The Less Bizarre Adventure That Was Stardust Crusaders

The title logo for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders.

The title logo for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders.

In The Beatles song “Get Back” Paul McCartney said, “Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner.” Yet, clearly Jojo isn’t a loner in the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise. Were The Beatles lying to me?

In late 2012 fans of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga series likely rejoiced when the first episode of the anime adaptation began. After watching the series I, too, quickly became a fan of the franchise for its overblown voice acting and action. Thus, when the final few minutes of the series was a lead-in to the third story arc of the manga series, Part 3 Stardust Crusaders, I was genuinely excited. However, upon watching the anime rendition of the story arc, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (ジョジョの奇妙な冒険 スターダストクルセイダース, Jojo no Kimyo na Boken Stardust Crusaders), I was less than impressed with a fair portion of it. To understand exactly what disappointed me about the series we have to address two current practices of the anime industry I dislike. These would be airing anime content during the late-night block and needlessly dividing a series into multiple seasons. Yet, these weren’t the only issues I had with the series. While narratively interesting, I couldn’t help but feel the episodes in the first season of Stardust Crusaders were akin to any Pretty Cure, Sailor Moon, or Super Sentai—known as Power Rangers abroad—series. Yes, beginning later in the first season and throughout the second season the episode format improved, but it seemed more out of necessity to fill a twenty-four episode quota rather than provide entertaining content. On top of this, while this may seem blasphemous to loyal fans of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, I never found the protagonist all that appealing. While the surrounding characters had far more personality, he appeared impassive. This had the effect of making him far less interesting compared to the protagonists of the previous series as well as the background characters in this series.

One aspect of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure that initially attracted me was the sensational nature of the supporting characters from the first two story arcs, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. Granted, this came from the overacting by a handful of the voice actors, but this added to the appeal of the series. However, although some of the characters had colorful personalities, every single character was charismatic, including minor characters who briefly appeared, such as Dio Brando’s servant. Hence, while some of the characters were silly, their presence always added to the series, be it the tension, comedy, drama, or what have you. More to the point, though, the magnetism of the supporting characters paled in comparison to that of the protagonists, Jonathan “Jojo” Joestar and Joseph “Jojo” Joestar. As a minor aside, it’s a tradition within the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise for the protagonist to be nicknamed Jojo. I know this is confusing, but for the purpose of this article I’ll be referring to the protagonist of Stardust Crusaders, Jotaro “Jojo” Kujo, as Jojo unless otherwise specified. For example, I previously stated Jonathan seemed to fight for his family’s honor rather than a noble cause, where Joseph was a more reluctant and lazy hero. Yet, these qualities brought out interesting aspects of their respective personalities. In fact, I said about Joseph, “But [he] used misdirection and double talk quite effectively, which makes him far different from his grandfather.” Having identifiable personality traits made Jonathan and Joseph not just appealing, but also created a base the author of the franchise, Hirohiko Araki, could build on. To put it simply, I loved watching Jonathan and Joseph.

I mention the protagonists from the first two story arcs because by comparison Jojo was an exceptionally flat character. This is possibly a sacrilegious statement to make among fans of the franchise, but it is unfortunately true. As I stated above, Jonathan and Joseph had certain qualities about them that formed a base that could be built on. In turn, Jojo lacked any semblance of a personality. While some might argue he was a level-headed and stoic young man—and I’m willing to grant the level-headed argument—stoic as a main personality trait is rather boring. For instance, examining the two protagonists in Sherman Alexie’s film Smoke Signals, Victor and Thomas, the stoic Victor was far less appealing to watch than the energetic Thomas. I don’t mean this in the sense Victor wasn’t interesting, truthfully his character arc was mesmerizing, but rather because he rarely emoted, watching him wasn’t as appealing compared to Thomas. In the same vein, the lack of emotion Jojo displayed made him not just monotonous, but far less memorable than even the throwaway characters seen throughout Stardust Crusaders. This may sound like a bold statement, but in a sense it is undeniable. Just looking at the forty-fifth episode, “DIO World Part 1,” we were introduced to the throwaway character Senator Wilson Phillips. He had little to no bearing on the narrative of the series, but he displayed far more personality in the few minutes he was on screen than Jojo did in the entire series. Honestly, the Senator’s nameless bodyguard exhibited more character in a couple of lines as well.

