Last time, I took a look at Part One (Phantom Blood) of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It was solid, and worth watching, but nothing absolutely incredible.
So what would happen if you slowed down its way-too-fast pacing? And replaced its one-dimensional characters with ones that are deeper, more relatable, and all-around more interesting? And improved the art, which (in the anime, at least) was already really good?
Then, suppose you made everything super gay. That’s what happened to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure when it went from Part 1 to Part 2. And it is awesome.
The second story arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure takes up the latter 17 episodes of Season One. For reasons more due to Araki being bad at English than it being a good title, it’s called Battle Tendency.
It starts off with an old Robert Speedwagon and a couple of the minor Ripple Warriors from Phantom Blood investigating the Stone Masks. They’ve found an ancient Aztec ruin that contains dozens or hundreds of the things. Suddenly, one of the Ripple Warriors betrays the group, takes a Stone Mask, and becomes a vampire himself.
Then we cut to New York, where we’re introduced to the grandson of Jonathan Joestar – Joseph Joestar. Joseph is the best thing to happen to JJBA.
Jonathan was a really simple character. Like I said in my Phantom Blood review, Jonathan basically had every “good guy” trait possible. He was boring, and didn’t have anything resembling a character flaw.
Joseph is full of flaws, and is all the better for it. He’s impulsive, he’s sort of a douche, and he’s actually weak. He’s born able to use the Ripple, unlike Jonathan, but he never becomes as strong as Jonathan. Despite that, he still defeats enemies that are higher up on the undead power scale than Dio.
How does he do it? He lies, cheats, tricks and otherwise outsmarts them. He’s one of the most entertaining characters ever. There are no depths to which Joseph Joestar won’t sink, if it means he accomplishes his goals – he’ll even crossdress if he has to.
Joseph isn’t the only grandson of one of Phantom Blood’s characters. After the first couple mini-arcs, we’re introduced to Caesar Zeppeli, grandson of William Zeppeli.
William Zeppeli was a pretty standard mentor character. He was old, wise and a little eccentric. Caesar is about as far from William as you could be. He’s egotistical, prideful and a womanizer. Also, since he’s about the same age as JoJo, their relationship is a rivalry instead of a mentorship.
Caesar’s initial hatred of Joseph is completely understandable, but not in a way that makes you think any less of Joseph. It’s hard to explain without spoiling the end of Phantom Blood, but Joseph doesn’t know much about Jonathan’s fight against Dio or William’s part in it, and that infuriates Caesar, whose family bonds are his driving motivation.
There are two other characters who round out the heroes. Lisa Lisa is a newer-generation Ripple master who trains JoJo and Caesar. She’s much more interesting of a mentor than William Zeppeli – her training methods are dangerous, and her stoic, down-to-business personality clashes wonderfully with JoJo’s laid-back nature.
The fourth main character, who skirts the line between recurring character and genuine protagonist, is Rudolf von Stroheim. He’s a Nazi. That’s right – Battle Tendency has a Nazi on the heroes’ side. At the beginning of the show, he’s as reprehensible as he should be. After a few appearances, in which he becomes a cyborg, you start to like him. Stroheim is one of the most dramatic characters in JJBA, and for a world controlled by hamminess, that says a lot.
The villains this time around are the four Pillar Men. They’re an ancient race of Aztec super-vampires who take all of the body horror in JJBA to new levels. I didn’t touch on the body horror in the Part 1 review because it wasn’t a big part of the show. There’s a part in Phantom Blood where Dio holds onto an artery in Jonathan’s neck, and that’s about as bad as it gets.
The Pillar Men escalate it. As basic powers, they can dislocate and break their own bones to squish into tight spaces or rotate their joints in inhuman ways to extend their reach. Every cell in their body can be used to eat, so all they need to do to devour a human is walk into them. The specialized powers are even more gruesome. One spins his dislocated arms so fast that they create whirlwinds. One boils his own blood, then extends his veins to use it as a weapon.
And of course, they are super gay.
To summarize, we have a lazy troll, a prideful rival, a cruel teacher and a cyborg Nazi fighting four super vampires named after classic rock bands, all while posing dramatically and shining flamboyant colours.
Hirohiko Araki, thank you. Thank you for having the creative vision that the rest of us lack.
How could this get better, you ask? I answer, the fighting styles. In Phantom Blood, the Ripple was basically just an energy that destroyed vampires. Here, the characters – and Araki – are much more creative in what the Ripple can do. It can turn bubbles into blades. It can make weapons out of children’s toys and magic tricks. It can even be channeled into pasta.
