortunately, a great adaptation of middling source material can only do so much. Many of Part 3’s fights embody the ills that plague modern shounen. Padded fights, needless filler, and a kind of dawdling pace that spites the tension of its time-intensive narrative conceit. For a plot that hinges on its heroes being able to defeat the bad guy on a time limit, not once do we ever feel an ounce of fear that Jotaro Kujo and his band of traveling companions will ever fail.

jjscOPstandsAnd yet despite those flaws, Stardust Crusaders is the JoJo story that put the whole franchise on the map for a reason. It’s around the second half that Araki started to really figure out the sheer potential of Stands as a power set. Fights against the likes of Mariah, the D’Arby brothers, and Vanilla Ice showcase exactly why JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has the reputation it does.

This of course ignores the final fight against Dio Brando, which is in a class of its own. Tense and frenetic, Jotaro and the crew’s desperate fight against the immortal enemy of the Joestars truly lives up to its reputation. Too many battle shounens misunderstand how you make a villain threatening. It’s not enough to just look strong or say the right things. Violent, narcissistic, and petty, Dio Brando embodies all the traits of the best cartoonishly evil villains. You never once sympathize with him and you just can’t wait to see what ridiculously evil act he commits next, which makes his eventual defeat all the more exciting.

jjsc48wryyyyyyIn the end, I can’t really say I love Stardust Crusaders when compared to other parts of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s a glorious ride through some fantastic fights, but too much of it drags and falls victim to the pitfalls of serial battle shounen. Battle Tendency’s sheer esoteric nature makes up for its blemishes and the following part, Diamond is Unbreakable, features a JoJo that’s far more fallible than the perfectly stoic Jotaro. It also features a more experienced Araki who’s improved on the idea of what Stands are capable of. Speaking of Part 4, the lack of a teaser at the end of the Part 3 anime was something of a sour note for me. Admittedly, this is because Part 4 is bar none my favorite JoJo arc, but it’s still a shame that we have no confirmation of whether David Production will continue adapting the franchise. If they were to stop adapting JoJo, Stardust Crusaders would be the most logical point. I certainly hope this isn’t the case though. They’ve done an amazing job of adapting it so far, I’m really looking forward to seeing what they could do with later parts of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. If nothing else, Stardust Crusader’s bombastic finale shows they have the chops to pull it off.

jjsc25iggyMarlin’s Final Thoughts

From the very beginning of my indoctrination into the Jojo universe almost three years ago now, I’ve really gotten to see an outside view of how this series became such a memorable part of the shounen landscape. In Phantom Blood, we see the underpinnings of a great narrative mind as well as the solidification of the brick shithouse artstyle that Araki would come to be known for. In Battle Tendency, we got to see Araki improve in his narrative style as well as his fight choreography, as clashes with imposingly powerful vampires became the centerfold to an incredibly entertaining finale. With Stardust Crusaders, I was promised an introduction to how many of shounen manga’s most time honored tropes came to be established, for better and worse.

The biggest downer to me is the introduction of padding. Jojo‘s first two parts were such atypical shounen shows because they had their clear villains and got to the point strikingly quick. There was little hemming and hawing as Jonathan pursued Dio or when Joseph and Caesar pursued the Pillar Men. With the tarot stands we get a cavalcade of characters that range from incredibly entertaining to regrettably banal. It’s this inability to maintain the quality that was the most disappointing part for me. By the end of the first half I felt like the show was going through the motions as it had its crazy powered individuals come up one after another only to get punchghosted away every time. It’s only later do we see Araki get the creative juices flowing again.

jjsc18laughThe new Jojo also marks a bit of a regression in Araki’s character development. While Joseph was a witty and charismatic Jojo, certainly the most entertaining one to date, Jotaro seems cut from the Teddy Roosevelt school of “speak softly and carry a big punchghost”. He has little to add in his story other than his devotion to his friends and family. This all works out fine for the final fight, but it makes the globetrotting journey somewhat sterile as he emotionlessly responds to the bizarre villains he faces. Speaking of Joseph, Part 3 is not too kind to the old trickster. While he becomes the source of almost all the grade A slapstick humor, his confident and cunning character as a youth is washed away in favor of a bumbling comic relief. Kakyouin and Avdol barely have any personality at all, and even less screentime to develop what little there is. This leaves Polnareff as the only one of these characters that I was satisfied with. His pursuit of his sister’s killer was a satisfying plotline that gave us clear insight into what kind of man he is, and his later fights ranged from stylish and dramatic to completely ridiculous in ways that never failed to be entertaining.

