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It’s no secret that protagonists are a big part of a story, and they are key to the success of a said project. While there are some exceptions to the rule, the reality is that the best stories have strong characters and protagonists are particularly important as we spend most of our journey with him or her, thus giving us a greater need for that character to be compelling.
In that regard, the author of the renowned manga and anime franchise, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hirohiko Araki, has always stood out when compared to his peers due to his extremely capable character writing. You can say what you want about JoJo’s and some of Araki’s decisions as a creator, but there is no denying that he has written a lot of great characters and one of his biggest successes can be the protagonist of the fourth part of JoJo’s, Diamond is Unbreakable, Josuke Higashikata.
For those that don’t know, each story arc of JoJo’s, referred to as parts, features a new protagonist and a new set of supporting characters and antagonists to face. After the massive success that the third part, Stardust Crusaders, had in the late 80s and 90s within the manga industry, Araki was in the classic situation that every successful artist has to go through at some point: “Do I maintain the formula that made me successful or do I make changes?”
This being Araki, of course, he revamped himself yet again instead of trying to make Stardust Crusaders II. We see a lot of that intent with Josuke from the get-go.
Why Josuke Is Such A Great Protagonist
To understand why Josuke is such a great character and, from my view, the perfect anime protagonist, we first need to have a look at the three previous protagonists of the series: Jonathan Joestar was a heroic gentleman in a very traditional manner, Joseph Joestar was a trickster with genius levels of strategizing and Jotaro Kujo was this stoic, aggressive badass reminiscent of Clint Eastwood westerns of the 1960s. All are very good in their own right and they are generally viewed positively by readers and viewers of JoJo’s.
However, when we get to Josuke, we see a lot of these traits combined in a tridimensional character that doesn’t feel complex but has a lot of layers to him. He flows with ease. He was a direct result of a night of passion between his mother, Tomoko Higashikata, and Joseph, which resulted in Josuke being part of the Joestar family, but he doesn’t have any other connection with the rest of the established JoJo world. For all intents and purposes, he is just an average teenager that happens to have a very powerful Stand, Crazy Diamond.
Part of Josuke’s charm and what makes him work so well is his flexibility. Araki once mentioned in an interview that he depicted Jotaro as a hero from a mythical tale while Josuke was more of a friend you could hang out with. And that makes him very realistic: while he can be very serious when he has to deal with his enemies, he is also capable of having fun, silly escapades like a normal teenager and even being prone to anger if someone mocks his hairdo.
He is a character that is not held down by any specific restrictions by the creator: if Diamond is Unbreakable is such a flexible part of the JoJo franchise in terms of storytelling, that is a clear reflection of a protagonist that allows Araki to try a lot of different scenarios. We see Josuke laugh with his friends (going to a restaurant with Okuyasu or trying to win the lottery through cheating), suffer the loss of his loved ones (such as his grandfather, who raised him with his mom), be smart and strategic (most of his fights, particularly the final showdown with Kira) and overall empathize with him as a likable, human character.
If we are talking anime, particularly of the shonen brand, Josuke is a perfect character to have as the lead and Araki shows his goodness, goofiness and sheer badass nature in the first couple of chapters of Diamond is Unbreakable: his fear of turtles, his kind nature to Jotaro when he hears that Joseph’s cheating caused problems in the Joestar household and how ruthless he can be to people that cause harm to others. All of that is shown from the get-go and all of that is made so you can connect with the character, which, in my mind, is one of Araki’s most subtle and compelling introductions to a JoJo, only rivaled by his successor, Giorno Giovanna.
A common criticism that Josuke has gotten over the years is that he doesn’t have a very dominant role in his part when compared to the previous three protagonists, but I don’t think that is really a bad thing. Other characters get a chance to shine, and when Josuke takes the spotlight, it’s often done in a very cool and effective manner, so I guess is the best of both worlds. I would agree that I would want him in a much more leading role, but that is mainly due to the fact that he is such an effective main character.
Influences For The Character
Another element of his that works so well is his Stand, Crazy Diamond, whose name was inspired by the Pink Floyd song Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Josuke’s Stand has the ability to restructure things back to their original state, which often gives our protagonist the role of the team’s healer in Diamond is Unbreakable, but there are a lot of battles where we get to see the flexibility and creativity that he has to get the most out of Crazy Diamond.
I would argue that Crazy Diamond was a breaking point in Araki’s writing of Stands. This was an ability that in many other stories would have served just to heal, but it allowed for a lot of creative alternatives in terms of execution and that makes Josuke a more compelling protagonist as a result.
His character design is also a breaking point for Araki. While the author of JoJo’s has never shied away from flamboyant designs, Josuke’s look, inspired by world-renowned musician Prince, is a step forward in the style Araki would eventually move forwards to.
Contrasting to his three previous protagonists, who had very traditional male looks, Josuke has a lot more style and flair to him. This is not to say that someone like Jotaro doesn’t have any style, but that its upped by what Araki has done with Josuke and would continue to do so in the coming years.
The entirety of Diamond is Unbreakable was a transitional period for Araki as an artist, and we can see it in the progression that Josuke has in the manga. While the muscular designs that Araki eventually became known for in his early days were celebrated by most JoJo fans, it is true that with every part he moved away from the Fist of the North Star-inspired approach and moved towards something a lot more unique.
I don’t necessarily prefer any particular style; I have grown to appreciate JoJo’s in all its different forms, but it is fascinating to see Josuke as a point where Araki really developed a lot of key aspects of his as a creator. This is worth pointing out since he has stated that Josuke is his favorite JoJo and you can see that shining (pun intended) through the pages.
The Characters Duality With The Main Antagonist
Another aspect that makes him stand out when compared to other JoJo’s and manga and anime protagonists as a whole is his subtle duality with the main antagonist of Diamond is Unbreakable, Yoshikage Kira.
While the vast majority of dualities in storytelling are done in a very clear and straightforward manner, the differences between Kira and Josuke are something that can only be discovered by analyzing how the story progresses. All of this makes both characters even more interesting.
Josuke is a character that makes a lot of friends during Diamond is Unbreakable and many of them were enemies of his at first; Kira doesn’t have any friends or allies and crushes his enemies without mercy. Josuke’s only lack in terms of social connections is a father because Joseph wasn’t around for him; Kira’s only connection to the rest of the world is an overprotective and sadistic father. Josuke’s Crazy Diamond is there to fix things; Kira’s Killer Queen is there to destroy things. Josuke usually fights in groups or with someone next to him; Kira fights on his own. Both characters want to have peaceful lives in the small town of Morioh (the only obstacle is that Kira is a serial killer).
You get the drift. There is a notorious contrast between both characters and it can be easily ignored if you are not paying attention to those details, but it helps to enhance their journeys and makes both characters all the more compelling. By the time we reach the final battle, this becomes all the more compelling.
Josuke might not be the greatest protagonist in anime or even in JoJo’s. Heck, I prefer the first three protagonists to him, if I’m honest, but that doesn’t make him a disservice or say that he is bad. I still rate him highly and he is a very enjoyable main character, but I just have other preferences. However, what can’t be disputed is how complete, well-written, and compelling Josuke is on so many different levels, allowing for endless possibilities in terms of storytelling, which is shown throughout the vast majority of Diamond is Unbreakable.
In terms of manga and anime protagonists, there are very few that adapt so well to all the elements of the medium as Josuke, and he is definitely one of Araki’s biggest achievements as a creator.