Towards the beginning of the year I began reading Hirohiko Araki’s manga, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. I didn’t like it at first; the early volumes were just so tonally all over the place and all the characters were designed with an almost grotesque disregard for proportion. But over the course of these past few months it wound up becoming one of my favourite comics.
Anyway, things start off seemingly as this psychological thriller set in Victorian England, where the wealthy Joestar family adopts the recently orphaned Dio, as a means for the Joestar patriarch to return a debt he thinks he owes to the boy’s father. It turns out that Dio is a complete psychopath out to destroy the Joestar family from within, and he begins this by tormenting the Joestar son, Jonathan (nicknamed JoJo).
This is the premise for the first few chapters and it’s…kinda a little off-putting? It’s just scene after scene of JoJo being miserable to no real purpose.
But, of course, it just so happens that the Joestar family is in possession of an ancient Aztec mask that turns its wearer into a superpowered zombie. Dio gets his hands on it, and suddenly the series is a gory horror action story where JoJo must master the martial art of Hamon to prevent Dio from taking over the world.
This in turn becomes a generational epic where in each story arc a new member of the Joestar family (always nicknamed JoJo) arises to do battle with the forces of darkness – which include (but are not limited to) Nazis, ancient Aztec gods/aliens, etc.
So the comic as a whole is, indeed, bizarre. And for quite some time I had trouble figuring out what I thought of it. What made it finally click was a mental comparison I found myself making: JoJo is like a shonen manga equivalent to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy. Both start off as relatively straight-faced horror franchises that quickly push their own aesthetic past a breaking point of absurdity and then just keep going further. Both throw good taste out the window to become exercises in stylistic, campy excess. Both are most popularly known for the action-comedy-horror schtick of their third entries.
Once I mentally situated JoJo between Army of Darkness and Dragon Ball Z the whole thing just made sense and became a whole lot of fun. The fact that there can even be a middle ground here goes a long way in endearing itself to me.
There are so many neat grace notes and unusual details throughout, like how the narrator often announces new settings with over-the-top splash pages with spiky, exclamatory text bubbles (“THE METROPOLIS OF ROME – POPULATION 4 MILLION!”), or the often-ridiculous combat maneuvers (“What the…?! How did he stop my Hamon-infused Spaghetti Al Nero?!”). So much of it works, I think, because you’re never entirely sure just how much the comic itself is in on the joke.
Even Araki’s 80s Schwarzenegger flick meets Jack Kirby on steroids art style has grown on me; it’s completely over the top, but admittedly fits the content quite well.
So I now have my standard go-to comic for when I just want to read some ridiculous nonsense. There’s also a recent anime adaptation which has been all the rage for the past couple of years, so I guess it’d behoove me to check it out at some point.