Part 5 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure! The year is 2000. Jotaro Kujo has sent Koichi Hirose to Italy to check up on a rumor that Dio Brando had a son who may be a Stand user. Immediately upon arriving in Italy, Koichi runs into Giorno Giovana, who is the Stand user in question. Giorno has bigger things on his mind, though. He seeks to become a gangster so that he can change the mafia from the inside and make it less poisonous and destructive. After killing a local gangster, Giorno is confronted by Bruno Buccellati, the leader of a branch of the local mafia group, Passione. Bruno initially intends to kill Giorno as retaliation, but after being defeated by Giorno, Bruno invites him to join Passione. Eventually they, along with the rest of the group, are entrusted with retrieving and delivering Trish Una, the daughter of the mafia’s boss, to the boss himself.
Of all the JoJo parts so far, Vento Aureo was the biggest mystery to me going in. I didn’t know much about it beyond that Giorno is Dio’s son (which is far less important to the plot than it sounds) and that it involves Italy and the mafia. That’s about it. Mostly I wondered what the JoJo take on the mafia would be. It’s about what one would expect!
Vento Aureo’s structure is quite different than Diamond Is Unbreakable; in fact, it’s more a throwback to Stardust Crusaders in that the story unfolds in a gauntlet of battles. This makes sense: Vento Aureo is going for the feel of a gangster thriller, so the Passione boys are constantly under attack from those who wish to disrupt their operations, whether that’s searching for someone’s secret stash of treasure or the aforementioned mission to protect the boss’ daughter. The main difference is that Vento Aureo’s plot is a bit deeper than that of Stardust Crusaders. Passione has its goals, the boss has his own goals, and there are also rogue elements in the mafia as a whole that go against both Passione and the boss. There’s an extra layer of stuff on top of all that at the end, but I probably won’t get too much into that.
With this in mind, though, I have to say this is the part where the seams of JoJo show a bit. Not so much that the story is ever outright bad — it’s far too entertaining for that — but enough that it’s not as neat as usual.
Part of the genius of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is its shockingly simple formula. Depending on the character(s), the heroes stumble upon a Stand user or are ambushed and must suss out what this person’s powers are and how to counter them. The enemy Stand user is always in the ideal situation and setting for their power. The odds are always stacked against a hero — it is a battle of both mind and strength, a puzzle that must be thought about before it’s blasted to pieces. Stardust Crusaders really does an incredible job of establishing this formula, because for the most part, everyone’s powers are clear and easy to understand. Even the more esoteric ones — like the pair who act out the future based on terrible drawings — aren’t all that complicated. But though the powers are simple, Hirohiko Araki is great at writing situations where these powers can be at their most dangerous.
Diamond Is Unbreakable tweaks the formula by making the enemy Stands generally weirder and more complex, but it offsets this by requiring the heroes to endure a lot to really crack the riddles of these Stands. (Not that the Stardust Crusaders folks don’t endure a lot, but people get really fucked up in Diamond Is Unbreakable.) It makes sense — the more complex something is, the tougher it will normally be to figure it out. Then we get to Vento Aureo. It’s definitely good when it follows the basic path of the formula. For instance, there is an early battle where Giorno fights a Stand that moves around through shadows but is damaged by sunlight. That’s perfect — easy to get a grasp on, but flexible enough where there’s a lot that can be done with it over the course of a few chapters. It’s an effective, entertaining battle.
However, once the story moves on to some of the more complex Stands, things get a bit messier. A quick example: One of the Passione crew, Narancia, gets into a scrape with a Stand user who has the power to shrink people. This fight is kind of neat, though, in that it’s the villain who has to figure out the exact nature of Narancia’s Stand, Aerosmith, once the tables are turned and the villain needs to get the hell away. Problem is, part of Aerosmith’s power is so specific and relatively obscure that when you take into account the situation the villain is in, it is at the very least a huge stretch that he deduces the exact nature of Aerosmith’s ability.
The continual increase of Stand complexity ensures that this occurs a few more times during the course of the story. It’s not enough to unravel everything, but it does show the limits of the formula. Basically, whenever it feels as if Araki has a character guess the ability of a Stand user way too soon, then the formula falls apart, because the struggle is an essential part of the experience. The struggle to defeat a Stand user is good, but the mental struggle of piecing together exactly what a Stand user can do and when is what makes JoJo stand apart from other fighting stories. To be fair, though, this also highlights how much more difficult it is to write each successive part of JoJo. And while I have my qualms with how some battles play out, there are also plenty of examples of good fights with complex Stands where the heroes take their lumps and are on the razor’s edge of defeat before putting the pieces together and achieving victory.
I do miss the tangents Diamond Is Unbreakable often embarked upon. It had the freedom to do that because the main goal of the series — find the serial killer lurking in town — was often so murky, since Yoshikage Kira’s MO is downplaying his existence as much as possible. The search for a goal inevitably leads one down many paths. The goal of Vento Aureo, however, is more concrete, and thus the Passione crew runs full speed on a straight line to the endgame. (And are interrupted several times along the way, of course.) There are occasional breaks, though, in the form of flashback to the youths of each gang member. Some are interesting, some not so much. None are quite so entertaining as Josuke trying to cheat Rohan out of money.
Something I do like that Vento Aureo shares with Diamond Is Unbreakable is great use of its setting. The gang goes pretty much everywhere in Italy, from islands off the coast to Venice to Rome at the end. There’s a great variety of environments: Wide open spaces on both land and ocean, urban environments (both spaced out and close quarters). One of my favorite battles takes place on a train, and Araki squeezes pretty much everything he can out of that scenario. Even a battle in the sewers is fun and entertaining, though no doubt it would be shit if it were in a video game.