Of course, not all fictional characters should be judged on personality alone. Admittedly, the actions Jojo took in the series were fitting for how he was presented: a pseudo-delinquent. However, as with his personality he was never an active player in the events unless his hand was forced. Again, this may have been due to his calm and collected personality, but I never felt as though he exhibited agency more so than he responded to the action around him. Consider the opening episodes of Stardust Crusaders. Here we saw Jojo wasn’t taking an active role in the discussion about finding DIO, but rather having the people around him, namely his grandfather, Joseph, and Mohammed Abdul, make the decisions. In fact, it was Joseph who ultimately made the decision for the three, and later six characters, that Noriaki Kakyoin, Jean Pierre Polnareff, and the dog Iggy would go to Egypt to deal with DIO. While I understand the reasons why Joseph made the decision, I was rather shocked Jojo had very little input since, after all, it was his mother’s life they were going to save. Granted, because the series focused on Jojo, he did most of the fighting in the early episodes. Yet, until the final four episodes it felt as if he were no more than a robot at best and statue at worst.

The main characters of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders.  Top: Jotaro “Jojo” Kujo, Noriaki Kakyoin, and Mohammed Abdul.  Bottom: Jean Pierre Polnareff, Joseph Joestar, and Iggy.

The main characters of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. Top: Jotaro “Jojo” Kujo, Noriaki Kakyoin, and Mohammed Abdul. Bottom: Jean Pierre Polnareff, Joseph Joestar, and Iggy.

Thankfully, where Jojo was flat every other character, and I sincerely mean every character, was far more vivacious. This includes Iggy and the antagonists that were animals and inanimate objects. Part of this came from the dialog, but like the previous series much of it had to do with how animated the voice cast was. For example, looking at the antagonist Enya the Hag, while her lines mainly focused on praising DIO or talking about how she wanted vengeance on Polnareff, the bombastic way Reiko Suzuki delivered her lines made Enya memorable. The presentation was similar to Robert E.O. Speedwagon and Rudol von Stroheim from the previous series, but subdued. In fact, had the characters in Stardust Crusaders all spoken like Speedwagon or Stroheim the effect of presenting lively characters would have greatly diminished. Granted, as I said, some of the voice actors delivered their lines in bombastic ways, but there was balance between when it was used and not. Joseph was a wonderful example of this as he normally had his wits about him. But, there were certain instances when panic got the best of him and he cursed in a colorful manner. Reading this may invoke imagery of Joseph stringing together multiple expletives, but in actuality it was the way he cursed that was entertaining.

What was surprising, though, was while the human characters’ personalities could be presented through dialog and action, the production team used gestures to convey the animals’ personalities. There were a few instances when this came to the forefront of Stardust Crusaders, but the series was dotted with examples after Iggy was introduced in the twenty-fifth episode. Of course, we had the opportunity to hear Iggy’s thoughts in the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth episodes, yet every last personality trait of his was presented through his actions. It’s difficult to imagine reading, but Iggy’s personality was clearly conveyed from the way he ignored Polnareff and Joseph, the facial expressions he had when he was excited, and how he feared DIO’s guard falcon, Pet Shop. The sole reason Iggy was expressive, despite being a dog, was why I said he had more personality, and thus was far more interesting, than Jojo. This is a sad thought because Jojo was the titular character.

Featuring unique personalities and powers in each episode of Stardust Crusaders certainly helped retain my interest in the series. What I mean by this is every week viewers watched another fun encounter between Jojo and company and DIO’s henchmen. There were many to choose from and each had qualities that separated them from the rest. However, having one encounter per episode made the series appear as if it were a children’s show like Sailor Moon or Dai-Guard. The issue with this method of storytelling in a franchise like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure was it removed much of the tension needed to build the story. More precisely, this meant if an encounter was completed in one episode, the next was going to be with a more powerful character. Yet, when the action was broken between episodes it forced viewers to contemplate exactly how the characters would escape the situation. The tenth to twelfth episodes were wonderful examples of this as two episodes were a set followed by a self-contained episode. In the set of episodes, “Emperor and Hanged Man Part 1 and 2,” we saw DIO’s henchmen Hol Horse and J. Geil corner Polnareff. Yet, because we saw the tension build in the tenth episode and released during the climatic battle between Polnareff and J. Geil in the eleventh, the dramatic structure was spread out to keep us in suspense. Unfortunately, because the encounter with Joseph and Nena in the twelfth episode was completed in one episode, there was a distinct lack of buildup, tension, and release. As such, the dramatic structure fell flat.

Admittedly, the lack of buildup, tension, and release was more of an issue in the first eighteen episodes. Yet, even when the action was divided between two episodes, I couldn’t help but feel the series was akin to something a young child would watch. That’s not to say the self-contained episodes never advanced the plot, as those episodes had Jojo and company making progress toward Egypt, but removed much of the potential tension in the series. Consider the final eight episodes of Stardust Crusaders. Although these were the climatic episodes of the series, they featured three encounters between Jojo and company with Telence D. D’Arby, Vanilla Ice, not the musician, and most importantly, DIO. To a degree, these episodes suffered from a simple defeat-the-antagonist structure. However, had each encounter been assembled into an episode, for a total of three, they would have lacked the emotional substance and weight needed to truly convey the grandiose content of the eight episodes.

