JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, a popular manga series that has sold more than 120 million volumes, is celebrating its 35 anniversary. From Part 1 to Part 8, JoJo is loved by fans of all ages. The author of the series, Hirohiko Araki (61), gave us a special interview discussing his favorite moments, such as the creation of JoJo, the origin behind Stands, and the hidden themes present in his work. This introduction to The World of Araki will be released in two parts.
A studio located in an apartment building in Tokyo, a bookshelf full of reference materials, a large well-worn desk, and a sound system hidden away in the corner: This is where JoJo is created. "It's very outdated. This place hasn't changed much the entire time I've been here, and I haven't made any attempts at refurbishing it. I've been using this same drawing board for about 30 years now", Araki says with a smile. On weekdays Araki usually works on JoJo from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM.
The first part of JoJo ended in late 1986 with an intense battle between the protagonist, Jonathan Joestar, and his most powerful rival, DIO. The story afterward depicts the bizarre fates of their descendants. "The idea wasn't well-received by the editorial department, as it was hard to market to their young male demographic." The setting and main protagonist were also foreign, which was frowned upon. "It just didn't feel right to have a Japanese person in a story featuring vampires. I also wanted the main character to have both initials start with "J" so that it was easier to remember, like Steven Spielberg (S.S.)," Araki continues while laughing wryly.
The JoJo as we know it now is currently split into eight parts, however, you originally only intended it to be three. This is very similar to the novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which was later adapted into a movie starring James Dean. It tells of a family conflict based on the feud between Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Araki responds, "I was very drawn to the concept of passing the baton from one generation to the next. Since 'inheritance' is the theme of the series, the protagonist no longer had to stay the same. This allowed me to write scenarios where the main character is killed, which wasn't possible in Shonen manga."
Today, the title "JoJo" has become synonymous with Stands, a supernatural power that takes the form of a guardian spirit. Before, the protagonists used the "Ripple" to attack, but after Part 3, Stands suddenly started popping up. Araki replies, "it all started when the editor in charge at the time jokingly told me, 'Can you stop it with the Ripple? Think of something else.' He also told me to draw something that was easy for readers to understand. So I came up with the concept of Stands that mimic supernatural powers. I always wondered why the guardian spirits in other manga don't throw punches."
The Ripple, which was once formless, had finally been given a humanoid form. For Araki-sensei, Stands were clearly meant as an extension of the Ripple, hence the name Ghost Ripple. However, this decision stirred up a lot of problems for the series. According to Araki, "the readers at the time didn't get it all. Even the editors and people working on the manga were confused about the change." It wasn't until about a year later that the readers finally started catching on with Stands. Once he won the reader's trust, Araki was able to get a lot more inventive with his fights. The battles against their archrival, DIO, were no longer limited to just punching and kicking. With this, Araki could create a variety of recognizable battles, such as a dangerous game of playing cards, a struggle against magnetism, and a clash in someone's dreams...
"A strong opponent almost always needs to look cool. But with Stands, even an ugly opponent can be strong. Because Stands are tied to the user's wit, it's possible to create weak characters who are still strong. The possibilities are endless."
Araki creates a personal information form every time he introduces a new character. When he showed me the form, it included height, weight, upbringing, worries the character had, attitude toward women, if the Stand ability matches the character's personality... A total of 60 items in the checklist for characterization were included on just one sheet of paper. This elaborate character profile is the key to forming three dimensional characters.
But, continues Araki. "Characters are vulnerable to the times. They won’t hold up anymore in 10 years." When I asked him what he meant, he answered that "values of the times are reflected in the characters."
The first JoJo took place in a setting with a macho protagonist, the likes of Sylvester Stallone from Rocky or Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. Araki reflects that by the third protagonist Jotaro Kujo, the main character became a gritty Clint Eastwood type and upon reaching the fifth protagonist Giorno Giovanna, the main character’s existence became true-to-life.
"It was still the Showa period with first protagonist, so men were expected to be manly. But by the fifth protagonist Giorno, entering the Heisei period, the expectations of how men and women should be like no longer differed. By the sixth protagonist (Jolyne Cujoh), a woman finally became the main character as well. It didn't feel wrong for women to beat up men anymore. On the contrary, I don't think characters like the first Jonathan are able to cut it now."
He remarks in passing that the fifth protagonist Giorno was modeled after a woman. "The posing became slightly model-esque from here on as well." It makes sense that the unique "JoJo Posing" exploded in popularity as it did then.
Thus JoJo characters project the period they were written in. What then are the values of the times now? Upon asking him, Araki fell silent for a while after uttering, "It's diverse right now, and there's too much information..." Then he continued like this: "The protagonist can no longer be full of pep. They won’t pass muster now unless they’re sick, physically or mentally. If you forcibly make yourself write an upright character, they'll seem fake.”
In Part 8 "JoJolion" which started serialization following the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the final villain manipulates calamity itself, believe it or not. Araki concludes, "For the protagonists to escape the 'worst outcome' they are forced to make a decision between two ultimate choices. No matter which they choose, they must make sacrifices and pay the price. I must be reflecting the deadlocked times, even if unconsciously."
[Translated by Morganstedmanms (JoJo's Bizarre Encyclopedia)]