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“A road is something you make yourself. Make your own choices.”Jotaro Kujo.
Hirohiko Araki is not only one of the most important and successful manga artists of all time, but he is also one of the bravest. The fact that he has always been willing to change the protagonist, along with the cast and the antagonists, in each arc of his masterpiece, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, is a testament to his bravery and creativity, often showing new and exciting ways to get the reader’s attention.
If there is an arc in JoJo’s that truly captures Araki’s creativity and willingness to take risks is the third one and the arc that is widely regarded as the most successful in his career, Stardust Crusaders. While some people may prefer other arcs, there is no denying that Stardust Crusaders is viewed as THE JoJo’s arc and the one most people think about when they hear the franchise’s name.
One of the most celebrated storylines in Araki’s career and one arc that has spawned OVAs, videogames, tons of memes, and, of course, a very successful anime adaptation in the mid-2010s. You cannot understand JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure without the influence, impact, and success of Stardust Crusaders, as the journey of Jotaro and his friends, has become the stuff of legends in manga and anime history.
So let’s get started and see what this story is all about.
Set in 1988, one hundred years have passed since the events of the first part, Phantom Blood, and Dio has once again resurfaced, now taking over Jonathan Joestar’s body in the process. Due to this, powers that are the representation of one’s character, Stands, have appeared and this sets in motion the events of Stardust Crusaders.
An older Joseph Joestar, who was the protagonist of the previous part, Battle Tendency, travels to Japan to aid his daughter Holly, whose son and Joseph’s grandson, Jotaro Kujo, is in a prison of his own volition due to the fact that, according to him, is “possessed by an evil spirit”. As we find out in the first episode, the evil spirit is actually Jotaro’s own Stand, Star Platinum.
Holly develops a Stand too, and due to her own weak spirit, she cannot control it and is slowly dying. Joseph, Jotaro, and the friends they make along the way have to travel to Egypt to defeat a resurrected Dio and put an end to the Joestar curse, thus saving Holly in the process, but they are going to find a lot of threats before they reach their goal.
Araki Flipped The Script
Changing the protagonist and the cast of every arc was already a very bold move by Araki and is something that most manga artists even to this day cannot achieve success with. But the thing that sets apart Stardust Crusaders, other than its extremely strong cast of main characters, is the inclusion of Stands and revamping the fight system of the anime.
Changing your fighting system, going from the use of Hamon to Stands, could have been very risky at the time, and yet, it gave Stardust Crusaders (and JoJo’s as a whole) a fresher, much more ambitious approach to things. Yes, I do agree with a lot of fans who say that Araki should have found a way to maintain Hamon as a valid tool in the series, but, overall, I think Stands are a much more effective system.
We see this last part with a lot of what happens and unfolds in this arc: the Crusaders are often threatened by Stand users that don’t look dangerous at first and whose abilities don’t seem like a big deal, but the context and their strategies turn these battles into a chess game. JoJo’s always had a tactical approach to fighting, but this is where we see Araki taking it to the next level due to the fact that anyone can be a Stand user and Stands can have any kind of power.
This element of surprise fits very well with the epic adventure of Stardust Crusaders and keeps both our heroes and us the viewers in a perpetual state of alert.
Pacing Issues, A Lot Of Experimentation, And Even More Charisma
One of the biggest strengths of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, when you break it down, is not the battles, the strategies, the flamboyant nature that it has, or even the memes that it produces. It’s the characters. Araki is extremely strong at writing characters and Stardust Crusaders has one of his strongest casts of characters and perhaps the most iconic at that.
Jotaro Kujo is by far the most iconic JoJo of the franchise and definitely one of the most iconic characters in all manga and anime. His stoic, laser-focused personality is a direct contrast to the good-hearted nature of Jonathan and the extrovert and endearing bravado of Joseph, so its interesting to see him slowly becoming a bit more attached to people and growing into a leader even if he still maintains that quiet persona.
There is a narrative that Jotaro doesn’t have character development and only relies on Star Platinum punching really hard, but there are several times when he shows genuine concern for others and him relying on strategies and wits to win. It doesn’t help his case that the anime cut a lot of emotional expressions that he shows in the manga, which definitely takes away a bit from his character.
While Jotaro has tons of great character moments and is a very solid leading man, the strength of Stardust Crusaders, in my view, is that the long format that it has, which has been so criticized by people over the years, helps to form a connection with the characters. Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency often struggled to give the side characters some shining moments, but here we can see the likes of Kakyoin or Polnareff having battles they win or simply aiding Jotaro and Joseph in key moments.
That element of camaraderie makes you feel that you are going on an adventure with your dumb friends, and that is a very compelling aspect of the arc as well. You know they are going to Egypt to face an evil vampire overlord, but you also see them going through ups and downs together, thus making you care for them.
Stardust Crusaders does have its pacing issues, and I would argue that that is objectively a problem. It doesn’t affect me because I thoroughly enjoyed the journey and I found the different Stand battles very entertaining, but from a narrative perspective, it definitely makes the flow of the story a bit frustrating because some of these battles don’t add to the story.
There have been criticisms that characters such as Joseph or Avdol don’t get a lot of shining moments. With Joseph, I can understand why Araki didn’t want to give a lot of the spotlight because he had an entire arc dedicated to him defeating four gods, but with Avdol its frustrating because, by Araki’s own admission, Magician’s Red is so powerful that he could have defeated most enemies. Then why have that character at all? It seems like a very frustrating experience.
I’m going to cover the second half of Stardust Crusaders a lot more in-depth through another article, although I think this arc is very important because it not only gave JoJo’s a very distinct identity as a series but also showed the strength in Araki’s writing by constantly revamping the cast in an almost seamless manner. It is definitely a gift of his… perhaps his Stand’s power.
It does have its flaws, and it takes a bit too long to get to the finish line, but when you compare and contrast that with the strong character writing, the many creative ways that the concept of Stands is used, the increasing worldbuilding… there is simply too much to like about Stardust Crusaders.
But there are still some things we need to analyze.
We still need to enter Dio’s World.