I last left you and this retrospective series with the deaths of Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando in a sinking ship over the Atlantic Ocean. I return a month-ish and 50 years later in the metropolis of New York City, but quickly expanding across the world, with Battle Tendency. Part Two is one of the most important parts of JoJo as it was the first to introduce the paradigm shift of a new part. It carried on many characters from Phantom Blood, as well as the hamon-fueled martial arts, but the scope would increase dramatically.
Phantom Blood’s story was comfortable within the confines of England, but it would seem that with Battle Tendency and later Stardust Crusaders, author Hirohiko Araki was taken by a fit of wanderlust. As such, he penned a globetrotting adventure that dwarfed the previous part, and the stakes would raise proportionally. Dio, megalomaniacal vampire and all, was a considerable threat to his adoptive brother, but his petty plans of world domination while being unable to venture out in daylight would seem puny in comparison to his replacement antagonists.
I tentatively defended Phantom Blood’s weaker moments, but I have no such hesitation going to bat for Part Two. It’s weird, wild, and colorful. This is where I have to recommend reading the manga in color, as it really elevates the already impressive artwork, or to just watch the anime. The best character is an Italian playboy whose catchphrase is “mamma mia!”, for once a JoJo villain saves a dog’s life instead of brutally ending it, and the villains are an ancient Aztec boy band of strippers. I’m fully prepared to die on the hill that is how good Battle Tendency is.
[Spoilers for the entirety of Battle Tendency. These retrospectives are reviews of both the anime and the manga, so come at me for criticizing a problem that was absent from one or the other]
When writing Phantom Blood, Araki ran into problems with his protagonist, Jonathan Joestar. Namely, he was a virtuous young man who didn’t believe in solving his problems with trickery or deception. The first JoJo was a crusader of sorts who pushed through the perils of his journey with a reliance in the power of good and chivalry. That’s all well and good, especially as such straightforward heroes were par for the course in older shonen manga, but it really limited what Araki could do with the characters.
Even back in the days of Part One, Araki assembled each fight like a knot that the heroes needed to untie to win, but with such a headstrong if not dumb JoJo, the solution was usually to simply cut the knot. When writing the next installment, Araki determined that Jonathan’s grandson would be anything but his grandfather, a smart-mouthed troublemaker who always seemed one sentence ahead of his enemies. Joseph Joestar was conniving and willing to play dirty in ways his ancestor never would, allowing for a greater variety in technique and problemsolving.
So in this puzzle box style of fighting that Araki has honed through the years, Joseph seemed custom made to make this process more efficient. It wasn’t the neatest writing, as Joseph seemed to be able to pull a machine gun out of his pocket, but in all fairness, he is American. Joseph’s cunning nature and aversion to risking his own skin made him a much more interesting lead, and the series quickly set its sights higher than ever before.
Quickly changing the status quo, the hamon monk Straizo from Phantom Blood returned, only to reveal that he had grown envious of the eternal youth afforded by Dio’s vampirism and now sought to protect his new undead life by eliminating the only people who knew the secret of the stone mask, the Joestars. Joseph fought and defeat Straizo quickly enough, but this would soon put him on a trajectory to clash with the Pillar Men, ancient predecessors to the vampires who awoke from their millennia-long slumber to conquer their weakness to sunlight.
Battle Tendency is a brief 69 chapters, and it manages to make better use of its runtime than either Phantom Blood or Stardust Crusaders. Each section of the story seems like an organic escalation of the one that came before, and Araki doesn’t waste a dozen chapters painstakingly detailing Jonathan and Dio’s childhoods, or well over a hundred for the Crusaders to fight forgettable Stand Users just to get to Egypt. Both parts have improved pacing in the anime, but Battle Tendency feels like it doesn’t need that same attention.
The side characters also get significantly more to do than in Part One, which improves on the variety in the fights. Caesar vs Wamuu is arguably the best fight in the entirety of Battle Tendency, and that softens my critique that Araki underutilized Caesar overall. His death before the final confrontation with the Pillar Men is a little underwhelming, and it feels like it was just a device for him to give the remainder of his hamon to JoJo. A sentimental moment, and the scene where Joseph and Lisa Lisa grieve for Caesar is one of the best in the story, but it’s a retread of the scene from Part One where Baron Zeppeli does the same for Jonathan.
Caesar is established earlier on as a rival and friend to Joseph, and it’s one of the best executed relationships in the series. Not to spend too much of my time on Part Two just ragging on Part Three, but the friendship between the Crusaders never approaches the same chemistry between Joseph and Caesar. Killing him off before the final fight, or even at all, feels like a waste of potential to give the big battle some more emotional heft. I disagree with the notion that characters need to die in order to make an anime more powerful, but considering how little Speedwagon or Lisa Lisa do here, it would have been more emotionally affecting to kill one of Joseph’s mentors.
