Welcome back! Last week we began our discussion of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s first half of part three, the ‘road trip’ arc. In it we discussed the good, taking a look at some truly amazing fights. This was done to show you just how much can be done with the unique and fun power system Araki created in stands, even early on. Most abilities in part three are a lot simpler in design and power as Araki was just getting into the swing of things, and as the parts when on the abilities got even more diverse and interesting. However sometimes the stands can be underwhelming, and not even the compelling nature of them can always make up for that. And while stands are likely my favorite power system, it is also not a flawless one. Sometimes the stranger nature of stands and their abilities actually leads to enemy abilities that are needlessly complex, convoluted or stupid. Many times finding or deducing who and where the enemy is can also play a component in stand battles, but sometimes that leads to some pretty strange (in a bad way) scenarios.
There are two fights to me that really stand out as an example of where the zaniness of the power system can detract from some fights and lead to battles where you just shake your head and think “that’s it?”. First up, we’re going to discuss Polnareff vs Devo the Cursed/Ebony Devil. The setup for this fight certainly has potential, the gang is stopped at a hotel and Polnareff (of course) ends up in with the short end of the stick and gets a room by himself. As he enters his room he sees the beer that should have been in his fridge was on the counter, and he realizes someone is hiding inside the fridge. It’s an attack from an enemy stand, ambushing him by himself in his room! What a tense set up!
All of this was a ploy by the enemy stand user to bait Polnareff into attacking him because he has an extremely strange stand. It requires it user to be physically harmed by their target so that their strong feelings of hatred and resentment for them can boil over into a powerful curse! Surely this stands curse is something frightening, especially one that requires that has such a steep activation cost as to get harmed by your victim in order to foster a grudge! I mean what are the odds an enemy with a powerful stand would be able to harm you and then you could escape their grasp? So what’s the payoff for this absurdly difficult to pull off set up? What’s this curse? It’s…it’s…IT’S… a shitty Chuckie doll. I’m not even kidding. A Chuckie doll that almost every single stand in the part would one shot. A doll with no special resiliency or increased strength, and harming the doll hurts the user as well.
This is what I was getting at with the convoluted and ridiculous nature of stands getting ahead of itself to the point of making things lame. Why did the stand need such a janky activation to build our expectations only to have it be a doll? So you have a terrible stand with a ton of set up that isn’t even potent when you pull it off, and as one would expect the battle between it and Polnareff just plain sucks. The stand just Kevin McCalisters’ its way into some makeshift traps with random household items before Polnareff gets out of its trap and one shots it. Polnareff also has several moments where he has to act stupid for the fight to last long enough to make it seem like there was a chance of him losing. He chooses to flail wildly for a couple minutes instead of freeing himself from the bindings, and then after he undoes his bindings he doesn’t crawl out from under the bed for a solid twenty seconds, meanwhile he has full vision of the enemy doll in this time and for ten of those seconds the doll sits down and does nothing.
Now I think a doll stand had potential to be interesting, however there isn’t much done here to make it work. If he fought alongside his weak stand or was there to mislead them, if the doll had some special abilities other than just… being a doll. Maybe even make the doll immune to environmental effects like fire and electricity that it would use to turn the arena into its ally. But nope, it’s just a weak doll that gets one shot after poking Polnareff a bit. The only thing going for this fight is that it let us see Polnareff be crafty (even if it required him to be moronic for several minutes first). Up to this point he’s kind of just been the idiot with a heart of gold of the group whose intelligence is sometimes mocked, so at least he got to show he can be clever when the need arises.
The other fight we’re talking about in ‘The Bad’ category is.. drum roll please! The… Empress fight. It stings especially badly because this fight is the one that follows up the amazing Emperor/Hanged Man fight we discussed earlier. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows for the road trip arc. Once again, we see a really strange stand that has an interesting concept, but it’s just so horrible, weak and boring that you can’t wait for the fight to be over so we can move on to something good. Her stand lets her create a strange growth on a person if she can get a bit of her blood on them that overtime will grow into a ‘dangerous’ living parasite that attempts to kill its host. One its planted, it will continuously eat things from its environment like flies and chickens in order to grow in size until it’s eventually fully formed. Yet again it has a pretty specific and difficult setup to activate. You have to inconspicuously get your blood on the victim in order to activate it, which requires you to be injured and for them to not suspect you as an enemy, then you have to get that blood onto your target. Not an easy setup either, so surely the payoff must be that the stand itself is extremely powerful or effective to reward the setup required right?
