Female Representation in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

I recently finished watching Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, which happens to be both the fourth part of the manga and the fourth season of the anime adaptation. Having had plenty of things to say about my enjoyment of this particular entry in the franchise on social media, I figured I would set aside time to talk about the women of the series. Given that the last female character in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure I had resonated with was Lisa Lisa, whom my appreciation of became complicated when the story decided to take her from badass lady to damsel in distress, I believe Diamond is Unbreakable makes for an interesting springboard to further the discussion.

The two major female characters featured in the show are Yukako and Reimi, who both occupy visually and narratively distinctive places in the story, complete with their own set of engaging idiosyncrasies.

Yukako is the first of these two we meet, and her initial introduction was a thoroughly mixed bag. From the get go she appealed to me because her interest in Koichi broke away from certain kinds of assumptions made about women. Not only was she forward with her desires, when the script for hetero dating teaches women to be passive and ‘acted upon’, but she was also a conventionally attractive woman interested in someone for reasons other than their looks.

In a franchise chock-full of unnamed women swooning over the giant blocks of muscle that constitute the main male cast, it was admittedly refreshing to see this dynamic turned on its head. In a society that still punishes women for expressing physical attraction while simultaneously criticizing them for having too high standards, I take small victories in seeing characters like Yukako challenge the sexist assumption that women only care about looks, or that women won’t date someone deemed less conventionally attractive than them.

However the other side to her introduction is that she is more than a little possessive, and handles rejection by abducting her crush Koichi. What follows is a ton of outright abusive actions that are played mostly for laughs. Given the difficulties men face in speaking up about their own experiences with domestic abuse, before even mentioning how skeevy we’d all be feeling if the gender dynamic in this situation were reversed, I was more than a little off-put.

It’s worth mentioning that this line of messy comedy is pursued in a way that permits Yukako to be aggressive, powerful and cold-faced. When stories showcase women having crushes, they often flip between demure or ghastly, and it was nice that Yukako defied both of those categorizations. However it’s again difficult to throw my weight behind her defiance of expectations when that would entail overlooking the unforgivable abuse she doles out in the process.

Thankfully Yukako gets a redemption of sorts in the episode of “Yukako Yamagishi Dreams of Cinderella”. Still reeling from the rejection she was ultimately dealt at the conclusion of her initial appearance, to my surprise, the show actually made Yukako confront and accept the idea that her behaviour was inappropriate. It then segues cleanly into a pointed critique of beauty standards, doubling as an exploration of issues that Yukako’s portrayal first subverted.

Wanting to renew Koichi’s prior interest in her, she becomes drawn to a beauty center that supposedly changes your body into its most irresistible form. That someone as unquestionably gorgeous as Yukako still felt the need to have a cinderella style cosmetic makeover is likely relatable to many women, and speaks to how ‘beauty’ is a concept sold to women as both attainable (if you buy our stuff!) and unattainable (nothing is ever enough) at the same time. It also demonstrates, intentionally or not, how the burden of looking good falls overwhelmingly on women. Men are conspicuously absent from the clinic, and the beautician there regales countless stories of women coming to her for even a slim chance of being valued by men. While it’s unfortunate that these girls place so much of their self-worth around whether men find them attractive, it is undoubtedly very true to life.

Cosmetic surgery has become an increasingly popular solution to the ever rising demands of female beauty standards, and while it is usually a very personal choice, the pursuit of it is not so easily detached from the undue harmful pressures placed upon women. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I was really happy when the episode ended by telling Yukako that she was enough as is, and as an added bonus, it achieves this messaging without shaming anyone who has had plastic surgery.

It’s still not perfect though. I was open to a redemption for Yukako, especially after seeing her newfound vulnerability, but I think absolving for past behaviour should involve more than just a drive-by apology and a fast-forwarded moment to reflect. The series does unfortunately lean into the idea that Koichi being uncomfortable around her was punishment enough, and I don’t like the implication that  ‘poor abuser being separated from their victim’ is a sympathetic plight.

I think what is worst is simply that the story forgets she exists after this episode. The foundation built for her by this point was exceptionally good, but rather than make it a full arc they decide never to bring her back to the story. It’s especially painful with the knowledge that instead of developing Yukako further the series opted to make space for an ‘alien’ character that wasn’t essential to the plot. In this sense, it is the story that lets down Yukako and not Yukako letting down the story.

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The other side to Diamond is Unbreakable is Reimi, the ghostly afterimage of a girl murdered long ago by the central antagonist.

She’s introduced fairly early on as a driving force for the main story. While her position as a lonely translucent ghost girl trapped on a phantom street is one that would normally deny a character of any kind their agency, Reimi defies this presumption in a small but meaningful way by providing the Jojo crew a means of escape. But it isn’t just this small gesture that makes her stand out. The narrative gives ample time for her to express grief and remorse where it didn’t have to, allowing her to speak not only to her own pain but to the pain of those who the antagonist has since gone on to kill. Then, because she witnessed the souls of countless victims pass by her in the afterlife, she becomes motivated in bringing her killer to justice, and by involving the main cast in her mission she becomes an active participant in his reckoning.

When he does finally meet his end, it is Reimi who deals the finishing blow. While this is cathartic in and of itself, it is most praiseworthy for how this actually plays out. Rather than simply giving a cool sounding monologue before finishing an already beaten opponent, Reimi actually outsmarts and trumps her killer, even as his renewed fighting strength threatened to revisit her defeat in life. It made for such a satisfying ending to a story beat that did not need to involve any empowerment in order to function, and reinforces the idea that Diamond is Unbreakable cares about the women it writes.

However, like with Yukako, it is difficult for me to make the case for Reimi without some strong acknowledgements. After Reimi is introduced she almost never appears again in the plot until its very last moments. Unable to leave the street she inhabits, she is shackled both figuratively and literally to a place outside of the events of the story. This arbitrary rule undermines the idea that she has agency in her own emancipation, but even accepting it as fact, the story still could have involved her a lot more without having to break the progression – either as a consultant, or as a strategist (that she so clearly has the intelligence for).

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While the core premise of Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure up until this point has always been about manly men fighting outrageously convoluted and campy battles against supernatural forces,  there’s nothing about that notion that says women can’t still have prominent and respectful positioning in the story. It would be unreasonable to say that Reimi is treated poorly in Diamond is Unbreakable, but I can’t shake the feeling that her role was limited and confined in a way that was entirely avoidable.

I feel confident speaking about the pitfalls of female representation in Diamond is Unbreakable in part because of how much value there is to be found in it. While the previous entry in the franchise, Stardust Crusaders, left me cold due to its obsession with machismo and incessant need to have Jotaro call women “bitch” every episode –  Diamond is Unbreakable restored my faith in the framing of women in Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure. It’s messy and far from perfect, but being able to have these nuanced discussions about it is the lifeblood of my viewing experience. I would thoroughly recommend this season of the anime irrespective of any of arguments I’ve put forward here, but I sincerely hope that in writing this I’ve inspired the same level of enthusiasm in readers that I have for what Diamond is Unbreakable did with its female representation.

Thanks for reading.

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