There are very few franchises that have had the run JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has. With essentially eight distinct plotlines with eight entirely unique heroes with different personalities, motivations, and backstories, it’s been fascinating to watch how the franchise evolves. The beginning of a new part and the introduction of a new Jojo is as much of an event as if author Hirohiko Araki started up a new manga.
With each new protagonist comes a new feel, tone, and set of morals, so let’s take a look at how the heroism of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has evolved over the course of the series. For the sake of not spoiling potential future arcs for anime fans, we’re going to stick to the first 5 parts of the franchise. Let’s go!
The original hero of our tale, Jonathan is about as close to an archetypal Shounen protagonist as you can get. He’s kind, overly trusting to a fault, and will do anything to protect his friends and family. Because of this, Jonathan doesn’t have much of a character arc in Phantom Blood. There’s a simplicity to him that runs counter to that of Dio, who’s very specifically shaped by his circumstances. He never has to learn a lesson about what it is that he stands for: he always just is. That purity is what we admire about him, and what pulls others to his cause.
Unlike his grandfather, Joseph has to actually work towards becoming a hero. It’s not that he’s a bad kid; quite the opposite. He’s always there standing up for kids getting picked on by the police or more than willing to try and make friends with recently born pillar men who may just be confused. The difference is that Joseph’s got a much more cowardly personality than Jonathan, always trying his best to run away or figure a loophole to escape a dangerous situation rather than committing to be the hero. He has to grow into the role, and unfortunately that only happens when his best friend, Caesar Zeppeli, dies tragically to have Joseph’s fight against Wham for him. Heroism is not something that is inherent to Joseph, but learned.
Even though on paper Jotaro’s background doesn’t sound too much different from grandpa Joseph, in terms of character growth and presentation, the two are worlds apart. Jotaro, in terms of development, is closer to that of Jonathan in that he never has to grow into being a hero. This is in extreme contrast to Joseph, who even though he was a ne’er do well with a heart of gold, still had to learn to do the right thing in the end. In fact, Jotaro’s extreme rudeness actively makes him off-putting to the audience. We’re introduced to him locked up in prison and loudly demeaning his own mother in public. Yet when his mother’s life is threatened, he makes no hesitation to fly out to Egypt with grandpa Joseph to save his mother from a vampire with a grudge against his great-great grandfather. This extreme contrast in regards to his attitude and demeanor vs his actions force us as an audience to reconsider what we should be thinking about the people who have been deemed as outcasts from society.
Okay, so, even though all of our Jojos have had varying backgrounds, personalities, and attitudes, one aspect that’s consistent through their plot threads is that they’re all men who ultimately take action. Even Joseph, the most cowardly of the three, willingly threw himself into dangerous situations to do the right thing before finding a way out of it when he found himself over his head. Josuke, on the other hand, is introduced to us getting mocked and teased by some local punks. It’s not until they start poking fun at his hairdo that Josuke takes any sort of initiative. Even if he can defend himself, he’s not really the kind of kid who wants to find himself in a scrap. He’d much rather live with his family in peace. Much like his father, Josuke has to learn after his grandfather dies that he has to be more active to protect what he cares about.
However, what really differs about Josuke from prior JoJos is his much trimmer design. Jonathan, Joseph, and Jotaro were all designed with that 80’s idealization the Schwartzeneger physique. To try and maintain consistency with the art direction of past parts, Josuke starts out with a similar style before Araki shifted his designed into the slimmer design that we know today. We have to imagine it was jarring at the time, but ultimately it was the right choice for the character. Unlike past parts, Josuke is not a hero someone wants to see themselves as, but one they can relate to. The slimmer look emphasizes his gentleness and kindness as his heroic traits over his toughness.
Giorno is a walking contradiction. Personality-wise, he’s the closest to Jonathan with his gentlemanly disposition and refusal to sacrifice his ideals. Yet, his father is none other than Dio Brando, the eternal enemy of the Joestar clan. In fact, Giorno’s goal is essentially the same as his father: stealing the fortune and organization of the very person who took him in off the streets and gave him a second chance at life. The plan’s not too different either: putting on a good face to hide his intentions while secretly biding his time. He’ll even kill if he deems someone a great enough threat to his cause or he hates them enough. Just ask Polpo.
The difference is in motivation. Dio was purely operating in service to himself and stealing from a decent family that thought of him as one of their own. Giorno, on the other hand, is infiltrating a criminal organization so he can take them over and turn them into a force for… well maybe not “good”, but at least keep them from selling drugs to kids. Here, JoJo completely turns what we think as heroism on its head by showing how it’s not necessarily one’s methods that make one a bad person, but motivation.
Rather than just stick with different variations of Jonathan for the rest of the series, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure reinvents itself with every new story to challenge our perception of it. This way, we don’t get caught up on one single definition of morality. Different situations call for different kinds of heroes.