The Victorian era, a time of prosperity, a time of opportunity, a time of magical vampires! Hang on a second, that last one seems a bit bizarre. And yes it is bizarre; it’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure!
Jojo has always been a shonen battle series with a small cult following, with many of its multi-parts never seeing success across seas with western audiences. Thankfully, studio David Production decided to take a risk and tell the masterfully woven tale of the Joestar family in animated form. And while Phantom Blood, the first arc of the series, takes a while to get going, once it does, it’s a spellbindingly whacky tale that kicks off an unforgettable adventure.
Set on the outskirts of Victorian London, Jojo follows a young man called Jonathan Joestar (shortened to Jojo) as his family adopts the son of a poor thief who saved his father’s life, the boy being the handsome and brave Dio Brando. The two young men clash from the moment they meet, and even after years of growing up together they still despise each other.
Once reaching adulthood, the two seem to have settled their differences. However, all is not as it seems as Dio has been researching the power of a strange mask that is said to give unimaginable power. One fateful night when an attempt to kill Jojo’s father goes wrong, Dio has no choice but to use the mask and obtain this power, the power of the night, the power of vampirism. Now, joined with his friends, Jojo must set off across England to defeat Dio with the power of the sun and save the world!
The premise alone is crazy enough to catch most people’s attention, but it’s not just the story that makes Jojo so fun, it’s also the fun that it has with itself.
Jojo is a shonen battle anime through and through. Some may argue that it helped influence the genre, but looking at it now it’s clear that it wasn’t trying to influence anything, and was in fact mocking the tropes so commonly found in this type of anime. Characters pose in over-the-top positions, they scream out their super moves as loud as possible, they gain power for completely unexplained reasons other than the fact it is their destiny, and it never for a second takes itself too seriously.
The show never goes too far with its abuse of the tropes, always keeping it within the realm of believability and not parody. Never for a second do you think the show is mocking the genre it’s based in. Completely the opposite, it’s almost like it’s embracing and praising it for being so bombastic. It wants you to know it’s having as much fun as you are.
It also helps that Phantom Blood never slows down during its nine episode run, constantly throwing more kooky characters into the mix to try and keep up with its consistently fast pace. Jojo doesn’t want you to ever feel bored, and so it always finds new ways to catch your attention. Be it by making you laugh, cry, or cheer the protagonists on, Jojo is never dull.
The biggest fear that many will have going in to Jojo is the art style. While the music (including OP & ED), the voice acting and the pace are all fantastic, many will have a problem agreeing with the animation. Jojo goes for a strange broad approach by making up for the lack of money in the budget by making every shot as over the top as it can be. Characters will stand in strange ways and colours will invert during moments of tension to add life to what many might feel is a motionless show. While this animation may bug you, after the first few episodes you won’t even notice it and will soon fall in love with its unique and original style.
Phantom Blood is just the beginning of a truly bizarre adventure. It sets up the events that take place in sequel series, but at the same time is a wonderful spectacle that can be watched on its own. It’s a must-see for all shonen battle enthusiasts and a great way to kick off one of the best stories in the anime industry.