Hey guys. I’m Tesla. I review things. I’m going to start off with an ancient manga and recent anime that you’ve probably seen someone go nuts over recently: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. I’m a pretty harsh critic, but JoJo is one of my favourite anime/manga, so hopefully my mean commentary and gushing will cancel each other out and make a balanced review. That’s how it works, right?
So, a bit of background information to start. JJBA was written by Hirohiko Araki. It started way back in 1986 and is still going to this day. Despite being a huge influence on anime and manga – particularly the Shonen genre – it took 25 years for it to receive an anime adaptation.
JJBA is split into 8 story arcs (generally just called parts) that each follow the bizarre adventures of a character nicknamed JoJo. Likewise, I’m going to split my review into 8 parts and focus on one Part per review. …Because otherwise, this review would be ten billion words.
You know how, in long-running series, there’s always a huge fanbase full of nostalgia for the first installment? People who swear that there are no Pokémon after the first 151. People who hate any Star Trek captain after Kirk. People who despise the Star Wars prequels with a passion.
That isn’t true for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The first part is one of the worst, and everyone knows it. Even Hirohiko Araki thinks of it as an old shame.
The studio working on the anime adaptation knew this too. They sped up the pace to basically get Phantom Blood out of the way. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: the anime started with a 26-episode season, and only 9 of those episodes were spent on Phantom Blood.
Set in Victorian England, Phantom Blood is about the battle between Jonathan Joestar (the guy in the front in the above picture) and Dio Brando (the guy in the back). Jonathan is a gentleman; a man who will fight courageously for what he believes is right and just. He’s selfless, educated, and an all-around good, loving person.
Dio, on the other hand, is as evil as evil can be. His only motivations are to increase his status and power. He’ll use whatever means he can to accomplish his goals, sacrificing whatever and whoever he has to.
For a story that focuses entirely on the fight between JoJo and Dio, you’d expect JoJo and Dio to be deep, compelling characters. And let’s be honest here: they aren’t. Jonathan is every “good guy” character trait rolled up into one, and Dio is every “bad guy” character trait. There’s frankly not much to them.
It’s a strike against Phantom Blood, but not one that completely ruins the story. In particular, Dio is so outrageously evil that you’ll decide you need to keep watching to see what he’ll do next. To give you an idea of what I mean, in episode one, Dio puts JoJo’s dog in a box of combustible trash. That’s right – Dio incinerates JoJo’s dog. In episode one.
It’s rare for a protagonist, but JoJo’s one-dimensional nature makes him likable in his own way too. No matter what Dio throws his way, Jonathan will fight through it honourably, never sinking to Dio’s level. You can’t help but root for him.
The plot is also pretty straight-forward, but not in an awful way. You have the hero Jonathan and the villain Dio. Dio becomes a vampire thanks to an evil Aztec artifact that just happened to be sitting on the Joestars’ wall.
After surviving an initial, fairly epic battle against Dio, Jonathan meets a mentor character, William Zeppeli. Zeppeli teaches Jonathan the power of the Ripple. The Ripple is the sort of energy that all shonen manga has – it lets the characters do cool things. After mastering the Ripple in a surprisingly short amount of time, Jonathan, Zeppeli and minor character Robert E. O. Speedwagon have to fight through Dio’s army of vampires and zombies to end the curse of the stone mask once and for all.
So far, we’ve got a fairly stock group of characters and a common plot. So what, you may ask, makes JJBA stand out? The answer is the word “bizarre”. Every Part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, from 1 to 8, is packed to the brim with weird stuff that no writer in their right mind would ever think of. And it is awesome.
First off, check the names of the characters – there’s a lot of
subtle references to classic rock. JoJo gets his nickname from the Beatles’ Get Back. Robert E. O. Speedwagon? R.E.O. Speedwagon. Dio Brando is a bit of an odd name out, being named after Ronnie James Dio and Marlon Brando.
