The Cathode Ray Mission: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Stone Ocean, Fate, and the End of it All
(Spoilers for parts 1–6)
So, I wrote about part 5, Vento Aureo a few days ago, and expressed some thoughts I had about the part individually and what it represented in the larger JJBA story. After finishing Stone Ocean, I feel more confident than ever in thinking of VA as a point of inflection for the series, when Araki’s abilities as an artist and as a storyteller began to really solidify. Stone Ocean is another leap forward for the series, not necessarily in structural or conceptual terms (the story still follows a “stand user of the week” type of formula, which is probably my biggest complaint of it), but part 6 is home to some of the best characters of the entire series and a greater sense of maturity that gives the story an incredible sense of meaning and tragedy. Jojo is growing up, and you can’t go back to being young again.
To start, some setup: Stone Ocean is set in 2011 in the Green Dolphin St. Prison in Florida, where Jolyne Cujoh, daughter of Jotaro, is being sentenced for a hit and run that she was set up for. While there, she gets a stand (Stone Free, the only stand thus far that wears sunglasses), meets some friends like Hermes Costello and Emporio, and uncovers a plot by the prison’s chaplain, Enrico Pucci, to use Jotaro’s memories to follow Dio’s plan to get to “Heaven.” I’m leaving out a lot, but I realize there is no way to quickly summarize the plot of anything in Jojo.
I want to start with Jolyne, because she is maybe the best thing about this part. A far cry from Giorno, Jolyne is the clear center of this story, and she shoulders that responsibility better than any Jojo to come before her. The growth she undergoes in SO is extensive and organic, as she turns from a woman that is insecure and explosive into a selfless leader. She contains multitudes unseen before in a Jojo. Needless to say, she is also the best female character Araki has ever written; the women of Jojo have been something of a problem throughout the entire series, often falling into one of several misogynistic tropes, and as a result often being underutilized in the plot, as in the case of Lisa Lisa and Trish. Jolyne sidesteps most of these issues (there are still some ‘daddy issues’ present, but they aren’t that big a crutch for her character development) while also being an active agent in the story and more than capable by herself. But she also just fucking rocks, even removed from whatever baggage may have accompanied her. She’s genuinely funny, and has the big brain trait inherited from Joseph that makes every fight she gets in a thrill. Jolyne is a fantastic counterexample to something that I take issue with in media, which is imbuing women with masculine traits as a shortcut to make them seem like stronger characters. It’s an empty sort of feminist gesture that still equates strength to masculinity, and thereby weakness to femininity. I love the Alien movies, and Ripley as a character, but she’s a good example of this tendency: Ripley looks and behaves like just another one of the boys, practically having been de-gendered to more comfortably fit the masculine baseline. A woman with rippling muscles and shooting big guns can certainly be a ‘strong’ woman character, but it’s operating on the premise that strength is something that men have, and to achieve it you have to approach traditional conceptions of manliness, which is certainly fine if the goal is to gender-bend fictional archetypes, but it becomes a problem if the gendered associations don’t change. Jolyne does not lose her feminine characteristics in favor of “stronger” masculine ones, and she’s much better for it. She is allowed to have big emotions and be sexy and cool and still be the undisputed hero of the story. She just makes me wish that Araki wrote more women with the confidence he wrote Jolyne.
The rest of the cast is maybe the best all-around cast of characters in any Jojo part so far. Hermes Costello is something of an Okuyasu-type, a ride-or-die buddy of Jolyne, although much more clever than Okuyasu. Emporio is a sweet little lad who has to deal with some heavy shit. Foo Fighters is Foo Fighters. Annasui is a sleazy sociopath, but he really comes around by the end. Weather Report ends up being kind of a plot device, but his mystery makes him compelling, and his backstory turns him into a deeply tragic figure in the story. Seeing them fail, one by one, is a deeply upsetting process; Araki has never been averse to killing his darlings, but here it hurts in a way that it never really has in the past. And Pucci is an incredibly interesting villain as well, in my opinion. While having him return to the Dio reserve of villainy can feel a bit tired, his clear ideological convictions give him shape, and his desire to achieve “heaven” is ultimately fascinating and creates an incredibly strong motivation for him, in addition to his backstory adding levels of nuance to him.
