AnimeLand: Could you enlighten us on the genesis of JoJo?
Hirohiko Araki: Originally, there was this idea of the succession between generations, a father/son heritage. Then I wanted to show traveling heroes who would fight to defend humankind. The idea of successive generations was inspired by The Godfather saga (Brian de Palma) or East of Eden (Eliat Kazan): family stories, where the action is happening across several generations. At a very young age, I had been touched and inspired by these movies that all became classics.
A.L.: Did you have some idea of what each part would be in advance, or did your original ideas change as time passed?
H.A.: At the very beginning, everything was set around fights, ratios of power. Then, as time passed, everything became more “spiritual”, with a greater place made for ideas like friendship. At the graphic level, the first series showed off very “macho-man” type heroes with over-proportioned muscles. Then the characters became slimmer, more elegant too.
A.L.: What do you think about the Western translation of JoJo: does the term “bizarre” look appropriate to you? And if yes, what aspect of your work does it reflect?
H.A.: Indeed, the Japanese title would translate closer to “amazing”, or “marvelous”. But really, what I wanted to express in this manga is something really different, something strange, bizarre. So, in the end, the translation is rather spot on (smile). I think this feeling is reflected in some respects or situations in the manga: the unforeseen turnabouts, the way the facial expressions change, distort themselves, the hidden personality of some characters…
H.A.: For the Ripple, the idea was that of an indirect force, a force striking from a distance like in the water for instance: if I hit the surface of a calm water, I indirectly affect the surroundings thanks to the residual ripple. For its part, the Stand is something a Westerner may find difficult to envision. It finds its origin in Shintoism: the spiritual essence of our ancestors protects us, in fact each and everyone of us is permanently protected. Without being a Shintoist myself, I know the Japanese culture and philosophy well for being born into it, so I am influenced by them in my creative work.
A.L.: You seem to like gore and often draw characters having the ability to regenerate from wounds. Is it an homage to this cinema genre, and to "The Thing" from John Carpenter?
H.A.: Oh I like this genre a lot, but also comics and TV series. John Carpenter, De Palma… their work interest me a lot, I study them a lot, I saw them all. Now, about The Thing, one shouldn’t forget that the first volumes of JoJo go back to the 80s, I probably had the idea before seeing this movie.
A.L.: They say that you are a big fan of Western culture, be it classical or modern?
H.A.: Yes, I have a big interest in art, in impressionism, in contemporary art, or illustrations? I study all of it too, and it greatly influences my work.
A.L.: In your mind, does it explain the success of JoJo in the West?
H.A.: Well, to become a manga artist, you must study a lot, learn many different things: in a way, you must know everything, from Jangaya to Spielberg.
A.L.: Each JoJo has some similar characteristics: an impeccable morale fiber, temerity, selflessness, a perfect physical appearance, a great strength. Have you never been tempted to give life to an anti-hero?
H.A.: No. For me, a hero must be clean, just, at least that is the idea. He can have a mean look, be dangerous, go through difficult times, but his heart stays pure, and never will he do something dishonest. He’d never attack a woman or a child, that’s his main trait.
A.L.: Jojo is also one of the few manga to draw the death of its hero in a gory way. (see Zeppeli's death who was cut in half).
H.A.: To protect someone, a real hero must sacrifice himself, even if his death makes no doubt: That is also a heritage from Japanese philosophy. A hero doesn’t seek money, he becomes what he is to save someone else, he’s honest, charitable. The more horrible his death is, the worthier his sacrifice is.
A.L.: About morality, we have the impression of “moral” battles, more than real battles in JoJo.
H.A.: It is a symbol, linked to the way the hero manages to vanquish evil. Basically, there are three types of character in JoJo: the good, the bad and the undefined ones (at least momentarily, an aggressive character can reveal himself as a good one). Even the “bad” characters have a reason for acting, there is always a reason justifying their misdeeds. And we should present the circumstances that pushed the individuals to turn to the dark side to the reader.
A.L.: JoJo also reflects your passion for magic, illusionism…
H.A.: Yes, I never miss a magic show in Japan! Lance Barton, David Copperfield: you know, that trick where he makes a motorcycle disappear… It interests me a lot, I make a big effort to decipher how they do all that! It also gives me inspiration.
A.L.: Just like the creation of Zeppeli’s character?
H.A.: Yes (laughs)!
A.L.: And do you practice magic?
H.A.: I know a few tricks, and I know how to make a coin disappear. (laughs)
A.L.: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has been compared to Hokuto no Ken: what do you think about it?
H.A.: Tetsuo Hara is one of my friends, we often dine together. He completely revolutionized the way the human body was represented in manga, thus he also influenced me in this level.
A.L.: Do you talk about your respective works when you see each other?
H.A.: In fact, being both professional manga artists, we avoid talking about our jobs.
A.L.: Can you see that Jojo is full of nods to Hokuto no Ken?
H.A.: In the first chapters, yes, because of the masculine bodies and the gory effects… But not now.
A.L.: About your work on the heroes’ appearance, what are your influences outside of manga?
H.A.: I constantly read anatomy books or écorchés, to study the structure of bones and muscles. I have been very impressed by the Palazzo Vecchio museum in Florence, Italy. I bought books about it on the subject.
A.L.: Sculpture too? There are works in this museum showing poses that’d remind people of your work…
H.A.: Yes, definitely, and I like the Rodin museum here in Paris. I’ve assisted to posing séance here, and it touched me a lot.
A.L.: To finish, it seems there are several levels of reading in Jojo, and everyone can appreciate the manga in their own way depending on the age. To whom do you prioritize JoJo for?
H.A.: Currently in Japan, I am asked to write stuff for a younger audience (less than 15 years old), in a cute, “kawaii” way… It really flies over my head, in fact. To write something good, you must above else be able to understand it and to appreciate it.
A.L.: Interestingly, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure seems to please the French female readership whereas it was destined to a male readership. What can justify that in your mind?H.A.: Well, maybe because my heroes all are beautiful boys! (laughs)
[Translated by Nabu (JoJo's Bizarre Encyclopedia)]