In 1980s Japan, high school delinquent Jotaro “JoJo” Kujo has discovered a disturbing power: an entity (called a “Stand”) that seems to be one with Jotaro’s own spirit and mind, capable of super strength and precision. If that isn’t enough to worry about, Joseph Joestar, Jotaro’s grandfather and fellow new Stand user, visits from America to inform him that a familiar nemesis of the family has come back. Dio, a terrifying vampire, has used the body of Jotaro’s ancestor, Jonathan Joestar, to resurrect himself. With Dio’s possession of Jonathan, it’s revealed that he is responsible for awakening the latent powers within the Joestar bloodline. The formidable Joestar men can harness the power of Stands, but Jotaro’s mother, Holly, cannot handle the awakened power that is taking over her body.
Now Jotaro, Joseph, and an eccentric group of Stand users must travel to Egypt to settle the score with Dio once and for all and save Holly’s life before it’s too late. All of this is laid out in the first three episodes of Stardust Crusaders, the third arc of the anime adaption of Hirohiko Araki’s hit manga JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. This arc, which is about quadruple the length of part 1 or 2, is the most action-packed, over the top, and wild ride yet. Reviewing JoJo is a difficult task because it basically comes down to: do you like the JoJo schtick, or not? Even if you worship at the altar of JoJo, though, there is still plenty in Stardust Crusaders worth talking about.
If you are watching Stardust Crusaders, there’s a very high possibility you have already seen Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. You, who is understandably thirsty for more of the winning JoJo formula, will not be disappointed. In many ways this arc is everything good about the first two, amplified. It’s longer, it’s crazier, there are more heroes and villains, and it takes place in the 80s, which further 80s-ifies an already pretty 80s anime.
Squad goals - clockwise from top left: Jotaro, Kakyoin, Avdol, Joseph, Iggy, and Polnareff
The Power of Friendship
Phantom Blood was about Jonathan Joestar’s mostly solitary hero’s journey. Battle Tendency put a central focus on the bromance between Joseph and Caesar Zeppelli. Stardust Crusaders is about the bonds and trust forged between a whole gang. Each member of the team has something to offer: Jotaro is the cool headed badass, Kakyoin the brains, Avdol the moral compass, Polnareff the heart, and Joseph is Joseph. Oh, and Iggy is a dog. Throughout the course of their journey, the relationship between the men is built up in believable way. These dudes (and dog) love each other, and Stardust Crusaders excels at the show, don’t tell method of character development. Sometimes expressing the sacred bond of friendship is as simple as smiling and shrugging it off when your buddy sneezes on you. The strength of the whole team is the core of what makes this arc great - their triumphs, their losses, and their pain.
Being a voice actor for JoJo has got to be an exhausting job. These guys have to go all out, all the time. The performances are excellent across the board, from Joseph’s hyperbolic interjections to Dio’s sultry, unhinged ramblings. In a show as wacky and over the top as JoJo, it’s important to have voice actors who fully commit to the vibe.
That Singular Style
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has established a visual style that is unique to the point of being immediately recognizable. This extra flair is a joy to watch. Wavering, dramatic typesetting punctuates key revelations and moments in battle, and tension is highlighted by extreme closeups and trippy colors. It’s simply one of the most interesting art styles in anime right now.
JoJo’s Bizarre Humor
Stardust Crusaders is probably the funniest arc yet of JoJo, at least in the internet sense. It certainly has the most meme ready material. The balance of humor and drama is usually on point. You never know what you’re going to get with JoJo. Sometimes you’re laughing because an orangutan is a Stand user, sometimes you’re laughing because Jotaro sucks at video games, and sometimes it’s because a giant steamroller is coming out of the sky.
