JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a fantastic anime series. It has some kind of magical je-ne-sais-quoi that fills me with such joy every episode that I can’t help but watch it with a smile plastered on my face. While there are many anime that I enjoy watching, JoJo is a very rare and very special case. It’s so over-the-top and lovable and goofy and fabulous and just plain good that watching JoJos just makes me so happy. I seriously love this show so much.
JoJos is also a rare case for another reason: it is the only anime I have seen to date for which I have read the manga before watching it. Granted, I never actually reached the meat of the series – I’ve only read Part 1 so far, which is what the show is currently covering. I thought it was pretty good. Thing is, I’ve never been in this position before, so all the complaining that manga fans typically do about how “the anime ruined the original” and “the manga was so much better” had me worried that I would either fall into that trap and begrudge the show for diverging too much from the manga, or that I would find it boring to watch the same content that I had already experienced in manga form.
Refreshingly, I am here to discuss exactly the opposite. Four episodes in, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is perhaps the best possible adaptation of the manga that I could have asked for – it is a perfect example how of an adaptation should be done. It takes everything that JoJo is all about, and makes excellent use several of what I will call “Anime Adaptation Advantages” to make itself as quintessentially JoJo as it possibly can.
Introduction: What is the manga all about?
One of the key elements of the JoJo anime’s success is obviously that the source material was pretty darn good itself. Now, it is very easy to make a craptacular adaptation of a good source, or at least one that pales in comparison, and one of the most surefire ways to do that is to miss the core of the source material. An adaptation does not need to copy the manga panel-by-panel to succeed as an adaptation – what it needs to do is capture the heart of the story and adapt its core ideas to a new medium. In other words, make any changes you need in order to more accurately represent the story’s general structure and, more importantly, its central purpose or message, in a way that takes advantage of the new medium’s strengths.
So what about JoJo? Part 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure had a lot of things about it that made it as beloved as it is. It had a unique setting, a well-defined collection of superpowers, a wacky and charismatic cast of characters, fabulous poses, incredibly detailed drawings of incredibly buff men, iconic and memorable lines and panels, numerous references to classic rock, an eclectic mix of genres, and, perhaps most centrally, an extreme sense of drama. It is that overblown drama that brings all the other elements together and makes the series so endearing, because of the way Araki just runs with it and dials it up to its most giggle-worthy extreme.
Every other aspect of the series plays into that drama, and in return, the manga’s downright theatrical (as in a play, not a movie) levels of classical drama bring out the silliness inherent in each of these aforementioned aspects to form a whole that is delightfully fun to read. The characters going on and on bemoaning the horrible state of their lives or waxing philosophical about the cruelty of human nature or voraciously lusting for absolute power or fistfighting to the death in a burning mansion or just being petty meanie-butts to each other, all the while striking anatomically unlikely poses and being impossibly ripped Victorian-era teenagers with magic powers who are conspicuously named after flamboyant 70s and 80s music icons, just goes so far over the top that it is impossible not to get sucked in. Not to mention it’s refreshing to read a vampire story from back when vampires were still actually supposed to be intimidating.
It is this ridiculous height of classic drama between the selfish and the selfless, that sense of overbearing importance, that the JoJo anime must capture in order to succeed as a JoJo story. Every story has a similarly essential core, and to successfully adapt that story is to effectively translate that core into the adaptation. An adaptation that ignores the story’s core essence can still be an excellent work with its own voice, but at that point there is little reason for it to be an adaptation at all.
Anime Adaptation Advantage 1: Storyline Hindsight
From a thematic, character, and storyline perspective, the anime and manga media are on approximately equal ground. As such, it makes perfect sense for an anime adaptation to try to preserve these elements of the manga as well as possible to both please fans and live up to the original work. The advantage that an anime adaptation has on this front is that the manga already exists, so the creators of the adaptation can see what did and didn’t work about the story, and adjust their adaptation to emphasize the things that did work and downplay the things that didn’t.
All those things I mentioned above, in the “What is JoJo All About?” section, those are things that worked very well in the source material. The anime does a good job of translating those things to an animated medium. As with any adaptation, some fat had to be cut in order to make it work, and the creators deftly avoid removing anything of importance to either the story’s plot or its core. In particular, every iconic panel, memorable line, and lovable character quirk is present in its full glory. They know very well what scenes worked in the manga, and they used that knowledge to their advantage with informed editing.
Where the informed editing and storyline hindsight really shines through, though, is in what they did trim. One downside to JoJo’s dialed up drama is that sometimes there was just too much of it, and it made things drag. People would monologue or brood for too long, bringing the ever-important high-stakes tension to a grinding halt. The anime adaptation wisely picks up the pace, and cruises through the manga material so quickly that there is no time to question any of the ridiculous developments the plot puts forward. The tension soars as a result, and the high-strung drama that is so central to the story is given that much more weight. The creators of the adaptation realized their advantage in recreating an existing story, and used this 20-20 hindsight to improve the JoJo tale even beyond its already-high-quality state.
