Let me just start by saying that I didn’t expect any progressive ideas at all from an anime based on a manga from the 1980s with a protagonist who looks like this:
While Battle Tendency, the second arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, definitely has intense problems with the normal sexist anime tropes1, some racial stereotypes2, and some not-so-normal praising of Nazi Germany3, there is also a surprising amount to commend Battle Tendency for.
Given that it presents itself as an extremely hypermasculine bout of good versus evil, with unnaturally and somewhat appallingly muscular men fighting each other with super natural abilities in the very definition of a male power fantasy, the second arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure does not shy away from allowing the main protagonist, Joseph Joestar, to express intense emotion, cry onscreen, and eventually have a friendship that is not entirely about competition. He is demonstrated to have complex thought processes and feelings, which is somewhat rare for an anime of this type.
Throughout the Battle Tendency arc, the friendship between Caesar and JoJo evolves from just a standard anime rivalry into one where the two young men genuinely respect each other and begin to understand the thought process of the other, which even led to a teamwork save of JoJo’s life. They do have the trope of rivals to friends at first, which involves a bubble Hamaon fight at a water fountain in Italy, but eventually its shown that Caesar and JoJo begin to respect each other after a life threatening oil climb up a tower using only their Hamaon. It’s shown throughout Battle Tendency that Caesar extensively cares for his friends, and he is willing to risk his life to protect those he cares about.
It made the two characters feel more like real people, and it made the death of Caesar hit even harder. While I’m somewhat used to media using women’s deaths to create man pain, it’s a lot more rare to fuel a man’s revenge based on the death of another man, especially one that is not related to him in any way. Man pain drives a lot of the last part of Battle Tendency, and surprisingly, two things occur after the death of JoJo’s really good friend that is refreshing.
- Joseph is allowed to cry. He ugly cries as he mourns, and it’s wonderful. He is allowed to express his emotions, which is wonderful considering there is still a damaging stigma against men and boys crying or showing strong emotional responses. It’s refreshing to see a character as strong and steeped in masculinity as JoJo embrace his emotions.
- Lisa Lisa, who has continuously been extremely stoic, unemotional, and the extreme trope of “strong female character,”4, is also allowed to break down at the death of Caesar. She too falls to the ground and cries, and it doesn’t make her appear any weaker in the eyes of the viewer. When emotions such as grief and the action of crying is criticized as a bad thing, this entire scene blows that myth out of the water. 5
These things are great to me! For one, Battle Tendency has moments of fighting toxic masculinity, which I was not at all expecting from a show like this. Given that the first arc with Jonathan and Dio utilized Erina’s sexual assault as a source of man pain and rage, I was certainly not expecting such a turn around in the second arc of the series. While Joseph certainly has problems, he was a protagonist I didn’t really have many moral issues supporting.6
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is not by any means a perfect anime. It has a lot of flaws, and it does fall into some gross tropes. That said, I am quite impressed that a show of this type did break down some gender stereotypes, and it allowed an otherwise walking male power fantasy to express himself and show “weakness.”