JoJo’s strength has always been its versatility. While the series’ peculiar storytelling sensibilities can be an acquired taste, the one thing it’s always had going for it is its ability to be anything. JoJo can be a globetrotting action adventure, a gothic horror, and indeed, a slice-of-life murder mystery.
While JoJo is and has always been a multitude of characters, storylines, and tones, I would argue that it wasn’t until the fourth installment, Diamond is Unbreakable, that Hirohiko Araki truly realized he could do anything with this series.
The first three parts have their strengths and weaknesses, and there’s little overlap between them, with the exception of story formula. Our heroes generally confront their villain(s) early on, and chase them down, encountering minions and battles along the lay. The exception to that rule is Battle Tendency, where Joseph and his companions are fleeing the villains instead of the other way around, but you get the idea.
Diamond is Unbreakable, though, is a rulebreaker. It’s set in one location, it has a recurring cast of supporting characters, and while it holds to JoJo’s zany roots, it doesn’t feel obligated to do so. Rather than confronting our villain immediately, Part Four begins the trend of enigmatic villains in the shadows, who our characters must learn about and uncover before being able to fight them. In essence, Diamond is Unbreakable is a slice-of-life murder mystery, and it’s just the best.
Part Four marks the first true zigzag in the Joestar family tree. Up until this point, we’ve followed Jonathan, his grandson Joseph, and his grandson Jotaro. Araki has different plans for Jotaro’s daughter, though, so let’s dart back up the line to find our hero. Despite Joseph’s happy marriage, he apparently fathered an illegitimate child with a Japanese woman, not discovering his son Josuke’s existence until he got around to writing his will.
Josuke bears a strong resemblance to his father in his youth. He’s the cocky, laidback type, but he has a nasty temper if the integrity of his haircut is insulted, and I’ll refrain from commenting on that haircut in case he sees this. Jotaro travels to the town of Morioh to find his uncle, and uncover the mystery of a photograph taken with Joseph’s spirit photography, alluding to a great threat hovering over the small town.
Despite Morioh’s small size, Josuke soon learns that Stand users feel an almost magnetic pull, bringing them together. With Jotaro, as well as his new friends Koichi and Okuyasu, he’ll have to contend with psychotic girlfriends, puppetmasters, aliens (?), and much more. There’s even a serial killer on the loose, and the Stand Arrow capable of granting anyone immense power, should they get their hands on it.
Essentially, the story is divided down the middle. The first follows Josuke wrangling eccentric Stand users wielding their power for selfish gain, while the second half is dedicated to the heroes tracking down Yoshikage Kira, the murderer with a killer (Queen) stand.
JoJo has always been about its fights, like any good battle manga, but Araki has struggled to work them seamlessly into the story. Thanks to Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency’s short runtimes and road trip narratives, there’s few fights outside of clashes with the primary antagonists and a few minions. Stardust Crusaders, on the other hand, is chock full of fights to the point of exhaustion.
Diamond is Unbreakable is comparable in length to its predecessors, but they’re spaced out well. Each fight is given proper buildup, and we take just as much time learning about our characters as we do their abilities. Araki uses the Stand battles so we can learn that Okuyasu’s a brute, but cares deeply about his family, and Koichi’s meek and timid, but discovers a new ferocity when his loved ones are threatened.
Part Four’s greatest strength is that it can afford to occasionally be inconsequential. My favorite arc is Let’s Go Eat Some Italian Food, where Okuyasu and Josuke find a humble Italian restaurant, and suspect the ulterior motives of its proprietor, Antonio. His food has miraculous health benefits for Okuyasu, but there’s something off about the chef. Turns out, he has a Stand, and he uses it to make delicious and nutritious food.
That’s not something we could have gotten in any other part. It’s weird and would be out of place anywhere else, but in the strange town of Morioh, home to diligent mangaka, ghosts, aliens, and more, it’s just one more thing to learn about. Diamond is Unbreakable has the time and options to introduce us to a Stand user who’s not interested in using their powers for violence.
I could go on about the fights, but it’s more of the same puzzle box type battles we’re used to. I’ll wait until my retrospective on Golden Wind to dive further into it, as Part Five does it the best.
Perhaps Part Four’s most interesting diversion from the JoJo formula is its recurring supporting cast. There’s been small roles before that managed to crop up repeatedly: Stroheim transforms from an enemy to an ally, Speedwagon appears in multiple parts, and Hol Horse just keeps taking Ls. Still, it’s not on the same level as in Morioh, where we rotate through side characters fairly often. Most characters like Yukaku and Mititaka get at least two arcs, while Rohan Kishibe is a certified JoBro by the final battle.
Since Morioh is such a small town, Araki can juggle multiple characters coming into battles where their powers can complement the combatants. However, because most of these fights are small-scale and take place in a matter of minutes usually, he can switch them out on a whim or not use them at all, depending on what’s needed.
Araki always excels when he has as many options as possible. Phantom Blood suffers because you can tell it’s a stiff riff on Fist of the North Star, and everyone has either vampire powers or hamon. In Battle Tendency, we see hamon used in a variety of ways, and the Pillar Men have unique abilities. Stardust Crusaders has a lot of variety in powers, but many of them are too basic, so they’re either universally applicable, or no fun to see used in creative ways.
Part Four is where the Stand abilities really start to branch out, though that’s something else it started and Golden Wind perfected. Morioh is filled with so many characters who perfectly ride the line between interesting and strange, and none overstay their welcome. The series benefits immensely from that diversity.
Thanks to its episodic nature, it doesn’t have as strong of a story as Golden Wind, but it’s a better character study. The day-to-day happenings are secondary to the people we’re watching, and they’re fun to watch, especially our villain. Araki’s never slouched on villains, it’s actually one of his strongest points, but Kira is the first who feels like balances the charisma of Dio with being a well-rounded character. He’s single-minded, but multi-faceted, and while it’s a personal pick, he’s the best the series has had.
Diamond is Unbreakable isn’t my favorite part, but it’s the first that I can recommend with no reservations. It doesn’t often reach the heights that JoJo is capable of, but it never slips into the pitfalls that other parts do.
The fact that it does something so much different is another point in its favor. Other parts have unique themes and styles, but Part Four functions differently on a basic level. It has the same appeal as a slice-of-life anime, but doesn’t let go of its forward momentum.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I don’t plan on properly reviewing Stone Ocean, as it should already be out by this point, but I’ll do a retrospective for the manga and anime, once it’s done airing. In the meantime, I have plenty of other series to review for this winter.
So if you want to check out those reviews, or the Golden Wind retrospective when it comes out, make sure to follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress for updates or Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku for all that and commentary on the anime I’m currently watching. Until next time, thanks for reading.