FEATURE: Aniwords – Brando, Now We Got Bad Blood: Family Heritage in Early JoJo's Bizzare Adventure
I wish I could say there had been mad love, too...
SPOILER WARNING for the first two episode of JoJo's Bizzare Adventure!!
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has mostly been sold to me as an over-the-top, ridiculously flamboyant, animal-hating show, but one of the quieter themes that's run through discussions I've seen of the show has been that of generationality and family. From a distance as a non-JoJo watcher, I mostly attributed this talk of fathers and grandfathers and sons to the work of coincidence, but having watched the first two episodes of the first season recently, I see that these ideas of heritage and blood bonds run deeper than I had thought.
In the first episode of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Dio Brando arrives at the Joestar mansion following the death of his alcholic, abusive father. On the surface, it seems Dio has already overcome his poor upbringing, having left behind his father after spitting on his grave. Although Dio's goal – "become the richest man in the world" – is hardly noble, it's an understandable one for a boy who grew up in poverty, and from his graceful exit from the carriage it seems he's well-equipped to rise above his initial circumstances. However, it doesn't take long (about a minute, to be precise) for the illusion to shatter when Dio knees JoJo's dog in the face. Dio proceeds from here to ruin almost every aspect of JoJo's life through a combination of cunning, physical strength, and sheer malice – and his addiction to causing JoJo misery echoes the behavior of his blood father.
Meanwhile, the quieter, nicer JoJo endures the scorn and ill-treatment of his adoptive brother. Introduced initially as wanting to become a "true gentleman," JoJo's persona grows naturally out of his well-to-do upbringing. Just as the conditions of his youth drive Dio to strive for wealth and control, so do JoJo's create a situation wherein pursuing the path of the gentleman seems a logical extension of his bloodline. And this is the initial setting for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure – not one of irrational antagonism, but one which taps into the birthright of its main duo and lets the story unfold from there.
In a sense, I feel this is a bit unfair to Dio, and throughout most of the first episode I actually found myself rooting for him a little bit. Sure, he was unecessarily cruel to the much gentler JoJo, but his inferiority complex as signified by his arrogant behavior and need to put other beneath himself ("I wouldn't use my name lightly if I were you!" is a perfect example of this) is so transparent that a slight undercurrent of tragedy makes his character somewhat less abhorent – at least until he stoops to a new low by burning JoJo's dog alive. But, even then, this new atrocity is born out of Dio's renewed need to make himself equal to JoJo. Because, remember, despite his sometime advantages, Dio has ultimately been countered by JoJo at every turn. Take away JoJo's friends, and he finds a lover. Take away JoJo's lover, and he beats Dio in a fist fight. It's almost as if Dio is destined to lose to JoJo, destined to be always the poor man to JoJo's riches.
The climax of these conflicting heritages appears near the middle of episode 2, when JoJo demands that Dio swear upon the honor of Dio's dead father that he has not been poisoning the elder Joestar. As JoJo strives to guard his father against Dio's machinations, Dio (against his will) finds himself required to align himself with the father he hates, put himself in debt to the man who made his childhood miserable, if he wants to continue to distance himself from those same origins. And, of course, this is something Dio cannot do. Having striven all this time to put his "pig" of a father behind him, he cannot allow himself to swear to his blood father's honor – and so he is left only with the option of attacking JoJo. Meanwhile, JoJo can easily align himself with his father. After all, his well-bred father serves as an image of what JoJo wants to become: a true gentleman. JoJo's path, while not easy, is one he can travel with pride.
As a sidebar, all of this does a fantastic job of making Dio an excellent villain. Make Dio the protagonist instead of JoJo? You basically have a tragedy of a man unable to rise above the inheritance of his blood. But, in the context of what we actually have in JoJo's, Dio becomes a somewhat sympathetic, albeit behaviorlly horrifying, antagonist to JoJo's preternatural nobility. It's like the shounen ideal – the underdog who battles against the bias of his own existence's nature – but twisted around so that the underdog can never truly overcome the walls before him. And while none of this justifies Dio's villanous deeds, it certainly balances the scale a bit. As I said, early on in episode one I was cheering as Dio consistently one-upped JoJo. The guy's certainly a jerk, but there's something about the fragility of his ego that makes me want to see him succeed.
By the end of episode two, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has truly laid out the future paths of JoJo and Dio as representative of their respective family heritages. While JoJo wins over a band of thugs in the alleyway with his gentlemanly persona (in the midst of a quest to save his father, no less! family ties continue to motivate!), Dio finds himself uncontrollably drinking in a way that reminds him of his own father. In the end, both JoJo and Dio are products of their their fathers and their families – and so they inherit in parallel their opposition to each other. Where JoJo finds strength in his familial origins, Dio is constantly dragged down by it. Such is the power, and the weight, of family ties (and also socio-economic class inequality, but that's a post for another day).
All is is really just to say that I enjoyed the first two episodes of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure way more than I expected to. And also that Dio is better than JoJo. Maybe.
I know there are a lot of JoJo fans out there, so don't spoil things for those of us who haven't seen it yet! But, with that in mind, chime in down in the comments with your thoughts on the JoJo-Dio rivalry. What, for you, makes up the essence of their conflict? Also, who's best boy? Dio or JoJo?
Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also contributes to the Fandom Post and sometimes hangs out on Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.