To know anything of Japanese pop-culture Internet in 2016 simply means to know of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Regardless of whoever has ever seen or read the series, the reputation from the tales of the legendary Joestar family has spread like influenza. Getting around social media or information outlets for anime or manga without spotting something from JJBA is about as likely as getting through a visit to SeaWorld without getting wet.
As someone who is admittedly slow at picking up and watching shows, I had always had interest in diving into this series, but I never really mustered up enough in me to start the hulking beast. Sure, it wasn’t a two hundred episode investment or something that relies on you assimilating yourself into it, but the words “eight parts” aren’t exactly the most welcoming to a man who only can spare a handful of hours a week to his evenings. Despite everyone (and I mean eve-ry-one) lobbying for me to give it a shot, I somehow managed to go two full years of recruitment without giving in. Boy was I missing out.
Possibly the warmest welcome to the world of JJBA is to be found in how smoothly the first part, Phantom Blood, sets things up. There aren’t complicated rules and political power struggles from the jump, and the story feels borderline believable in the early stages. Following the lives of Jonathan Joestar, and his adopted brother, Dio Brando, Phantom Blood manages to build the foundation for a franchise whilst crafting a mesmerizing tale of jealousy, love, tragedy, and triumph.
The principals of developing a character usually dictates the audience comes to understand beliefs, values, and flaws through the humanization of the role. Perhaps that is why there is a degree of genius within the direction creator Hirohiko Araki takes by not only constructing the first JoJo by the book, but also creating something of a horrifying antithesis to the above principles in the literal dehumanization of Dio. The use of fantasy to take a spiteful man and strip him of his very humanity to place himself perfectly opposite and above his most hated rival vibrantly give contrast a metaphysical form.
Dio’s harsh freefall from the norm brews quietly with him undermining every aspect of young Jonathan’s life however he can. To call his attempts on the heir to the Joestar name innocent, however, would be far from the truth. Beating him to a pulp in front of his friends, forcing separation from his girlfriend with a kiss, turning his loving father against him, and, most gruesomely, burning his beloved best friend and dog in an incinerator, Dio Brando cements himself as a detestable force Jonathan can only attempt to live with.
With the set-up for Dio’s drastic character in place, JoJo begins his own transformation in a righteous way as he embarks on a perilous journey to a rough London neighborhood in pursuit of a cure for his father’s poisoning (done by none other than Dio, of course). Once confronted, Dio drops the ball down the slope by harnessing an ancient evil power, transforming him into a fearsome vampire. During the initial struggle, JoJo’s father, George, is killed saving his son’s life. While the “father dying in son’s arms” thing has been done to death, there is a lot of power in George’s final moments being apologizing for being so hard on his child. Every man has his defining moment, and the tragedy of losing his father serves as the catalyst that ignites the flamboyant fires JJBA becomes known for spanning generations.
Dio gathers his forces in particularly unsettling ways throughout Phantom Blood, leaving imagery that falls darker than a lot of what I have ever seen in anime (which might not be saying much given my low tally). One scene sticks out strongest, with a mother begging for her child to be saved from Dio’s forces. Agreeing that neither him nor his forces would bring harm to the child, he turns the mother into a gruesome thrall that consumes the very son she was trying to protect by sacrificing herself to the heartless fiend.
For every bit of sinister chills Dio’s dehumanization brings, Jonathan becomes more and more endearing in balance. Seeing the results of Dio’s twisted goals, he vows to lay his once brother to rest, gaining the powers of Hamon (appropriately the powers that are effective against vampires) from training under William Anthonio Zeppeli. With both the polar opposites perfecting their powers, JoJo endures more sacrifices that only make the swiftly approaching conclusion all the more sweet.
Growing up doing writing contests, contrast had always been a favored literary device of mine, but the first part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure delightfully fuels the story with it in a way I just know would have taken my young life by storm. The most important aspect of the show can be found in the simple fact an overplayed narrative boldly uses everything it has to sparkle in a way that not only breaks the mold, but reinvents it. The other JJBA parts are far off in other paths, but for what is worth, this was an unexpected introduction to a franchise.
Do you have a series you’ve been holding off? Or perhaps one you are really glad you started? Let me know. As always, thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day!