Note: Season 1 of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is made up of two parts, the second of which is called Battle Tendency and starts with episode 10. The first part is called Phantom Blood.
10 New York’s Jojo
It is the 1930s and Joseph Joestar, grandson of Jonathan Joestar, is visiting New York. While Jonathan is long dead, Joseph’s grandmother Erina is still alive and keeps him in line. Jojo gets in an altercation with the police when a street child named Smokey steals his wallet. Meanwhile, Speedwagon discovers a stone pillar full of the masks that gave Dio his power from Phantom Blood. Straizo takes the mask and takes it upon himself to kill Jojo who he believes is the only person who can stop him.
The new Jojo is a brash smart aleck who is quick to fight at the slightest provocation. He’s not as self-serious as his grandfather, often using his humor to distract or diffuse a situation. These attributes make him a bit more endearing as a character to follow. He’s not as stuffy and melodramatic as his grandfather, making the humor of the show a lot more overt when absurd situations happen.
Speaking over the top, the show is extremely violent. Blood is shed liberally with lots of fountains of red in this episode. Broken bones and teeth are also featured. Jojo also knows Hamoun but doesn’t have any formal training with it meaning somehow he ends up using it without having full control over it. Sadly, this gets dropped rather quickly by the show as it could have been an interesting conflict for Jojo as he struggles with a power beyond his control.
One of the big draws of the show is its flashy, distinct style. The show is colorful and filled with lots of striking posing and framing. The framing for many shots uses comic book frame effects with actual frames within the frame. Add in the sound effect text appearing on the screen and it’s a show that leans heavily into its manga roots.
11 The Game Master
Straizo’s attempt to ambush Jojo resulted in Jojo unloading a tommy gun into an occupied cafe. Straizo is now a vampire and declares he plans on realizing Dio’s full potential and killing the Joestars. The two fight over the course of the episode and Straizo teases that there is a bigger threat known as the Pillar Man before Jojo kills him. Then there’s a look at the secret lab in Mexico where the Nazis have taken the pillar Speedwagon discovered and are studying it.
There’s a lot to unpack this episode. First, I’m surprised how quickly Straizo is introduced only to be swept away for a new villain. After Phantom Blood built up a great villain for the entire story arc, it is strange to introduce a villain one episode and throw him away the next. However, to tease future things to come, this will quickly become the norm.
A problematic element of this show is its treatment of women. Jojo threatens to French kiss a woman for being hysterical in the cafe he just demolished. First off, screaming seems a natural reaction to seeing someone shoot up an entire cafe. Second, sexually assaulting someone for that behavior is disgusting. Some may dismiss it as the casual misogyny of the time, but it quickly becomes a pattern of the show, especially later in the episode when Straizo uses a female bystander as a hostage and Jojo calls her a derogatory term. It’s a bluff, but the woman at least berates him afterwards for being an asshole.
Sadly, I wonder if Jojo is going to get away with this behavior because of how charming he is. He has this knack to know what people are going to say or do next and he calls them out on it when it adds to the absurdity of the show.
There’s a point in the cafe fight where each opponent has some feign within feign within feign that it becomes hilariously complicated in the matter of a minute. It’s as if somehow each person has seen the oddball move the other had planned months in advance and had enough time to come up with an extremely specific counter.
The show does have some animation problems. There are lots of shots of people holding poses with little to no articulation. It has very few frames of actual animation when compared to other anime. That being said, its use of stylistic backgrounds and a poppy color pallet go a long way to making the entire experience more palatable. It reminds me of Andy Warhol’s signature color pallet.
12 The Pillar Man
Jojo encounters Nazi assassin Donovan on the way to the secret lab in Mexico. From Donovan he discovers that Speedwagon is alive in the German lab as a prisoner of Stroheim, a Nazi officer. Stroheim awakens the pillar man and names him Santana. They test him and it turns out Santana can eat people and he also contorts his body to escape through the vents.
It’s a staple of a lot of anime for people to declare or say what is happening which can be a bit much and a lot of this episode is the Nazi soldiers exclaiming exactally what the audience is seeing. Maybe it’s supposed to be funny, but it quickly becomes tedious here and is mostly filler for the episode as it extends a lot of moments that could have been told much more quickly and efficiently.
This episode is intriguing for how it slowly evolves Santana’s abilities through the episode. He initially shows little intelligence but the more he observes human behavior, the more he quickly picks up new actions to do and begins mimicking them. It makes him come across as this alien threat whose true capabilities are unknown.
Once again I have to bring up the problematic treatment of women here. There’s a short scene in which a couple of creepy Nazi guards grope women while patting them down and also force the women to expose themselves. Then Jojo shows up disguised as a cross-dresser. Of course the disguise doesn’t work but the way the cross-dressing is presented feels icky. It’s a scene that easily could have been Jojo sneaking past the guards or trying to pass off as a Nazi but instead it’s a gag at the expense of women.