Nope. The growth has arms and can talk but is otherwise no threat to its user traditionally. The only reason this fight happens at all is because Joseph gets isolated from the gang and has to deal with this stand on his own, if any other members of the gang were around they would instantly one shot it with their much more physically powerful stands. And of course, damage to this stand ALSO damages the user… because why wouldn’t it at this point? To give it some credit, the stand does admittedly do some interesting things like kill the doctor that’s checking Joseph out and frame him for his murder so that Joseph has to evade the police and gets isolated.
However that’s where the praise stops, partially because that’s a third of the fight already done at that point. The next third is spent with Joseph running around aimlessly whilst the stand eats food he passes by, and then the last third is him devising his plan to defeat it… which requires a bunch of running to find a barrel with tar he located using his stand. You see the stand itself has to grow to its absolute peak form after eating tons of ‘food’, and even at its absolute strongest it couldn’t hurt Joseph on its own. It tries punching him and he just blocks it. It only becomes capable of harming Joseph once it gets its hands on a nail and attempts to stab it into his neck after he lost sight of it when he dipped it into the tar. However Joseph simply uses his other hand to hold it back as the tar solidifies so that the Empress can’t move anymore, then he immediately destroys it (which also kills the stand user).
The Empress fight has one thing going for it, but also in many ways it brings this fight down. This is the only solo fight Joseph has. It’s great that he gets a fight on his own to show off his wittiness and intelligence, but it’s also shitty because this is his only solo fight and it’s one of the worst fights in all of Jojo’s. Empress as a stand is horrifically weak, only posing a danger to Joseph because his stand has minimal striking power. Every other stand in the part would just immediately kill this stand before it gets even remotely dangerous. That said, this fight isn’t my worst because it does highlight how intelligent and clever Joseph is, and more Joseph content is never a bad thing. Also the Jojo’s ‘Engrish’ that Joseph screams is always hilarious to me, and this fight gives us some more of it.
Last up, we have… the baby. This one is truly a mixed bag of amazing and terrible things, and it’s the perfect fight to discuss that really combines lots of the talking points of the ‘Good and the Bad’ that I’ve already discussed. The stand is really cool with a potent and terrifying ability. When the user is nearby people that fall asleep get pulled into a nightmare world that reflects any damage they take in the dream onto them in reality. The stand user also has free reign over this dream world and can conjure up nightmares to torment them with, and when it is done it can kill them in the dream to kill them in reality.
The stand aesthetically speaking is awesome looking and uses a scythe as a weapon, which I always find to be a badass and intimidating weapon. The stand also does a good job to differentiate itself from the ability it was clearly inspired by of Freddy Kruger and Nightmare on Elm Street. Where Nightmare on Elm Street has a more dark and foreboding version of reality, the Nightmare world created by the stand Death 13 is a bright and vibrant amusement park that does a great job contrasting the horrifying nature of the stand and the things it does.
It also makes sense too that the dream world here would be a children’s amusement park because the enemy stand user is a child… or at least I wish it was. You see, that’s the massive, gargantuan problem with this fight. The stand user is a one year old baby that’s also a super genius capable of using complex and difficult words in full sentences, has pseudo vampire fangs, and is capable of killing a desert scorpion with its bare hands (and its diaper pin). It’s also the only other being to be found for miles within the group and no one suspects anything, even though they’ve encountered strange stand users before (an Orangutan the previously fought was a stand user). Even in a show like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, this completely shatters my immersion and takes me out of the fight and the show. It’s just too ridiculously stupid for me. Not only is it a one year old, but it’s a baby from a poor community in an underdeveloped country of the world that wouldn’t have access to an amazing education even if it was an adult, yet it somehow is a super genius with a sophisticated vernacular.
The reason the stand user is a baby is to keep the mystery/suspense up whilst following the currently established rules of stand users without the SCs catching on right away, since a stand user has to be nearby to affect them. It’s a different case of the rules of stands being a the detriment to the show. If the baby wasn’t a genius and was instinctively activating its stand and killing people without even realizing it that would be one thing and I wouldn’t have any problems with this fight, but this baby is evil, sadistic, condescending, malicious and entirely aware of what it’s doing.
