Finally we are at Part 4 of the saga of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure! In this story, Jotaro Kujo travels to the town of Morioh to meet Josuke Higashikata, the illegitimate son of Joseph Joestar. (He still got around, even as an old man.) Once there, Jotaro finds that Josuke is a powerful Stand user and recruits him to help root out Stand users who have been developing in the town, including a vicious serial killer who has been operating for 15 years. They find that someone has brought the Bow and Arrow to town — a magical weapon that has the ability to grant a Stand to anyone who can survive its blow. Josuke defeats many Stand users, gains several new friends and works to eradicate the Bow and Arrow’s influence from his quiet town once and for all.
By far the best description of Diamond Is Unbreakable that I read beforehand is “slice of life … but WITH STANDS.” Yes. In particular, the first half has several stories that read like normal slice of life tales, but viewed through the lens of the bizarro JoJo universe, they become something else entirely. A trip to a restaurant; a date with a beautiful girl; finding out that a famous writer lives in town; etc., all general scenarios that have been the basis for numerous stories, but by applying the JoJo formula to them, they twist and evolve into a mad parody of the teenage experience. The mundane becomes the macabre in Morioh. My favorite example of this involves a Stand user who operates as a sort of plastic surgeon who promises true love — and her involvement in the story turns it into a twisted fairy tale.
(There are minor spoilers in this post, but nothing major.)
I wrote before that the introduction of Stands paved the way for a great deal of creativity in Hirohiko Araki’s storytelling. The Ripple never dictated the course of specific stories; its application was solely in battle. Stands, meanwhile, are limited only by the size of Araki’s imagination. Araki takes this further in Diamond Is Unbreakable. Because Stardust Crusaders was a mostly relentless series of battles, there wasn’t much opportunity to stretch the boundaries of storytelling. The imagination is mostly in the powers and how they’re used for battle, though exceptions do exist. But in Diamond Is Unbreakable, many of the Stand users are formerly normal people who suddenly gain tremendous abilities. They have lives and desires they possessed before being granted these abilities. The way these now superhumans apply their powers to achieve their everyday wants and wishes is just as interesting as the crazy battles that result. The restaurateur, the beautiful girl, the writer, and more, all feel more real and not simply invented for the purpose of slowing down Josuke and company. That’s the big advantage of this setting: It feels like a real suburb, so the madness is all the more twisted, weird and real because of it.
Take this, for example. This Stand user is a kid whose sole ambition is to play Rock, Paper, Scissors. He bugs the man on top, Rohan Kishibe, relentlessly until he submits and plays. Then the game turns deadly. By the way, this is one of my favorite pages in the entire arc. Araki deliberately distorts the size and perspective of the two battlers and the town that surrounds them to make them seem like giants fighting a duel that will shake the world. Never mind that they are playing a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. This is life or death! It is also representative of the best aspect of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: taking powers that seem completely fucking stupid at first glance and making them into something that could absolutely wreck someone’s shit given the proper circumstances. The kid on that page has the ability to steal part of a person’s Stand by winning games of Rock, Paper, Scissors; if he wins three games, he steals the entirety of a Stand. It sounds so utterly stupid, but when combined with how Stands are connected to a person’s life force, and the metagame of confidence and bluffing in RPS, it’s suddenly believably dangerous.
This “slice of life … WITH STANDS” approach doesn’t always manifest itself in reader-friendly ways. The story is prone to going on tangents.
For instance, during a part in the middle when Josuke and his friends confront the main villain, Yoshikage Kira, who manages to escape and go into hiding. Araki keeps up with that for a couple of chapters but then shifts to a story where Josuke and his friend, Okuyasu, meet someone who claims to be an alien but also appears to have Stand powers, whereupon Josuke takes advantage of those powers to swindle Rohan in a game of chance. It’s ridiculous and works solely because the tangent is so entertaining — it turns into a game of wills with Rohan trying to figure out how Josuke is cheating, and Josuke desperately trying to keep his plan from falling apart.