But I’m here to critique, not to rewrite a manga that was released years before I was born, so I digress. The fight between Joseph and the Pillar Men is legendary, making use of all the series’ wild energy and creative problem solving. The chariot race is full of this, but a personal favorite is Wamuu sinking into the horses and using his ability to change his body’s shape in strange ways. JoJo is all about fights with very specific abilities being used across a variety of applications, and the chariot race is a good demonstration of that.
And then, Joseph vs Peak Specimen Kars is another thing entirely. We do run into the problem where Araki makes his final villain too strong for anyone to reasonably defeat, which will become a recurring theme. However, considering Phantom Blood established a willingness to kill off its protagonist, having such a powerful antagonist makes for a much more nerve-wracking conclusion. Until Joseph reappears in the epilogue at his own funeral, his death seems far likelier than surviving a tremendous fall from the sky into the ocean and washing up on shore.
This would lead into a problem that plagues JoJo throughout its various Parts; that characters “die” so often that death is robbed of any meaning. I won’t address it here, because it only becomes a real issue in Part Three and then especially in Part Five, so I’ll have to see which of those retrospectives can afford an extra 500 words on why death needs to have real menace in order for a story to be taken seriously. Considering Joseph needs to go on and sire the next of the Joestar line, it’s fair to let him live, and then have him somehow survive every subsequent part.
Now that I have run through the story, I can get into where Battle Tendency really improves over Phantom Blood: its characters. Joseph travels around the world collecting friends and enemies alike, and they all happen to be more colorful characters than any Jonathan encountered in his quest. In my past retrospective, I mostly praised Dio, Zeppeli, and Speedwagon for how they livened up the duller parts of the story, but Part Two is just rife with personalities.
Joseph immediately distinguishes himself as I said before, and the audience has never forgotten the likes of Rudol von Stroheim. Much has been made of one of the ‘heroes’ of Part Two being a Nazi officer, but if you think I’m qualified to dig into the ramifications of that…I’m not. Moving on to characters who are not war criminals, I would talk about Caesar, but the omniscient narrator declares that he has committed every crime “except murder”, so…I don’t know how he managed to break the Geneva Conventions a whole decade before they had been written, but my hat is off to him.
Regardless, Caesar is one of the most notable supporting characters in all of JoJo, as he manages to be every bit as interesting and competent as his JoJo (where the majority of the Crusaders fail), and he is not a complete idiot (where Okuyasu fails). I’d also like to praise Lisa Lisa, who, while she underwhelms in the whole ‘personality’ department, makes up for it by being a seriously tough woman in the role of mentor in a 1987 Shonen Jump manga, which just did not happen back then. Araki would balance this out by having literally no women in Stardust Crusaders.
And then there are the Pillar Men, Santviento, Wamuu, Esidisi, and Kars. This is a good place to sidebar and mention that I’m not going to stick to the original or localized names too closely. It depends on taste, and I personally prefer the Pillar Men’s localized names, while leaning towards others like Crazy Diamond or Bad Company. Moving past that, the Pillar Men have a lot more personality and individuality than any of them have a right to. It’s not groundbreaking that Wamuu is the honorable warrior type while Esidisi is emotionally volatile, and Kars is a god complex stricken leader, but that these traits influence their fighting makes each bout more intriguing.
Part Two: Battle Tendency, manages to improve on most of the previous part’s flaws. Its pacing quickened, its characters were much more charismatic and memorable, and the series’ use of hamon became much more interesting. It might be for dumb things like making a ladder out of falling icicles, but that succeeds, as most things in JoJo do, under the rule of cool.
Battle Tendency isn’t my favorite JoJo part, but it is close. Coming off of Phantom Blood as a fresh little weeb, I was under the impression that the first hundred chapters would be a wash until I could get to the good parts. I couldn’t disagree more as I found myself enjoying Battle Tendency much more than the parts immediately before or after it. You probably have an inkling I’m less than impressed with Stardust Crusaders, but my opinion has a lot more to say than just ‘no Caesar, therefore bad’, but that will serve as an adequate placeholder until I can get it out.
I’ve been rereading AND rewatching each part in preparation for these retrospectives, so I’d at least like to be finished with Part Four before I share my thoughts on Part Three. Maybe by that time the JoJo event in April will have announced the Stone Ocean anime like everyone thinks it will.
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