Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Allure of Jojo and Different Masculinities


New academic year and a new job. Well, same job, better pay, different route.

The funny thing is that due to the current internet situation without a smartphone or portable wifi modem, I am essentially stranded in a an internet free zone. The world of my everyday has been blocked, filtered and sanitised into something which is , quite frankly, quaint and very retro. It is not exactly 56K days again but due to imposed limits on access, it sure feels like it.

The upside is that it means less distraction and more time for concentrating on things that matter - such as my current study. Unfortunately it also means the premature end of a project I had hoped to sink my teeth into: contributing to a definitive, high quality (unofficial, fan) translation of Part 6 of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.


For those unfamiliar with this title, let me explain. Jojo's is a Japanese manga, Part 1 of which was originally published in the late 1980s. At present, Jojo's is in its eighth part. However, the only part of the story that has received an official translation and publication in English is the now out of print Part 3: Stardust Crusaders by Viz in the US. Why is this the case? Apparently, author Hirohiko Araki (first name, family name) although approached by publishers in the past, has refused to compromise or change certain aspects of his manga which currently prevent its release in the West.

While this might sound potentially scandalous, it is not. Its relevance here, however, requires some exposition.

Jojo's is originally the story of two young Englishmen thrown together as a result of tragic circumstances. Over the years they become fierce rivals and eventually enemies. Over time they learn to utilise "ripple" energy, a kind of force not unlike that found in kung fu legend which allows users to perform feats normally humanly impossible. From Stardust Crusaders, Araki abandons the "ripple" concept and replaces it with "stands". A stand is an external manifestation of a person's psyche and can take human as well as other forms. In fact, the conceptual looseness around what constitutes a stand is one of the key elements that makes Jojo's plots so exciting and unpredictable.


Where as characters in the first to parts were named after Western music artists (Cars, ACDC, Wham) in the third part stands, their owners and frequently their "powers" as well are also named according to this convention (from Terence Trent D'arby to Purple Haze, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Boyz2Men).

The use of such names is antagonistic to US copyright law which forbids other parties profiting from the names of existing artists. What's interesting to me though is that there has been no prosecution of this issue even though it has been occurring for over thirty years. Is this just a demonstration of the inability of US law to police copyright outside of its sovereign borders? Or is it the result of linguistic ignorance? Given the state of knowledge availability in the world today, I would say it is the former.


Why does this matter? It does to the extent that it explains despite its ongoing popularity why Jojo's remains largely unknown outside of Japan.

While this might appear cut and dry, closer inspection reveals a number of interesting issues. First, is linguistic - if we are to transcribe the names of certain characters into English as they are then AC/DC becomes Eishidishi, Wham is Wamu and Cars is Kaazu. Clearly while phonetically similar in appearance, as written words they appear significantly different to the brand/band names they are supposed to signify.


Second, it appears that the use of these names often only ever bears a superficial resemblance to the original. Stardust Crusaders' Boyz2Men is a disturbing monsterlike creature who grants twisted versions of its enemies' wishes. Purple Haze from Diamonds are Unbreakable is a golden spitfire shot from a guitar of a golden haired guitar god. It seems then that Araki is more interested in the evocative power of names and he frequently uses them in ways which are so oblique as to suggest that any connection to the original is either entirely random or else otherwise known only to the author himself.

Third and critically are the intertwined issues of masculinity and sexuality. While not particularly overt or explicit, the style of the artwork is frequently, implicitly homo-erotic in ways that would likely disturb or otherwise unsettle a casual Western reader unfamiliar with Araki's work.

In Jojo, bodies contort, attack, defend, are destroyed and healed in quite graphic fashion, however, regardless of what is done to them, faces and bodies remain beautiful. Readers familiar with Western style comic bodies are likely accustomed to depictions of strength, rigidity and implied (yet almost always neutered) potency. Jaws are square, brows prominent, eyes angry. Costumes, even when skin tight and revealing are frequently adorned with technology, weaponry and implied strength.


Yet in Jojo, particularly post-Stardust, not only are costumes adorned with fabulous belts, boots, butterflies, hearts, ladybugs – the very bodies that inhabit these costumes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Scrawny boys, athletic heroes, boneheads, an overweight special needs kid, old men, dapper dandies... then there are the lovingly drawn faces with curves, eyelashes, land lips that do more than just scowl and sneer (though they do that too!). Araki is not afraid to draw on a wide range of masculine identities from the manga canon to the fashion world in which he was once involved.

So, after reading all this, you want to read Jojo then? What to do, where to start? Unfortunately for the most part you simply won't be able to read the series legally. A good start for resources is The JBA Community. Check out your favourite torrent site for packages of single issues and whole series. But, a warning – fan translations vary wildly in terms of quality. Some of the more recent high-resolution scanlations are stupendous, done by folk with good equipment, proper language skills, access to high quality source material and an eye for detail. Some of the older translations are so bad as to be unreadable – full of stilted dialog, incorrect translations, Times New Roman cut and paste using Microsoft Paint and squares... translated into English from Chinese (not sure what dialect) translations of the original Japanese...


Work is still ongoing and we will see a point sometime in the next year or so where the good translations have not only caught up with the Japanese release schedule but will have finally eclipsed the older, bad translations in terms of availability. Obviously, the most favourable situation would be one in which the comic receives and official translation and Araki can be proper compensated for his work and Jojo receives a level of popularity corresponding to its quality.

Don't hold your breath.



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