Naturally, having the content spread out over the course of two episodes created better tension in the series. Yet, I actually felt there was a push to sprawl the content over a number of episodes to fill quotas. Yes, having the later encounters stretched between episodes was better for the series, but at the same time the content could have filled one episode, as was the case in the first eighteen. Granted, this is only speculation, but because David Productions, the company that produced Stardust Crusaders, was contracted to make forty-eight episodes this may have left the company with one option: expand on, rather than thin out, the content of the source material. To some this may seem like a shortcoming on the part of the production team, but as with the example above, in the end this was a boon for the series.

The one scene with the throwaway character Senator Wilson Phillips.

The one scene with the throwaway character Senator Wilson Phillips.

Regrettably, the benefits of spreading the content over multiple episodes and having vibrant characters, despite the lack of characterization with Jojo, suffered from two factors out of the hands of David Production. These would be the late airtime and the series needlessly being split into two seasons. I know I dwell on airtimes quite a bit and it really isn’t an issue for those living outside of Japan. Nevertheless, I thought I would lay out my grievances. This is a two-fold issue for me and can be broken into two arguments, the first of which is accessibility. I realize there are more avenues for people to access anime content nowadays, such as recording or online streaming. However, I always wonder about people, especially younger people, who want to watch the content in real time. By pushing the airtime to the late-night block, it forces those who want to watch the initial airing to stay up until an unreasonable time. Admittedly, for someone in their early twenties this isn’t much of an issue as they have stamina to spare. Yet what about those who are older, in their thirties and forties, and young teens? I guarantee there were people in those demographics who wanted to watch Stardust Crusaders in real time but couldn’t because of the late airtime. I, for instance, don’t enjoy staying up past midnight. But, because the airtime was 12:30 at night where I live, if I wanted to watch the initial airing I had to stay up until 1:00 in the morning. This isn’t a pleasant experience to say the least and it begs the second argument, why do broadcasters no longer consider the target audience for anime content?

Again, I have to yield the point TV Tokyo Corporation still airs anime during primetime television as well as on weekend mornings, as does Fuji Television Network and TV Asahi Corporation. Even local stations air older anime series during primetime hours, which is lovely for fans of older series. However, there was a time in the 1990s when anime was aired during both primetime and late-night. Of course, the image of late-night anime during this time period is ultra-violent and hypersexual. But honestly, the content for younger audiences was also rather violent and sexual to a degree. Take Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma ½. While not overly violent, the series had a fair share of the protagonist fighting other characters. And though we may think there was no sexual content in Ranma ½, there was quite a bit of nudity. In fact, there were a number of moments in the series where we could clearly see the heroine and female Ranma’s nipples. In today’s market the mere thought a primetime anime would show female nipples is unthinkable and yet an entire generation grew up watching this type of content in the 1990s. In terms of violence alone, Japanese children of the 1980s had the privilege of watching Fist of the North Star and any fan of the medium knows how bloody that series was. Thinking about how people in the 1980s and ‘90s were exposed to this type of content makes me wonder why Japanese people feel the need to “protect” their children from violent and somewhat sexual content, when they, themselves, grew up on it.

Thus, in regards to Stardust Crusaders, I felt the content wasn’t horrific enough that children, and by children I specifically mean between the ages of eight and twelve, shouldn’t watch the series. What’s ironic, though, was, prior to airing the second season of Stardust Crusaders, the broadcast company Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corporation (Tokyo MX) aired a selection of the first season of the series. During this broadcast the host—if I recall correctly he was Jojo’s voice actor, Daisuke Ono—read Twitter comments from fans. For the most part the comments reflected what happened in a particular episode or people talking about their memories with the franchise. However, one comment stuck out. A father remarked how he and his son enjoyed watching the series together. While there are plenty of families that still watch television programs together, it was the age of his son that surprised me. He was apparently ten years old. This begs the question, if one parent felt the content was appropriate for a ten-year-old, how many more felt this way as well? I would even take it one step further. If parents felt this was appropriate for ten-year-olds, then shouldn’t Stardust Crusaders have been aired at a time that’s accessible to all audiences? To put it in better context for readers living in the United States of America, would a broadcaster air a series like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic during the late-night block when no child would be watching? No, and the reason why is they would be ignoring their target demographic, children—though I’m sure bronies would argue they’re the prime audience.

This made me think about anime series that are appropriate for primetime and late-night in Japan. Of course there are some exceptions, but for the most part any anime series based on a shonen, or young boys, or shojo, young girls, manga series is most likely suitable for all audiences. This would mean series like Kuroko’s Basketball, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, or Natsume’s Book of Friends would potentially be fit for all ages. In turn, adaptations of seinen, or teen, publications may be suitable for older audiences because of the narrative and visual content. Yet, we also have to consider shonen and shojo series like To Love-ru because they have a great deal of lewd content. Thus, it’s incumbent upon both producers and broadcasters to understand that if they’re fine with children reading the content, then watching it should be appropriate as well.

