One myth that circulated throughout my Master of Fine Arts program was that of a respected professor holding up a student’s paper, slamming it on his desk and declaring: “This is just a fucking story. For a group of young people in their twenties trying to be artists, writing “just a story” was a blatant insult. Storytelling for storytelling was a waste of paper and potential. Art must Do more.
Years after leaving academia, I still preferred a more substantive narrative, the one my professors insisted on me. When I first met my partner Jed in 2018 he tried to get me into the anime by showing me programs that fit this bill. That spring, for example, we watched Penguin together, a surreal exploration of the impact of isolation, abuse and terrorism on children. With family border separations dominating the news cycle, the show hit hard; I’ve never experienced anime, a genre that I’ve mostly associated with children’s programs like Pokemon and Sailor moon, could be so contemplative, so hot, so relevant. But when Jed started pushing me to watch JoJo’s bizarre adventure later this year, I pushed back right away. Everything I knew about the show – the campy dialogue, the classic rock references, the legions of ridiculously beefy men with ridiculous superpowers – seemed silly and insignificant to me. Jojo sounded like fun, of course, but not to me. I preferred something more meaningful.
Two years passed, however, and I began to find less and less comfort in more haughty works. Between the pandemic, the ongoing climate crisis, and widespread political chaos, high-level art felt like insufficient solace against an unstable world. At the start of 2020, overwhelmed by misconceptions and reflections on our current situation, I thought of Joan Didion’s most famous quote: “We tell each other stories to live”. In full context, she actually talks about the danger of seeing life through a narrative lens, evident in the modern fusion of entertainment and reality. We depend on comedians for political commentary and power through real criminal podcasts like we read luscious detective novels. The most popular documentary series all focus on death, cults and pyramid schemes.
Not all entertainment today is grim. Much of the fiction now comes with the expectation that it will offer a concomitant social commentary, which is unquestionably positive, even if that commentary is sometimes garters and clumsy. Demanding more of our content – more accountability, more accountability, more representation – creates more empathetic and informative stories. I read about 10 articles a week on what the X show says about Y cultural phenomena, well written essays and highlighting issues worthy of our attention. But at the same time, I am more and more exhausted by this imposition that everything has to make sense, that there is no room for stories that help us. escape the present rather than considering it from a metaphorical point of view.
In July 2020, this feeling of exhaustion at its peak, I asked Jed, almost subconsciously, “What is this show that you always try to get me to watch, where men wear skinny jumpsuits and it’s all named after?” after a classic rock song? ”And so my journey began.
The creation of the mangaka Hirohiko Araki, JoJo’s bizarre adventure has over 30 years of history. The manga was created in 1987 and now consists of eight parts, the most recent of which, Part 8: JoJolion, was released last August. In the early 90s, an anime based on Part 3: Stardust Crusaders was released, but condensed the complex plot into just 13 episodes; it has largely slipped under the radar of fans. JJBA wouldn’t see any real success as an anime until 2012, when parts one and two—Ghost blood and Combat tendency, respectively – were adapted into a highly successful 26-episode series which is largely responsible for JJBA cult status today.
I was intimidated entering on JJBA universe. I’ve never been a fan of fandoms, and the countless memes of “But it was me, Dio” To “How King Crimson Works? “- are a language of their own. The script itself is also, well, weird. JJBA follows various members of the Joestar family as they use their supernatural fighting spirits, called Stands, to defeat a series of increasingly bizarre Big Bads. What started out as a relatively conventional fantasy about a vampire pursuing world domination evolves into a world where a phrase like, “There’s a shark in my soup!” Put Trish inside the turtle! makes sense in the context.
Despite its absurdity, JJBA can connect to reality in your own way. A excellent try about the series dissects its seemingly accidental weirdness. A community of video essayists all tackle the thematic relevance of death in Jojo to the etymology of the names of characters (Nijimura, which translates as “rainbow village”, could it be a reference to the Taiwanese street art exhibition?). Emotions in Jojo are often so heartfelt – loss treated with solemnity, sincere and organic friendships – that I projected my own feelings onto the series on my first watch. As I finished the Stardust Crusaders arc last year, I had tears in my eyes over a scenario involving time travel; what I wouldn’t give to freeze time before things get worse. Jed later became distraught when once-beefy hero Joseph Joestar returned to Part 4: The diamond is unbreakable like a senile old man, a reminder that even the most skillful bodies wither.
But all the metaphors that can be deduced from it seem to be byproducts of the script. They are not the point of Jojo, if we can even say that the show has a point.
The closest thing to the magna thesis comes from the character of Rohan Kishibe, an eccentric mangaka who can peel your skin off your skin and read the story embedded in your flesh (no, that’s not a metaphor, c literally is its power). While licking a dead spider, Rohan jokes, “Reality is the lifeblood that makes work beat energetically.” Rather than seeing the fantasy serve as a lens through which to see reality, Araki uses reality to enrich his fantasy.
This is largely the reason why fans find JJBA so captivating. Even as the narrative becomes more and more ridiculous, the emotional core remains anchored. You would also be upset if the magical dog you shared a love-hate bond with died protecting you from the surrogate of a semi-immortal vampire. And who among us wouldn’t want to be enraged to learn that a vampire cast his head on our grandfather’s corpse? You never feel foolish for getting involved in this bizarre adventure, as Araki taps into just enough reality to make his universe vibrate with energy.
I tried to write on Jojo before. I’ve rejected countless drafts that half-relate the show to topical issues or examine its larger themes, like death and the passage of time. These essays seemed dishonest, as if I needed an intellectual justification for liking this series. I’ve made peace with the fact that there isn’t really a deep-rooted intellectual curiosity that drives my affection – my obsession is much simpler.
I like Jojo because you can waste hours debating which Stand is the most powerful (Heaven’s Door, obviously…) or which JoJo is the best protagonist (it’s Josuke; fight me). I like Jojo because it’s set in a world where the first thing an immortal humanoid does after reaching its ultimate form is transform its hand into a demonic squirrel, and you think, “Yeah, that follows.” I like Jojo because the characters regularly dress in slit crop tops and, although their pants are held up by suspenders, their Versace thongs remain very visible – an outfit that is well within the realm of series normality.
I like Jojo because it’s funny, and honestly? I haven’t had enough of this lately.
When Rohan first appears, he claims he doesn’t write manga for power, money, or even esteem. He writes it for a very simple reason: “For people to read it.” Araki has spent over 30 years doing the same, telling a story people always want to read. It’s a beautiful thing, not superficial. Perhaps Nero fiddling around while Rome burned was less a matter of casualness, as scholars often suggest, and more of the lingering desire for levity, even when the world is on fire.
JoJo’s bizarre adventure is just a fucking story. This is exactly why I love him.