The year is 2011. Down in Florida, Jolyne Kujo, the daughter of Jotaro Kujo, is framed for murder when her boyfriend, Romeo, accidentally runs someone over. Jolyne is sent to the Green Dolphin Street Prison, with her only possession an amulet she inherited from Jotaro, which cuts her hand and unleashes her ability — Stone Free, a Stand that can unravel Jolyne’s body into living string. While trying to find a way to escape from the prison, Jolyne and the fellow convicts she allies with become embroiled in the generations-long feud between the Joestars and Dio Brando. The blood feud is continued by the resident priest at the prison, Enrico Pucci, who met Dio many years ago and plots to make Dio’s vision of the perfect world a reality.
Stone Ocean is my favorite part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to this point.
Much of that is for the traditional sorts of reasons: Jolyne Kujo is an excellent JoJo, strong-willed and fearsome, but also just wild enough to be interesting. The cast is universally good, both on the heroes side and the villains, and the strong presence of women in both groups gives Stone Ocean a variety that the other parts to this point have mostly lacked. This is also the weirdest part yet; for me, this is a great thing. I love the imagination of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. In both story and battle, there are so many strange twists and turns in Stone Ocean that took me by surprise. It’s delightful. Just on the pure basics of what each part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure delivers, Stone Ocean is the best thus far.
However, there’s an interesting undercurrent to this part that makes me love it even more. I didn’t think about it much until after I finished the part, but large swathes of Stone Ocean strike me as being about the legacy of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and where the manga would go after this point. Specifically, Stone Ocean is about bringing the traditional idea of a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure story to a sound conclusion and beginning anew. I won’t say this is specifically what Hirohiko Araki had in mind with this part (shit, I don’t know the man, and it doesn’t matter much to me anyway), and admittedly I have no idea how Steel Ball Run (the next part of JoJo) develops, so maybe I am full of shit (or maybe things changed along the way). Nonetheless, I believe several elements of the story support this basic idea.
(By the way, I am going to SPOIL THE SHIT out of this part, so be aware. There are too many things I want to talk about — the ending being one of them — and I don’t want to dance around spoilers. Really, by this point non-readers should know whether they want to read the manga, anyway.)
The basic conflict of Stone Ocean is steeped in the lore of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. On the one side, you have Jolyne Kujo, the daughter of Jotaro Kujo, who is the strongest current representative of the Joestar bloodline. On the other side, you have Enrico Pucci, the main disciple of Dio Brando, who is of course the most iconic enemy of the Joestar clan. He fought Jotaro’s great-great-grandfather Jonathan Joestar in the conflict that kicked off the series. Dio Brando fought Jotaro when Stands first made their mark in the series — and, as it’s later shown, Dio disseminated the bow and arrow that grants Stands to people after receiving it from Enya (who herself received it from Vento Aureo’s Diavolo). Dio also has a direct connection to the Joestars via his theft of Jonathan Joestar’s body. This makes it all the more appropriate when Pucci inherits the Joestar birthmark after absorbing Green Baby, which was born of Dio Brando’s bone — it’s as if Pucci takes on Dio’s form for his own along with Dio’s desire for Heaven and Dio’s desire to destroy the Joestars. Through Jolyne and Pucci, the Joestar vs. Dio battle plays out once more, the final showdown between these storied rivals.
Dio has his hands in nearly everything in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, so it is inevitable that even after death, Dio’s will is felt in the part that brings this world to a conclusion. It is revealed at the end that the idea of “Heaven” is to remake the world — the ultimate evolution of Pucci’s Stand, Made In Heaven/Stairway to Heaven (whatever naming convention you, Dear Reader, prefers), has the power to speed up time for nonliving organisms so that the world itself grows and evolves while humans, plants and animals stay the same. Using this power, Pucci is able to push the universe to its demise and create a parallel universe where humans unconsciously know their actions before they happen. The world is meant to play out as planned, with humanity as the safe, comfortable puppet of fate.
