Prince’s ‘bizarre’ influence on Japanese anime


More than a week after his death, Prince is everywhere.

Artists the world over counted him as an influence and mentor, and Japan is no exception. When news of Prince’s death broke, Japanese musicians, from pop idols to rappers, tweeted their goodbyes.

But what a lot of people may not realize is that Prince also had  profoundly affected one of the most bizarre comic and anime franchises Japan has ever produced – a series called, appropriately enough, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.” The series isn’t quite as popular as titles like “One Piece” or “Dragon Ball Z,” but it has been running since 1985, spawned video game and novel spinoffs and produced a serious cult following.

And the series creator, Hirohiko Araki, is an indisputable Prince fan.

If you’re a fan of “Jojo,” you already know what I’m talking about. The series, which has been running since 1985, has an indescribable funkiness to it – characters stand in amazing poses, the dialogue is always somehow off-kilter, and the costumes look like something right out of a Prince stage set.

But it’s probably easier to talk about the main character, Josuke, who actually looks a bit like Prince. Josuke also seems to have a fondness for purple and has two symbols pinned to his collar: the “peace” symbol Prince used in the title of his movie “Sign o’ the Times,” and another symbol that looks suspiciously like the one Prince used when he changed his name.

Also, Josuke's hobbies are listed as “playing video games and listening to Prince CDs,” which, incidentally, also sounds a little like my childhood.

Then there’s the fact that one of the special powers in “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” is called “Gold Experience,” after Prince’s 1995 album of the same name. It’s a little hard to explain what this special power (technically called a “stand” in the series) is, but you can get a feel for it by watching some footage of a video game adaptation of the series.

So here’s an eight-minute video of a guy making his golden robot punch, everybody:

(In case you’re wondering, he’s shouting: “The power of ‘Gold Experience’! Taste the sharp pain slowly.”)

Unlike some actual Prince comic books, the musician never appears in the series as himself. But his presence is felt. 

In interviews, Araki has said Prince was his favorite artist. In the credits section of each installment of the comic series, he constantly made references to Prince, recommending that readers buy Prince albums or lamenting that a Prince concert for which he’d bought tickets had been postponed. He’s also said that he listens to Prince while drawing his comics.

But if there had been any doubt about the level of Araki’s fanaticism, there’s that time in 2014 when Prince’s movie “Sign o’ the Times” had a 25th anniversary theater run in Japan. By this point, Araki’s Prince obsession was so widely known that theaters distributed pamphlets containing an extended interview with the comic book artist.

Here’s a translated excerpt:

More than the superficial visuals, I was inspired by Prince’s rhythm. His rhythm is weird, so it’s the type that’s the hardest to sing at karaoke. Just when you think he’s just calmly keeping the rhythm, he just suddenly switches it up. … When I draw my comics, I try to do the same thing. So when the first episode ends, and when the second episode starts, and all of a sudden it’s a completely different setting – for me, that’s very Prince-like, when I suddenly break the flow and make the reader go, “Wait, what?”

And honestly, 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.

So far, Araki hasn't released a public statement about Prince's death. He doesn’t seem to be directly involved with the day-to-day running of his official website, and he's notoriously dismissive of social media like Twitter.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a Prince tribute shows up in a future episode of the series. From the same interview:

I want Prince to always be an artist, to always keep making wonderful works of art. ... The thing that makes me happiest is the fact that he keeps releasing albums.”

If you’d like to watch the anime version of “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” you can check it out on Hulu, or comb through a fan-made wiki for more obscure pop culture references.