When I was in middle school I was a big fan of Shonen Jump. Every month for around three years, I’d walk down to the mall near my grandmother’s house, eat pizza with my cousin, and buy the magazine from Gamestop. One month they ran a feature on a long running manga called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful, highly detailed art. As I explore the story, every single thing that I learned about it only intrigued me more.
A long running manga, split into eight distinct parts, and full of characters named after bands and songs made my little heart sing. The idea that the story somehow started off being about fighting vampires and ended up being about psychics dueling through pitting manifestations of their will and spirit against each other utterly delighted me. The fact that it cycled through protagonists (each with names that just happen to get shortened to JoJo) and followed a single bloodline. That bloodline actually activated a similar part of each individual’s brain and triggered an obsession with legacy superheroes like DC Comics Starman and The Flash.
Over time, JoJo took on an almost mythical quality for me. It seemed so weird and awesome all at once. I just assumed that eventually Shonen Jump would start serializing this amazing work. I was wrong. Rights issues would keep JoJo out of the US for years to come. This scarcity would eventually drive me online in search of fan translations of the manga. For a long time JoJo felt like a weird secret. Any time I brought it, up it seemed like no one knew what I was talking about. Even when they did, it would be the 1999 Sega Dreamcast game JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (which enjoyed a North American release) that they remembered. However, in recent years, that’s all been changing for the better.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is the brainchild of Hirohiko Araki and the series started running in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1986. It remained there until 2004 when it moved on to Ultra Jump, a monthly magazine with a more mature audience. Despite its popularity and esteem (Araki is the only mangaka to ever have his work displayed in the Lourve), it would take JoJo 26 years to receive a definitive anime adaptation. There was a OVA adaption of the second half of the manga’s third part, Stardust Crusaders, in 1994 and a prequel series adapting the first half of the third part six years later. A film adaptation of the first part, The Phantom Blood, was released to coincide with the manga’s 20th anniversary. These adaptations were fine but they paled in comparison to the treatment afforded to JoJo’s contemporaries, like Dragon Ball, for instance.
In 2012 JoJo would receive its first televised anime adaption. Unlike previous attempts this was a comprehensive adaption. It has covered the first three parts and is currently entrenched in the fourth. The JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime is a masterpiece full of strong, daring direction. Rather than eschewing Araki’s intense stylistic flourishes and bombastic tone, the anime runs headlong into the storm. The result is a mind blowing technicolor opera of bulging muscles, crazy poses, and titanic struggles between good and evil. The JoJo anime doesn’t just look like the manga, it feels like it. This anime would be the source of JoJo’s newfound popularity in the west. So much so that it has even spawned an internet meme that involves applying its idiosyncratic method of ending episodes to videos of situations about to go awry. That sepia toned, freeze frame overlaid with an arrow marked “to be continued” (used at the end of the manga chapters) and the opening chords of “Roundabout” by YES has become signature here.
JoJo’s history in collectible form largely mirrors its history as an anime. That is to say, it’s just now getting its due or rather it started getting its due six years ago. 2010 saw both Medicos and Banpresto launch lines of JoJo figures, presumably in the lead up to the anime. Perhaps because of Araki’s highly detailed character designs and love of dramatic posing these offerings seem to lean heavily toward the statue and figurine side of things. The top of the heap is Banpresto’s Master Stars Piece series. These are high quality ten inch figures that depict the protagonists of parts 3-5 as well as Araki’s avatar, the manga artist Rohan Kishibe. The DX Collection has a wider variety of characters available but at a smaller scale, ranging from 16 to 18 cm. Medicos has two lines of JoJo statues. The Super Art Figure collection is a rather small line consisting entirely of busts of the first two JoJos and a replica of the stone mask that kicks off the plot and forms the cornerstone of the serie’s unique take on vampire mythology. The Super Figure Revolution line has depicted a number of characters in a variety of different poses and color variants from the first and third parts of the series.
The major departure from the static offerings are the Super Action Statues. Despite being the only line that actually has the word “statue” in their name, these are very much action figures. They are fully articulated but have the same eye towards detail displayed by the rest of the Medicos offerings. The best thing about the Super Action Statutes is their depiction of Stands. Stands are the psychic spirits I mentioned in the first paragraph. They’ve been a core element of the series since their introduction in Stardust Crusaders. Stands are where Araki engages in his craziest design impulses. Many, like Kiss and Gold Experience, look like the most glam aliens you’ve ever seen. While others, like Soft & Wet and Stone Free look like complex high art robots.
The strangest, and perhaps the most fitting, JoJo toys have to be REAL ACTION HEROES released by Medicom Toys. These figures exist in the same tradition as the original GI Joe as 12 inch figures with removable, fabric clothes. Over the years Araki’s designs have shown an ever increasing influence from the world of high fashion. He’s actually done multiple collaborations with Gucci, including three comics, two featuring Rohan Kishibe, and a full on exhibition at the Shinjuku Gucci store. Seeing his designs rendered in real fabric on fake people feels deeply right in a deeply weird way.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is an artistic triumph on par with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. That might the highest praise I’m capable of heaping on anything. Like the Fourth World it is fully the expression of one man’s vision and is overflowing with pure creative energy. It isn’t a work that has time for subtlety. It comes at you full force, embracing the directness of its native medium. The fact that more and more people are coming to appreciate it fills me with joy. If you haven’t already, you should watch the anime, read the manga, and maybe grab a piece of it that you can hold in your hand.