More than 1,000 words in, and once again, I’m only now getting to the characters. I should just acknowledge that this will happen every time out. Anyway, as you can tell, Araki pushes the weirdness of the visual design even further than Diamond Is Unbreakable. They’re the prettiest pretty boy designs yet, and they’re plastered with visual motifs — the ladybugs with Giorno, zippers with Bruno, etc. I suppose there’s a sense of exoticness that would set them apart from Japanese protagonists. Personality-wise, this is also an interesting group of people. They have their own code of honor, but they’re also the most willing to kill of any set of JoJo heroes, which makes sense since they’re all gangsters. Even Giorno is willing to get his hands dirty for the sake of the greater good. That edge goes a long way toward making Giorno much more than a bland do-gooder.
There’s something interesting going on in Vento Aureo — this part basically has two main heroes. There’s the new JoJo (or GioGio), Giorno, but the group leader, Bruno, gets just as much play. As well he should, because Bruno is a fuckin’ boss. His Stand, Sticky Fingers, is one of my favorites in the series thus far. It has the same zipper motif as Bruno but somehow looks cool even though one of its zippers looks like a giant, dangling dong (intentionally, I’m sure). Its power is that it can unzip pretty much anything it touches. This translates into Bruno unizpping body parts from people, creating convenient escape paths and even unzipping holes in open space. The idea of that is just cool to me. Bruno also has a great charisma that makes him feel like a natural leader, whereas Giorno, while not exactly quiet, is more the lead by example type who is quite attentive. The two play off each other very well.
The rest of Bruno’s group is OK. I never really liked Pannacotta (second from the right in the image above) or Leone (far left) all that much, with the exception of Leone’s backstory. There is an interesting thing to note, however: Pannacotta is famously written out of the story because Araki made his Stand too powerful, to the point where even he could not design many interesting fights around it. I’d heard about this before I read this part, but it’s actually handled better than expected. Meanwhile, I quite liked Narancia (far right) and Guido (second from left). Narancia is the standard buttmonkey character — he is usually the first to fall victim to an enemy Stand. He’s a spunky dude, though, and I can’t help but feel for him since his life has been pretty shit up to this point. Guido is pretty much the “I like shooting stuff” dude, but his Stand is kind of interesting. It’s basically just a gun; however, along with regular ammo, he shoots sentient bullets that control the normal bullets after they exit the barrel. This is also one of the few Stands that talks and has a personality (or personalities in this case) all their own, so it’s fun to hear Guido chat it up with them. Also, it’s called Sex Pistols, which is just hilarious.
There’s also the boss’ daughter, Trish, who is fine enough but I think somewhat of a wasted opportunity. She eventually gets a Stand and has a decent battle, which is a pretty big deal because she’s the second heroic woman to be a Stand user and the first to actually fight on the side of the heroes. Problem is, she doesn’t get to do much else until the final battle, which is a shame, because I actually like her character arc. Trish is kind of an asshole when she first meets the gang, but in her situation, it’s an understandable response. Her confidence grows in a nice way, and I like her determination as bad shit keeps happening around her. I don’t know enough to make a statement, so I’ll pose a question instead: It was still a big deal at this time to have a woman fighting alongside the men, yes? It is something that changes bit by bit in JoJo. Lisa Lisa is plenty cool but is mostly a jobber. In Stardust Crusaders, a couple of the enemy Stand users are women. Diamond Is Unbreakable has Yukako. And then comes Trish. They all pave the way for Jolyne and the other ladies in Stone Ocean, which I’ve really been looking forward to reading.
As for villains, well, much like Vento Aureo’s structure, this is also a throwback to Stardust Crusaders in that it’s a conga line of assassins who come after our friendly gangsters. There aren’t any big mini-bosses like in Diamond Is Unbreakable. The minor villains have more personality than most in Stardust Crusaders and are generally kookier, but in all, Diamond Is Unbreakable still has the best cast of bad guys. Then there’s The Boss, whom I’ll refer to as that on the off chance someone who hasn’t read Vento Aureo and knows nothing about the big bad is reading this right now. Have to keep some secrets and surprises, after all. Anyway, The Boss is an interesting dude in terms of how he’s constructed. He’s an amalgam of all the antagonists to this point — a combination of the ruthless lust for power of Cars and Dio and the all-consuming desire for anonymity of Yoshikage Kira. Those points aren’t mutually exclusive, either, though I suppose I’ll hold off on explicitly stating more.
I have to tiptoe around talking about The Boss, because I’d rather not spoil a lot about what makes him memorable, but what I do like is how his Stand, King Crimson (which is an amazing Stand name, btw, one of the best in the series thus far), contributes to his sense of superiority and arrogance. That’s one thread I like about main villain Stands in JoJo: In their ultimate forms, these Stands give their users some sort of godlike ability that makes them feel as if they control existence itself. Even though Araki inevitably has to go to ridiculous lengths to power up his heroes enough to take down the villains (it’s particularly egregious here), I do enjoy that he lets the villains get what they want, albeit temporarily, if only because it’s so much fun to see them react to winning.
One more thing: I liked Vento Aureo quite a bit, but consider it mostly a step back after Diamond Is Unbreakable. I probably would have rated it merely a fine, fun read if it weren’t for the ending, which goes to some weird places in a way that I like a lot. There’s some stuff beforehand about the origin of Stands and the Bow and Arrow that helps create Stands that I think is a bit dopey, but it’s worth it for how it ties into the ending and gives some extra urgency to getting things under control. Also, it gives Araki more excuses to draw gross stuff, which is always a plus. So, yeah, to me Vento Aureo is mostly Stardust Crusaders 2.0 but with a weirder ending. I’m fine with that.