During the month of June, we celebrate the long legacy of Black music and how its contribution influenced American culture throughout the years. One thing that’s often forgotten however, is how the sounds created by our beloved musical legends are consumed by the world at large. From the far corners of the globe, Black music has been consumed, duplicated and revered just as much as any other ethnic associated genre. If one were to dig even deeper, Black music’s reach has touched more niche works of art. One, in particular, is anime.
While rap has seen its share of anime appearances in the form of cyphers (Devilman), battles (Zombieland Saga Remix) and soundtrack (Samurai Champloo), other genres like jazz (Cowboy Bebop) have boasted the black musical cravings of their creators. This is especially true with the action anime series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
The series creator Hirohiko Araki is the first to incorporate actual references to the music he loves by naming an abundance of characters after bands, artists and songs. Araki is known for submitting a list of songs he’s listened to while working to be included in the show’s closing credits which change per season or sometimes season parts.
Currently, season four is airing in Japan and for the first set of episodes, viewers were treated to
Jodeci’s 1995 throwback hit “Freek’n You”. To a younger, mostly non-black audience the song spoke
to the seemingly random and off-beat tone of the series but to a viewer old enough to remember the joint,
it was a for sure “oh shit” moment. It would be a good bet that Jodeci got a nice boost in web traffic as
“I wake up feeling so horny” quickly became a meme in the JoJo fandom community.
One YouTube commenter even made the connection of Jodeci’s member JoJo fitting into the anime universe because of his name and associating member K.C.’s name to a character named King Crimson. That connection is left up to speculation and is most likely a happy coincidence instead of a deliberate influence on choosing “Freek’n You” for the end credits. But who knows?
In the same way Hirohiko Araki sparked a new interest in a post-new jack swing r&b quartet, he also sent viewers on a web searching rampage with his characters. As a self-proclaimed Prince superfan, a great deal of his characters reflect the fact.
Season four’s protagonist has a stand (we’ll get to “stands” in a minute) named Gold Experience named after Prince’s 17th studio album The Gold Experience. Gold Experience in the JJBA anime universe is one of the most powerful stands so far. His purple highness would be proud. Black music references aren’t alone in JoJo’s world but it’s safe to say that there’s a very good amount in the mix. Way more than any non-Black targeted mainstream show here in the west would ever consider outside of Grey’s Anatomy or Fresh Off the Boat. Araki’s eccentric tastes span everything from Metallica to Yo Yo Ma.
Before going deeper into Araki’s ongoing salute to Black music, it’s important to take a quick look at what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is for context. The series revolves around a bloodline of heroes dating back to the horse and buggy era in England where a man named Jonathan Joestar battles against the show’s villain Dio Brando. Dio gives himself vampiric superpowers after using an ancient mask and sets forth a war for humanity for generations.
Instead of the typical season format, the show is broken into parts. Every part follows a path where a descendant of Joestar gets caught up in something Dio did directly or indirectly. To keep it a full 100, the first half of Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency, the series first part can be a bit much in terms of pacing. It’s a slow steady build but worth it in the end. It’s the usual good vs. evil setup
minus the stands.
The second half is where we finally get to see what the stands are all about.
In part two Stardust Crusaders, Araki switches gears and goes full throttle with the concept. The stands are formally positioned as the supernatural beings that embody the spirit of its user.
These beings are primarily used for fighting and have varying abilities at different strength levels. It’s easy to dismiss them as Pokemon for grown-ups but this is where Hirohiko Araki’s creativity comes in. A stand can be powerful yes but it’s not about raw power in this universe. Winning or losing is determined by how a character uses their stand. In combat, a seemingly weaker stand could kill its overpowered rival with the right strategy. It’s this concept that carries JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure into its own lane and differentiates it from every other series that focuses on good guys fighting bad guys. Araki giving his characters and stands names like Cameo, Lisa Lisa and Forever (rumored to be a nod to the 1997 Wu-Tang Forever album) are the icing on the cake of JoJo lore. Hirohiko’s cuts go even deeper with characters like Telence T. D’Arby and Mariah (Carey). Terence Trent D’Arby’s name was most likely changed due to copyright laws.
When part 4 (Diamond is Unbreakable) kicked in, so did the increasing amount of Black music legends. We saw the stands Earth, Wind & Fire, Love Deluxe (named after the 1992 Sade album), Boys II Man and Super Fly (after the classic 1972 album by Curtis Mayfield). Part 5’s Vento Aureo storyline saw the heaviest inclusion of his Black music references withstands like Purple Haze after the 1967 hit song by Jimmy Hendrix, Gold Experience of course, Man in the Mirror (Michael Jackson), Baby Face (Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds) and Notorious B.I.G. Just hearing the main character Giorno Giovanna pronounce “Notorious Beeg” will have you singing “Kick in the Door” as he fights for his life against the unstoppable stand that has the power to attack and dissolve the fastest moving object or person its near.
All of these stands are in parts one through five which are currently available to watch. I’ll stop there since one of the most enjoyable things about experiencing the series is discovering stand names and abilities.
No spoilers, no foul. Though, the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga (the comic book version of the series) reaches further ahead into the epic storyline. It includes a few more notable Black music icon references mixed in with its load of other legendary non-Black musicians.
So. what does anyone gain from watching JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? The world building and storytelling is top notch. Although the animation can be give or take in very early episodes, each part gets dramatically better. The action sequences and choreography is some of the best in anime and by having the characters rely on strategy instead of sole brute force brings a welcomed sense of sophistication to the show. Be warned, a great deal of JJBA is violent and at times gory. Women, children and animals are all beaten up and killed the same as men.
Some folks may be thrown off by a lot of the perceived homoerotic scenes in the series but that along with many “bizarre” moments in the show and comic speaks to the free spirit of Hirohiko Araki’s expression of talent he credits to Prince’s influence. As Araki said in an interview on a brochure given out at a 25th-anniversary screening of Prince’s Sign O’ The Times film in Japan, “…when I suddenly drag the reader into another world … I worry that they’ll get confused and maybe my popularity will suffer. But then I think, “Prince is here, so it’s OK!” [laughs]. Prince – that’s a person that really knows no fear.”