Now, on to Part 3: Stardust Crusaders. And yes, this is the Part where that one guy throws a steamroller at the other guy. This is also the one where the guy yells ORAORAORA a lot.
It’s the most well-known Part of JJBA. Before any other Part, it received an animated adaptation and well-respected video game, both of which were localized in America. That means it’s bound to be even better than the masterpiece that was Part 2, right? …Right?
(Note: I’m not going to be able to talk about Stardust Crusaders without spoiling Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. Only keep reading if you’re cool with that.)
Stardust Crusaders is set 50 years after Battle Tendency. That makes it 100 years after Phantom Blood, and that is what kicks off the plot. A group of treasure hunters find a sunken coffin in the middle of the ocean. Thinking it contains treasure, they pry it open. It doesn’t. What it contains is a vampire. Dio Brando has returned, and with his disembodied head grafted onto Jonathan Joestar’s body.
Meanwhile, Joseph Joestar visits his half-Japanese grandson, Jotaro Kujo. He’s willingly staying in a prison because he believes he’s possessed by an evil spirit. Joseph, and his Egyptian sidekick Mohammed Avdol, explain the true nature of Jotaro’s spirit. It’s actually a manifestation of his fighting spirit. It’s called a Stand.
So where do these Stands come from? Dio. There’s some wonky effect where Dio gaining a Stand causes every other Joestar to develop a Stand, since Jonathan’s body sends off a “spiritual signal” to his descendants.
It… doesn’t make tons of sense, but hey. It’s not called JoJo’s Sensible Adventure!
Let’s talk about Stands for a minute. I absolutely love Stands. They are my favourite kind of superpower in any work of fiction. The short form is that they’re psychic visions created by the user’s willpower. They can shift between intangible and solid at will and are – in general – controlled by the user’s mind. Most of them look like humans, but Stardust Crusaders introduces several exceptions and future Parts of JJBA add so many weird and wild types of Stand that it becomes hard to categorize them.
Having a psychic, humanoid puppet controlled by your mind – that alone is enough to write fantastic scenes around. The sheer versatility of what a basic Stand can do, combined with the characters’ cleverness, gives you a plethora of interesting problems and solutions. When you factor in each Stand having its own powers, strengths and weaknesses, the possibilities become endless.
But the first question people ask when coming from Parts 1 and 2 is this: “how are Stands related to the Ripple?”. They aren’t. They have absolutely nothing to do with the Ripple. No one in Stardust Crusaders uses the Ripple, except for Joseph, and even he doesn’t use it very often. And beyond Part 3? Stands take over the series. For all intents and purposes, the Ripple is dead.
Until, it sort of returns in Part 7 but not really.
This is the worst time to do that. Dio Brando has come back from the dead with Jonathan Joestar’s body. Joseph Joestar is alive and well for another adventure. His grandson is ready to join him. We have 100 years of Joestar history ready to clash once more – the best of the best from Parts 1 and 2. And it’s supposed to be done with a brand new power that has nothing to do with the Ripple?!
It could’ve avoided being a slap to Part 1 and Part 2 if Stands were just related to the Ripple. There are tons of fan theories that show just how much people want these two concepts to be related, but at the end of the day, they aren’t. Ripple is out, Stands are in.
In short, Stands are an amazing concept and fantastic addition to the JJBA Universe. But the timing of their introduction tears Stardust Crusaders away from Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, whereas everything else wants them to be closely tied together.
Onto the characters!
This is the first Part of JJBA to feature two Joestars, and they share an interesting dynamic. Jotaro is the main character. The story is told mostly from his point of view, unless another character is getting an episode devoted to them. Joseph, on the other hand, is the team leader. He’s the one who makes all the big decisions and basically makes the journey happen.
In the same way that Joseph was a foil to Jonathan (a trickster compared to a gentleman), Jotaro is a foil to Joseph. Jotaro is stoic and grumpy compared to Joseph’s emotional silliness. Another key difference is why they win fights. When Joseph wins his fights, it’s because he outsmarted his opponent. When Jotaro wins his fights, it’s because his Stand is overpowered as hell.