Joseph as the main protagonist is a tough act to follow: he was brash, ballsy, hilarious and completely stole the show even alongside uh...colorful characters like Rudol von Stroheim. Jotaro is a wonderful Jojo, it just takes a while to realize that. Part of the initial problem with him is that unlike his ancestors, he is a character type we see a lot: the almost too-cool tough guy. It just isn’t as interesting, until it is. The thing about Jotaro - he is characterized very well, you just have to learn to pick up on his subtle cues. By the end of Stardust Crusaders, he is damn good character, a good hero, and does the name of Jojo proud.
Closer to Dio?
Stardust Crusader’s biggest flaw is its length and the pacing issues that causes. Unlike the first two arcs, the high stakes are not compounded by a relatively few number of episodes. This is great for getting, well, more JoJo, but Stardust Crusaders really loses steam in the middle. We know that Holly is dying and time is running out, but it really doesn’t feel that way when we’re stuck in a seemingly endless rotation of battle-of-the-week. The strength of the cast carry it through and the show is never a chore to watch, but its greatness ends up hinging on the current enemy.
There are a handful of standout (STANDout!) opponents to the crew, whether because their particular battles are vectors for one protagonist or another to shine or they themselves carry the episode. One compelling villain would of course be D’arby the gambler, whose episodes will go down as some of the funniest and tensest of the series yet. I could name my other favorites, but your mileage may vary. The problem is that there are a whole lot of stand users that I either can’t remember or only remember as being throwaway baddies.
Since the entire momentum of the story is the build up to fighting Dio, it’s quite important that the main antagonist who is so hyped by the show itself delivers. I have good news: he does. The later episodes of Stardust Crusaders are generally excellent because finally, the stakes and suspense concerning Dio feel real. Dio himself is charismatic, powerful, and insanely watchable.
Sharing the Spotlight
Stardust Crusaders is an arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but many times, it’s really Polnareff’s Bizarre Adventure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The overly emotional and lovably ditzy Frenchman is a breakout character, but not all members of the Stardust crew get the same love. Namely, it would have been nice to see more attention given to Kakyoin and Avdol.
“Bloody Stream” is the best JoJo opening ever, and “Roundabout” is the best ending. Fight me. The OPs and EDs for Stardust are a mixed bag. The EDs are excellent. Season 1 uses The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and Pat Metheny’s super mellow “Last Train Home.” They both fit the mood of the show, with the slower piece using visuals that let us reflect on how far our boys have come on their journey. As for the OPs, “Stand Proud” never did it for me. I know it has a lot of fans, but it was always my personal worst of the bunch. The 2nd OP, which I will shorten to “End of the World,” had to grow on me. It is admittedly cool that it’s a collaboration between the former three JoJo OP singers and contains both visual and lyrical references to earlier arcs.
The Animal Issue
JoJo, for all its charm and humor, has always been an extremely violent series. If you have a very low tolerance for that, it’s best to avoid the show altogether. If you can manage, the graphic violence becomes just another part of the stylistic tapestry. My one negative caveat, I must admit, is a personal thing, but it is the only thing that qualifies as “terrible” about Stardust Crusaders (and to a lesser extent the other arcs): it does not shy away from extending the violence and cruelty to animals. The intention here was probably to show that true evil like Dio and his followers would not think twice about harming an animal. That, or Araki just hates pets. Let’s hope it’s the former.
Hirohiko Araki has created a not only a genre in and of itself with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but a cultural phenomenon. Once you’re in, it’s damn hard to resist. If you have seen previous seasons of JoJo, I probably don’t need to convince you and you are just reading this review to see if I have adequately praised Stardust Crusaders. I am a huge fan of Battle Tendency, so it’s high praise for me to admit that at this point, I can’t pick between part 2 and part 3. The thrill, action, and fun of the journey to Egypt with one of the most delightful casts of beefcakes in anime is an instant classic. So, if for some (bizarre!) reason you have any doubt, should you watch Stardust Crusaders? YES! YES! YES!
A big NICE NICE, VERY NIIICE to Unimplied for making the awesome header, “Last Train Home” gif, and review card.