13 Jojo vs. The Ultimate Lifeform
Jojo faces down Santana in the lab as Stroheim and Speedwagon watch. Jojo’s elite tactic is to behave foolishly, jumping around and saying nonsense. His theory is that Santana is simply emulating human behavior and if Jojo acts silly, Santana will follow suit. However, this ends up not being the case and a fight ensues. It’s also revealed that the Nazis have secured another pillar.
Lack of results with diplomatic silliness means that Jojo reverts to the ways of Hamon. A long fight ensues in which Santana has a number of nasty biological tricks up his sleeve. His skin appears impervious to Hamon, he is able to phase through bodies, and tendrils jut out of his body to ensnare his prey to be absorbed through his skin like a blob.
There are little freeze frames that sometimes explain what just happened as well as the occasional clunky line declaring what the audience is seeing but it’s a bit of a smoother episode than the last one in this regard. I’m sure most people are not coming to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure for the writing but it sometimes gets in the way of the stylish action.
The episode ends with Stroheim proving himself to be a hero by not only asking Jojo to cut off his leg so he can crawl to the door and let sunlight turn Santana into stone but he also then sacrifices himself when Santana phases inside his body to avoid the sunlight. Why does this Nazi gotta be so brave? Of all the unlikely heroes, this is a bit of a curveball but it certainly doesn’t condone Nazi ideology, it just gives this Nazi a bit of a redemption story, albeit one condensed into two episodes. This show loves introducing characters one episode and killing them off the next episode.
14 Ultimate Warriors From Ancient Times
Speedwagon takes Santana’s frozen body to Washington DC to be kept dormant under UV light. Then Speedwagon and Jojo head for Rome to meet the grandson of Zeppeli. While eating at the hotel, a casanova type is working over a lady and when Jojo tries to sabotage his advances, he discovers the man is none other than Caesar Zeppeli, his would-be trainer. Off to a bad start, the two quickly fight and Caesar concludes that Jojo is irresponsible and arrogant, not worthy of his family name and will only get in the way of Caesar’s quest to destroy the masks.
It’s clear that they ran out of budget making this episode because there is a sequence where still images are drawn of a number of locations and panned over with the classic Ken Burns effect. This does happen in some animes with big establishing shots but here they are almost all medium shots and stand out like a sore thumb.
Luckily, the budget for this episode went into a well choreographed and interesting fight. There’s a neat bubble effect which shows off a new use of Hamon. Meanwhile the mythos evolves more as more of the nature of the pillar men and the masks are revealed. When the new baddie finally makes his entrance, it’s an epic moment.
The introduction of Caesar reintroduces the problematic depiction of women in this show. Women exist primarily as sexually desirable objects for Caesar, which is compounded when Caesar grabs a random woman off the street and gives her a Hamon kiss. What is a Hamon kiss? It’s a kiss so powerful that it makes someone do your will and gives them super strength. In this case, fight Jojo for Caesar. It’s got a rapey undertone to it and the continual mistreatment of women is pushing me close to my breaking point with this series.
Lots of anime contain sexualized depictions of women but those women tend to have agency and relevance to the plot (joke not intended). Here they are literally treated like objects and it’s only getting worse as the show continues. Besides Jojo’s grandma who is in a couple of scenes of the first episode, every speaking female in this show is treated first and foremost as a sexual object.
15 A Hero’s Proof
The new ancient entity known as Wamuu ignores the presence of the mortals until Caesar fights him with his Hamon Bubble Launcher. Really? Bubbles? Even Caesar can’t match him in battle. Jojo challenges him, using a trick boomerang to land one hit and tries to distract Wamuu so that Speedwagon and Caesar can escape. We learn that the Pillar Men are searching for the Red Stone of Aja and Jojo convinces Wamuu to spare him by proposing a rematch in 33 days time when he can be properly trained in the ways of Hamon.
A lot of what I have to say about this episode is a rehash of previous episodes. There’s lots of characters saying their intentions and actions, lots of posing for fights, lots of dramatic declarations and I’m still not completely won over by it. The animation is flashy and switches to a more old school comic book color scheme and fits well into Jojo’s colorful world.
By this point, Jojo has solidified himself as a likable protagonist. He’s cocky and arrogant, but also goofy and disarming. He’s not as self-serious as his grandfather and often uses humor and his quick wits to get out of situations. He initially comes off as moronic, but it’s all a guise for a man of deeper thoughts. Jojo talks his way out of being killed by a seemingly immortal being by appealing to the being’s arrogance shows that he’s using his brains as much as his brawn.
© James Blake Ewing 2020