The Bizarre Case Of The Jojo’s Anime

I hate to say it, but I just ain’t sold on this Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure anime.

I’m a casual Jojo’s observer: I’ve seen Araki’s art around in places, and that’s about it. I’ve been interested in the franchise for a while, but the several-hundred volume monster epic that is the manga has put me off of getting into it, especially because every English translation of it is less than perfect, along with the fact that reading over one-hundred volumes of manga in Japanese is pretty impossible given my current reading level. Basically, I was hoping this anime would be a fine introduction to the franchise, and well… it’s not really doing it for me.

There’s the writing, for one. I realized Jojo’s probably blazed this trail when it first ran, but at this point a script composed simply of people declaring things loudly isn’t super compelling to me. It’s not particularly bad, and I imagine this style is part of the work’s appeal, but… it’s just not appealing to me very much. It could be because this drawn out style of dialogue is affecting the battles the worst. I imagine these fights are meant to be bizarre feats of super-natural strength, but the long-winded dialogue robs them of their momentum, and distracts from the spectacle. It’s a lot easier to do this sort of thing in the medium of comics, but in animation it simply doesn’t fly.

And that’s it: It’s not doing the thing good TV adaptations should do, which is adapting the work to jive with the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. Instead of following the manga dialogue more or less to the letter—which is what I assume they’re doing—they need to trim some fat while retaining the flavor of the dialogue.

That said, trimming the dialogue alone wouldn’t save the fights, because they are also rather static, as is the rest of the show. The series does have a slight filter of Araki-ish coolness sprinkled over it, but in the end the way things flow—or not flow, in this case—is just like a typical low-budget anime. Hell, they only do all those weird comic book effects and stuff to try to make up for the fact that the animation just isn’t very good. The idea is, you’re not watching an anime—it’s an animated comic book!

I’d almost be fine with what they’re doing stylistically, but it’s like I said above—it’s only a sprinkle of style, when the show needs to be doused in that aesthetic. If the show wants on-screen sound effects, it should go all the way, and have them pop up far more frequently than they do. Similarly, scenes with special lighting situations make an attempt to look like Araki’s color illustrations, but normal scenes have—as Subatomic Brainfreeze’s Dave said to me at A-Button on New Year’s Eve—“an empty cartoon look.” And that just isn’t nice to look at.

The consistent and competently rendered character artwork would partially save the show’s half-assed presentation, if not for the fact that it doesn’t resemble Araki’s artwork in the least. Sure, when one looks at the original artwork for the sections of the manga the TV show is on right now, he hasn’t really found the style that he’s known for just yet. The designs in these first two arcs are approximations of those early drawings, but something gets lost in the transition to the small screen, and I can only imagine that being the fault of the designer, as well as the artwork’s crossover to digital animation.

But you know? This is a Jojo’s anime, and one made in the brave year of 2013. I’m not sure about the fans, but I imagine casual observers of Jojo’s like myself have a very specific image of it in their head, and this show’s designs don’t match the look of the slick illustrations gracing show windows of Gucci stores in Tokyo and New York. I—and I assume many other beginners to the franchise—want to see these characters redone in Araki’s current, signature style. There’s no need to poorly mimic his artistic evolution in this anime. Funnily enough, the show’s kooky 3D CG openings are more in line with the kinds of designs I would like to see in the show.

It is at this point that I would like you to stop, and take a look back up at the above paragraph.

Gucci.

There’s big money in this franchise. Just recently there was a giant, completely-sold-out-in-the-first-few-days exhibition in Tokyo’s swanky Roppongi neighborhood that was all about Jojo’s artwork. Ads were everywhere. This franchise is something of a cultural institution. Did a lot of the people who went to that exhibition actually read Jojo’s? Probably not all of them, but a high budgeted, slick, and on-at-prime-time anime would be great gateway, right? Given how much money seems to be in this thing, I don’t see how they weren’t able to throw enough money at this project to make it perfect and come on at a time when people can see it in order to ride the momentum of everything else attached to the series and its creator. Sure it’s violent is weird. So are Tarantino films, and I’m pretty sure Japanese people like Kill Bill. And hey, they black the guts out anyway, so it’s not that bad.

The way I see it, this show is only really reaching the faithful, and even some of the faithful seem to be turning their nose up at it. Someone the on production side should have wanted to make a cartoon on the level of the franchise’s other baller crossovers, and given its time-slot and poor budget, the drive clearly wasn’t there. And that’s a shame. Jojo’s needs the royal treatment, and not some collection of half-assed visual effects used to mask the show’s feeble budget. At the moment, the Jojo’s anime has that late-night anime stink to it, and if your show only has ads up in places like Akiba, that’s understandable. But Jojo’s made its mark on Gucci and Roppongi. I think its anime adaptation could stand to do better.

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11 Responses to The Bizarre Case Of The Jojo’s Anime

  1. Shawnistan says:

    You are approaching Jojo in a completely wrong way. The 1st & 2nd arcs are extremely famous across Japan because of its stilted dialogue, ridiculous sound-effects, over-the-top melodrama and utter bizarreness, not in spite of them. I wouldn’t expect a Western audience to really appreciate it, but there’s a meme practically every 3 minutes in Jojo and most people in Japan who would call themselves fans love the sheer abundance of the comedic material there.

    Its general consensus in Japan that David Production has completely outdone itself in trying to make as faithful of an adaptation as it can. Contrast this to the almost universally panned part 3 OVAs. Those got huge budgets, but they cut out all the light-heartedness in the franchise and became almost unrecognizable.

    Does that mean that Jojo is just mocked? Of course not. You wouldn’t realize it until Stands are introduced in part 3 and are fully matured in part 4-5, but every manga that’s dependent on battle that revolve around clever uses of bizarre abilities and don’t revolve around “power levels” owe everything to Jojo. We’re talking stuff like HunterxHunter and FullMetalAlchemist. But that’s a part of the story we haven’t gotten to yet, and the series needs to establish the mythology of the Joestar bloodline first.

    • wah says:

      Most of my criticism wasn’t about the actual story part, just how it looks. I’m actually liking the story stuff more now that Part II is well underway, but that style of dialogue is still something I’m just tried off, but I can look past it. And–as I said in the post–I realized Jojo probably did this real early on when it ran in the 80s, but in 2013 that style’s been done so much since, it doesn’t really strike me as fun or original. That’s just an issue of bad timing.

      And you’re missing the big point of my post, which is that this series deserves better, and it has gotten better if you take a look at all the other ways it’s synthesized itself into mainstream society. I understand the studio is doing their best, but Jojo should be as smooth as your Full Metal Alchemists, and the artwork should look like it came directly from Araki’s pen. Also I never mentioned this, but the music should all be approximations of old rock, and not sound as anime-y as it does.

      Considering this franchise had a tie-in with fucking Gucci, I don’t think a gigantic budget is too much to ask for at all.

      • Cheshire says:

        The thing is, they don’t have a giant budget, and it does look like it came directly from Araki’s pen. The stuff you see in the Gucci window is a drastically different style that he only developed recently, as in less than a decade ago. They’re adapting each part to be as close to the manga as possible, and that’s the best way to do it, frankly. Jojo isn’t about being as slick as Full Metal Alchemist, simply because unlike any sort of more recent sampling of the demographic, it isn’t about taking it super seriously. It’s campy, it’s fun, there’s no lending it to that sort of presentation. The appeal of the series (at least during parts 1 and 2) lies within the oversized characters striking ridiculous poses and shouting at each other.

        Giving it a makeover to retrofit it to be something it isn’t would be like “restoring” an old painting to give it a neon color palette. Even if recent artwork might be doing great things with bolder tones like that, you’d still basically be defacing it to awkwardly force it into becoming a different beast entirely. Asking something to change because you don’t like it for what it is doesn’t sound very reasonable of you, to try and phrase it in as politely as I can. I understand where you’re coming from, but asking an old silly shounen to stop being like an old silly shounen…

        As for the budget, David had to work with basically pocket change to make what they’ve made so far, because it was something they reached out to get done simply because they wanted to do it. It wasn’t a “blockbuster”, but the sales are high, at least I’ve heard, so they should be working with an appropriate amount of money once the time comes to adapt the parts that will take a larger amount of detail as Araki’s style evolves. In the meantime, they’re doing fantastically with the art, using every penny to saturate everything with the comic book style that you’ve mentioned, and toeing the line of what lends itself to that style as far as static frames go without making it too obvious that they’re covering for a lack of funds.

