In the American Old West, the world's greatest race is about to begin. Thousands line up in San Diego to travel over six thousand kilometers for a chance to win the grand prize of fifty million dollars. With the era of the horse reaching its end, contestants are allowed to use any kind of vehicle they wish. Competitors will have to endure grueling conditions, traveling up to a hundred kilometers a day through uncharted wastelands. The Steel Ball Run is truly a one-of-a-kind event.
The youthful Johnny Joestar, a crippled former horse racer, has come to San Diego to watch the start of the race. There he encounters Gyro Zeppeli, a racer with two steel balls at his waist instead of a gun. Johnny witnesses Gyro using one of his steel balls to unleash a fantastical power, compelling a man to fire his gun at himself during a duel. In the midst of the action, Johnny happens to touch the steel ball and feels a power surging through his legs, allowing him to stand up for the first time in two years. Vowing to find the secret of the steel balls, Johnny decides to compete in the race, and so begins his bizarre adventure across America on the Steel Ball Run.
JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken Part 7: Steel Ball Run was originally presented as an unrelated story to the JoJo series and was serialized in Weekly Shounen Jump magazine as Steel Ball Run from issues #8~47 2004. Serialization then transferred to Ultra Jump magazine from issue May 2005 and the series was officially declared as Part 7 of the JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken series.
Serving as a soft reset for Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Steel Ball Run takes the story in original and daring directions. But does it work? Oh who am I kidding? I'm going to be straight up.
I consider Steel Ball Run to be one of the greatest written works I've ever read.
I will admit Steel Ball Run has a very, very slow start. In fact, Stands aren't even introduced until like 20 chapters in. That's another thing: Steel Ball Run is seinen instead of shounen. That means each chapter ranges from 35 to 60 pages long in comparison to the 20 page long
chapters of the Jojo Parts before. This may seem daunting at first, but once you get invested in Steel Ball Run it feels like the story was too short, despite being the longest Jojo Part to date. Steel Ball Run also changes the Jojo formula in its fights. Stands are no longer humanoid for the most part, and they function more as superpowers than spirits who fight for you. Each fight is engaging and unique, dealing with psychological warfare more than throwing blind punches. This makes the fights in Steel Ball Run among the best in the series.
Steel Ball Run is also magnificently written with very great story arcs throughout. However, there is a controversial near the very end direction which I won't spoil that will surely throw some people off and make them consider it unnecessary. Eh, I didn't mind it too much, though it does undermine what made a previous Part so good to a degree. Despite that, it still contains one of the greatest and most emotional endings I've ever read.
Part 4 may have been the pinnacle of Araki's style, but Steel Ball Run is his pinnacle in his talent. Truly perfect art in all fields. The detail is much more in depth than previous Parts and character designs are on point.
Steel Ball Run, though its primary cast is a fraction of other Parts, contains some of the best characters in Jojo, and in my opinion some of the best characters of all time. Gyro Zeppeli qualifies for the latter. He's hilarious but he also has a tragic backstory that offers him plenty of motivation while keeping him in mystery. Diego Brando is an interesting spin on Dio Brando from The Phantom Blood and his Stand Scary Monsters is awesome. Lucy and Steven Steel are a great duo. Steven is barely in the story but he's a well written and unique supporting character and while Lucy doesn't really come into play until the finale she is still compelling. Wekapipo is one of the best side protagonists and works well as a foil to Gyro. Steel Ball Run also contains my favorite side villain, Ringo Roadaggin, and though his time spent in the story is brief it is arguably he pinnacle of Jojo.
As for the Jojo and main villain, they're simply the best. Johnny Joestar is a tragic lightning rod of Shakespearean proportions. It's not only impossible to not root for him, it is immoral. He has one of the greatest and most significant character arcs I've ever experienced, and his Stand Tusk is awesome to boot. He is my favorite Jojo bar none, despite being one of the most depraved ones. Johnny is immoral and sinful and honestly can be considered the villain of Steel Ball Run, but he is still a compelling force of nature.
The villain, President Funny Valentine, in contrast, can be considered the hero to an extent, and is one of the most sympathetic villains to grace manga. In fact, it's no secret Funny Valentine is my favorite antagonist ever. He's like a better version of Ozymandias from Watchmen who takes pride in his actions rather than cry in secret. A true patriot, Funny Valentine will stop at nothing to make America great again. As said by the man himself, his "heart and actions are utterly unclouded. They are those of JUSTICE.". His Stand, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (D4C), has one of the most insane and unique powers of any Stand and makes for a more than satisfying final fight.