Diamond Is Unbreakable would not be what it is without those tangents. In fact, they’re central to the setting. Morioh is a town like any other: It is at once normal and abnormal, a town with a line of stores disguising the way to an alley where a ghost waits to finish the business that has kept her pinned to Morioh for 15 years. Every town has its secrets, oddities and tics, and Morioh is no different. Think of it like Persona 4, where the heroes tracked down murderers but also had their own lives to lead. The town keeps going, regardless of whether murderers are on the loose. This is why Araki cleverly frames many of the stories in mundane activities. A hunting trip turns into a sniper duel. A date turns into a kidnapping. A new power is used to scam people for money — and the group is briefly torn apart. Using these ordinary life experiences as a base gives weight to when they are inevitably reflected in the funhouse mirror of the JoJo universe.
I should probably learn to write about the characters earlier in these posts, so let’s do that now! Every part of JoJo has its radical designs, but it’s Diamond Is Unbreakable where Araki started getting truly bold and weird with his characters and their appearances. I have something terrible to confess: Before I started Diamond Is Unbreakable, I took a look at most of the characters and thought they looked dumb, Josuke in particular. Well, Araki must be a true practitioner of “looks can be deceiving,” because I could not have been more wrong. This is the strongest cast of characters through the first four parts. Let’s start with my man, Josuke. Joseph is still my No. 1 JoJo, but Josuke is a strong No. 2. Much like this part is the slice of life through the lens of JoJo, Josuke is the normal teenager distorted through this unique lens. Josuke doesn’t like to kill (in fact, he kills not a single person in the entire story, even the main villain), but he is incredibly vindictive. (The way he handles the first villain for targeting his mother is quite disturbing.) He is incredibly goofy and often feigns at being in control. He is prone to getting distracted; many of this arc’s tangents come as a result of Josuke wanting to do something despite being in the middle of investigating a serial killer. But, above all, Josuke is cool in his own way. He has his own style that works.
The weird thing about Josuke is that his character changes drastically after the first couple of volumes, and not just in terms of looks. When he’s first introduced, Josuke is depicting as being polite as can be, unless you insult his beloved pompadour. Then he has to kick your ass. But he’s also meek in surprising ways; the sight of a turtle causes him to freak out. He is very pure of heart. These traits are eventually dumped to make Josuke more brash, a bit greedy, and more hot-headed. It’s a bit jarring, but my guess is Araki got bored with his earlier incarnation of Josuke, decided “Ah, what the hell?” and changed him. Why not? His design also gets a bit softer. When he debuts, Josuke is the spitting image of Jotaro, except with a pompadour. He looks subtly different by the end. Maybe he’s his own man by then.
The other interesting part of Josuke is his stand, Crazy Diamond. This Stand is super strong and fast like Jotaro’s Star Platinum, but it has the added wrinkle of being able to deconstruct and reconstruct whatever it touches. The only exception is that Josuke cannot heal himself with this power; however, he can heal other people. Because this is Hirohiko Araki writing the story, though, the applications of this power are numerous. Josuke can break items and reconstruct them to make traps. He can make shields. He can make projectiles. I quickly went from thinking Crazy Diamond was a boring Stand to believing it to be one of the best Stands in the series to this point. Surely I deserve some sort of penance for doubting Crazy Diamond.
Josuke’s friends and allies are likewise awesome. Like in Stardust Crusaders, Josuke starts with an ally in Jotaro and wins the friendship of comrades along the way. Where this part differs, however, is that Josuke never stops winning friends. Josuke has his core group: Okuyasu Nijimura, who is a total dope in the best way, a well-meaning dude who is dumb as a rock but totally lovable; Koichi Hirose, a tiny kid with the heart and guts of a man twice his size; and Rohan Kishibe, the aforementioned writer I’ll get to in a bit, because he deserves his own paragraph. The periphery of Josuke’s friend list swells far beyond that, to the point where it’s a problem. Many of them are appealing characters, but because they’re not important enough to be part of the main cast, they’re put on the sideline for long periods of time, with some of them disappearing for the vast majority of the story. Even Josuke’s main pals disappear from events for arcs at a time. Stardust Crusaders is a bit better about juggling its cast, mostly because it is far smaller.