Pucci I think serves as a jumping off point to some of what I think is the most interesting territory of Stone Ocean. Periodically throughout the story, we are given flashbacks to when Pucci was a younger man, many of which showing his personal involvement with Dio. Pucci stands apart from many Jojo antagonists for several reasons, and the availability and nature of his history is one of them. We see Pucci’s relationship with a more philosophizing Dio seed his current desire for “heaven” and his obsession with fate, and we come to witness Pucci’s life as one of repeated tragedy that has formed the modern villain. The two people closest to Pucci, his sister and Dio, die in agonizing fashion, the former directly the result of Pucci’s actions in a cruel twist. The notion of “heaven” that Pucci pursues is a state of being where our paths are already laid out before us. He plans to speed time up to such a degree that the universe ends and is reborn again, and all the people of Earth are essentially reborn after having lived through this acceleration, and therefore know in their spirits what their lives have in store for them. Life without surprise, without unexpected complications, and without fear — that is Pucci’s idea of heaven, and it makes sense considering the events he has endured. And contrary to previous Jojo villains, this is not an inherently evil goal. In order for it to succeed, it costs the memories of Jotaro (and, as it ends up playing out, the lives of Jotaro, Jolyne, Annasui, Hermes, and Weather), but this is not a mission to wipe out humanity or to consolidate violent authority, it is a genuine belief of Pucci’s that this is how humanity evolves. He believes the ends justify the means, and repeatedly people make mention that he is the kind of evil that does not know he is evil. Obviously one man taking the liberty to make this decision is unjust, but I’m sure that when this part gets animated, there will be a number of Pucci defenders to pop up and voice the belief that he is ultimately in the right, if there are not already.
How this plan plays out is messy, but messy in a way that I can relate to the messiness of other endings, like Akira or Revolutionary Girl Utena. Pucci evolves his stand, Whitesnake, into its ultimate form, Made in Heaven, at which point the clock starts speeding up and he becomes nearly invincible. The heroes are assembled together to stop him, but they’re too late. Even Star Platinum’s time-stopping ability is not enough to counter Made in Heaven. And so Pucci starts killing everyone. It is not dramatic or flashy, either, it is just ruthlessly efficient killing. Annasui gets impaled, Hermes is dismembered, Jotaro’s head is split open, even Jolyne dies off-screen. It is ugly and mean and renders these characters’ lives incomplete. To die with the end in sight, without meaningful resolution, is a particular kind of shock that a series like this does not employ often. When characters die, there is usually something instrumental through that death, usually in helping point their allies towards something they were missing before. Death becomes something of a display of agency, a last-ditch effort to benefit the collective at the cost of the individual. Here, though, there is no way out, no secret just out of view. Annasui was prepared to perform this action, but he failed, and the others failed him as well. What keeps it from being the most bleak results are Jolyne’s final actions in sending Emporio off into the ocean.
Emporio then experiences the death and rebirth of the universe, and winds up back in the prison, near the start of the story, but slightly off. He sees Jotaro and Jolyne, but they are not Jotaro and Jolyne as he knew them, they are like plastic versions of his friends. The prison guards, too, are off: they both have a vision in their heads of one of them slipping on a book and falling, a vision carried over from a previous experience through this scenario. They are unaware of what happened to them, but Emporio is, which is why Pucci has stopped the timeline at this point to tie up this loose thread. Emporio ends up killing Pucci with Weather Report (the stand, not the person), but not before learning more about the nature of Made in Heaven. The stipulations of the rewriting of time are that the new universe must overwrite the old one in order for the new reality to take hold. This overwriting is 99% complete, but the months that make up the events of the story are absent, and thus, the new reality cannot be set in place yet. With the death of Pucci and Made in Heaven, the new universe is undone, and Emporio is thrown back to the original one, but it is the original universe minus Pucci and everything his presence implied. We see Emporio then outside a gas station as a bus pulls up and Hermes gets off. A car pulls up with Annasui and Jolyne in it, offering to give some rides. Weather Report is walking further down the road too. It’s like the inverse of Pucci’s universe — the people are different on the surface, but though Jolyne and Annasui go by different names now, they are recognizable as the people Emporio knew.
(I’ve seen some complaints online that Giorno not showing up was a missed opportunity, and I wholly disagree. Of course Gold Experience Requiem could probably counteract much of Made in Heaven’s power, but I find that kind of speculation to be boring hypothetical stress-testing and narratively uninteresting beyond a reflexive “Aw yeah, it’s Giorno!” reaction. Yeah, Giorno was referenced, but just let this story be its own story. We’re six parts deep on this series with, like, the absolute minimum crossover between parts, it’s fine to let things exist on their own.)
