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GENRE: Anime ORIGINAL AIR DATES: October 5, 2012 - November 30, 2012
// review by Matt

When I look at an anime series in depth, there are going to be spoilers. If at any time during this review you are interested in watching the show you are reading about, please stop immediately and begin watching.

You've probably heard people rave about JoJo's Bizarre Adventure but never bothered to check it out, or perhaps the existence of several different series under different names confused the heck out of you. Well, you're not alone, because I, too, was very confused to begin with. I was told to start with Phantom Blood but was all like, "Which one's Phantom Blood?". The animated series, "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure", is actually an adaptation of "Phantom Blood" and "Battle Tendency", the first two arcs from the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manga. Then, the following series are separate as of writing and go in this order: Stardust Crusaders, then Diamond Is Unbreakable. So when you start with Phantom Blood, that really means you start with Season 1 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. I hope that clarified a few confusing aspects to the show's chronology. The manga is in eight parts and currently the animated show only covers the first four parts of the manga, leaving four parts yet to be adapted.

So back to Phantom Blood; the opinions on this series are a fair little mixture. It tends to be the least favourite part according to fans, but I'm not in agreement with the majority of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure fans. While Phantom Blood is tonally quite different to the rest of JoJo, there's something about the series I find absolutely enjoyable on such a such a hidden level. Not only does it introduce a recurring series villain with lofty and ridiculous aspirations, it is also set in England (which ticks many boxes for me) and uses pseudo-accurate history to construct a very convincing story.

The very first episode conjures up the intended tone of the series: dark and menacing. It begins with an injured man on the verge of death after his horse and cart fell from a cliff. His wife did not survive the accident, but his baby son did. This man is Sir Joestar, the master of a wealthy estate. Sir Joestar mistakenly believes that the man who came to rob the crashed carriage, Dario Brando, was attempting to rescue him. Joestar offers to return the favour with riches, so the thief has a "change of heart".

Many years later, the baby from the carriage is now a young man. Jonathan Joestar, born of the rich and influential Joestar family. He performs well in his education and desires to be a gentleman. He is juxtaposed by the vicious and calculated Dio Brando, son of the man who attempted to rob the Joestar family carriage, a heinous young so-and-so who aims to be rich and powerful by any means necessary. After his alcoholic father passes away under suspicious circumstances, Dio is adopted by Sir Joestar, starting his new life at the Joestar estate. And with Dio being pretty much evil incarnate, it doesn't take long before he sets out to make Jonathan's life as miserable as possible. Spreading rumours, beating the living snot out of him, and even stealing his girlfriend's first kiss!

Oh, and he also incinerates Jonathan's pet dog! If you don't hate Dio by then, I assure you, that's the moment you will think of him as sub-human trash. However, thanks to a mysterious stone mask, it isn't long before Dio becomes super-human trash. Due to some wonderfully twisted story development, Dio essentially becomes a vampire/zombie cross with seemingly extra-sensory powers including brainwashing, mind control. and having wonderfully glorious-looking hair. He also constructs an entire army of vampire zombies to do his bidding, laying waste to British towns and generally being a nuisance.

It's up to Jonathan, now an adult with a passion for kicking ass and protecting his friends, to learn how to use "Hamon" powers. It's essentially some kind of electricity power infused with sunlight? I guess? These powers, taught to him by the great Will A. Zepelli, are the only method of defeating these vampires. Or you know, waiting for the sun to come up, because they're vampires. Jonathan, assisted by Zepelli and also bad-guy-turned-good-guy Robert E.O. Speedwagon, attempt to beat away at Dio until he can't be a giant nobber anymore.

So I've avoided mentioning them - the names. Most names are a play on various bands or music artists. The baron Zepelli is obviously a nod to Led Zepellin, Robert E.O. Speedwagon is REO Speedwagon. Dio, an obvious nod to legendary rockstar Ronnie James Dio. There are plenty others, especially going forward into later seasons.

Going on a bit of a tangent from Phantom Blood and discussing the show in a wider sense, it's really apparent if you have any familiarity with Hokuto no Ken that there's some significant "inspiration" going on. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure shares a great deal of similarities to Fist of the North Star, which no doubt served as a huge inspiration. The main character, Jonathan, greatly resembles Kenshiro. This is because the original JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manga is intended as a send-up of shonen manga (and those characters within them who often appeared to be muscled homosexuals) but like all quality send-ups ended up being good in its own right. Knowing the series is a joke helps explain the ridiculous situations, over-explained techniques, and moves that characters use, a staple feature of shonen manga. Why say "he ate a sandwich" when you can say, "Aah! His jaws clamped down! The ferocity of a mad and crazed individual, truly, the hunger has seized his mind! The delicious morsel before him is— nandemo!! It's gone!" etc.

If we saw JoJo as nothing but a send-up, it wouldn't explain why the show is impossible to put down. I tried to get into the infamous Gintama, an animated series and manga known for being nothing but one big piss-take but felt the lack of apparent actual story made the show hard to stick at. Because JoJo doesn't forget to weave a story with genuinely interesting characters and a truly astonishing web of intrigue, it has been hard to put down and has very quickly propelled its way up to the top of my favourite anime list alongside greats such as Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Dragon Ball Z. In a way, Dragon Ball Z itself is also a send-up and much like JoJo it sets out to have substance other than "oh look, funny joke" - perhaps that's why I like both so much, they're not afraid to get really silly. The same could be said for Bleach, too.

So back to Phantom Blood. The season contains 9 episodes, originally aired in Japan in 2012. The pacing is constant and there is no dead-air or waiting around unlike in other shows. It ends with a bittersweet finale, leading smoothly into the second part of the season, "Battle Tendency". Jonathan manages to defeat Dio, who by this point has become a severed head in a jar (à la Futurama) and the two sink into the ocean.

Inbetween all this you've got Jack the Ripper, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary Stuart, references and nods to famous rock musicians, violence, mystical powers and men who look like their muscles are heavy enough to make them topple over. It's like Fist of the North Star and Cho Aniki had a baby - a rather creepy, science-bending baby with a fixation on draining people's bloods and looking faaaaabulous while doing so.

Phantom Blood comes highly recommended and is imperative viewing if you wish to understand more about the world of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. I watched the show in Japanese with English subtitles, but an English language dub also exists. However you watch it doesn't matter; I just feel it's mandatory viewing for anybody who likes a good bit of fighting and a sprinkle of hyper-sexualized powerful men.

Hey, if they were ladies, somebody somewhere would be complaining. Think about it.


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