In the context of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure narrative, Enrico Pucci is the champion of the status quo. He is obsessive about fate, continually invoking gravity as his grand metaphor for what he perceives as fate choosing him as the shepherd of the world. Pucci sees people only as pawns to further his desire to destroy the world and create it anew. He views himself as a righteous man who is creating a world for the happiness of humanity, but Made In Heaven shows how Pucci actually views himself — he is the only person who can operate normally within this sped-up world and is thus unshackled by the gravity of fate, above all the mere mortals who have no choice but to live out their daily lives even when they know what is to happen.
Pucci argues that knowing how one’s life turns out and nonetheless living out one’s role is true happiness. It is safety, security. Everyone knows how their story will end and can take comfort in a conclusion that challenges nobody. Even the main players of Stone Ocean dutifully act out the roles Pucci has created for them. Though, notably, the two characters shown — Jotaro and Jolyne — have been replaced in this world by two people who look like them but merely act out their roles. There is no room for those who act against fate in Pucci’s world. Pucci has created a world where the insanity and flavor of the JoJo world give way to predictability and banality. JoJo is not unlike many stories of its ilk in that it has a distinct formula that it follows, even with a story like Stone Ocean that likely has the densest plotting of any JoJo part so far. There are certain expectations for the JoJo stories and battles. Could they one day grow stale and predictable? That is the fear Stone Ocean faces head on, with Pucci acting as the evangelist for the safe formula. Act out the story as you will, with no interruptions, and people will be comfortable and happy.
In the end, only Emporio Alnino, the little boy who grew up secretly in Green Dolphin Street Prison, can stop Pucci. He is literally the only unknown element: Pucci does not know of Emporio’s existence until he gains Made In Heaven. Emporio’s story is that of Stone Ocean itself, gaining the power and confidence to break free and strike out for new horizons. In retrospect, setting the majority of Stone Ocean in a prison is a clear metaphor, particularly given that it is Pucci who is responsible for Jolyne’s imprisonment — the Joestars break out of confinement, but in Pucci’s new world, the prison is all that we see. It is symbolic of Pucci’s world in that it is the safe container for the story to play out. This safe, secure world is the only one the meek Emporio initially knows. He was born in the prison and lives in a secret room. He helps out Jolyne as much as he can, but this is usually done from the safety of a hiding spot. Being a frail kid, he can’t be brazen and put himself in danger like Jolyne can.
He does escape with the main crew, however, and at the end he is entrusted as the sole person of the main crew to live through the creation of the new world. Jolyne dies. Jotaro dies. Their allies Hermes Costello, Narciso Anasui and Weather Report die. Only Emporio is left. This is already a new frontier for JoJo. Even when those in the Joestar clan die, they are always the ones to defeat the villain and save the day. In this world, the Joestars fail, but their failure allows a new precedent to be set and a truly new world to begin. Through guts, guile and a little luck, Emporio is able to kill Pucci and destroy the prison world Pucci has created, forcing another reset in which Emporio finds himself outside on the open road, the horizon stretching endlessly before him. He stumbles upon the new world versions of Hermes, Jolyne (here named Irene) and Anasui (here named Anakis) and embarks with them on a journey where they pick up the alternate world version of Weather Report. Irene still has the mark of the Joestars, but that is the one hint we receive about what may have carried over into this new world. Do Stands still exist? Does Dio still exist? Is Jotaro still wandering the world on his quest to stamp out Dio’s influence? (Perhaps not, given that he and Jolyne seemingly have a close relationship.)
We know nothing. All we know is that this is a new world, torn free from all that held it back.
Now, that is definitely not all Stone Ocean has to offer. In fact, I don’t think this thread really presents itself in strength until Pucci gets C-Moon. This is mostly an interesting interpretation that came to mind as I read Stone Ocean and considered its place in this manga’s history. I was a bit disappointed with Vento Aureo, but I admittedly don’t know what the critical and fan reaction to it in Japan and abroad is, nor do I know what Araki himself thinks of it. I don’t want to project too much; however, I can’t help but think that doing a work like this for nearly 15 years at the point of creation (Stone Ocean started in 2000) would give someone the itch to shake it up. JoJo is an interesting case, because its structure allows it to start anew with each part but also keep continuity. There is a sense of creating something new with the same old pieces in each part. Stone Ocean is where those pieces break each other apart and force the search for something new.
