Wednesday, 23 November 2016

But is it Gothic? - JoJo's Bizarre Adventure!

Two stars fall from the sky//One shining in the light, the other sinking into darkness//A ripple drawing the two of them together//One will walk the path of pride and receive the sun's guidance//One will walk the path of unbridled ambition//Demanding sacrifice//

Let that burning in your soul calm the trembling of your heart//Strike down your fears//With courage coursing through your veins!//You cannot overcome your pain unless you can accept//
The legacy of your bloodline!

"JoJo's Bizarre Adventure"
Pout game... too strong...
It is with mild trepidation and a lot of fanboy excitement that, as part of Sheffield Gothic's 'But is it Gothic' season, I present the following for your consideration: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (2012). For this blog, I'm going to be commenting on the 2012 anime series, specifically the first season, rather than the enduring and incredibly popular ongoing manga or the first 1993 anime.

JoJo's, then, is the story of Jonathan Joestar, JoJo to his friends, heir to the Joestar fortune and gentleman in training in 1880's England. JoJo lives an idyllic life at his father George's huge country estate, a charmed existence that is shattered by the arrival of another young man - Dio Brando. Years before, George Joestar, his wife, and infant son Jonathan, were involved in a terrible carriage crash and rescued by Dario Brando, who happened to be nearby. George swears a debt to Dario, unaware that the latter was actually only attempting to loot their corpses. After Dario's death, George adopts the man's son, Dio, in order to appease this debt. Dio immediately plans to usurp JoJo, to discredit him entirely and thus claim the Joestar fortune for himself. 

Dio's torture of JoJo (which involve stealing his love's first kiss, spreading rumours about JoJo, publicly beating him, and burning his dog - Danny - to death!) culminates in a dramatic scene in which JoJo reveals to his father the depths of Dio's evil. 

You were too pure for this world, sweet dog.
Panicky, and now proved to have been poisoning his adoptive father, Dio grabs an ancient mask and plugs it onto his face, transforming himself into a Vampire. Yes. A vampire. I'm not doing the intricacies of the plot justice here, but it's a pretty damn dramatic moment - Dio, vampired up and now seemingly unkillable, murders a poor squad of unnamed policemen, kills JoJo's father in front of him, nearly kills JoJo himself, and the entire estate is burned to the ground. 

JoJo's roguish friend Speedwagon, (in)famously afraid
as Dio transforms into the vampire for the first time. 
The rest of JoJo's adventure involves his journey to kill Dio before a vampire plague can destroy the world. He is joined along the way by the aforementioned Speedwagon (who continues to be defined by fear) and Baron Zeppeli, who teaches JoJo how to harness the power of his blood to fight Vampires... Which is as exactly as flawed a method as it sounds. But the story itself is fascinating and indulges some of the classic, if now somewhat abandoned, tropes of the Gothic.

Foremost among these, and what I want to draw the most attention to here, is the most obvious, and often most heavily parodied, element of JoJo- the camp. 'One of the most essential elements of camp', Max Fincher asserts, 'is how it forces its subject (in this case the reader) to think about how gender is constructed through a discourse about the naturality of the body'.[1] And JoJo certainly delivers in this regard. The male body is shown throughout as intensely buff, with the main cast being ludicrously so, but these bodies are often forced into striking poses that often seems to pastiche sexualised feminine, or certainly overmasculinse, poses and as such evoke the high camp of the Gothic.

Concept art of Jonathan Joestar.
(If I had thighs like that I'd be in hospital)

This, combined with the high emotional tone that runs throughout - the constant streams of tears, of manly feelings that are being constantly expressed, the extreme reactions to all minor and major shocks (see Speedwagon meme earlier) - speaks to this camp tone, which becomes increasingly excessive as the series reaches the finale and brings to mind the high emotion of the early Gothic.

The anime also ticks the rest of the Gothic boxes, with vampires about, ancient temples with hidden traps and labyrinths, castles in mountains, revenge plots, tainted bloodlines, blood rituals, monsters, and much much more! JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a feast for the Gothicist, though the latter seasons begin to move more and more away from this genre and towards action.

All in all, the series situates firmly in the Gothic, with more of a classical than a contemporary vibe in terms of the genre, but it is well worth a watch and, on viewing, I think that the initial question (But is it Gothic?) will resound with a firm, manly, emotional 'Yes'. Possibly with a bicep flex and a pose that no human body could possibly contort into.

"And I'll leave Lego and upturned plugs all over the floor!
And crumbs in your bed sheets!"
[1] Mark Fincher, ‘The Gothic as Camp: Queer Aesthetics in The Monk’, Romanticism on the Net, 44 (2006) <>.

Danny 'Dead Dog' Southward is a PhD researcher at the university of Sheffield, his research focuses on metamodernism, metafiction and contemporary Gothic. He is too raw about the death of the dog, so he'll have to get back to you later when he's finished practicing his poses and loud exclamations