When he was approached by an anime-related company about making a TV anime, Hiroyuki Omori, a producer at Warner Brothers Japan, was worried for a while that, “This is a difficult task.” Although JoJo is one of the biggest series in Japan, the original manga started in 1987. In the early days, Hirohiko Araki drew characters in a gekiga style that was full of machismo. It was very different from modern trends in character design. Omori wondered if people who weren’t familiar with JoJo would be able to accept these designs. However, he decided to go ahead with the anime adaptation. He says, “There was the problem of what to do with the design, but the power of the work itself has not faded, and above all, I am a big JoJo fan myself, so I decided to take on the challenge despite the difficulties.” After getting Shueisha’s consent, he immediately started to choose a studio.
Naturally, a studio that could draw JoJo would have to be one that “could draw powerful muscle movements.” Therefore, Omori turned his attention to David Production, which was descended from Gonzo, a studio that had created numerous works in the past. At the time, David Production was still a newly established studio, but their work on the anime for the “Tatakau Shisho” series, which is also a JUMP property like JoJo, showed powerful linework and careful animation. Omori was convinced, “I can let them handle this,” and approached them.
When David Production’s producer Hisataka Kasama received news of the anime adaptation, he came up with the secret plan of having multiple directors. “To be honest, I thought it would be difficult for a single director to take on Araki’s extraordinary talent, so I decided to have more than one director, which is unusual for a TV animation project, and challenge him as a team.”（Kasama） The task fell to Naokatsu Tsuda and Kenichi Suzuki. Although there is a slight difference in the way they are credited, with Tsuda serving as “director” and Suzuki as “series director,” they essentially collaborated on all aspects of the production.
Kasama explained why he chose Tsuda and Suzuki: “Tsuda is a good comedic director, and Suzuki is a good action director. I thought that by working together, we would be able to capture both the strength and the fun of the original manga.” In fact, Tsuda also said, “I’m a JoJo fan myself, but if I had been asked to make the anime by myself, I might have refused. But since I was working with Mr. Suzuki, I thought we might be able to do it. When I think about it now, it’s more like the folly of youthful passion. I wasn’t afraid of anything (laughs).” On the other hand, Suzuki said, “I didn’t feel any particular pressure, and the joy of being involved with JoJo, which I love, was greater than anything else. It’s a big title, but rather than be controlled by the opinions of the people around us, we were going to make our own JoJo.”
The core members of the team were Omori and Kasama, the producers, and Tsuda and Suzuki, the directors. Coincidentally, all four were huge JoJo fans. The respect for the original manga that can be felt from every corner of the film is perhaps a natural result of this lineup. Yasuko Kobayashi joined as series composer at the recommendation of the editorial department, and then, with the further addition of Yasufumi Soejima as visual director, the JoJo anime was finally ready to get going.
The first aim that Producer Omori discussed with the production team was to “make JoJo.” Not something “JoJo-like” or “JoJo-style,” but JoJo itself. Tsuda and his team read the original manga again and again until their copies were worn out, writing as many elements and characteristics of JoJo as they could think of on the whiteboard. They came up with everything from easy to understand things like “onomatopoeia” and “unique posing” to impressions like “I feel refreshed after reading” and “the battles are difficult.” At the end of the process, they sorted through all of it, and Kasama concluded, “If we follow the usual methods of creating animation, we’ll end up with ‘JoJo’s Ordinary Adventure.’ JoJo has to be a ‘bizarre adventure.’ If you think about it, the answer was in the title from the very beginning.”
In this way, everyone agreed to pursue the complete reproduction of all elements, including the onomatopoeia. The rules established through this meeting were later distributed to all the staff involved in the JoJo anime, and became a sort of “bible” for the rest of the series.
When the JoJo anime first began, there was no guarantee that it would have four seasons produced. If the first season did not achieve a certain level of success, there would be no second season, so the producer Omori focused especially hard on the first three episodes.
JoJo has a strong image of “stand battles,” and the third part of the original manga, “Stardust Crusaders,” in which stands were introduced, won many fans. For this reason, the question of how to deal with the first part of the original manga, “Phantom Blood,” which tends to be considered simple, was a major issue. Because of this, Omori tried to immerse the viewers in the world of JoJo, and so the animation staff depicted everything up to the first climax in chapter 17 in those first three episodes. Usually, one episode of an anime is equivalent to three or four chapters of a manga, so you can see how drastic the structure was. According to Omori, “I wanted to get the audience hooked on the story by making it a roller coaster ride.”
This strategy proved successful, and it was received favorably by many fans. Omori, who had been following the reactions on social media in real time, recalls, “I was really relieved, thinking we might be okay for a while.”
With the popularity of the first season, the production team moved on to producing the second season, “Stardust Crusaders,” (Part 3 of the original manga) as soon as the broadcast ended. The biggest draw of the second season is the depiction of fierce battles between the stands, and it is one of the most popular and vital parts of the series. For this reason, the number of drawings was increased compared to the first season, and a new action director was brought in to improve the animation. In terms of direction, Toshiyuki Kato, who played a central role in the first season, was appointed as the new chief director, establishing a more stable direction system.
The 48 episodes, the longest of the four seasons, were completed with consistent quality from start to finish, and the “dynamic beauty of muscles” that the team had been seeking since the first season matured into a completed form.
In a change from the second season, which was a road movie, travelling all the way to Egypt from Japan, the third season is set in a small town called Morioh. Kato, who replaced Suzuki after he left JoJo to direct another film, held another brainstorming session with the team in order to accurately understand the style, which was different from anything else in the series up to this point.
“Up until the third part, the purpose of the story was clear, but in the fourth part, it was difficult to know where the goal was. In that sense, it’s quite unique, so we had a thorough discussion about the direction we would go with it.”（Kato）
As a result, they took various creative measures, such as inserting a bizarre scene of the last boss, Kira Yoshikage, at the beginning of the season, and they boldly reconstructed the original manga without losing the charm of the story.
Kato, who directed the third season, left the JoJo anime to direct another project. With the loss of both Suzuki and Kato, who had been the core of the JoJo series since the first season, Tsuda used his connections to find new talent and persuaded Yasuhiro Kimura and Hideya Takahashi to become the new directors. Tsuda firmly stated, “My greatest achievement in Part 5 was bringing in Mr. Kimura and Mr. Takahashi as the directors and Takahiro Kishida as character designer.”
The two new directors had no experience with the JoJo anime, but they were each able to make full use of their talents. “At first I was worried about whether I could draw JoJo storyboards, but it turned out that I had more freedom than I thought, and I was able to work freely.” (Kimura) “Mr. Kimura and I have very different personalities, and I think we ended up with a series where our personalities really came out.” （Takahashi）
Tsuda’s theme for the fourth season was “Renaissance (Return to the Origin),” a reference to Italy where the story is set. His goal was successfully achieved as both directors went back to the roots of the JoJo anime, and the meticulous location scouting in Italy also brought a new wind to the series. This season is the culmination of Tsuda’s work on the JoJo anime, and currently its highest achievement.
The JoJo anime adapted an epic drama spanning 63 volumes of manga into a total of 152 episodes over a period of about 7 years. While some staff members have been involved in all parts of the series, including director Naokatsu Tsuda, series composer Yasuko Kobayashi, and sound director Miwa Iwanami, there are many staff members who have left the production or joined along the way. While the JoJo anime has a “bible” that it follows, the visual concept is renewed with every season. The production team that continues to renew itself and move forward is just like the “inherited golden soul.” We hope that it will continue to evolve and be passed on to new generations.
Interviewing and writing by Daisuke Okamoto