In E3: In-Flight Entertainment Jay watches another episode of LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration to avoid conversation with an obnoxious man on an airplane. I know I promised to discuss Paradise Lost the next time we watched anime, but I lied. Paradise Lost comes later. For now, let’s talk about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. (Spoiler alert.)
JJBA is a long-running manga by Hirohiko Araki, now being adapted into an anime you can watch for free on CrunchyRoll. It follows a series of people all nicknamed JoJo beginning in Victorian England with Jonathan Joestar, then his grandson, then his grandson’s grandson, then his grandson’s illegitimate son, and so on through the family tree. It’s worth watching a few episodes just to see how weird it gets; the first episode is an over-the-top period-piece slice-of-life until Jonathan starts fighting the undead. Eventually people are punching each other with ghosts. Punchy-ghosts.
The reason I want to evoke JJBA is its generational story. Each JoJo lives in a new time period and a new location, has a new personality, and uses new powers to fight evil:
Jonathan is an enormous bull of a man whose golden heart never steers him wrong, but the vampire DIO kills him. DIO fades into the background and his influence is felt through the decades.
Jonathan’s grandson Joseph masters as a child the power Jonathan did not know until he was a man. Joseph takes up the mantle fighting vampires and worse. He’s my favorite JoJo.
Joseph’s grandson Jotaro Kujo destroys DIO once and for all, punching with his punchy-ghost. Even then, DIO’s actions force further generations of the Joestar line to dedicate their lives to fighting evil.
The fourth JoJo, Josuke, must rid his town of powerful artifacts left by DIO, punching with his own punchy-ghost who can also heal things.
There are more, but you get the point. Each JoJo defeats enemies their ancestors could not have fought.
So, too, will Lucille fight the cosmic horror which killed her parents. Princess Lucia had Jonathan Joestar’s pure-heartedness and drive. Commander Bojack had Joseph’s cocky attitude in the face of danger. Their daughter Lucille will have Jotaro’s unyielding doggedness and propensity for shouting. She is the third, the one who gets shit done.
‘Generational improvement to destroy ancient sin’ is a central theme in Akayama DanJay, even outside the anime segues. When Dan is obliterated trying to take down Anihilato, he’s reincarnated as Jay and surpasses his previous life in spine and spleen. (JayJay, LuLu’s, JoJo’s—I’m being fairly blunt with my references.)
This idea of constant improvement in the face of insurmountable obstacles reminds me of another anime we’ve discussed, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. In TTGL, the heroes fight larger and larger robots using giant drills and become larger themselves with each victory. Their idea of a drill advancing through hardship with each revolution mirrors the Joestar lineage’s refinement each generation. (Arguably ‘increasing potential’ is a common theme in most anime and indeed most stories in general, but I’m trying to justify the dorkiness of my story, okay?)
In Akayama DanJay, I hope showing improvement with iteration contributes to a feeling of grandiose spectacle. Every time a character fails, they stand up stronger. Dan dies, and Jay will be a master of death. Lucia and Bojack were killed by the Hurricane, and Lucille will see its reckoning. Eventually the characters will succeed so spectacularly we’ll wonder if there was ever any doubt. Someday a generation will exist who can cleanse us of the sins of the past.
I write these commentaries because I feel like authors are too tight-lipped about their process. Lots of authors will talk about basic plot structure, but rarely do I see anyone discuss why they decided to include certain images, themes, or allegories. It’s a hidden process, like sausage-making. Well, I’m proud of what’s in my sausage, even dorky ingredients like JJBA.
Akayama DanJay is an eclectic bag of references. We’ve already discussed Dante’s Inferno and giant-robot-anime, and now I’m waxing on about JJBA while promising Paradise Lost. Outside some generally superficial Christian symbolism in anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Death Note, there’s not a lot of overlap between the media I’m mixing. Why did I decide to combine these ideas?
Well, when I wrote the first draft of this story, the ‘exploratory’ draft, I just wrote what I wanted and got The Inferno with giant robots. That’s a good way to start any project: do something fun. You’ll never regret the practice. I scrapped that draft and started again, this time focused on the meaning I wanted to convey. I didn’t start with a theme; I blindly wandered my way from one cool moment to another. The theme only revealed itself when I considered the references I made in hindsight. Once you have your theme, your book writes itself.
Dante’s Inferno is about guilt. Dante Alighieri emphasizes to no end that the damned are punished by their own conscience. After touring Hell, Dante finally ‘recognizes his own sin’ as any good God-fearing Christian must. He purifies himself through the rest of The Divine Comedy in Purgatory and Heaven.
Likewise, TTGL is all about refining the soul. Sure the characters slam their robots together to punch Space-Satan, but that’s not what it’s really about. The characters begin underground (hell) and stage their final battle in the sky (heaven), by means of a drill (purgatory). To escape the shackles of earth, Simon copes with the limitations of his own humanity by fighting robots who represent the spiral of DNA and allying himself with human reason, the Spiral King Lord Genome, a la Dante’s Virgil. The Spiral King eventually sacrifices his physical form to give Simon a cosmic drill, just as Virgil is barred from the kingdom of Heaven. Their final robot is made totally out of spiral energy, the manifestation of their outrageous determination. Simon is lead to victory against the anti-spirals by his lover Nia, just as Dante is accompanied by Beatrice through God’s Kingdom. Symbolically and almost literally, TTGL is about the same soul-purification as Dante’s Divine Comedy. Only by knowing themselves can the protagonists achieve the ultimate attainment.
JJBA starts with a power called hamon, which Jonathan controls by focusing on his breath. The power visually parallels TTGL‘s spiral energy while tying the series to real-world religious practices (Jonathan learns of hamon from a man who learned it in India, one hot-spot for breathing-oriented spirituality). Jotaro’s arc introduces the stand (punchy-ghost), a hamon-emanation which fights alongside its user. This reminds me of both the final form of the robot Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (a human figure formed by effort) and the supposedly Tibetan practice of making tulpas or thought forms, physical manifestations of one’s essence. Recent arcs of JJBA involve another power called spin, which relates the series to TTGL‘s revolving soul-drill and Dante’s endlessly winding afterlife.
Akayama DanJay has made tribute to each of these literary parents. Dan tours the afterlife seeking Beatrice, guided by Virgil Blue and Faith. The Zephyrs are giant robots powered by spinning engines which can be combined for battle with TTGL-style shouting. And rising from the ashes of past failure, JayJay and Lucille will rout the enemies of the past.
Next week, I play with fire. Keep eating your worms!