Forgive me if I start to get sentimental at some point during this review. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean is Hirohiko Araki‘s magnum opus, the culmination of a journey spanning 100 years and six generations for its characters and a decade for anime viewers. It was a series I never expected to get into until I started watching it at the behest of a man who at the time was a fairly new boyfriend; I’ve been married to that man for three and a half years and there are pictures of me posing as Jolyne in my wedding dress. I’m also more than a little angry that it came in the form of Netflix batch drops, robbing fans of the shared experience that marked previous installments. If I can’t shout on Twitter with my friends, what’s the point?
Ok, that’s an exaggeration because there are many points, not least to experience JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure in the perfect intersection between buck game and contiguous. There are precious few moments where Jolyne and her companions aren’t facing down an enemy Stand somehow as Pucci throws everything he’s got at them. As the Stand powers became more broad and esoteric over the years, many began to feel that Araki was making them up as he went along, with little concern for logical flow or consistency. The early parts of The Stone Sea had some of the problem’s worst offenders – Lang Rangler and Jumpin’ Jack Spark came to mind. It robbed many fight scenes of their excitement. Instead of wondering how the characters would be able to use the powers as we understood them, it felt like sooner or later someone would come up with some nonsense that made little, if any, sense.
Here, the stands are still wild and creative conceptually, but the users use them in a consistent and logical way. (Except, maybe, Diver Down, but that’s a legacy Stand from a main character, so I’m willing to forgive that much.) Bohemian Ecstatic is unsurpassed in its menacing whimsy and mayhem while giving close viewers plenty to chew on regarding how characters see each other and their place in the narrative. Heavy Forecast stretches credibility the most this round, but in a “throw your hands up and accept it” kind of way rather than making the fights hard to follow. As a bonus, you’ll probably never see snails or rainbows the same way again. Netherworld pays a wonderful tribute to Louis Sachar’s children’s novel Hole. There are a few moments where I understand that there were some elements from the manga left on the cutting room floor; these are truly some of the best fights in a decade of action anime, cementing The Stone Seaits position as one of the series’ best story arcs.
The relatively uncluttered nature of Stands allows for a lot of character development, even in the heat of battle. Without trying to figure out how standing ability x makes movement y possible, I can focus on how much Jolyne and her cohorts have grown, both as warriors and as people. Jolyne, at the start of the series, was a stupid young woman, little more than a child, who held an incredible amount of anger at her father for what she perceived as his abandonment of her. She was confused as to why her body was suddenly able to turn into strings and unable to use her ability to its full potential for fear of dissolving. In better circumstances, she could have been dumb and soft like her grandmother Holly, but facing a constant onslaught of enemies in prison has hardened her and made her a tough, confident fighter with Ermes, Anastasia, Weather Forecast and Emporio by her side. She is the true heir of the Joestar line, uncompromising in being a daughter rather than a son.
The narrative also never forgets its intergenerational nature. Too often, action-driven series end up with big slugfests that don’t care about the themes they had established throughout their run. Not so here – throughout the run, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has explored the tension between each generation’s desire to carry on what came before it and protect the next, and The Stone Sea prioritizes the themes that have resonated in it since the very first pages and takes them to their logical conclusion. This means that not all problems can be solved by hitting the hardest or best, and physical strength is no substitute for ingenuity and resilience.
This works in part because the animation is as stiff as usual, albeit with a bit more movement than before. The best animated episode of the installment is arguably one with almost no action at all: the reveal and exploration of Pucci’s backstory, from the loss of his twin brother shortly after they were born, to growing up as a mixed-race child in the Louisiana bayous in the 70s and 80s, until his fateful meeting with DIO. While most of the series is bombastic, posturing and grand declarations, Pucci’s episode is animated with care for character acting and attention to detail and fluidity in small movements. It’s a smart choice that not every production would make; made behind The Stone Sea is aware that sometimes a snap of a finger on a long handle says a lot more than a number of blows.
Yugo Kanno has written the series’ musical score since Stardust Crusadersand the climax here also feels like a culmination of his work and Hayato Mitsuo and Taku Iwasakiwho scored Phantom blood and Fighting tendency, respectively. The series’ use of leitmotifs for each Jojo comes in for powerful effect, further adding to the sense of Jolyne as the heir to the Joestar line. The new theme song, “Heaven’s falling down” by sana fra sajou no hana, is more downbeat than “Stone Ocean,” but its melancholy works perfectly for a story where it feels like this could be the end of everything. The English and Japanese voice casts continue to be excellent. I feel compelled to give Casey Mongillo a special tribute to their performance as Emporio, bringing home an emotionally meaty climax.
In my review of the first two thirds, I stated that I couldn’t understand why The Stone Sea was one of the least popular parts. My confusion has only intensified as the final third pulled everything together for a powerful climax, not just for Jolyne’s story, but for the story of the Joestars as a whole. I can’t imagine watching this without shedding at least a tear or two. Jolyne is the heroine I wanted, that the audience deserved, and that Joestars needed.