Anime Adaptation Advantage 2: Color and Motion
One of the most important distinctions between anime and manga is in the aesthetics. Both are primarily drawn works, and they both share that well-known “anime” style, but they have two big differences. First, manga is primarily drawn in black and white, whereas anime has more readily adopted the use of color. It is easier to draw in black and white, which gives manga an advantage in the shading and detail department, and the inherently high contrast of a dichromatic style can result in some striking visuals. On the other hand, anime’s use of color allows it to express a whole new range of moods and visual stimulation that manga cannot even consider. Secondly, manga is a static medium, while anime allows for the easy representation of motion. Manga panels are better able to capture and emphasize specific moments of importance, but anime is able to portray… well… motion. At all.
The JoJo manga used both advantages of its medium to their fullest extent. Araki put an enormous amount of detail into every panel, and his excellent framing of scenes is what resulted in all of the aforementioned “iconic” panels becoming so iconic in the first place. Not to mention all the infamous “JoJo poses,” which are so expressive that they essentially transcend the need for motion altogether. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the anime to overcome visually is the fact that JoJo’s character designs are so intricately sculpted that they would be nearly impossible to animate smoothly.
And here is where the animators at Studio David made one of their best choices in the adaptation. They of course simplified the character designs to the extent that they were possible to put into motion, but while the actual animation is serviceable, they clearly realized it was a losing battle. Where they decided to focus instead was the other advantage of anime – the color. And sweet jeebus did they nail it. This was brilliant for a number of reasons.
First, it allowed them to overcome what was perhaps the biggest weakness of Araki’s art style – there are some panels that are simply so detailed and so busy that it can be difficult to tell what is going on. All the sketchy lines blurred together into a picture that could be at times difficult to decipher. Not only does the slightly simplified art make such scenes clearer, but the sharp, rich colors even further emphasize objects of importance and separate elements of the scene.
Secondly, the frequent use of still frames actually worked to the adaptation’s advantage, in that it allowed for a more direct translation of what was perhaps the manga artwork’s greatest strength – the framing of scenes. The intense focus on certain key shots and angles could be more accurately replicated in this way, and with the aid of color, improved. The attention to framing and style is so complete that even the written sound effects are lovingly left in.
Third, and most importantly, the intense color joins every other aspect of the series in playing into the extreme drama that JoJo is all about. The deep, dramatic hues, the heavy shadows, the artistic stylizations, the goofy abstract backgrounds and textures – it all adds to the overzealous energy and passion and hammed-up theatrics of every scene. Not only does it just look great, but the colors are just as overbearing as the rest of the drama, and help to get across just how IMPORTANT and EMOTIONAL and TRAGIC the characters are feeling. As if they needed any help getting that across.
And on top of all that stuff about color, while the animation isn’t superb, it is still quite solid, especially when it counts, so that the high-motion scenes like fights are still very exciting.
Anime Adaptation Advantage 3: Music and Voice
This is perhaps the most obvious difference between a manga and its anime adaptation. Sound is an aspect of the world that manga can only portray through text bubbles and onomatopoeia, whereas anime can not only directly portray voices and sound effects, but also has the benefit of being able to add a soundtrack. The sound allows an anime adaptation to quite literally give the story a voice, and taking advantage of this is extremely important in making an adaptation work to its fullest extent.
Really, there’s not much to say about the sound that I haven’t already said about the animation or about JoJo as a whole. The background music blends perfectly with each scene to enhance that essential JoJo drama. The voice actors are all hamming it up marvelously as well, especially Takehito Koyasu as Dio. Speedwagon and Zeppeli’s voice actors have also stood out for embodying their characters’ key traits – Speedwagon’s tough-guy exterior (with a soft, fluffy inside) and his admiration for JoJo, and Zeppeli’s pure, concentrated FABULOUS. The sound effects are so massive that they even appear in text onscreen. The OP theme is deliciously manly and written specifically for the show, and the ED… well… it’s perfect. Just perfect. I love Yes, I love Roundabout, the guitar intro works excellently as a cheesy fadeout, and the thundering bass and Yes’s borderline-Engrish lyrics (despite being an English band) are the perfect way to end each episode. I’m not even going to attempt to express in words why that might be. And of course, what better way to end such a fabulous show so rife with classic rock references than an actual classic rock song from a fabulous classic rock band – a song taken, in the words of a friend, “straight out of Araki’s mother loving iTunes library.”
In fact, it’s so perfect that I think I’ll end this post with it, too.
In conclusion, JoJo is amazing and I love it and it is everything I could ever have hoped it would be and you should watch it and love it too and also Roundabout. The end. Satchii withdraws coolly.
DAT BASS/10 would headbang again.