What do you get when you combine musclemen with an affinity for dramatic posing and a string of increasingly absurd opponents, plus a wacky sense of humor? A sense of déjà vu.
As always, the review is provided in video format and transcribed directly below.
Not every great series needs to be deep and thoughtful. There doesn’t have to be a grand message about life and happiness, that one big scene that forces you to contemplate the meaning of existence. Sometimes, you just want to kick back and enjoy some mindless action fun, and never has that been more apparent than with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Hot on the heels of their 2012 series success, David Production has ramped things up with a four-cour adaptation of the iconic Stardust Crusaders arc. One thing is certain: no matter what happens, we’re in for, well, a
bizarre adventure ludicrous journey.
Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the 2012 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and minor spoilers for Stardust Crusaders.
The year, 1989. The man, Kujo Jotaro (JoJo), grandson of Joseph Joestar, the hero who bested the Pillar Men five decades prior and himself the grandson of the late Jonathan Joestar. A troublesome student and a frequent brawler, Jotaro is incarcerated by the local police. Convinced he’s possessed by an evil spirit, JoJo refuses to leave his cell. That is, until the arrival of Joseph Joestar and the Egyptian fortune teller Muhammad Avdol, who explain that Jotaro’s pesky “spirit” is in fact a Stand, a supernatural manifestation of the soul (think Persona).
In fact, Avdol and Joestar are Stand users as well. Joseph reveals that this sudden emergence of Stand abilities is apparently connected with the shocking reappearance of Dio Brando, Jonathan Joestar’s thought-dead archnemesis. Dio has somehow revived and fortified himself in Egypt, for reasons yet unknown. Even worse, Jotaro’s mother (and Joseph’s daughter) Holly develops her own Stand. Without the strength of body and will to control the phantom, she falls deathly ill. Jotaro sets out for Egypt with Avdol and his grandfather in tow, determined to free his mother and put Dio down, once and for all.
One of my chief complaints with the 2012 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was that the story revolved completely around JoJo. Most, if not all, of the side characters never had a real chance in the spotlight, instead confined to the metaphorical shadows by the blinding narrative beacon of the Joestars. In stark contrast to that first season, the cast of Stardust Crusaders is one of its greatest strengths. No longer is JoJo the sole device for plot advancement, to the point where I’d hesitate to even call him the main character for much of the series. Several enemy Stands are handled with minimal to no involvement by our titular lead, refreshingly allowing some time for the others to step up to the plate.
Of course, this would be ineffective if those other characters weren’t fun in their own right. Luckily, that’s not the case. You’ve got Avdol, the wise Egyptian user of Magician’s Red (who also acts as a guide for much of the crew’s journey), Kakyoin, the sharp user of Emerald Green, Polnareff, the bullheaded but kind user of Silver Chariot, and finally, Joseph Joestar himself, the returning hero from our last adventure, now older, wiser(ish?) and the user of Hermit Purple. Astute fans will notice I skipped one final member of the team, and I’ll get to him in a minute.
The Hamon (or Ripple) abilities of JoJo’s previous parts, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, are almost completely replaced in Stardust Crusaders by Stands. Throughout the run of the series, JoJo and company encounter literally dozens of enemy Stands, with a host of different abilities and appearances. These Stands (along with their users) are appropriately the highlight of Stardust Crusaders. Putting aside the Stands’ often interesting visual design, I was almost always intrigued by the Stands’ abilities.
At the beginning, these abilities were fairly pedestrian, but they quickly evolve into something much more creative. The Stands’ powers and forms become increasingly complex and difficult for our heroes to withstand, from Stands that exist only as water or sand to Stands that can control magnetism or mirrors to Stands that can even predict the future or influence the souls of their opponents, while the Stand users themselves span all ages and even across species. If it wasn’t for the unique Stand design, Stardust Crusaders would have gotten very dull, very quickly (or, more quickly than it already did, but that’s a conversation for a bit later).