Steel Ball Run blew me away in every way. It is a literal epic, a poetic work of great magnitude following flawed heroes on a large scale journey that tests their spiritual and emotional strength as well as their physical. It is compelling and powerful and the fights are pretty damn great. Absolutely mind blowing and awe inspiring yet will leave you in an emotional wreck, despite the story still being filled with trademark Araki humor (Thanks mostly to Gyro and his obsession with making up gags). Johnny and Gyro are a perfect tag team; their relationship is strong and real and their chemistry is on point. They are part of what makes the story so damn compelling.
Steel Ball Run is one of the most intense and pleasing emotional rollorcoasters I've ever experienced. It contains some of my favorite characters in fiction history and is a fantastic new take on the Jojo universe that, dare I say, is utterly superior to all that's come before it. Featuring my favorite fights, my favorite Jojo, my favorite villain, my favorite story, and one of the most emotional endings I've read, it's no secret that I consider Steel Ball Run to be the greatest Jojo Part, and one of the greatest manga ever created, period.
I am writing this review simply because there was only one review which means that no matter how bad this review is it will still end up being the second most helpful.
Set in an alternate universe from previous parts as a result of the events at the end of Stone Ocean, Steal Ball Run is probably the apex of the massive Jojo's Bizzare Adventure franchise, which is no small statement. Araki has once again recycled and improved upon his formula for making terrifically bizarre adventures.
The premise for Steel Ball Run like many of the other parts of the JJBA series is fairly simple and straightforward
yet manages to go so far beyond the limits in depth and development of such a simple story. Essentially the story is about a cross-continental horse race across America with a prize of $50 million. There are many wacky and wonderful characters who enter this race ranging from a native american trying to save his village to a man who entered the race because he got a good fortune from a creepy fortune teller.
Moving onto the two main characters of Steel Ball Run. We have Johnny Joestar the titular Jojo of the series and Gyro Zeppeli. In his youth Johnny was a promising horse jockey until he was shot and paralyzed which resulted in him being unable to compete, he also lost all his fame and his father's love as well. It's at this point Johnny encounters the flamboyant Gyro Zeppeli who Johnny believes holds the ability to restore his ability to walk, with nothing to lose Johnny pursues Gyro. Gyro whilst reluctant at first allows Johnny to race alongside him in the Steel Ball Run. Araki decided only to have two central characters in this part as opposed to previous parts such as Stardust Crusaders and Vento Aureo which results in both characters receiving brilliant development over the course of the series, this is hands down the best bromance in anime and manga. There are still many notable side characters present and they still play an important role in the plot, we have a magnificent cameo performance from previous villain Dio Brando in the form of the suave ladies man Diego Brando who is willing to do anything to achieve his ambitions. As well as the mysterious Hot Pants who provided one of the most shocking twists in the entire series.
We then have the antagonist of the story Funny Valentine (named after the song 'My funny valentine' by Chet Baker) who happens to be the President of the United States and is the one secretly pulling the strings behind the scenes of the Steel Ball Run for his own nefarious means. Valentine manages to set himself apart from the other villains in the series and even manages to surpass his counterparts which is very impressive considering JJBA arguably has some of the best villains in any series. He manages to combine his strong philosophical and political views with perhaps the coolest ability of all time to become a truly great villain.
Once more Araki's artistic style has evolved further, his eccentric character designs have been brushed up to the point of perfection. Since the series moved from Weekly Shounen Jump to Ultra Jump which has monthly release the length of the chapters has lengthened, as well as the quality of the backgrounds and landscapes which vary greatly across the massive continent of America from vast desserts to frozen wastelands which are all captured beautifully.
The Stand fighting system is back once more, but has been refined further. Araki once again provides the reader with a banquet of fabulous powers and intelligent fights that other fighting series could only wish for. A special mention to Diego Brando's 'Scary Monsters' because well it is awesome.
Araki has really outdone himself this time. He has truly created one of the most exciting and memorable manga series of all time with Steel Ball Run, I have no idea how he plans to top himself with Jojolion but he has set the bar pretty damn high for himself and every other shounen author out there.
I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a fantastic series filled with intelligent and innovative fights, brilliantly developed characters who are genuinely relatable and for anyone who wants to read a series with horse races in it. If you are interested in reading Steel Ball Run you can probably get away with not reading the entire series from parts 1-6 but I would strongly advise you to check out the entire series as you would be missing out on a lot of greatness, at any rate you should at the very least watch the 2012 series as there are a few overlapping themes and characters which you should be aware of.
On many forums I've seen recommendations of Steel Ball Run as an "Absolutely amazing manga", "easily the best Jojos and epitomising everything about that 'style' of comic", and "From the art to story 10/10. Best thing i've ever read". After finishing it, I honestly can't say I see its appeal. The characters were barely fleshed out and quite boring, the fighting frequently was decided on pure "luck", rather than fighting strength or strategy, and the story was painfully plain.
