Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is a franchise that has spanned 25 years. Earlier this year, the first two story arcs were made into an anime; and two weeks back, the series' newest game was released in Japan. So now is the perfect time to look back at the two Jojo OVAs. Surprisingly, they've aged quite well.
The Jojo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs cover the third arc of the manga and follow the titular Jojo and his companions as they hunt down the immortal vampire Dio. However, this quickly turns into a world-spanning adventure where the group is forced to fight Dio's minions, each of which has a "Stand"—a spirit companion with amazing supernatural powers.
The Stands themselves are highly imaginative. Sometimes a Stand is as simple as a powerful gun or a sword-fighting ghost. Other times, it is a mind-controlling mist or a thorny vine that makes psychic photographs.
As each Stand is different, finding out what each Stand does and what its weaknesses are is the driving conflict of the story. And once that is figured out, there is always the mystery of who exactly the Stand user is and where he or she is hiding. All in all, the Stands make for an entertaining device to drive the plot.
While typically sold as one series in the West, the 13-episode OVA series was actually made up of two OVAs—one made in 1993 and the other in 2000. Despite coming from an age where tight deadlines and a reliance on hand-drawn animation often led to sub-par animation, the visuals in both OVAs hold up quite well. Of course, the 2000 OVA looks better overall, but the final 30-minute battle in the 93' OVA is astounding even now with its speed, detail, and overall quality.
As stated previously, the two Jojo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs were made seven years apart but told a single story. But more than that, it is the 2000 OVA that actually tells the first half of the story while the 1993 OVA tells the second half. Visually, there is a marked drop in quality between the first half ('00) and the second ('93) as well as a slight change in visual style. And while both halves still hold up well to this day, the change between them is quite noticeable.
But there are more than just visual changes between the OVAs: Characterization and the series' tone are far different as well. The 2000 OVA plays the first half of the story with complete seriousness. There are few jokes and little to no slapstick humor. The 1993 OVA, on the other hand, has far more than its share of comedy.
No more clearly can this change into the comedic be seen than in the character of Jean Pierre. Though a bit of a womanizer in the first half, he is strong, honorable, and haunted by the death of his sister. The biggest joke at his expense is being the only one who didn't know that one of his companions faked his death. In the second half, he is the butt of all jokes—especially those that involve a dog farting on his face.
While neither way of telling the story is intrinsically bad, the change in tone, like the change in the visuals, is somewhat jarring.
The biggest problem with the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs comes from the source material: The story structure is painfully predictable. The group travels to a new area, finds something odd, and is attacked in some way by a Stand user—which ends with the group fighting them, beating them by outsmarting them, and then sparing the user's life. Then, if it's in the first quarter of the story, the villain switches sides. If it's later than that, the defeated villain either kills him or herself, or is killed by another enemy.
And while figuring out the mysteries around each Stand user is the highpoint of the show, this pattern is repeated no less than seven times across the 13 episodes.
Like the 2012 anime series, the OVAs suffer from an abundance of expository dialogue. No matter the situation, the characters seem to be compelled to explain every little attack and/or strategy we see. Anime is a visual medium. You don't need to verbally tell us what is going on when you can show us what is happening in a much more exciting and dynamic way than two people standing around talking. While in the manga—with its static frames—such an explanation may be necessary, in the OVAs, it does little more than slow down the action and allow the tension to dissipate.
In the end, I was surprised at how well the two Jojo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs have held up over the years. While clearly having the hand drawn roughness of the 90s, both have great, dynamic fight scenes; and the visual quality rarely drops by any noticeable level (other than when switching from one OVA to the other). Most of the weaker aspects come from the shonen manga nature of the source material or the problems that come from making a prequel OVA seven years after the first. If you are a fan of the manga and have never bothered to see these OVAs, fearing they are "too old," you have done yourself a great disservice. And if you are new to the series and want to know what is so popular about Jojo's Bizarre Adventure but don't feel like starting at the beginning, these OVAs are a great place to start—in reverse order, of course.
The Jojo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs were released in 1993 and 2000, respectively. Both are currently available on DVD as a single collection in North America.
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