But, there’s one other wrinkle in the issue of broadcasting anime at an earlier time in Japan. This is the propensity for major broadcast companies in Japan to air easy to make variety programs during primetime television. It’s a trend that cropped up in the early 2000s and while my concern is anime programming, the influx of variety programs has also pushed a fair number of dramas out of primetime as well. I don’t want to be too nostalgic here, but prior to the 2000s Japanese primetime television had far more variety with the types of programs aired than it does today. I feel the consolidation around one type of television program has damaged not just the anime industry, but Japanese broadcasting as well. I’ve spoken to a handful Japanese people about this and they tend to agree. As such, because the variety programs resemble each other, they’ve stopped watching television all together. Compounded on top of this, with younger demographics flocking to the internet for their entertainment, I’m not sure how much longer the current model will be sustainable for Japanese broadcasters. This is especially true since more anime production companies are providing content online for the international market.

Iggy fighting Pet Shop.

Iggy fighting Pet Shop.

In regards to multi-season anime series, this is more of a case-by-case issue within the anime industry. There’s a plethora of series where I’m not disappointed with a break between seasons, such as Love Live! School Idol Project. Yet, there’s an equal number of series where this is unneeded. The reason for this is the breaks tend to come at inappropriate times, such as during the height of the action as in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Fafner in the Azure: Exodus, or Stardust Crusaders. I understand some companies do this out of necessity because they catch up to the source material and don’t want to stray from it. However, it also stems from leaving audiences longing for the next bit of story and drumming up publicity. Yet, in my experience I’ve found myself losing interest in multi-season series because production companies can’t be bothered to create a long-running series. More to the point with Stardust Crusaders, there was absolutely no need for a three-month break between the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth episodes. I say this because the source material for Stardust Crusaders, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3 Stardust Crusaders, was published in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1989 to 1992. This means the first episode of Stardust Crusaders aired twenty-five years after the initial publication.

This begs the question that since this story arc was completed as of the writing of this article, twenty-three years ago, what made either David Productions or the broadcast companies feel the need to divide the series into two seasons? The production company didn’t have to worry about catching up to the source material as it was completed more than twenty years earlier and apparently this arc is a favorite among Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure fans. So, what was the need for two seasons? Was it so important for Tokyo MX to wedge an anime adaptation of Terra Formars between the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth episodes of Stardust Crusaders? Were the ratings for Stardust Crusaders abysmal? I don’t think either was the case. Had the series not been split into two seasons, I feel Stardust Crusaders would have been far more enjoyable. This makes me wonder if the fourth story arc in the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure anime franchise will do the same. I sincerely hope not because it would severely upset the viewing experience, as was the case with Stardust Crusaders.

I don’t want people to misconstrue what I have to say about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, because despite my disappointment with the series I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was as absurd as the previous series, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, in the bombastic voice acting and it had a wonderful cast of supporting characters and antagonists. What’s more the vibrant supporting cast helped prop up the lackluster qualities of the protagonist. Granted, there were a few instances where Jojo emoted to some extent, but they were few and far between. Although not the most upsetting aspect of Stardust Crusaders, by making the first eighteen episodes self-contained David Productions removed a great deal of the tension in the series, thus making it comparable to many children’s programs. While this issue was rectified after the eighteenth episode, I would have preferred it if David Productions had lengthened each encounter with DIO’s henchmen in the same manner as the final eight episodes. Of course, this would have stretched the series beyond what the broadcasters and the producers wanted, but it would have benefited the series as a whole.

I also realize I spent a great deal of time writing about exactly what bothers me about airing anime in the late-night block and the trend of breaking series into multiple seasons. While it ultimately depends on the series for both, with a franchise like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure many of the early story arcs from the source material don’t need to be divided into seasons, especially in the middle of the action. More importantly, though, the late airtime in Japan hampered the potential number of viewers for such a popular franchise. Considering how Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure was originally published in Weekly Shonen Jump, one would think the content was suitable for children. As such, primetime would have been a more appropriate airtime. In the end, though, I have to yield the point there are far more methods for people to view the content than when I was younger. But, it would be nice to watch certain series at an earlier time. As I said, there are disappointing factors about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, but they hardly interrupted the enjoyable aspects. While there’s no need to watch the first series to understand this one, watching both back to back is probably the best way to revel in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Either way, Stardust Crusaders was a series anybody can appreciate and should watch.

Work Info
Title:
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (ジョジョの奇妙な冒険 スターダストクルセイダース, Jojo no Kimyo na Boken Stardust Crusaders)
Under: David Production
Official Site: http://wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/jojo-animation/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JoJo’s_Bizarre_Adventure:_Stardust_Crusaders

Advertisements

, , ,

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: