A Female Protagonist Done Right: A Character Analysis of Jolyne Cujoh
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In these modern times, the focus on female characters has grown exponentially. We can have a lot of different views about the topic in question, but there is no denying that the role of female characters in fiction has been debated for quite some time. We can see it in movies, with a lot of reboots of known franchises now having female leads; we can see it in the comic book industry, with a lot of female characters taking the mantles of characters that were traditionally male, and so on.
So, what makes a female protagonist great? What are the elements that should make her tick? And are there any differences with male characters? I would like to answer these questions and some more with a character that I think fits quite well as an example of a female protagonist done right: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s Jolyne Cujoh.
For those that don’t know, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a manga series that has been ongoing since 1987, written and drawn by Hirohiko Araki, and one of its defining traits is that every major arc, which are described as parts, feature a new protagonist and a whole new cast of characters. Part 6, which started out in the early 2000s and was called Stone Ocean, tells the story of Jolyne Cujoh, daughter of the iconic Jotaro Kujo, who is in a prison in Florida and happens to be involved in a dangerous situation involving his father and a friend of the series’ main antagonist, Dio Brando, thus setting in motion the events for this arc.
Jolyne has always been a bit of a controversial character in Araki’s career in Japan due to the perceptions in that country when it comes to women. Female protagonists in shonen manga have always been a bit of a rarity and Araki was told, back when he was doing the previous part, Golden Wind, that he couldn’t make Giorno Giovanna, the protagonist of that storyline, a woman, which led the author to a point of frustration. Hence why he was so adamant on creating Jolyne in part 6, even if he was told that it wouldn’t sell.
Stone Ocean has gained a more positive reception among JoJo fans thanks to the recent anime adaptation, and that is also due to how strong of a main character Jolyne is. And this is where we get to the main part of this analysis: What makes Jolyne Cujoh such a great female protagonist?
What Makes Jolyne Cujoh Great?
The first part is that Jolyne is allowed to be vulnerable throughout Stone Ocean. A common misconception these days is that a lot of people think that a “strong female character” means being invincible, not having any moments of self-doubt or weakness, and overall not making the character go through any kind of adversity. Araki takes the opposite approach when you contrast Jolyne to these traits.
Jolyne starts in prison as a woman with no guidance, feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by the fact that she was framed for a crime she didn’t commit. We know through the first couple of issues that she has a strained relationship with Jotaro, and she lacks the determination to move forward with her life, but as the story progresses, she becomes a lot stronger, a lot more determined and much more capable of protecting herself and those she cares about.
It’s character development done right in the most straightforward of manners: Jolyne becomes a stronger person, both physically and mentally, through the different battles she goes through in the prison in Florida, thanks to the allies she meets along the way and also by learning a lot of Jotaro’s past, understanding why he wasn’t around for her when she was younger, thus healing their relationship. You can see a natural progression.
Some may argue that this is very typical when it comes to protagonists, but this was a rarity for Araki: all previous protagonists in JoJo (Jonathan, Joseph, Jotaro, Josuke and Giorno) all remained basically the same, even if the experiences they went through made them a bit wiser. It’s with Jolyne that we see a character that earned her stripes through a lot of different challenges, including one of the biggest threats in the series in Father Enrico Pucci.
Her Stand, Stone Free, is also a very good example of how to make a female character strong, but in a different way. A lot of writers, in an attempt to hype their female leads, would make them the strongest in the franchise or one of the strongest, simply overpowering their opposition. Not Araki with Jolyne: Stone Free’s uses of threads are often creative, strategic and intelligent, thus allowing the mangaka to draw a lot of interesting panels and write interesting battles.
Her Fighting Style
I wanted to highlight this because fighting style is an element that is often neglected when coming up with characters: a lot of writers tend to focus a lot more on personality to show their creations’ sense of individuality, but the fighting style is another means to express that. Jolyne’s fighting is resourceful and creative, not too dissimilar to her great-grandfather, Joseph Joestar, but with a degree of physicality and hand-to-hand combat we haven’t seen in the series since the first part, Phantom Blood, with Jonathan Joestar.
The battle with Westwood, the security guard that went berserk due to the Stand called Survivor, is one of the highlights of Jolyne’s character as a fighter. The battle is brutal, visceral, and very violent, but it also shows our protagonist’s determination and willingness to go over the line to get the job done. This combination of intelligence and being able to scrap with her enemies makes Jolyne a very appealing character to the reader as you feel that she finds ways to win that doesn’t feel contrived or forced.
Overall, Stone Ocean feels like a return to the more physical battles while still retaining the creativity and strategies of the Stands era, which is a very nice balance that is reflected through our protagonist. Every victory that Jolyne gets in Stone Ocean feels earned and done so in a way that is very satisfying.