I’m going to cop to the fact that I almost certainly got some detail above wrong. There’s a lot of big metaphysical actions taking place in the ending of Stone Ocean, many of the details are either lightly or not explained at all, which is primarily what I mean by messiness in describing it. But I can tolerate that messiness when, like the other examples cited above, that messiness works towards a greater thematic or aesthetic goal. I find the exact mechanics by which Emporio is transported to different timelines to be of secondary importance when put against the final panels of Emporio, in which he reasserts his identity through tears to the friends that no longer know who he is.
Where the end of Vento Aureo gestured towards greater thematic significance, Stone Ocean fully embraces it in all its bittersweet beauty. Fate is once again of chief concern, and more than ever it is a blessing as much as it is a curse. JJBA has never been as ambivalent about predetermination as it is here, and much of that is wrapped up in the realities of Made in Heaven and what that can achieve. But almost as prominent as the questions of fate are questions of identity, and specifically memory. Jotaro’s memories are stolen and pursued through the majority of the part, and without them we see that he barely resembles the Jotaro that we’ve come to know throughout this series. Foo Fighters, who I’ve barely talked about because of how unfortunately early she departs, is a mass of plankton given sentience through a memory disk. She develops a sense of self, and her admiration of other intelligent life is what brings her to Jolyne and Hermes’ side. When she is killed by Whitesnake, Jolyne says that they can find another disk, that they can bring her back, but she refuses this offer. She says that it won’t be her, that the memories and experiences she has are what makes her the Foo Fighters that everyone loves, and when those are gone, they can’t be brought back. And of course, the ending plays on this as well. The Jolyne and Annasui (“Irene” and “Annakiss”) that Emporio comes across do not have the memories and experiences of the Jolyne and Annasui that Emporio knew. They are actually dating, they have a good relationship with Jotaro, they are not in prison; the people that Emporio knew and loved were killed in Cape Canaveral by Pucci, and they are not coming back, but there is something that continues to pull these people together and keeps linking their fates to one another. It’s a deeply sad ending to this story and to the mainline Jojo universe as a whole. With the death of Pucci, it’s likely that the events of part 4, 5, and 6 do not happen. Emporio rewrites history, and essentially retcons out most of what has happened in this series, but maybe that’s the secret to the ending that doesn’t make it crushingly depressing. The names have changed, the people are different, the events never happened, and there is no way to bring these things back, but the memory still exists of what was, and that might be enough. Emporio recognizes the memory of his friends in Irene and Annakiss and Hermes (whatever her alt name might be), just as we the reader recognize the stories we’ve read in their current absences from the world. It’s something of a comment on the act of engaging with fiction itself, that change will continue to occur, but nothing can actually remove your experience with it.
I just want to make one final point relating to Stone Ocean before wrapping things up. JJBA is an absurd series full of the most ridiculous shit imaginable, and so it might seem odd to look at it with this kind of scrutiny. Which, like, sure, no doubt the primary way to engage with anything Jojo-adjacent is mostly at a surface level, taking in the often stupid spectacle of it all, much of which seems self-aware, but I think that’s selling the series short. It is ridiculous and dumb, but what I genuinely appreciate about it is that it takes itself seriously. It would be awfully easy to have all sorts of winks and nudges and authorial inserts saying “Can you believe this shit?”, and I think that would be doing a massive disservice to the actual emotional weight that is possible here. I find it hard to emotionally invest myself in a work if it seems like the creator is not emotionally invested in the work, and that is thankfully never the impression I’ve gotten from reading and watching this series. Characters give a shit about what is happening around them, and in turn I do too, even if it’s something silly like a rock-paper-scissors match or storybook characters coming to life. Stone Ocean is so far I think the peak of the emotional power that Jojo has achieved so far, and it’s able to leverage the inherently silliness of some of its scenarios with the actual emotional punch of Jolyne’s mission to a wonderful effect.
Next up is part 7, Steel Ball Run. I’ve often seen this part be called the best of the series so far, which is a high bar to set, but I’ve also seen a lot of people rank Stone Ocean rather low, so maybe I just differ in taste from the mainstream Jojo fans. I don’t know what to expect; my actual knowledge of this part is fairly limited beyond some character names and basic setup. I’m sure I’ll have thoughts on it that will find their way here, and the continuing evolution of Araki as a storyteller is something that I’m fascinated to keep tracking.