        As for your claim that it isn’t reaching anyone, I can’t disagree hard enough. I have yet to meet a Jojo fan, online or in real life, that isn’t immensely happy with what they’ve done, and the fanbase has grown exponentially since the anime started, for better or for worse. It seems like you’re speaking for yourself at least a little bit there.

        I can’t blame you for being a bit underwhelmed with Phantom Blood, though. It isn’t terrible, but it’s by far the least interesting part of the series, exponentially so. If you weren’t warned beforehand that it isn’t going to be much special other than some above average camp, it must be at least a bit of a shock to be exposed to it straight up. I really hope you’re enjoying Part 2 more, it’s what really sold me on the series years ago when I picked it up!

  2. shagamu says:

    As a fan of the manga, I’m really enjoying the voice actors’ performances and the soundtrack, but that’s pretty much it. I could overlook the mediocre animation quality if the show’s artwork at least looked good, but it features some of the absolute worst coloring and use of gradients I’ve ever seen in an anime production, and the simplistic characters designs don’t really evoke Araki’s notoriously over-rendered artwork.

    Regardless, I’m hoping this show is successful enough to get a sequel with a decent budget. Stardust Crusaders deserves a top-quality adaptation with at least 50 episodes.

  3. wah says:

    @Cheshire

    It seems you didn’t comprehend my post correctly.

    This franchise is huge. There are numerous designer crossovers and connections to the art and design world. It’s high culture. Sure, the old stuff is silly shounen, but I’m not saying it has to not be that–I’m saying it needs to be super slick, ’cause this is the domain of big players like Gucci and the Mori art museum. I’m saying this series is getting shortchanged, and it doesn’t deserve that. And you shouldn’t be happy with it either. It’s great that they’re trying with what they got, but you should feel insulted that it’s getting shortchanged.

    And also, you should stop being apologetic about this stuff. People shouldn’t have to “warn” me that Phantom Blood is kind of a slow burn–it should just be good. I should have to know nothing going in and love this. If it’s not doing that, it’s failed.

    Yes, of course I’m writing this from my own point of view: This is my blog. Whose other point of view do you want?

    And dude… I’ve sampled art from those early parts and like I said in my post–if you read my post–is that the designs in the show are poor approximations and miss something integral that makes that early art work.

    But yeah, Part II isn’t bad, but it’s still hard to look at the show ’cause it’s so cheap looking (said the fan of SHAFT anime)

    • Cheshire says:

      It seems you’ve done the same to my post.

      I’m not saying that it shouldn’t have a huge budget, I’m saying it doesn’t, and approaching it like it does isn’t just pointless, it’s kind of insulting to the folks who are doing what they can with what they have, working on something they love. Critiquing a low budget show for not being high budget is a bit silly. It’s a flaw, everyone accepted that long ago, to ruminate on it persistently is repetitive at best. Araki doing art for retail fashion brands has nothing to do with this in the slightest, you should always be viewing something within an appropriate context.

      The same can be said for the quality of Phantom Blood, to a degree, it’s about the context. There’s nothing intrinsically special or good about it that makes the rest of Jojo special or good, other than some particularly silly bits of dialogue and the early traces of Araki’s grotesquely almost-baroque style, but even that is nothing if you don’t take it all in stride and look at it from the viewpoint that you would enjoy a B movie, a lot like the rest of the franchise, in all honesty. If you can’t do that, then I suppose it has failed, but to a degree I don’t see what’s wrong with a piece of media asking that much from the viewer.

      I’m not asking for you to not give your viewpoint, I’m asking you to temper it with reality. You said it isn’t reaching ANYONE, and in doing so you were claiming to speak for, well, everyone. I never asked you to stop giving your opinion, but you definitely made some broad sweeping statements about others.

