Sunday, August 30, 2015

Anime review: Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders - Battle in Egypt

Picking up directly where the mid-season break left off, the Egypt arc of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure sees Jotaro Kujo and the rest of the Stardust Crusaders facing down the last remaining loyal followers of Dio. Most notable among these foes are the Nine Egyptian Gods, foes whose Stands prove among the most intimidating and powerful the heroes have encountered yet. And at the end of the journey, in mansion deep within the heart of Cairo, awaits the main villain himself, Dio Brando. Yet, the Stardust Crusaders have a few cards up their sleeve, revealing clever and previously unseen applications of their Stands, a few assists from the Speedwagon Foundation, and a new ally in the form of the temperamental and selfish Iggy, a scrappy dog who wields the Stand known as The Fool.

This second half of the Stardust Crusaders anime feels more tightly-wound, its narrative more focused. From the moment the heroes set foot in the Egyptian desert, there is a sense of urgency about their journey that was no so prevalent in the first season. The stakes are also higher, with these new villains challenging Jotaro and company in battles of wits or other indirect means, while those that do fight them outright play host to some of the series’ stranger but more memorable Stands.

The voice work is superb, all around. While the core has the obvious task of carrying the show from one episode to the next, the villains who appear for only two episodes at a time leave a lasting, often humorous impression. As is only appropriate, Dio’s presence commands as much attention as they show can offer Stardust Crusaders chief villain. The final confrontation between Jotaro and Dio is among the most intense and rewarding endgame battles in any anime of this episode count I’ve come across.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Dio’s loyal henchmen and women receive ample screen time as well. Some of the fights feel perhaps a bit more drawn out than necessary, but by and large, it is to the series’ benefit, as practically zero of the finer details are left out from the manga version, and the battles are not resolved in too quick a time frame that would negate the drama and intensity. Each member of the main cast undergoes significant maturation since the outset of their journey, and it’s wonderful to see just how naturally this is conveyed. Later episodes play at viewer’s emotions with masterful technique, as there are callbacks to the earliest moments of the Stardust Crusaders’ quest, as well as a severe gravity of present events as they unfold.

The animation budget seems to have received a considerable boost since the first half aired, which in and of itself gradually improved in quality from the airing of its first episode to its twenty-fourth. While most characters stick to a particular color palette for their clothing, scenes where the Stand fights become especially intense warp to more psychedelic colors, a nice nod to manga author Hirohiko Araki’s tendency to present variations on the previously-established appearances of characters. The soundtrack is catchy, moody, and always appropriate, with rock influences playing in subtly as Stands clash and the Stardust Crusaders scour Egyptian streets for any clues that might lead them to Dio.

Stardust Crusaders does offer a definitive conclusion to its own arc, and does provide a satisfying endgame for the three story arcs thus far. However, there is still plenty of money to be made by David Production should they choose to animate Diamond is Unbreakable and other later arcs of the manga, and I have no doubt they would do a similarly stellar job adapting the stories of Josuke Higashikata, Giorno Giovanna, Jolyne Kujo, and so on. It has been many years since an anime left as strong an impact on me as Stardust Crusaders has managed, but I believe it is safe to say that David Production has made one of the greatest adapted anime series of all time. In so far as I am concerned, Stardust Crusaders has earned its place among the company of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and Unicorn Gundam as one of the most impressive works of its medium.

My rating: 9.75 (out of 10)

My rating for the Stardust Crusaders series as a whole: 10 (out of 10)

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