The fight itself, when you try and ignore the glaring baby issue, is pretty cool and well done. At the start some of the SC suffer from nightmares but are luckily awoken before things get lethal, however they find that when they wake up they have no memory of what happened in their dream. They simply experience a vague sense that they had an awful nightmare. That already makes this stand extremely difficult to combat, for how can you beat a stand if you don’t even realize you’re being attacked in the first place? On top of that, they were unable to use their stands in the dream world, so they can’t fight back against Death 13 at all once they fall asleep and are completely at its mercy. We also get some gruesome and unique ways of Death 13 terrifying/torturing its victims in the dream like making Kakyoin swallow eyeballs repeatedly and turning a dogs corpse into a speaker.
The mystery/puzzle of the fight is also extremely interesting if you ignore the fact that the only reason any of it is happening is because of the baby shenanigans. Kakyoin manages to leave himself a message by carving the words ‘Baby Stand’ into his arm using a knife he had in his pocket in reality that was carried over whilst in the nightmare sequence, giving him a clue and putting him on high alert around the baby when they’re camping out. Even with that clue he still wasn’t fully convinced, after all it’s just a baby. It isn’t until he spots the impossible to explain away event of the baby killing a scorpion that he knows for certain that the baby is the enemy.
Unfortunately he isn’t able to convince the others that the baby is the enemy. The more he tries to convince them, the more the gang think he has completely lost it until eventually he shows him the words carved into his arm which only further exasperates the issue. Kakyoin then attempts to attack the baby with his stand, causing Polnareff to knock him out before the rest of the group goes to sleep. In the dream sequence the other SCs wake up to find they are all sharing the nightmare and they realize how doomed they are. There’s also the great fakeout where we think Jotaro figured things out when he’s able to summon his stand in the dream world, but that was just Death 13 fucking with him and making fun of Star Platinum and it’s ‘Ora Oras’ it does.
Death 13 goes on to mock them, explaining that you have to have your stand summoned when you lose consciousness to be able to bring it into the dream. Normally that wouldn’t really be possible since concentrating on your stand would keep you from sleeping, and eventually you’d be too exhausted to keep it out and would pass out. Fortunately Kakyoin summoned his stand and was immediately knocked out, allowing him to bring his stand into the dream. He gets the upper hand on the baby and tells it to erase the words carved in his hand in reality, which he’s able to do.
The gang then wakes up and we get the ‘just deserts’ scene which is quite a fitting (and humorous) punishment for the enemy. Since he summoned his stand in the dream he remembers everything that happened. Kakyoin confronts the baby and tells it that he knows what he is but that he isn’t going to hurt him. Instead he mixes the baby food with the babies freshly made poop, and Joseph being the caring fatherly type goes to feed it. The baby won’t eat, leading to Polnareff coming over and tickling him so that they he laughs and opens his mouth.
Outside of the fight (which is pretty cool) and the baby issue, there are a few other things that hurt this fight for me and further make it this weird mixture of a great and terrible. What was the baby gonna do if it succeeded? It was stranded in the middle of nowhere in the desert. If it kills the SCs all at once (which is what it was attempting to do in the dream world before it was defeated), it would be stuck with nowhere to go and die. Even as a genius, it’s still only a baby that moves at a crawling speed, there’s no way it crosses a desert like that. After the fight they dropped the baby off at a hospital and went on their way, but the fact that the clearly psychopathic baby is left to roam free after this and likely kill thousands of people with no way of tracing it back to him and no one to stand in its way is also pretty insane. We saw it wasn’t just after the SC because it killed a dog (which Kakyoin and Polnareff see dead in the real world). I get that killing or harming a baby isn’t something they can really show the SC doing, but again that’s just another reason it shouldn’t have been a baby. It’s never addressed going forward but between the parts there are time skips, so in part four the ‘baby’ would now be 11 years old, and by part six they’d be 23 years old. That’s a lot of time to keep being an evil bastard.
So all that said, I hope these articles helped you see the good and the bad of the stand battle system. The baby battle was really the perfect candidate for me to discuss both good and bad at once. It’s worth noting that this was the infancy (pun intended) of Araki figuring out what to do with this amazing power system, and going forward there are fewer and fewer ‘bad’ fights and more and more ‘good’ as the series continues. However I always think it’s good to look at the good and bad when analyzing things like this, especially if we wish to learn from it and use it to improve our own writing. All that said, thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed, and until next time stay healthy!