Wednesday, July 14, 2021

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable - Chapter I

Note: This review contains massive spoilers for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, begun by mangaka Hirohiko Araki in 1987, tells the multi-generational story of the Joestar family and their continuing battle against the forces of evil. The series is split into currently eight Parts, each focusing on a different Joestar, with Part 3 introducing the concept of Stands, which are psychic powers reflecting the personality of the user. Part 4, Diamond is Unbreakable (1992-1995), tells the story of Josuke Higashikata and his misadventures in the fictional town of Morioh, solving mysteries about his hometown along the way.

I will admit that, while I had heard of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and was aware of its limited US import in my high school years, it didn’t really grab my attention until the series received a proper anime adaptation in 2012, and since then it has become one of my favorite anime/manga series in spite of whatever flaws it has. My curiosity was piqued when, at the height of the increased popularity of Diamond is Unbreakable following its anime adaptation, a live-action film based on the series, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable – Chapter I (JP: JoJo no Kimyō na Bōken Daiyamondo wa Kudakenai Dai-Isshō), was announced in 2016 to be directed by prolific director Takashi Miike, though I held off on actually trying to watch the film until it had a proper release stateside. The opportunity finally presented itself when Viz Media brought it over in subtitled form on Blu-ray in 2020, though I did not end up actually watching it until some time later. As someone who has read the official English translation of Diamond is Unbreakable from Viz and watched the anime twice, once in subtitled form on Crunchyroll and once in English dubbed form through a Toonami broadcast, I thought it was a good movie overall, though it could have been improved in places.

The film adapts the first 18 chapters of Diamond is Unbreakable, originally collected in volumes 29-30 of the original JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga, in turn collected as the first hardcover volume of the English translation of Diamond is Unbreakable. These chapters introduce the main protagonist Josuke Higashikata (“Jotaro Kujo Meets Josuke Higashikata”) and cover two additional story arcs, one in which a criminal known as Anjuro “Angelo” Katagiri has a power known as a Stand awakened to him after he is shot by a mysterious bow and arrow (“Josuke Higashikata Meets Angelo”), and another in which the one who gave Angelo his power is fought (“The Nijimura Brothers”). The film is a mostly faithful adaptation of these events, rearranging or recontextualizing some scenes as needed to suit the change in medium, though some other creative liberties that are taken are more successful than others.

Angelo (Takayuki Yamada) gains the power of a Stand and uses it for evil.

As a result of these creative liberties, some extra scenes were added in order to flesh out some characters and make the events flow better as a continuous narrative. For instance, extra scenes were added that build up Angelo (Takayuki Yamada) as a threat, including one where Keicho Nijimura (Masaki Okada) shoots him with the arrow earlier than stated in the manga, leading to extra interactions between them and some clever foreshadowing of Keicho’s own Stand. Another addition to the film is the early introduction of Yukako Yamagishi (Nana Komatsu), establishing her and her infatuation with Koichi Hirose (Ryunosuke Kamiki) more naturally in the context of the film and leading to additional scenes that flesh this out more, even though her subplot ultimately goes nowhere. The film also inserts some clever planting of characters from future arcs in the manga, such as the presence of Rohan Kishibe’s manga Pink Dark Boy and a mention of the restaurant Trattoria Trussardi (Trattoria Trendy in the English version), as well as a subtle nod to the character Reimi Sugimoto.

The extra mile was taken for Pink Dark Boy.

Some creative changes are a little more questionable, though can be excused somewhat in the context of the change in medium. The defeat of Angelo at the hands of Josuke (Kento Yamazaki) is similar to the manga, though given a different execution, one that can be argued as one of the better changes as it ties more into the emotional core of the story. While Koichi’s Stand being awakened is accurate, the introduction of his Stand’s first evolved form comes one arc too early, though I could see why that decision was made. I understood why the movie would choose to divorce itself from the context of Parts 1-3 in order to make itself more beginner-friendly, however this results in the Nijimura brothers’ father’s physical appearance not being properly explained when Keicho explains his motivations.

One change that really stuck out to me came at the end, one which I found to be extremely questionable even in the context of the film. While Diamond is Unbreakable’s main villain Yoshikage Kira needed to be foreshadowed, the movie does so by having (Sheer) Heart Attack, one of his abilities, being the one to attack the group at the end rather than the unrelated Stand (Red Hot) Chili Pepper, which arguably disrupts the flow of the narrative as presented in the manga and makes me wonder how exactly they would have introduced the character Akira Otoishi, (Red Hot) Chili Pepper’s user, into the story if a Chapter II was ever made. A mid-credits scene further foreshadows Kira, however to me that alone might have served as a stronger introduction of the character rather than having him replace another.

While the story works decently as a whole, it doesn’t work too well as a stand-alone story. The Chapter I in the title reinforces the intent for a series of films adapting the Diamond is Unbreakable storyline, however that ultimately leaves the movie as largely setup for those hypothetical sequels due to it focusing squarely on the early chapters of its manga counterpart. That said, I liked how they managed to make the story beginner friendly, helped by the early chapters reintroducing the concept of Stands to the audience and the film doing the same.

As far as the visuals are concerned, the movie absolutely nails the look and feel of the manga. Morioh feels real and lived-in, with some great environmental storytelling in many of the locations. The costume designs are very accurate to the manga with some minor alterations to make them work in live-action, such as Josuke’s jacket being more open and the writing on the jackets of the Nijimura brothers being more subtle, as well as the accessories on the clothing of some characters having fancier, yet still familiar designs. Admittedly though, some things such as the hairstyles of the Nijimura brothers look a little silly in live-action, though they are nonetheless faithful to the original designs.

The visual effects for the Stands, however, were absolutely stunning. The designs themselves are very faithful to the manga and the implementation of their designs and abilities manages to work very well for the live-action medium. The ability of Crazy Diamond (Shining Diamond in the English version) to repair things is displayed with some clever transitions in shots where it doesn’t physically appear and the visual effects of The Hand erasing space and Star Platinum (unnamed in the film) stopping time were executed flawlessly. Special mention goes to the realistic water effects used for Aqua Necklace and the budget-consuming visuals for Bad Company (Worse Company in the English version). That said, while (Sheer) Heart Attack’s design and abilities are rendered accurately and its speed is arguably captured better here than in the anime, one effect looks a little off and its design somehow looks more like a toy when translated to live-action.

The effects for Bad Company (aka Worse Company) stand out.
From left: Keicho Nijimura (Masaki Okada), Josuke Higashikata (Kento Yamazaki)

Since the primary language is Japanese, I’m not sure how well I can judge the abilities of the actors, however I did think that their physical acting was on-point. Each character has their own body language and the actors did a great job in capturing their respective characters’ personalities, with some stand-outs being Kento Yamazaki as Josuke Higashikata, Ryunosuke Kamiki as Koichi Hirose and Masaki Okada as Keicho Nijimura. There’s one scene where the character Jotaro Kujo (Yusuke Isaya) speaks English, which makes sense in the context of who he’s speaking to, and I found his English in that exchange to be perfect. Kouji Endo’s music does a great job in capturing the spirit of the source material, with the music in the title sequence having a lot of energy that holds up with the music from the anime.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable – Chapter I is an enjoyable, if flawed, attempt to bring JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure into live-action. While it does attempt to make the story more accessible to newcomers, the chances of a Chapter II being made have become unlikely, making it unfortunately more difficult to recommend to those who don’t already know what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is and are curious to see how well it translates to live-action.

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