But enough of that. Even though I love Stone Ocean as a way to shake up the manga, if you look at it as just another part of JoJo, it’s still incredible and exhilarating. I have basically no complaint about the fights. The powers in Stone Ocean are relatively complex, but they’re presented well enough that they’re understandable and interesting. The conditions for their use aren’t particularly esoteric, either, so there aren’t any ridiculous moments where the characters guess some absurdly specific element of an enemy user’s power. Fight development across the board makes much more sense in Stone Ocean than Vento Aureo and is all the more enjoyable because of it. And there are so many super weird, creative Stands that make the fights a ton of fun. I particularly enjoyed the fights against the Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Dragon’s Dream, Bohemian Rhapsody and Underworld Stands. (And the fights against Pucci, of course, but that probably goes without saying.)
I don’t often talk about plot in these posts, because, well, there normally isn’t much to talk about with JoJo. Parts 1-3 are mostly simplistic. Part 4 is a bit more complicated, with the search for Yoshikage Kira and Kira’s integration with his new family. Part 5 has everything with the gangs and the intrigue; for its faults, I did enjoy how there are multiple factions within the gang gunning for each other. Stone Ocean isn’t exactly Memento or whatever meticulously plotted story you want to throw out there, but it may as well be in terms of a normal JoJo story. You’ve got the main story, Weather Report’s past with Pucci (which actually turns out to be more interesting than I thought it would be), Pucci’s past with Dio (though it feels a bit weird to me, mostly because I can’t imagine Dio being that friendly with anyone), etc. There’s a lot going on in Stone Ocean, but it never feels overwhelming. Araki even sneaks in a few odd tangents! (My favorite is when Made In Heaven’s power initially activates, and then suddenly there’s pages upon pages of super morbid jokes about horrible things happening when time speeds up. I love this manga so much.)
As mentioned earlier, the cast is excellent. Jolyne is a stone cold fuckin’ badass. What sets her apart from the other JoJos is how utterly relentless she feels. At one point Anasui mentions that he loves the determined look in Jolyne’s eyes when she decides she has to do something; there’s a fire burning in her that’s just different from our other beloved JoJos. Stone Free is also cooler than expected, though the sunglasses are suuuuuuper dumb. But whatever — it’s the power that counts, and Jolyne employs hers in a ton of interesting ways. Who knew you could do so much by unraveling yourself into string? Jolyne’s pals are dope, too: Hermes as the boisterous best buddy character is always entertaining (was very sad when she was hospitalized and left out of the manga for a while), Foo Fighters is hilarious in the fish out of water role and a badass in its/her own right, Anasui is kind of weird but Diver Down is neat, Weather Report has an interesting arc, and Emporio is totally adorable. And Pucci slowly grows from kind of an average villain to amazing by the end. Really, it’s just great to see a priest do JoJo poses.
But what is really best about Stone Ocean is how fucking WEIRD it is. Not weird by normal standards, by the way; weird by JoJo standards, which is a level of weird that probably should not legally exist. One of the things I truly love about this manga is that when it goes strange, it doesn’t half-ass it; it goes full out bizarre, whether the reader can keep up or not. Raining poisonous frogs? Yep. Ghost zombies? Hell yes. Sentient plankton that can wear humans like a warm jacket? Damn right. Feng shui assassins? You got it. That ending? Fuck yeah. Stone Ocean pushes everything JoJo about as far as it can go, and it’s really no wonder it moved to a seinen magazine when Steel Ball Run began. Extreme violence, drugs, sex, incestual vibes, etc. What a filthy part! But it also never feels like Araki is just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. It’s taking the natural chaos of this world and shaping into something ridiculous and incredible.
tl;dr Stone Ocean is amazing. I love you, JoJo. I do.