Still, the ones who get the attention undeniably deserve it. Okuyasu is a great second banana for Josuke, because he’s so earnest and he tries so damn hard. Koichi’s growth, meanwhile, is maybe the best in this whole part. He’s so meek to begin the story, but his bravery and coolness eventually knows no bounds. And then there’s Rohan … oh, Rohan. What makes Rohan, who is an in-story manga author, work so well is that the reader is meant to believe he is a stand-in for Araki. Of course, Rohan is incredibly rude (whether adult or child, he will treat you the same — awfully), unbelievably arrogant (one of his best lines is about how America doesn’t get him or his manga) and a frightening researcher. Without saying how, his Stand gives him the ability to read people’s memories. And when Rohan has to do research the old fashioned way — well, let’s just say he goes all the way. Rohan is the only main friend of Josuke to not be a friend at all; in fact, he despises Josuke. It leads to many great moments between the two.
But what of the villains? Their Stands are just as memorable as those in Stardust Crusaders, but several of them have personalities to match. What helps is that many of them are given time to grow. The main villain of Diamond Is Unbreakable doesn’t show up until around the halfway point, so there are several villains beforehand who are developed as the Big Bad before being dispatched. Of these fellows, the most memorable is definitely Akira Otoishi, a young man who dresses like a combo of Ziggy Stardust and Gackt, which is probably totally normal in this universe. He rocks out with the guitar and has a simply electrifying Stand. He has his own personality and goals, which definitely sets him apart from most of the Part 3 villains. There’s also an entire page dedicated to the intricacies of Akira’s guitar, which is one of my favorite pages in the entire manga so far. Only JoJo would do something that dopey just because.
What makes many of the villains memorable is that, like the heroes, they were normal people before gaining their abilities. One of them wants to be more popular at school. Another is just a kid who wants to play simple games. Another is a girl who wants to find love at any cost. Their mundane foibles and desires give them a weight that many of the Stardust Crusaders just do not have, because they’re hired guns and nothing more. That’s also why it’s so believable that so many of them could be won over to Josuke’s side. They’re not slaves to evil; they’re just normal people with normal desires. Their respect can be won.
But The Man of the Hour is none other than Yoshikage Kira, a serial killer who has made Morioh his domain for nearly two decades. Much like how each JoJo is vastly different from the others, Kira feels like an attempt by Araki to create a different sort of villain. Kira is but a human; his Stand is super powerful, but the man himself is quite frail. (By the way, Kira’s Stand, Killer Queen, is by far my favorite to this point. It’s a muscular cat man with a wrestling championship belt! I want the Killer Queen figure.) He has no grand ambitions; in fact, his desires are essentially the opposite of Dio and Cars. To use a pro wrestling analogy, think of Dio and Cars like Vader: They’re the big guys, super powerful and intimidating. You don’t defeat them so much as you survive them. Kira, meanwhile, is like Ric Flair, minus the grandstanding. He’s sneaky and clever; he’ll do whatever it takes to win, and he’s infuriatingly good at living to fight another day. And, of course, when he’s on top, the arrogance flows like a fine wine. Because Kira is undeniably human, he’s allowed to be more complex and interesting than the other villains. More than anything, he’s just a weird fucking dude, and that in and of itself makes him quite memorable. The final battle with Kira is also excellent, with some nice twists, although I think the Dio battle in Stardust Crusaders is still tops by a hair.
Whatever flaws Diamond Is Unbreakable has, it more than makes up for them by expanding the JoJo formula in ever more creative ways. Part 4′s ambitions are grander than Part 3′s, and the high points are arguably greater because they hit a tone of weirdness and oddity that just is not possible in most other stories. Where else could heroes find themselves under siege by an army of toy soldiers? Held captive by a rogue photograph? Chased by a heat-seeking bomb that screams at them constantly? JoJo has long melded playfulness, terror and action, and Part 4 hits all those notes expertly. If Stardust Crusaders is Hirohiko Araki stretching his wings, then Diamond Is Unbreakable is him soaring through the sky.