Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a constant in the anime/manga world, which I would compare as the Australia in the World of Shonen. Everyone acknowledges that it’s there, it’s cool, but you don’t know many people actually invested in it. Jojo’s always stood out for it’s outrageously neat character design, obtuse use of color, and it’s ever-continuing storyline that has been expanded out for more than two decades. I never really paid much attention to it as its fans were few and far between and rarely went into detail of what made it amazing.
Thanks to the revived series launched in 2012 and the new fighting game of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle, interest for the classic series has gone in quite an upswing. It’s become an obsession for some of my friends and has really appealed to me with its blatant love for Western stories and musicians. As I learned more about the series, I was surprised to know that it was an overarching story taking place over several generations with very loosely tied story threads.
So for the purpose of this write-up, I’m going to review the first arc, Phantom Blood that covers the first nine episodes of the 2012 series. I’ll watch all of Battle Tendency and Stardust Crusaders as well, but I want to review them all individually to see how they stand in quality. Put on your Mask of the Red Death and pour yourself a glass of wine as we go back to the 80s to see the first series of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Series Director: Kenichi Suzuki
Series Composition: Yasuko Kobayashi
Original Author: Hirohiko Araki
Character Design: Takako Shimizu
Art Director: Shunichiro Yoshihara
Animation Production: David Production
Licensed by: Nothing Yet!
Synopsis: In 1880s Great Britain, the young Jonathan Joestar meets his new adopted brother Dio Brando who only wants to usurp Jonathan as heir to the Joestar family. However, his attempts are thwarted and when he resorts to the mysterious powers of an ancient stone mask, it transforms him into a vampire. Jonathan, with Italian Hamon master Will A. Zeppeli and former street thug Robert E.O. Speedwagon at his side, must now stop at nothing to destroy Dio now that his sights are set on nothing less than world domination.
Right off the bat, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood feels completely unlike most current anime. The story is drenched in Western influences mixing elements from Dracula and Jack The Ripper with a peculiar sense of bravado where fights can happen from the drop of the hat. As much as young Jonathan Joestar wants to keep to the code of being a gentleman, he is always tested by the ever-conniving and despicable Dio Brando. With these entertaining, if broadly defined characters, this short 9-episode series never wastes any time showing you the constant clashing of this fated rivalry as the tension ratchets on.
Hirohiro Araki’s overzealous love for righteous heroes and twisted villains comes with a no-frills approach in his first series. Every action as vicious or melodramatic as it seems always carries well throughout the next scene and set-piece to drive the plot forward. As simplistic as the story is, it never drops to being boring as each new development works as character growth. The way bones break and amazing attacks are performed are explained in their own creative forms of martial arts and science similar to actions in the early days of One Piece. And the anime wants you to know this, placing giant, grooving letters of onomatopoeia with practically every scene.
Jojo’s has always been known for it’s unique character design, with a dominantly male cast that is rugged, chiseled, and muscular starting by the age of 13. Araki is able to make this design work as the machismo brought on by Jonathan and his compatriots Zepelli and Speedwagon all comes from a good, virtuous center rather than the forced badass-atude coming from a Rob Liefeld/Todd MacFarlane comic. But as neat as the design is, the use of color can come off as being very off-putting at times, as most of the characters have completely different color palettes depending on the time of day. There are little touches to tell everyone apart, but it does get jarring why they wanted to do a complete change instead of applying more shading.
The first arc moves at a very slick pace leaving each episode with memorable scenes and new dramatic twists. That being said, the story is not that hard to figure out. As incredible as the opening song is for this series, it gives a little too much away to what happens throughout most of the story. Although it does omit what I believe will surprise many people with Jojo’s in the fighting scenes. There’s an adventure that goes through the second half and it surprised me how brutally all the characters fought and how people on both sides would perish. Sometimes it’s over the top and other times it’s touching, but it never stops being a manly thrill ride. And yes, it gets way more action packed and intense with crazy ideas than you will expect.
The only other knock I could have about Phantom Blood is that it establishes a lot of scenarios and ideas that aren’t explored until Battle Tendency, which takes place 50 years after the events of this series. If I had stopped when this ended, then I would have thought many of the musically inspired characters were introduced without payoff. But I assure you; you won’t want to stop knowing how this ends and how intrinsically fascinating and wonderfully off-kilter this world is. So if you need a break from the long dragged out stories but still something to appeal to the fighter within you, stand up for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
(Any series that ends with Roundabout by Yes as their ED gets so many points in my book)
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is currently available on Crunchyroll and is currently unlicensed, but some studio should really fix that. The original manga is ongoing, written by Hirohiko Araki and published by Ultra Jump/Viz Media.
For more of his work, you can find it on the site One of Us.