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure continues to host excellent openings. I’m a fan of both “Stand Proud” (by Jin Hashimoto) and “Sono Chi no Kioku” (by JO☆STARS～TOMMY, Coda, JIN～), and while I think the latter’s accompanying animation is the least visually impressive of the series (there’s just so much lack of motion), the song more than makes up for it.
As for the credits...
If you recall, the ending theme for the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was “Roundabout” by Yes. How could they top that this time? It’s simple, really. Stardust Crusaders focuses on a expedition to Egypt. It’s only appropriate that the theme would be “Walk Like An Egyptian” by the Bangles. No, I’m not kidding.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. The second credits theme of Stardust Crusaders is “Last Train Home” by the Pat Metheny Group. It’s a fine song, and one I actually came to enjoy quite a lot, but it doesn’t get the same reaction as something like “Roundabout” or “Walk Like An Egyptian”.
The Return of DIO
The antagonist of the first arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was Dio, a conniving and selfish bastard of a man, and a villain I absolutely loved. The second arc was dominated by the Pillar Men, a god-like trio that ultimately left me less than thrilled. In Stardust Crusaders, we bear witness to the glorious return of none other than Dio himself.
Dio commands every one of his scenes, thanks in no small part to his sheer physical presence and Takehito Koyasu’s booming voice. Dio’s new abilities are also rather impressive (though most aren’t revealed until near the end of the series). In fact, the immediate buildup to and actual showdown with Dio makes for one of the anime’s finest moments, in my opinion of course. With the combination of a stronger main cast plus the resurrection of the series’ best villain, Stardust Crusaders was poised to be the best arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure yet.
The Neglect of DIO
Unfortunately, Stardust Crusaders immediately misuses some of that potential. For one, Dio is almost never allowed a role that resembles his prior stint as the villain, and his presentation suffers for it. Dio was at his best when he was personal and cruel, but Stardust Crusaders has morphed him into an aloof demigod. To make matters worse, Dio has major screentime in only a very small handful of the anime’s approximately fifty episodes, and it felt like a completely wasted opportunity. Reviving a great foe, only to wall him off behind hordes of lesser threats, is a disappointing tactic at best and a frustrating one at worst.
The second half of Stardust Crusaders introduces a sixth member to the ensemble, a mutt named Iggy. JoJo diehards, brace yourselves: I didn’t like Iggy. JoJo’s has never favored particularly subtle brands of humor, but Iggy’s “comedy” scenes were pretty much the bottom of the barrel. Forgive me for not finding a farting dog inherently amusing.
It doesn’t help that Iggy’s, well, a bit of a jerk. He’s selfish, violent and completely disinterested, to the point where he actively abandons JoJo and the rest, even in life-threatening situations. Of course, he repents later on, but this isn’t prompted by some massive, life-altering change of heart. No, no, no, he’s only out for revenge and payback in the first place thanks to a taste of his own pain and suffering.
Jonathan and Joseph Joestar, particularly Joseph, were entertaining and fun characters, if rather simple at times. They had distinct personalities that shone through in their actions. In comparison, Jotaro’s personality is a lack of one. He reminds me of a teenager’s blueprint for a badass character: a man of few words adorned in black and chains, unflappable in demeanor and unbeatable in a fight. In other words, he’s flat. We get that he cares about his friends and family under that gruff exterior, but his lack of visible identity starts to wear thin.
Jotaro simply isn’t as interesting to watch as his predecessors, which is made even more apparent when his grandfather is right next to him. At least Joseph had clever plans and quippy remarks to alleviate some boredom. Jotaro prefers the poker face approach. The extent of his plans are usually something along the lines of keep calm and keep punching. Simply put, there’s a reason they typically play other characters off of Jotaro rather than focus solely on JoJo himself: he’s dull.
Finally, this is more a small quirk than an active issue, but it deserves quick mention. Stardust Crusaders mildly censors its more violent shots: lost limbs, impalings, etc. Sometimes annoying, but not terribly so. However, one episode dialed up the censorship to a ludicrous degree - and it wasn’t because of violence.
Jotaro’s smoking a cigarette, and we certainly can’t expose the impressionable masses to such a vile depiction of youth. Especially when we’ve seen people sliced to bits only a few episodes prior.
Villain of the Week
The plot structure of Stardust Crusaders is very different than that of the first season. The original JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure told a story through fairly normal means, progressing and developing as naturally as any other action plot. Stardust Crusaders takes a very obvious, and very uninspired, villain of the week format. The entirety of the series is built upon the cast repeatedly fighting Stand after Stand after Stand, usually in escalating difficulty.
The problem with this is that there’s very little tension on a week-to-week basis, because you know that JoJo and company will always find some way to win the day and restore the status quo by the end of the episode (or episodes, as most of the later Stand fights span multiple episodes). The format frankly feels dated, which can likely be attributed to the source manga being over twenty years old. As our heroes endlessly triumph over so many foes, with little to no break in between, the impact of these Stand encounters grows smaller and smaller.
Did Someone Say Filler?
It’s easy to think that not much happens for the majority of Stardust Crusaders, because it’s the truth. If you cut out all the fluff, and only retained the plot-critical scenes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stardust Crusaders’ length was shortened to a quarter. In the first half of Stardust Crusaders, which chronicles the journey to Egypt itself, JoJo’s foes represent the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck (Persona players will be familiar with these cards). That leaves about twenty enemy Stands to overcome, of which maybe two have any sort of lasting impact on the plot and characters (what’s even more annoying is when the show undoes its own progress, which I can’t elaborate on further without spoilers).
Regardless, when the second half of Stardust Crusaders rolled around, I was psyched. There were no more Arcana to fight beyond Dio himself, so surely the plot would start to take meaningful steps forward. Not so, because now the group is challenged by representations of the Egyptian gods, and only then can they fight Dio himself. Here’s the problem: after catching the first five episodes that establish the Stardust Crusaders cast and premise (plus the Iggy introduction at the midpoint), you can quite literally skip all other episodes and jump to the series’ climax, and be able to follow everything that’s happening with no issues. Not that I would recommend this approach, but it’s viable, which is a massive problem in my eyes. Even entertaining filler is still just that - filler, and Stardust Crusaders has it in spades.
For about the first third of the series, I thought I might end up liking Stardust Crusaders more than the first season (which, full disclaimer, I did enjoy). Stardust Crusaders retains much of what made the original popular in the first place, and even manages to improve upon its predecessor’s flaws. The characters are stronger (except for, surprisingly, JoJo himself), the fights and premise are as bizarre as ever, and the addition of Stands creates a nice new dynamic to the whole package. However, in fixing old problems, Stardust Crusaders creates new ones. The endless barrage of violence, with no meaningful resolution or growth in sight, would try anyone’s patience. While the series builds to an engrossing finale, you have to wonder if the odyssey up to that point was worth it.
As an interesting side note, Stardust Crusaders has no women in lead roles (even JoJo’s mom is little more than a plot device). I chalk this up to season one doing poorly with its female characters, leading Stardust Crusaders to not even try.
So, after taking everything into account (as well as my own subjective enjoyment) on a scale from F to S, I would have to give JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders a B rating (I would like to emphasize for the JoJo fanatics out there that this is not a negative rating). Ultimately, despite the differences, it’s more of what you loved (or hated) from the first series. JoJo’s is still a shonen action anime, so don’t come into this expecting something it’s not. If you were a fan of the original, I would absolutely recommend Stardust Crusaders, but take it slow. Overload on too many episodes at once, and you might not be able to handle the sheer manliness (as well as the sheer filler).
Stardust Crusaders is currently available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll, subtitled only. At the time of this writing, there has been a (surprisingly good) test dub, but only of the first three episodes, with no word on whether this dub will eventually be extended to the rest of the show.
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