Grasping Araki's Genius
(No, today isn’t Araki’s birthday; I forgot — oh, the irony! — that it was yesterday. But if I don’t pay homage to him in some way or the other, I would bring dishonor upon my own name and fan status.)
Revisiting Hirohiko Araki’s works, I found out much to my surprise, is actually a bit of a chore. Like most mangaka, Araki did not simply get his breakthrough with his first piece of fiction; the man had to put out quite a few duds at the wall before one stuck. So many attempts were either relegated to being one-shots or had very brief runs for a variety of reasons.
It is quite understandable, to be honest; it is obvious from these publications that Araki was still honing his storytelling abilities, and his art style, let alone being unique, was unpolished and anything but perfect. His western influences, especially a fantastic taste in music, however, were still very visibly worn on his sleeve.
And then, Araki chanced upon the idea for Baoh.
Narrating the tale of a boy being forcibly converted into a biological weapon, Baoh hits you immediately with its intrinsic 'JoJo-ness'. The pages jump out at you with explosive action. The humour is everpresent (and very snarky). The fight sequences are chaos and the story progressed with pretty much the same, infamous 'villain of the week' formula that Stardust Crusaders is known for. This had nearly everything people loved about Araki and the later chapters looked very much like an early draft of Phantom Blood or Battle Tendency. It could have gone on for literal years and would probably leave its audience enthralled throughout. Right? Ehh? Ehh?
Nope. Baoh ran for less than nine months, Araki putting a lid on it with a sad-isfactory ending of sorts. I don't think anyone would begrudge him for that, because by then, thankfully, he had begun working on a work of art that would change history.
It is hard to describe JoJo's Bizarre Adventure as anything in terms of works of fiction. It is a manga, yes. But is it an anthology? A collection of sequels? A set of self-contained tales based around a unique set of protagonists and antagonists?
Yes, and so much more.
I would be doing a massive disservice to all of you readers if this article were me handing out distilled synopses of the parts in JoJo. Therefore, one, please do read the manga and watch the shows; assimilate a genuinely life-changing experience by yourself. Two, being JoJo Battsu, you can expect me to come out with detailed reviews for the episodes from all the parts very soon (I am only half joking).
No, instead, I'll try to accomplish something different here: I'll try to explore one facet of what makes this immortal vampire's saga about an immortal vampire tick. Specifically, how I believe, conclusively, that Araki has the best characterization process in all of manga.
Every fictional creation in JoJo, even the most minor of roles, are provided with a deeply entrenched and very credible backstory. Even in part one, where Speedwagon became a deliberate and very convenient outlet for exposition, every bit of nuance to a person's character sketch is told through emotive, slick dialogue or in simple and powerful action sequences.
Don't be fooled by the deceptively low-brow, calling-out-the-obvious speech bubbles littered throughout the pages - they are only for the reader to easily glean what's happening at the moment and giving them ample opportunity to instead focus on the underlying dynamics and themes of the story as a whole that would otherwise be lost on a one-time reader/viewer.
The second facet to this is Araki's moment of brilliance early on after the completion of Phantom Blood. With Shonen Jump recognizing his potential and demanding more chapters of his fledgling story, Araki decided to create a completely separate part instead of developing an out and out sequel, a creative decision that he has continued with till date. This is genius because it has essentially allowed him to completely turn everything about the story on its head —
The plot archetypes (medieval horror, Indiana Jones, slice of life even)
The fight mechanics (from Hamon to Stands to Spin)
The setting for each part, from Jack the Ripper-era England to mafia-ridden Italy.
Even the defining characteristics of each JoJo - from the epitome of a gentleman to a madlad delinquent with a chip on his shoulder.
(Okay, to be fair, there is a whole lineage of delinquents in JoJo, but you do understand what I'm getting at here.)
This shaking-up also gives Araki free license to create a host of characters that completely justify their presence in their respective ensemble casts. As with the stark contrast observed in everything else, these roles also widely differ in tone, from half-naked Aztec gods of fitness to quirky high-school students, only brought together by their general...bizarreness.
Naturally, this leads to inconclusive debates erupting across the internet over who the greatest JoJo or JoJo wingman is. Again, always over who's reached the zenith, almost never over who is the most undeserving.
In the grander scheme of things, it is irrelevant what our best JoJo or JoBro picks may be. The very fact that we have such a plethora of characters — all equally appealing — to pick from is an excellent testament to Araki’s inability to create dull-as-dishwater characters. Yes, even Jonathan.
At the end of the day, I think I'm mostly preaching to the choir with this article. Yes, JJBA is insanely, superhumanly popular, but it wouldn't also be critically acclaimed if there hadn't been people like me diving deep into its essence and philosophy. Yet, the validity of my article still stands, because it was never just trying to give you a different perspective.
This is also the only way I know to pay tribute to a profoundly talented and humble man who influenced me massively across just half a year's span of time.
Happy birthday, Araki Hirohiko-sensei. I'm pretty sure you'll outlive me, but I wish you a long life anyway.