Like Phantom Blood, the visuals are stunning, and everything I liked about Phantom Blood’s art is improved for Battle Tendency. The colours are even more bright and vibrant, the characters are more detailed, the poses are more ridiculous… it’s all much better than Phantom Blood.
The music improved just as much. Phantom Blood’s soundtrack was good, but it only had a couple distinct styles. In Battle Tendency, everyone gets their own sound. Joseph has a sort of rap and rock motif. Caesar has very operatic songs sung in Italian. Stroheim gets ominous, evil-sounding, German chanting. The Pillar Men – brilliantly – get harsh-sounding dubstep that accentuates just how inhuman they are.
The plot is much better than Phantom Blood, too. Battle Tendency has multiple arcs in it, despite being just 17 episodes. The arcs are more than just really long fight scenes, too. The characters travel, they infiltrate, they get sidetracked by Nazis, and it all flows wonderfully.
The motifs of Battle Tendency are stronger than Phantom Blood. In Battle Tendency, there’s a theme of becoming superhuman. It’s probably why the Nazis are in the story at all – the word “Übermensch” gets thrown around a bit when they refer to the Pillar Men. The Ripple Warrior who betrays his allies to become a vampire did it to transcend humanity. When Stroheim becomes a cyborg, it’s to become an Übermensch in his own right.
There’s another wonderful way the plot shines through, when comparing the beginning and the end of the story, and it’s actually fairly subtle.
(Minor spoilers ahead) JoJo’s first real opponent is a Ripple warrior who gained vampiric powers when he became his ideal superhuman. His last real opponent is a vampire who gained Ripple powers when he became his own ideal superhuman. I love plots that do this sort of thing; it brilliantly ties together the beginning and end of the story, making it all the more satisfying of a conclusion.
Even the Pillar Men, as far beyond humanity as they are, want to become their idea of a superhuman – the Ultimate Lifeform. It’s a really fascinating motif, since all of these groups of characters try to become superhuman in their own ways. The exceptions are JoJo, Caesar and Lisa Lisa, who fight against these superhumans with nothing more than the Ripple and the courageous human spirit as portrayed in Phantom Blood.
All of the passion of Phantom Blood is here and ten times stronger. The characters are more relatable, the story is better paced, the visuals are flashier and the sounds are even more wonderful. When a situation is tense, you feel it. When characters feel emotions, you feel them too.
Nothing’s perfect, however, so I need to spend a little bit of time talking about Battle Tendency’s flaws.
One of the biggest annoyances to me was the balance of how much each character was allowed to do. There are four Pillar Men and four main characters who fight them. You’d think that this would be a perfect split… but it isn’t. JoJo defeats far more than his fair share of them, even though it’s Caesar who has more of a personal vendetta with them.
It’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, sure, but with such an amazing secondary cast, it feels like we’re being cheated.
Then there’s Joseph’s victories. The idea is that when Joseph wins, it’s because he outsmarted his enemy and fooled them in ways that they – and the audience – couldn’t possibly expect. Most of the time, it works, but there are a few instances where it’s hard to believe anyone could have predicted what happened.
Actually, one of JoJo’s victories is purely luck (he even acknowledges it!), and while it’s entertaining, it sort of feels like he had no business winning. Luckily, this doesn’t hurt the show too much. The absurdities of JoJo’s schemes, for the most part, fit well into the equally absurd universe. It’s not called JoJo’s Sensible Adventure, after all!
The final disappointment for me was Araki’s forgetfulness. This was an odd one. Early on, when the Pillar Men were first introduced, one of them goes crazy for a second because one of the others stepped on his shadow. This looked like a key character trait; something that Joseph – a master trickster – would abuse while fighting him.
He doesn’t. It never comes up again.
Then there’s JoJo’s clackers. They’re a key part of one of his earliest fights, and then they just disappear. They’re brought back once near the end just to be destroyed before he can use them. It feels like a missed opportunity, and it’s weird how iconic the image of JoJo and his clackers become in other JJBA works when he really only uses them once.
Overall, I absolutely love Battle Tendency. It’s amazing from start to finish. I’ll give the anime version a 9.5/10. It does so much right and so little wrong. The manga gets a 5/10. Like Phantom Blood, the manga’s art is lacking, and what the anime added is what makes it really shine.
Your next line is “I have to go watch Battle Tendency now”, isn’t it?!
I have to go watch – h-how did he know?!