Her relationship with Jotaro is also a nice insight into her mindset. While she is a true heir of the Joestar will, her dad’s absence grew a huge hole in her soul, which led to a lot of issues that she was trying to avoid and has to confront in this storyline. It gives her character a lot of dimensions and flaws to work with while connecting her even further to the lore of the franchise.
A common problem is that a lot of people these days think that if a female character, particularly a protagonist, has issues with her father, it means that the author is saying that all women have issues with their fathers, which couldn’t be further from the truth. One female character cannot be a representation of all women because every woman has her own sense of individuality, likes, dislikes, points of view, experiences and so on–it’s too big of a spectrum for people to generalize in such a superficial way.
A female character, just like any other, has to have individuality and stand out from the crowd, which is exactly what Jolyne does. If we take her character design, her personality with multiple layers (she can fight like a savage against Westwood, being kind to Emporio and give him a kiss on the cheek, being strategic in battle or simply a goofball from time to time), her creative fighting style, her backstory and the challenges she goes through, you end up with a character that stands out from the rest.
Add to the fact that, while she ends up getting the final win in Stone Ocean through Emporio, Jolyne doesn’t win in the traditional sense of the word. She doesn’t defeat Pucci and his new Stand, Made in Heaven, and her sacrifice, in a way, makes the original JoJo universe come full circle: Jolyne giving her life to save someone else, just like Jonathan did back in the days of Phantom Blood.
Her Interactions With The Supporting Cast
Not everything is perfect, though. A protagonist’s road to success also requires having a strong cast of characters supporting him or her, plus a strong set of antagonists. And while Jolyne definitely has a great set of supporting characters and Pucci is a very well-written antagonist in his own right, I think the biggest criticism in this situation comes from our protagonist’s interactions with the group as a whole.
Now, this is not to say that Jolyne doesn’t have strong bonds with the likes of Ermes, Foo Fighters, Weather Report, Emporio and Anasui, but I mean that the interactions between all these characters are not very recurring and this, in return, makes the character of Jolyne suffer. When compared to the teams in previous JoJo parts, the one in Stone Ocean definitely doesn’t have the same feeling of camaraderie, which can lead to this story feeling a bit underwhelming, even though all of these characters are very good from an individual perspective.
Some may argue that this doesn’t have to be a big part in what makes a female character great, but I do think it plays a very important role because interactions, character dynamics and relationships give everybody a lot more depth. I explore the shortcomings of this team in a another article.
Joylne and Father Pucci
If we consider supporting casts as another factor that elevates a character, then her relationship with the main antagonist also has to be taken into account. And there are some very interesting elements to contrast and compare between Jolyne and Father Pucci.
The first obvious parallelism between these two characters is that they both represent the legacy of the most iconic clash in the entire franchise, which was the battle between Jotaro (Jolyne’s father) and Dio (Pucci’s mentor and friend) back in the third part, Stardust Crusaders. They represent how the legacy of these two characters live on, and how their battle is a lot deeper than just the typical “good girl vs. bad guy”.
Also, while they are driven and inspired by what Jotaro and Dio represent to the two of them, they also happen to have their own agency. As the story progresses, Jolyne takes a lot more initiative and decides to take on Pucci, trying to stop his Heaven plan. And while Pucci got the Heaven plan from Dio, his motivation runs a lot deeper than just fulfilling his deceased friend’s will or to avenge him–he genuinely wants to achieve this goal because he thinks that is the right path for humanity.
The way they treat their allies is also very telling in how different they are. For Pucci, everybody is disposable and only cares about reaching his goal while Jolyne is very caring and protective of her allies. Jolyne cares about everybody and wants to defeat Pucci to stop his plan and also to protect those she cares about, thus giving her a more heroic and selfless nature when compared to Enrico.
I also happen to enjoy how they face each other throughout the series. These running issues help building up the animosity between these characters, instead of them just being circumstantial rivals, like it tends to happen throughout most JoJo parts. It reaches a point where it becomes personal between Jolyne and Pucci and that is great for drama and tension.
There is also a more subtle and not-so obvious contrast between a priest being evil and a “criminal” being the good guy, but that is also a very interesting subtext that highlights how good and evil can come from all sources. Not the biggest of symbolism, but is certainly there.
To end this article, I would like to highlight how this combination of strength and vulnerability is one of the keys that make Jolyne such a compelling character. She is allowed to struggle and to feel pain, such as when Foo Fighters died in the middle of the storyline or when Weather Report died at the hands of Pucci. It hurts her, she couldn’t save them, and that pushes her to keep moving forward. It’s powerful and it feels real.
Female characters shouldn’t be treated as caricatures or distorted versions of reality, but rather as examples of overcoming the odds and growing through different ordeals. And in that regard, I think Jolyne shines bright as a very good example of a female character done right.