Jotaro is boring. He’s hard to feel invested in, since he shows no emotion. He’s hard to root for, since his Stand is all but invincible. He’s a very 90s hero trying to be “cool” and “edgy”, and maybe this worked in the 90s. 20 years later, he just looks silly and dull.
Joseph, however, is entertaining as ever. He ramps up one of his smaller running gags from Part 2 and screams hilarious Engrish whenever something bad happens. It never gets old. Unfortunately, it feels like Araki has it out for our buddy Joseph. His Stand is pathetic. It’s the only one of the main cast that isn’t humanoid, so it misses out on nearly all the inherent abilities Stands have. And, since he’s the only one who has the Ripple, the changeover from Stand to Ripple hits him specifically.
Then there’s Avdol. He’s the smart guy. He knows a lot about Stands and most of the places the team visits. I really like Avdol, but I can’t really call him a complex character. He sits on the fence between Jotaro’s stoicism and Joseph’s enthusiasm, generally becoming a lot more emotional when he’s fighting.
Early in Stardust Crusaders, a couple of the enemy Stand Users have “flesh buds” – Dio’s cells that let him control them. This is a plot device that lets two one-time villains join the group as protagonists.
Noriaki Kakyoin is the first. Kakyoin is pretty frustrating. He has a really interesting backstory that makes him really sympathetic and relatable, but that backstory isn’t explained until forty-four episodes after he joins the team. AKA, the third-to-last episode of the second season. Until then, he’s basically just a guy that things happen to.
Finally, there’s Jean-Pierre Polnareff. He’s another super emotional character, and it’s in a very different way from Joseph, so he stands out wonderfully. He’s full of pride, yet also carefree and silly. It makes him a great character, but he ends up stealing the spotlight from the other characters. So if your favourite character is Joseph, Kakoyin or Avdol… whoops.
There’s one more character – Ann the runaway girl. She shows up and tags along with the Crusaders… and contributes absolutely nothing to the plot, the characters or anything else. Eventually Araki got the hint; Ann gets unceremoniously written out, as if she was never there to begin with.
Now the plot. As I mentioned above, Dio returns and some combination of Stand magic and psychic signals from Jonathan Joestar’s body awakens Stands in all of Jonathan’s descendants.
There’s one who I didn’t mention – Joseph’s daughter and Jotaro’s mother, Holly Kujo. She develops a Stand too, but there’s a problem. She’s too gentle of a person, and her willpower can’t control the Stand. It begins attacking her like an illness.
So now Jotaro and the others set off to defeat Dio before Holly’s Stand kills her. You may be wondering, “why does killing Dio stop Holly’s Stand?” and also “what effect will killing Dio have on Joseph and Jotaro’s Stands?”. I’m wondering those things too.
Things won’t be so easy, though. Like in Phantom Blood, Dio has an army – this time, an army of Stand Users.
I didn’t mention it until now, but the Stands (with the exception of Holly’s) are all named after the Major Arcana of the Tarot. That means there are twenty-two Stands with twenty-two users. We start off with Jotaro’s Star Platinum, Avdol’s Magician’s Red and Joseph’s Hermit Purple.
That leaves Dio plus another eighteen assassins (including Kakyoin and Polnareff). Here’s the thing about having nineteen villains in one season – not all of them are important.
The first Stand battle brings Kakyoin onto the team, so that’s worthwhile. The second occurs in a commercial airplane, explaining why the Crusaders can’t just take a plane to Egypt to kill Dio. That’s also worthwhile. The next fight is against Polnareff, which has him join the team too.
From then, it goes downhill. There are thirteen battles of one or two episodes, and I would say only three of those thirteen have any real lasting impact. (Incidentally, all of them involve Polnareff.)
For ten of those battles, the plot doesn’t advance. The characters learn nothing. The dynamics of the team don’t change. The villain shows up, beats the heroes around for a bit, gets the crap beaten out of them (probably by Jotaro), and disappears.
