It’s a little hard to believe, but with the conclusion of Battle in Egypt, its second season, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders is now finished, bringing to a close the Joestar vacation party’s desperate quest to defeat godlike vampire Dio Brando and his psychically powered minions. If you have no idea what I’m talking about though, this is not the place to start. Battle in Egypt makes no attempt to recap the story and will assume full knowledge of Stardust Crusaders‘s first season (review here), so I feel there’s little point in me trying to explain the set up of the story, who the characters are, or, most of all, what a stand is. Please don’t make me do that again…
For those of us who know how many breads we have eaten in our lives, the story picks up exactly where it left off, with our brightly coloured heroes having somehow made it past all of Dio’s tarot-themed assassins to arrive on the shores of Egypt. Yet things are not about to get any easier, as group of Dio’s most powerful allies (dubbed the ‘9 Egyptian gods’) still stand between them and Dio’s lair in central Cairo. Help of a sort may be at hand, as the reinforcements appear in the form of Iggy, a stand-using dog, but with his antisocial personality and general indifference to our heroes’ plight, their work may still be cut out for them.
Given the way in which it develops, it’s difficult to know exactly how to rate this second half of Stardust Crusaders. The main goal throughout the first season was to reach Egypt and, with that seemingly met, I think many viewers (including myself) were expecting iconic villain Dio Brando to be lurking just around the next corner, rather than hiding at the end of another 24 episode run. With the tarot-card stands out of the way, the decision to suddenly add in a new group of hitherto unmentioned enemies also feels like a cheap move intended to prolong the original manga’s massively popular run, rather than anything demanded by the story.
In fairness, the globetrotting narrative of the series does suggest that it was always the journey, rather than the eventual outcome, that was the important part, but expectations were further confounded by this season’s lengthy departure into broad comedy. Jojo has always been a bit tongue in cheek, but roughly the entire first half of this segment is played far more for laughs than what came before it.
Not to say the series can’t do comedy – it can, and for the most part, it’s quite successful. Unfortunately, it just goes on for a little longer than necessary, becoming ever more puerile as it does so and adding little to the story. Nevertheless, the enemy stands seen prior to this have been largely focused on direct combat, and this lighter-toned detour allows Araki to explore some more offbeat ideas for their super powers. They don’t quite reach the inspired madness of later Jojo’s installments, but there are some memorably entertaining encounters – my own favourite being the Oingo Boingo brothers, whose plan to take out Jotaro using a comic book that predicts the immediate future, backfires in the best possible way.
When the story does eventually revert to its (marginally) more serious tone, it does so to great effect. The final two fights, against the brilliantly named Vanilla Ice and then Dio himself, are amongst the best material this Jojo’s tv run has ever produced, but it’s hard not to feel that it took an awfully long time long time to get there. Personally, I also couldn’t escape the thought that Dio was woefully underused as a character. While his elevation to virtual godhood has no doubt overpowered him, his presence lights up the screen whenever he appears, his puckish sense of humour mixed with an air of genuine threat that the narrative frequently lacks in this season.
Art and animation are much the same as before, although cracks do begin to appear towards the end that I hadn’t noticed before, presumably due to the show’s budget running low. Generally though, the issues facing Battle in Egypt, are much the same as the previous season, most of all that this 1:1 scale adaption of the manga creates pacing issues which may deter anyone not wild about going through an unabridged fighting series from 30 years ago. It’s even tempting to suggest that cutting the series down into 36 episodes rather than 48 might have made all the difference, although how this would have gone down with the core fanbase is hard to say.
At no point have I regretted sticking with Stardust Crusaders all the way through, but it will require patience that those weaned on more modern action anime may not be willing to invest. Taken in context, it also feels like the point where the franchise was in transition, with Jojo’s moving away from the more traditional adventure story formula seen in the first two parts, but not quite realising the assured eccentricity of later follow-up, Diamond is Unbreakable.