“BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH THIS IS AMAZING”
— Scamp, 2012
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has a long, storied history, and true to name, it has to be one of the weirdest things ever to achieve enduring popularity. There are a fair number of Jojo’s manga fans outside of Japan, though the fighting game (released on PlayStation and the Dreamcast, and which also received a recent HD update) has also played a strong part in coloring Western fans’ perception of the series. I mean, I’ve never read the manga (or played the game, for that matter), but I still know Dio Brando’s famous ZA WARUDO attack. I’ve seen more than a few manga fans worried that fans familiar with just that part of the JoJo’s story will see this episode and check out since crazy superpowers aren’t being whipped out everywhere.
But fear not, reader, for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is by far the most fun first episode I have seen yet this season! (With the caveat that I have yet to see K or Wooser.)
When Scamp looked at the 2000 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure OVA, he wrote that it reminded him of “wrestling stories,” and that is totally the vibe I get from the first episode of this series. Pro wrestling, as you may know if you are or have been a fan, is not complicated (at least, emotionally). There are occasional gray characters, but for the most part, the line between the good guys and bad guys is plenty clear. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson described the best path for a wrestling character: the person’s natural personality with the volume turned way up. That’s how I would describe the tone of this first episode. It’s a basic story, but the viewer is surrounded by loudspeakers, the volume is cranked to 11 and the bass is rattling your brain.
Look at Dio Brando: he’s not content being a normal rapscallion — he has to be a pitch-black evil motherfucker. When Dio meets JoJo’s dog, he knees the poor pup in the face. He pokes JoJo in the eye when they box and he lands a hard punch, just because he can. To get revenge on JoJo for daring to hit him, Dio makes sure the dog will be roasted alive. It’s totally ridiculous. But you know what really sold me on the tone of this first episode? Learning that Dio and JoJo are both 12 years old.
Put aside your disbelief that these two musclebound dudes could be 12 years old. This is anime. Yoko is 14 during the first arc of Gurren Lagann. Characters in these types of series rarely look their age. But emotionally? This whole world feels as if it is viewed through the eyes of a 12-year-old. Every slight against JoJo is INSANELY melodramatic, because it’s really the first time anyone has ever been such a cock to him. When JoJo’s dad berates him for eating like he’s been kept in a basement for a decade, JoJo runs crying from the table. When JoJo’s dumb friends ditch him because they’re a bunch of gullible fucks, JoJo jumps around and rolls in the grass because he doesn’t know how to DEAL with this shit. The tonal distance between JoJo’s appearance and his behavior makes him endearing, even when he does super dumb shit. (His “I DIDN’T TRY TO SAVE YOU BECAUSE I LIKE YOU, B-B-B-BAKA!!!!!!” reaction to Erina at the beginning is such a 12-year-old move, down to me wanting to slap him upside the head, because seriously, 12-year-old are dumb and annoying.)
This goes for the presentation, too. Dio doesn’t look ridiculously, melodramatically evil just because he’s a massive asshole; the perception of him is also colored by JoJo being so young and naive. If you were ever bullied at a young age, then that bully probably appeared to you like Hitler crossed with Stalin, with a dash of Ronald Reagan. Dio’s doing bad shit, definitely, but Christ Almighty, the anime presentation colors his character like he’s Satan incarnate. And I also like how the typical shonen quirks like explaining everything you do fit 12-year-old Dio perfectly. Couldn’t you see a kid describing every terrible thing he’s doing in exact detail just because he thinks it will show how awesome he is?
So, yeah, definitely digging the tone and ridiculousness of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. I doubt that stuff will shift much as the characters age 7 years in the next episode, but who knows? Either way, this is EXACTLY the type of nutty show I hoped this series would be before the season began. I am all in on JoJo.