It’s such a change from Battle Tendency, and not a good one. In Battle Tendency, every fight meant something. Whether it was to give Joseph crucial information about the Pillar Men, for the Pillar Men to try to complete their goals, or to learn something about the characters, each and every fight contributed to the plot. I wish I could say the same here.
Stardust Crusaders becomes more like Phantom Blood in that regard. The main difference being, Phantom Blood was 9 episodes and only had two mini-bosses. This season is 24 episodes with eighteen.
Here’s another key difference between Phantom Blood and Stardust Crusaders. The heroes do not meet Dio in this entire season. Remember when Jonathan fought Dio in the mansion? Or when Dio appeared, fully healed, to mock Zeppeli?
Not having the heroes interact with Dio is dumb. It makes Dio look stupid, since he keeps sending waves of hilariously underpowered Stand users to go deal with the Joestars. He can’t honestly think that Wheel of Fortune is going to kill Jotaro, can he? It’s a car! That’s its power!
It also makes us lose our frame of reference for how threatening Dio is. When we saw him in Phantom Blood, it made it clearer just how badass Dio is. He survived a hellish inferno; the fight that made Jonathan sacrifice everything he knew. In his second appearance, he showed off a technique he learned to specifically combat the Ripple. That’s the kind of threat we need to know Dio is still capable of.
You really feel it the most in the season finale. The finale is just against another average Stand user, but the anime staff is clearly trying to make it season finale material. But it just isn’t.
Now, having a plot that doesn’t advance doesn’t mean that Stardust Crusaders isn’t entertaining. There are tons of absolutely amazing moments across the various fights. At the end of any episode, you’ll probably be hyped up from seeing something awesome happen – especially if it was your favourite Crusader’s chance to shine.
All of the amazing moments are backed by incredible visuals and sound. Stardust Crusaders still has the world change colour for no particular reason, but it’s not quite as flamboyant as Battle Tendency. It makes up for it with art that is just plain better, and gorgeous animation.
The music is a closer battle, but I’d say that Stardust Crusaders beats Battle Tendency there too. Whether the situation is heroic, tense or calm, you can be sure that the music will put you in the perfect mood to watch the scene.
The downside to these high production values – particularly the visuals – is that they’re also used to accentuate things you don’t want accentuated. “But wait, what could exist in a world of fighting psychic ghosts that I don’t want to see in amazing visuals?”
Stardust Crusaders indulges in a lot of gross-out humour. It’s really jarring after Battle Tendency, which – as far as I can remember – had absolutely none. Phantom Blood had one character wet his pants, but even that doesn’t scratch the surface of what Stardust Crusaders decides is necessary.
Depending on your definitions of “gross-out” and “humour”, here’s a list of things I can remember. Polnareff uses a toilet that is just an outhouse above some pigs; someone advises him to let a pig lick his butt. Polnareff is forced to lick a toilet by an enemy Stand user. Polnareff and Avdol (of all people) pee in an enemy’s mouth. Kakoyin (again, of all people) makes a baby eat its own crap. Polnareff’s penis gets threatened with mutilation twice. An orangutan has a sexual attraction to an underaged girl.
I don’t get why it exists. I assume it’s another one of those things that was more popular in the 90s but isn’t as… respected?… now. Frankly, I found it hard to watch sometimes.
This review is getting pretty long, so I’ll end it here. I’ll continue my review of Stardust Crusaders later, with Season Two. (It will probably be a shorter review.)
As for the rating, I’ll give JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Season 1 a 7/10. Watch Stardust Crusaders for its amazing moments, great visuals and fantastic soundtrack. It’s also a decent ‘monster of the week’ anime, if all you want is 24 episodes of fight scenes. But if you’re looking for something amazing to follow in Battle Tendency’s footsteps, you’ll be disappointed.
Compared to Phantom Blood, Stardust Crusaders is actually fairly similar. However, where Phantom Blood was quick and efficient and got to the point, Stardust Crusaders drags on. (Most of the fights are 2 episodes, after all.)
On the manga side of things, I’ll give it a 5.5/10. Araki’s artwork gets better and better with each part, but it’s the anime’s visuals and sound that really bring everything together and make it fantastic.
This review… this must be the work of an enemy Stand!