Despite my problems, Stardust Crusaders does have an absolutely fantastic ending. The evolution in stand writing makes the later cerebral duels that were only occasional like the faceoff between the Hanged Man become center stage in the fight to find and defeat Dio. The D’Arby brothers both showed how to use Jotaro’s stoicism as an asset in making interesting fights without throwing a punch. Even its comedic stand enemies were also far better, from the wonderfully bizarre Oingo Boingo brothers to Mariah and compromising codpiece positioning. The entire series of events after the gang finally enters Dio’s mansion just felt so elevated from what we’d seen before. The stakes also feel immediately higher once characters actually die for good. Bringing Avdol back seemed like such a mindboggling decision, and certainly was worst part of the story for me. Having characters definitively make the final sacrifice restored my faith in Jojo‘s strength of storytelling

jjsc10polnareffcryDio is a bastard, and the ending of Part 3 wouldn’t be the same without the fabulous ham he serves up in the climactic battle. Big props to Takehito Koyasu, the character of Dio wouldn’t work nearly as well without his perfectly smug performance. We see that, just like his battle with Jonathan a hundred years before, it’s Dio’s own arrogance that brings about his downfall. He allows himself to be outwitted by Jotaro because he doesn’t properly take him seriously as a threat until it’s too late. We also see quick thinking from Jotaro, and a callback to Star Platinum’s abilities to catch speeding bullets. It’s such an energetic and engrossing fight that you can even forgive it for some of the questions Jotaro’s time stopping powers bring into play. While Stardust Crusaders still remains behind Battle Tendency on my Jojo rankings, the way it nailed its ending proves that it deserves its immortality.

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Iro’s Final Thoughts

As the only one here who read the Stardust Crusaders manga in its entirety, watching the anime alongside my friends over the course of a year was incredibly fun. I like to share things I love with the rest of the crew, but usually they just begrudgingly play along. It’s rare we end up watching something that we all unanimously enjoy on a weekly basis, and JoJo played that role almost perfectly. We all knew Dio was waiting at the end, but only I knew all of the twists and turns of the journey; nearly every episode ended with me saying, “Yeah that was cool, but wait until next week!”, and I could only smile as the Glorio Crew tried just as hard as Jotaro and friends to figure out how to defeat the new bad guy.

Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency were wild adventure stories with charismatic villains, but Stardust Crusaders’ switch to Enemy-Stand-of-the-week – despite its inherently slower pacing – allows more freedom for Araki to craft bizarre battles. Every opponent has something new, and our heroes need to be creative with the tools at their disposal to find a solution. There are growing pains, and almost the entire first half of Stardust Crusaders is rather dull in its simplicity, but by the time Dio drops a steamroller on Jotaro’s head there’s no questioning that you’re watching something special.

JoJo‘s status as an iconic shounen tale stems almost entirely from Stardust Crusaders, and I feel lucky that I could show everyone exactly why ZA WARUDO and ORA ORA ORA have become such well-known anime references. David Production have done a wonderful job adapting the manga so far, and I can only hope that our bizarre adventures have not yet come to a close.

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6 thoughts on “Final Thoughts: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

  1. Ehhh. I could write a giant angry essay on why I got so burnt out with this show, but I’ll just say: Araki is a master of making a ton of really incredible fun individual moments, but man can he not actually put them together in a way that makes a satisfying whole. He can also create some really quirky and interesting characters, but forgets to give them any actual characterization or development (or even remember that there are more than two members of the Stardust Crusaders, or that more than two people can work together in a fight). I’m not so burnt out that I won’t give part 4 a chance, though.

    • Araki’s characters are pretty one-note, but overall I don’t think that necessarily hurts the series. I don’t look to JoJo (or any shonen battle series, generally; Fullmetal Alchemist is perhaps a notable exception) for strong storytelling or character development. I’m usually there for cool fights, and Araki supplies those in a certain way nobody else can.

      As I note above, the first half of SC is a string of solving things via brute force, but later battles in SC and those going forward into Diamond is Unbreakable tend to follow the format of “how do the heroes use specific tools to defeat the new threat with unknown powers”. Said tools aren’t necessarily limited to just their Stands, but also character quirks. Jotaro couldn’t have bluffed D’arby unless he was a one-note grumpy guy, for example. Several of the arcs in Part 4 wouldn’t happen (and wouldn’t be resolved) if not for Josuke’s mischievous streak.

      I’m not saying round characters and strong storytelling are undesirable, obviously, but I think you might be barking up the wrong tree if you’re expecting them from JoJo of all things. The very first episode of this show was about a feud between a quintessential young gentleman and a kid who lit dogs on fire out of spite, after all.

      • It doesn’t need to be deep, but it would be nice if it was there! You could watch both Jonathan and Joseph change through the course of their parts. That didn’t happen at all with anyone in SC except maybe Polnareff, and even then it’s more ‘welp, sister’s avenged, time to just be a goofball’ a fourth of the way through the show. Even Dio, who was an amazingly fun villain in part 1, had his character reduced to just being ‘the fight that happens to be more important than the other fights’, mostly due to not actually directly influencing the story until the literal very end. If he had shown up at the halfway point and actively fucked with the crusaders, giving him a chance to have a direct connection with Jotaro (or something along those lines), it would go a long way to giving the total story some actual direction and coherence. You’re right that it doesn’t need a lot of actual character and plot, but it needs *some* of those things.

        • Positive thing: I will say I am super happy about a large part of the Jojo fandom being huge fans of Kakyoin, most pointless of the crusaders. I feel like we all felt a surge of mass pity and try to send him the love Araki refuses to give him.

  2. In my books Battle Tendency and Phantom Blood were far superior to Stardust. I certainly enjoyed Stardust but dragged ass on more occassions than I like. The final battles were fantastic though. Dio’s voice actor was phenomenal.

    • On average, Battle Tendency is probably technically better, but Stardust Crusader‘s highs are really high. When people remember Part 3, they remember the good times and not the bad.

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