Amidst the hulking bodies of twelve year-old boys who look like men, and grown men whose bodies rival those of only the greatest bodybuilders, it’s easy to overlook the development of Erina Joestar neé Pendleton, the love interest of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s first protagonist, Jonathan Joestar. After all, what viewer would pay attention to an unremarkable supporting character when there are bombastic fights to be had, powers to be gained, and fabulous musical fade-ins with Yes’s “Roundabout?”
The answer is a large number of people, when said unremarkable supporting character has become a powerful and formidable matron. More surprising is how easily her new role simply fit. Characterization, and character progression, are shadowy demons who often escape the grasp of even the most competent. For Erina’s transition to be so widely-accepted, the groundwork had to be laid early.
“Leave me be! I did not exchange blows to earn your gratitude! I strive to be a true gentleman! True gentlemen defend the honor of any lady in need. Though I knew prior that I would not emerge the victor, true gentlemen stake their bravery to defend any in need.”
-Jonathan Joestar to Erina Pendleton, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Episode One
Act I: Erina Pendleton, the maiden.
Erina’s introduction in the premiere episode is that of a narrative tool and nothing more. Her first appearance champions Jonathan Joestar, our first titular “JoJo,” as a true gentleman: one who will come to the aid of defenseless strangers even if he himself is rather hapless. Later, she does much of the same for JoJo’s antagonist, Dio, helping to show what a despicable character he inherently is. As cartoonishly evil as young Dio is, JoJo is the exact opposite: a pure knight who is truly above reproach because he is simply that good. Both men display their distilled personalities through the vessel of Erina.
In spite of her primary purpose as an emotional device for the two hulking leads, Erina still manages to show a bit of her mettle in the first episode. When the dastardly Dio dares to steal her first kiss, she immediately washes her mouth with brackish water from a puddle, earning his ire and causing Dio’s mask to slip in front of his classmates. It’s a minute victory that may seem unworthy of mention; however, it foreshadows the inner strength that Erina will come to possess.
Act II: Erina Joestar, the mother.
Framed within the grandiose narration of Robert E. O. Speedwagon, Erina returns to the series in Episode Four as the young woman who nurses Jonathan back to health. From this reunion, the two continue down very traditional paths as their relationship grows: Jonathan of the muscled hero and Erina of the emotional support. The most remarkable thing about their romance is the fact that two are quite boring people. Had Dio not seen fit to turn himself into a vampire, one can easily imagine them rusticating in the country, or in one of Jonathan’s many presumed houses, content to lead their uneventful but happy lives together.
“Jonathan Joestar lost his life on that voyage, and nobody would ever know of the events that transpired aboard that ship. None would ever learn of his brave exploits or his life as a gentleman, save for his descendents. However, I was certain that the child within my womb, his child, would learn of them from me.”
-Erina Joestar, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Episode Nine
Sadly, this was not to be, with Dio intruding on the couple’s honeymoon (following one of the more brilliantly and subtly-done sex scenes that one will have the pleasure of seeing animated), killing Jonathan and leaving Erina a widow. Although much of their parting is fraught with Dio and Jonathan’s attempts to outwit one another, there is a sense of duty and of closure that falls over Erina once Jonathan’s life has been extinguished. She narrates as the first story arc comes to a close, adrift in Dio’s coffin at sea. The same hardened look that flickers across her face in the opening image as she tries to wash away Dio’s kiss, returns as she holds a rescued infant in her arms, the very image of a strong mother and protector. It is here that one can easily begin to see the parallels in Erina’s progression to the triple goddess: her first appearance as the maiden, this appearance as the mother, and her introduction in the second arc of the series, Battle Tendency, to follow as the crone.
“JoJo’s father lost his life to war, and his mother lost hers to sickness. Regardless, Nanna Erina stayed strong through those tough times. She’s kindhearted to any and all, even a rotten hood like myself. I wonder if it was all those lonesome years that made her warmth so comforting.”
-Smokey, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Episode 10
Act III: Nanna Erina, the crone.
With her foundation laid early on in her appearances, and through following a tried and true character progression, it is then easy to see Erina as the formidable matron that appears in Episode 10, the first episode of Battle Tendency. Although she is described multiple times as kindhearted and warm, she also commands no small amount of power as the default head of the Joestar family. Before Joseph (the second “JoJo”) defends Smokey’s honor while the three of them dine in a restaurant, he checks with Erina both for permission and assurance of the moral high ground, reiterating her position not only as the head of the family in age, but in wisdom and morality as well. Her response to Joseph’s request to take action is spoken like a challenge: teach the racist patron a lesson without disturbing the other diners in the restaurant.
In spite of the majority of Erina’s actual character progression occurring off-screen, the audience is able to infer much from this small interaction. It is Erina, crybaby Erina with little to no agency, who now has the upper hand and the final say. Even amidst the testosterone-fueled duels, eye lasers, and Nazis, a normal woman can still be a force to be reckoned with.
4 responses to “Erina Pendleton, Erina Joestar, and Nanna Erina”
I wasn’t that into Erina in “Phantom Blood,” because, as you point out, she is mostly a plot device by which Dio and JoJo further define themselves, with precious few opportunities to make her mark. But she won me over immediately in “Battle Tendency” precisely because everything about her life — the hardships since overcame and how her influence clearly molded Joseph — is inferred so beautifully and effortlessly. Her bearing says everything the viewer needs to know.
That’s some efficient yet subtle storytelling right there!
That’s what I love about her characterization the most: the way she could evolve off-screen and have it appear natural in “Battle Tendency.” It speaks well of the construction of the JoJo’s anime, especially when one also considers how the series chooses to use exposition (through the narration of supporting characters). JoJo’s seemingly knows when to show and when to tell, and Erina is the perfect example.
It always interested me how the characters could become so much more mature in the many years between parts. Even with the change in personality, you can still tell deep down that this is the same Erina we saw in Part 1. Hell, even Speedwagon has come from living among hoodlums to becoming an oil tycoon. Not quite what a lot of people would have expected from the guy who used to deal primarily in exposition.