The minor characters keep this pattern and run with it far past the point of sensibility. Two fellow Ripple warriors are named Dire and Straits. The oldest and wisest Ripple master’s name is Tonpetty (after Tom Petty). There’s also Bruford named after the drummer of Yes, and a group of zombies named Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones after the members of Led Zeppelin.
It’s not just the naming schemes that are outrageous. The art direction is ridiculous to the point of beauty. Everything in JJBA is bright, vivid, and just an absolute delight to look at. When characters have internal monologues, you don’t just see a close-up of their face. You see a facial expression capturing exactly how the character feels, with a colour scheme that doesn’t even begin to take into account what colour the characters actually are. Sometimes there will even be moving patterns, just to accentuate the emotions.
There’s more to JJBA’s signature style than wacky colour schemes. Writing Japanese sound effects on the screen is a staple of JJBA art, as are the characters standing, sitting and jumping in absurdly flamboyant poses.
As odd as this sounds, this is another strike against Phantom Blood… at least in the manga version. Reading the manga makes it obvious that (at least in the early parts of Phantom Blood) the ridiculous poses had more to do with Araki being bad at drawing poses and proportions.
The people remastering the manga into the anime, luckily, understood this. They redrew all the really ugly poses into ones that made much more sense, but retained all of the original’s emotions. Then, through the colour, animation, and all the other visuals, accentuated the passion even more.
That’s the key to JJBA – passion. The main motif of JJBA is that Jonathan and the other Joestars that follow him, all share the human spirit, and it’s that which makes them strong. Their enemies – the vampires and zombies – all lack the human spirit, and that’s why they lose.
This passion is everywhere in JJBA. The characters and story aren’t complex, but everything is passionate. The wild colour scheme, the written sound effects, the silly poses… everything is set up so that the viewer feels the show’s passion. It’s not just the passion of the characters; you also feel the emotions that the writers, animators and Araki all felt while creating each scene.
I haven’t mentioned the audio aspect of the show, but rest assured, it’s just as passionate as the visuals. The background music is full of emotion. The sound effects (not just the written ones) are punchy and dynamic. The opening theme is absolutely full of passion.
The voice acting is top-notch. The Japanese voice actors are fantastic, and the English voice actors are… well, almost as good. The English dub loses a little bit of its quality because all of the voice actors are doing fake English accents, but they’re good enough at it that it doesn’t drag down the show.
So, you’ll probably notice by now that, while I said Phantom Blood was one of the worst Parts of JJBA… I didn’t actually have much that was bad to say about it. That’s because of the absolutely brilliant way it was adapted from manga to anime. Nearly everything that was bad about the manga got ironed out by David Productions, turning Phantom Blood from an old shame into something that I can highly recommend.
Of course, Phantom Blood isn’t perfect. The pacing is honestly awful. Phantom Blood’s pacing in the manga wasn’t particularly great, and the anime can’t fully save it. It packed everything down to 9 episodes. This isn’t enough to get to know some of the characters before they get unceremoniously killed off, so – even with the amazing visuals and audio – it can feel hard to care about them.
A lot of the other main flaws are only obvious after you continue the anime and can compare Phantom Blood to the later parts. The next 17 episodes – which comprise Part 2 (Battle Tendency) – show even more passion in its visuals and sound while having more complex characters.
Also, compared to Battle Tendency (let alone Part 3 – Stardust Crusaders), you see that Phantom Blood’s art could have been much better. Araki’s art was cleaned up extremely well, but sometimes even the redrawn art was awkward or ugly.
Overall, I’m going to give JJBA: Phantom Blood 7.5/10 for the anime version and 3/10 for the manga version. I can’t promise that Phantom Blood will be the best thing you ever watch, but it’s more than worth watching. It’s especially worth watching as an introduction to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the much more exciting Parts that follow it.
The manga, however… I only recommend reading it if you’ve watched the anime and want to see more. The manga has a few scenes that were cut as part of the anime’s breakneck pacing, and it’s kind of a shame to lose them, but the story is much better told by the anime.
You bastard… how many lives have you sucked to heal those wounds?!
I don’t know… how many animes have you reviewed in your lifetime?