JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has a bizarre place in the anime fandom. It’s well liked by almost everyone who’s seen it and is referenced all the time, so you’d think it’s one of the most popular anime out there, but if you look at the numbers, it really isn’t as popular as its reach would suggest. None of its seasons are in the top 50 on MAL, the JoJo subreddit has a fraction of the subscribers that something like r/OnePiece has, and it has far fewer ratings on Crunchyroll than something like Re:Zero, even though JoJo is referenced far more often then One Piece or Re:Zero in the community as a whole. Now, I’m not saying that JoJo isn’t popular or good-it’s far more popular than most seasonal anime and it’s always a lot of fun to watch-but JoJo’s presence in the fandom seems to far exceed its popularity. The reason behind this is a simple one: memes.
Saying that there are a lot of JoJo memes is like saying the characters are kind of buff: true, but a massive understatement. Pretty much anyone who’s spent any time in the anime/manga fandom has probably encountered a JoJo meme at some point, even if they didn’t recognize it as one. It’s gotten to the point where JoJo references sometimes show up in things that have nothing to do with JoJo. There are even memes about JoJo memes. With the ubiquity of the internet now, memes are almost inevitable for anything that becomes popular, but the sheer number of memes is strikingly disproportionate to its popularity. This happened because JoJo, more than anything else, is practically made for memes.
For something to become a meme it usually has to have three traits: it can be absorbed quickly, doesn’t require any context to be understood (beyond knowing that it’s a meme), and has to be distinctive. This means that traditional jokes generally don’t become memes. The sort of jokes you see in American comedies are usually structured in a two-step manner: there’s a setup of some sort, then a punch line. The setup could be anything-a witty line, a person doing something strange, or even someone just walking into a room-all that matters is that it leads into a punch line designed to make the audience laugh. A lot of Japanese humor follows a slightly different structure that’s based on manzai comedy: Person A says or does something weird or stupid, and Person B overreacts in a comedic way. This is the sort of humor you see the most in anime comedies. For example, One Piece is extremely fond of manzai-style humor.
What these two types of humor have in common is that they require some kind of context or setup to be funny. Just saying a punch line or showing an overreaction isn’t funny without some kind of context or setup, which is why you rarely see these kind of jokes become memes. I bring this up because most of the humor in JoJo is nothing like traditional types of comedy. There are some typically structured gags, but those are far outnumbered the (for lack of a better word) JoJokes. For example, let’s look at one of my favorite JoJokes-the rero rero scene from Stardust Crusaders.
In that episode, Kakyoin, ordinarily the most level-headed character, begins to act strange. He picks up weird habits and generally becomes more aggressive. We later learn that it’s an imposter, but that’s not where the joke comes from. The joke I’m talking about is when fake-Kakyoin tries to kill Jotaro and then passes it off as a joke. Right after pushing Jotaro off a building and then saying that he was only joking, he puts a cherry on his tongue and starts liking it over and over while saying “rero rero rero” (the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of licking) as the camera frames him from a menacing angle. There’s no traditional setup or punch line here, it’s just a strange thing that happens in the middle of an otherwise dramatic scene. The joke doesn’t need context because someone licking a cherry like that would be goofy and random no matter what the context was. The comedy combined with the lack of context is what makes it so meme-worthy. It can be reused without having to explain the context or the joke behind it because there is no context and the joke is self-evident. There’s no laugh track or reaction to emphasize that it’s a joke; the joke speaks for itself.
Here’s another example: “It was me, Dio!” This meme is easily the most common JoJo meme, and it’s easy to see why it’s so memorable. The scene’s impact comes less from the context and more from the delivery. The fact that Dio said it after kissing Jonathan’s girlfriend isn’t what makes the line meme-worthy. What makes it meme-worthy is Dio’s melodramatic delivery combined with the ultra serious framing of a pretty silly line. Araki’s blocky and hyper-detailed art style fits this perfectly, adding just the right level of melodrama to make it sillier. When the joke comes from the delivery and framing, it can be referenced and understood by anyone, even if they don’t know where it comes from. All that’s necessary is seeing the screenshot and you know exactly what the joke is.
JoJo is certainly an unusual show. It’s quite good, but at this point I think a large part of its fame comes from the memes. JoJokes can be anything from silly poses to weird lines delivered with complete seriousness, and all of them fit perfectly in the current meme-heavy culture of the internet. The new anime of JoJo came around at the perfect time to become a hit. Without the memes, JoJo just wouldn’t be JoJo.