The story - Coming in, I wasn't expecting a narrative masterpiece, but I was expecting a compelling story. I was very disappointed. There really isn't any
depth to it other than "I want to complete the race first", or "I want to assemble the corpse". The corpse could've been a very interesting part of the story - but besides it being an object that everybody wants, and some small abilities, it was hardly touched upon. There was almost non-stop fighting, and bc of that really wasn't much of a story. It was basically a stereotypical shounen way of handling stories.
Fighting - There were a couple - 3 or 4 fights that were decided by luck, which left a very bad taste in my mouth. Are real-life fights decided by luck? Sure. But the author makes a big point of "luck" being a main reason why the main character wins some fights, which I cannot fathom why. The bad guy does everything right - but because xxxxx happened just at the right time, the main character wins! Once would have been cute. when it happens more than a few times, it starts getting frustrating. I don't know why the author glorifies plot armor, but it made me lose a lot of emotional attachment to fights and characters.
Also frequently in fights, I would notice that powers are VERY inconsistent - while a random character that gets hit by ability X would instantly blow apart, when it hits the main character, they were given almost 10 seconds - to talk it out, figure out a strategy, and then execute it to get to safety. I noticed this happening in almost every single fight. The amount of plot armor in this manga was ridiculous.
Character - After 22 volumes, I had nearly no emotional attachment to a single one of the characters. I think this is due to the manga being absolutely dominated by fighting. When there is no flashback scene or racing going on, the characters are most definitely fighting, leading to close to no exploration of the character's personalities or character. I honestly think the manga absolutely dropped the ball in this regard, there were some painful and not-showing-at-all moments where one character would say a "gag", but besides that there really wasn't any interesting shows of personalities. Most of them felt like cookie cutter good guys that were just on different sides.
Each bad guy was given a brief exposition of why he wasn't really "bad", then was thrust toward the main characters to get beat.
Overall this manga felt like a mediocre shounen. No interesting characters, no emotional attachment, no interesting story, just tons of fighting with chunk of them being decided by plot armor. Wouldn't really recommend.
In Steel Ball Run, Araki once again delivers a story arc full of clever battles, creative abilities, crazy plots and lovely characters. No, this is even better than the previous arcs, as the author continues to recycle his own style and improve without limits. This is a very rare example in which the author actually gets better with time, and Steel Ball Run provides very good evidence for that.
The story starts out pretty simple: our crippled Joestar hero, Johny, gangs up with Gyro Zeppeli and aims for the top in the intense Steel Ball Run race. Each competitor has his own unique motivations, abilities and
means to win. Add the wackiness of the Stands to the mix and you've got yourself one hell of a ride, much like previous installments of the saga. But Steel Ball Run goes one step beyond and throws in characters/factions with their own agendas, a large conspiracy and personal quests.
That doesn't mean the story is complicated, but it definitely has interesting plot twists, intense conflicts and engaging character dynamics. Everything just flows so well that it's easy to get sucked in by the manga.
The art gets even more refined, making brilliant use of Araki's trademark style to highlight emotions, grant impact to a scene or simply serve as true feasts to the reader's eyes, specially with the rich character designs.
Gyro and Johny are likely the best JoJo protagonists to date, despite not topping Joseph from Part 2 in terms of badassery. They are far from perfect, but that's what makes them fascinating: they keep struggling with their inner demons, which are also their greatest enemies, in order to continue advancing, revealing more and more aspects of their personalities in the process. Their bond of friendship is quite powerful and authentic; even meaningless interactions are a lot of fun to watch. Oh, and Gyro's charisma is a huge plus.
The rest of the cast may not be as developed as Johny and Gyro, but they still shine. For starters, you've got Dio, who is again that bastard we all love to hate, manipulating everyone he can to achieve his personal goals. There is also the sympathetic cowboy Mountain Tim, the conflicted Hot Pants, the hilarious comedy relief Pocoloco and many other remarkable characters. The main antagonist is also great, using all of his experience acquired in combat, political power and honest, strong patriotism to pose a serious threat for the heroes.
As usual, battles are one of the biggest focus of the narrative and the main driving force behind the characters' growth, by putting them against desperate situations which demand a strong resolve and difficult choices to be made. While the Stands were becoming stronger and stronger in the previous arcs, Steel Ball Run brings most of them down dramatically. There are few overpowered abilities, making the battles very strategical and a lot demanding of the users. This is highlighted in battles such as the one against Axl Ro, which literally makes everyone involved face their sins, specially Johny and Hot Pants.
If you're up for some exciting, yet intelligent battles, a great cast of characters and one of the most bizarre races of the entire universe, then JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run is for you. And it doesn't matter whether you are an experienced reader of the JoJo saga or a total newcomer, because the Steel Ball Run excludes no one!
(Reviewed for the club "Reviews for the unreviewed")