By Hirohiko Araki. Released in Japan as “Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is inherently ridiculous. If you don’t accept that from the start, this likely is not going to be the manga for you. Luckily, Phantom Blood lets you know this is the case right away. Everything is dramatic and over the top, characters scream at the top of their lungs for no real reason, and emotions are at a fever pitch. At the beginning of the book, with Jonathan and Dio as twelve-year-olds, you’d think this was simply a way to show off the drama of puberty. But no, it’s Araki’s style, and even as the manga moves ahead to show them as young adults, the high-pitched drama never quite goes away. And make no mistake about it: this is a good thing. If you embrace the series’ style, you’ll not only find yourself laughing a lot, but also really come to love it.
Fans may have already read JoJ’s when the 3rd arc was released over here a long time ago, but this is the original from 1987, and it tends to wear its bheart on its sleeve, as you’d expect. There is no moral ambiguity here, just good vs. evil. Our hero, Jonathan Joestar (JoJo) is pure and noble b\ut hopelessly naive, which is why he spends much of this volume suffering. Meanwhile, Dio Brando is a villain through and through, both in petty teenage ways (stealing the first kiss of the girl Jonathan likes) and in horrible monster ways (burning the beloved family dog in the incinerator). There are other people in the manga – despite vanishing halfway through the volume, I loved Erina’s response to the kiss, and Speedwagon looks to be the only person who might be able to keep up with the histrionics of the cast – but for the most part this is solely about Jonathan, trying to live his life and maybe make friends, and Dio, determined to ruin Jonathan’s life because… well, there’s an abusive father in there as well, but mostly it’s because Dio really wants to.
To a certain degree, summing up the plot of this is meaningless, as I think most people are going to be reading it for the visuals and the style. Araki is a great fan of rock music – Dio Brando is partly named after Ronnie James Dio (the other part I think you can guess), and Robert Edward O. Speedwagon will make any child of the ’80s nostalgic. Speaking of the 80s, this is from 1987, and looks it. Much as JoJo has influenced countless manga since its inception, it also has influences, which is why most of the cast look like First of the North Star outtakes, particularly once Jonathan and Dio grow up and start bulking out. And, of course, there’s the melodramatics I mentioned earlier. Jonathan doesn’t just react, he recoils in horror, screams to the heavens, pouts on his bed while looking out the window. Dio’s hatred is not shown merely via the occasional evil glance, he gets his own inner monologues and the occasional rant (including one that spawned a meme: “The first person you kissed wasn’t JoJo! It was me, Dio!”).
Subtlety is not something to come looking for here. But it’s glorious fun, even as I suspect it will end with the entire cast dead. So far things are mostly “realistic”, which only a mysterious ancient mask showing hints of the supernatural. But that changes towards the end of this volume, when we get… dare I say it… vampires! The bizarre of this adventure looks amazing, and I cannot wait to read more. (And digitally I can – the 2nd volume is out already for e-readers.)