It's been a long time coming but "Jojo's Bizarre Adventure" fans can rejoice: the first twelve episodes of the new season have dropped on Netflix. After an appreciable two-and-a-half year gap between this season and Golden Wind, fans can get their fix of dramatic posing, over-the-top violence, and mangaka Hirohiko Araki's strange sense of fashion.
For those unfamiliar with the long-running manga and anime franchise, it follows generations of the Joestar bloodline in their continual battle against supernatural evil. You can find my review of the first part here, detailing the confrontation between family patriarch Jonathan Joestar and the devilish Dio. Though Dio has been defeated by this point in the series (a couple of times in fact), his legacy lives on as a magical arrow gives those who are pierced by it "Stands", manifestations of the soul that have unique abilities based on that person.
In "Stone Ocean" Jolyne Kujo, daughter of series regular Jotaro, has been framed and sentenced to 15 years in Florida's Green Dolphin Street Prison (a play on the Donald Fagan song "Green Flower Street" (the JoJo series is basically nothing but music references)). Before becoming a prisoner she gains a Stand — which is good because the entire prison seems to be populated with Stand users. After her father's soul and Stand are stolen while trying to break her out, Jolyne decides to stay to get Jotaro's soul back and find out how all the prisoners are gaining supernatural abilities.
The Jojo series from "Stardust Crusaders" onward has thrived on the monster-of-the-week style, creating a gauntlet of grunts for our heroes to battle on their way toward the big final confrontation. That means the overarching plot is pretty simplistic and offers enough room for Araki to do whatever he feels like doing. This translates not just to the tone and setting but the Stand powers as well. While Jolyne's Stand is the ability to unwind her body into a super-strong thread, a memorable villain's Stand will steal organs or money from people if they lose a bet.
"Stone Ocean" simplifies the formula even further — rather than a globe-trekking adventure or a "Twin Peaks" style examination of a strange small town, Jolyne is trapped in a high security prison. Meaning less dynamic action set pieces and more battles within cramped corridors and jail cells, all while armed prison guards patrol. It's honestly the most interesting setting the series has ever had for me, and forces Araki to go above-and-beyond to find interesting ways to present the material since he can't just throw the characters on a high speed train or an erupting volcano.
And on top of that, Jolyne is one of the best series leads in a while. One of my biggest problems with the series as a whole is that the Joestars are generally the most boring of the characters and much of the entertainment value of the series is predicated on the sidekicks. Jolyne is the first time the series has had a female lead and as a young, impulsive but ultimately intelligent woman, watching her navigate the politics of the prison and the increasingly wacky battles is entertaining. In any other anime series, the fact Stone Ocean is set in an all-female prison would be means to create as many racy situations as possible. While there is some sexual content here, Araki treats the female characters much as his male characters, making Jolyne on par with any of the series previous leads.
Netflix has been releasing dubs for the series that are surprisingly solid given how animated the original Japanese actors have to be. Overacting and overexplaining are the name of the game here and Kira Buckland does a great job as Jolyne. Other actors do fantastic as well, though I can't help but think the localization adds in a few too many extra expletives to be a little edgier.
It's worth noting as well that Stone Ocean's production value is the best of the series yet. Every episode looks crisp and beautiful, bursting with color and some of the most visceral violence in anime. It's obvious everyone involved loves the material and is giving a thousand percent.
"Stone Ocean" is off-the-rails and all the better for it. While the complicated Stands and continuity with previous events in the series make it a tough place for a newcomer to start, fans will be chomping at the bit to get the next drop of episodes in three months. "Stone Ocean" exemplifies everything I love about JoJo and why I keep coming back: wacky action, strange characters, a style unlike anything else, and an incessant need to one-up itself on just how over-the-top it can get.
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean episodes 1-12 can be seen on Netflix