      Lastly, while I disagree that they’re incredibly poor approximations, I’m also not blind enough to know that they aren’t perfect. I never claimed this was an adaptation without flaw, and I never attacked the point you made in your original blog post, but a lot of what you said seemed to revolve around the notion of “Why isn’t this exactly like what I see in this store window?”, to which I would reply that the style has greatly changed up over time. You never mentioned having sampled his earlier style, you even specifically mentioned having never read the manga, and it seemed like something worth pointing out.

      I’m fairly happy with how they’ve compromised, being fully aware that it’s a compromise, but my main point here is that there’s a point where pointing out how low budget it is seems silly. You said yourself that you think it’s a neat idea to make up for it with the comic book effects, and I think they’ve been coming into the idea neatly. Making it more “slick” wouldn’t only require a copious amount of retconning, but a ridiculous budget that doesn’t exist, along with essentially giving up a lot of what makes the early parts worthwhile at all. I’ll go back to my original point here, which is that you’re asking something you’ve never read to be something that it isn’t, in that Jojo has never been about being slick, even today.

      I apologize if I’m coming off as a simpering apologist to you, but I’m certainly not trying to take an antagonistic standpoint here. I’m just a bit saddened to see someone apparently not enjoy a franchise I hold dear because they’re, as the first comment phrased it, approaching it completely wrong. I enjoyed reading your post, and many others on this particular blog, and I’m happy to continue to read whatever thoughts you post, whether I agree with them or not.

      • wah says:

        I’m not asking them to change the flavor of the content. I’m asking them to take that flavor and streamline it such a way that works in the medium of film.

        I think it’s fair to expect a big budget. It’s a popular franchise, and I think the crossovers with high culture do have something to do with the series because… hey, it’s his drawings and his characters on the wall of that exhibition that made it sell out, and it’s the appeal of that style that lead people to want to include in on their storefronts. There’s obviously tons of money in this. I don’t see why that same money can’t be used to make a gorgeously animated show that gets the dude’s style down perfectly.

        I just did a Google for part II pages… the anime designs look completely different. The show’s pretty normal style of coloring also doesn’t really carry over his style.

        Honestly, I wanted the show to look just like this ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjyVqGv_BeA

        I don’t mind dumb goofy content. What I’m saying is they should have gone back and made Part I crazier. Part II is going to places that I kind of want it to go, but they should have mixed things up more in Part I. I like B-movies because they’re crazy, and Part I only gets crazy right at the end. Before that it’s not quite there.

        But hey, if people like it, that’s fine. Just means they have low standards? Realistic standards? I dunno.

  4. wah says:

    @shagamu

    Yeah, the use of gradients isn’t so great. I can see what they’re going for, but it’s bad looking. They accentuating certain parts of the original artwork, but not the right parts.

    I don’t see what’s so great about the soundtrack, honestly. Sounds pretty anime-y to me. Yeah, I know it’s the Gurren Lagann and RoD guy. This show doesn’t sound as good as those two. The new next episode music is just awful.

  5. anon says:

    The point of the anime was a faithful adaptation for today’s viewers. Jojo is already super popular in Japan, so they had nothing to lose by not spicing it up. The anime prides itself in getting everything down to the last pose, with some still frames being near traces.

  6. GillSans says:

    @anon
    To say that about the “point of the anime” fails to counter wah’s criticisms in any way. It is that emphasis on reproductive faithfulness that is part of wah’s disappointment with the show. Like he said, animation should be “adapting the work to jive with the strengths and weaknesses of the medium”. I completely agree with this, and consider it to be a misuse of the the medium to have a 1:1 approach to adaptation. I don’t want a Jojo anime to be just the manga with color, voices, and movement. An anime can be faithful to the source material in spirit, but have a unique style that makes it its own thing… and that is a huge part of why I like SHAFTxShinbo.

    (I realize this is an old post, but I’m catching up on a lot of blog posts from the past couple years)

  7. Pingback: Spring 2014: Jojo, Ping Pong, Kagepro, DBKai, and Some Others | Analog Housou

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