JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood, Vol. 1

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.

jojo1

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.)

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 2

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.

Kamachi wrote the 2nd volume of the Index series in 17 days at editorial request. I imagine it was a combination of “wow, this series got very popular very fast” and “a book we had slotted for this month fell through, fix it fix it fix it.” And so the 2nd book of the Index series, which Kamachi says deals with the subject of a “failed hero” and a “failed heroine”, ends up being something of a failed novel as well. This is not to say there aren’t many points of interest, especially for the Index fans, and there are certainly some evocative passages. But the first Index book was about magic and science smashing together and seeing what happened. The second book is a horror novel, and darker than it really needed to be at this early stage of the game.

index2

Introduced in this volume: Aleister Crowley, Aisa Himegami. There’s also a subtle mention of Misaki Shokuhou if you know who she is from Railgun. For Railgun fans, this takes place at the same time as the final episodes of the first anime season. Oh, and for those curious, this shares the same readability issues as the first – the prose is awkward and verbose, inclined towards long lectures about magic and science, bolds text for obscure reasons, etc.

You’ll notice I left off our villain for this book, Aureolus Isard (yes, Isard – look, some romanizations are bound to be different, deal with it). It’s not exactly a spoiler to say he doesn’t pop up again, mostly as his function was fulfilled in this book – he is what Touma is not. Yes, Touma muses as to whether he might have become someone like Aureolus if he hadn’t been able to save Index in the previous book, but where it counts, Touma is a ‘hero’. He refuses to kill the fake Aureolus even though he probably would be justified, while our so-called villain not only has to dispatch a cut-rate dummy of himself in order to lengthen the book a bit (the anime cut this entire part out, and while I normally gripe about things like this I can’t blame them), but he happily sacrifices an entire building full of students to fill his plans, which in the end are less ‘save Index’ and more ‘notice me, Index’. He doesn’t deserve more space in this review.

Index doesn’t really get much to do here, something you will sadly be hearing me say a lot from now on. That said, she does manage to figure out a lot of what Aureolus is doing just from watching how he uses magic, so once again shows how she’s very dangerous with all the knowledge in her head. Most of the real character development goes to Stiyl Magnus and Touma himself. Stiyl begins the route towards being an actual ally of Touma rather than an enemy reluctantly assisting him. His love of battle and callous attitude towards collateral damage begins to shift about halfway through the book, something he notes himself, wondering if Touma has influenced him. Like Aureolus, he too harbors a grudge against Touma for saving Index when he could not; unlike Aureolus, he’s willing to accept it because it means Index is happy.

As for Touma, it’s only been about 8-9 days since he lost every memory in his head, and the most amusing part of the book is the fact that it doesn’t actually make a damn bit of difference. Even though he spends much of the time wondering what his old self would do and how his old self would have reacted – and it’s suggested this is why he’s reluctant to follow through on Index’s obvious romantic feelings towards him – in the end, the reader is amused because old Touma and new Touma are exactly the same – when you wipe Touma down to nothing but ‘learned information’ with no personal memories at all, he does the exact same things for the exact same reasons.

Lastly, there’s Aisa, who also suffers a bit from being underdeveloped in this novel. Her backstory is tragic, but we don’t really get inside her head enough to feel more than a brief “oh, what a horrible thing to happen to a little girl”. Index at least got a bit more focus in the first book. Still, she actually manages to survive to the end of the book, unlike most of the rest of the students in that building. (The death of the students is the main aspect of the ‘horror’ I was talking about, and it’s really creepy and horrible, and I’m not sure I mean that in a good way). Given that Index likes to have character ‘types’, and Aisa is a mostly stoic girl with a monotone delivery, I think she’s a good bet to be a valuable member of the main cast.

Unless, of course, an even more popular stoic girl with a monotone delivery shows up in the next volume and makes Aisa fade into the background so much that she almost becomes a joke character. But really, what are the chances of that happening?

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1

By Aya Kanno. Released in Japan as “Baraou no Souretsu” by Akita Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Viz Media.

There should probably be “And William Shakespeare” somewhere in the credits above, but I don’t begrudge anyone for leaving it out – this is a very loose interpretation of four of Shakespeare’s earliest works: the famous historical tragedy Richard III, and the less famous and more problematic trilogy, Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3. That’s Henry and Richard on the cover, both looking bishonen and troubled, and surrounded by rose thorns, as is appropriate to the Wars of the Roses. Kanno sticks with much of the basic plot of the Henrys here, but adds her own twists, primarily by having Richard and Henry meet in a secret grove without recognizing each other, and feeling a bond between the two f them. It’s not quite BL, and certainly won’t be once Richard realizes who Henry is, but it’s very shoujo manga.

rrk1

Richard himself is the primary focus, and rightly so. As you’d expect, the portrayal of Richard here is a lot more sympathetic than the villain of Shakespeare’s works. Rather than a deformed hunchback, Richard here seems to be intersex, much to the horror and loathing of his mother. His father doesn’t seem to mind as much, but still thinks Richard is a bit too frail and sickly to go into battle with him against the king – even though he can hear his son’s thoughts at dramatic times in the battle. There’s a nice shot of Richard as a child in the early part of this volume, before we realize that Kanno has shifted things up a bit with his background, where we see him looking almost exactly like Kitaro from the old 60s horror manga. Richard’s identity and body hatred fuels most of his anger and frustration.

Some of the Shakespeare has been left intact, of course. Queen Margaret is handled beautifully – one of Shakespeare’s strongest female roles, she gets short shrift these days as she’s not from a ‘famous’ play, but from the Henrys. She has no respect at all for her husband, and is fully prepared to step onto the battlefield and lead men against those who might claim the crown – and indeed innocents who may happen to be in the way. As for Henry himself, his piousness and weakness as a ruler is also portrayed very well here – he doesn’t want anyone to be hurt, but has no solution to offer except to keep praying. Kanno’s art excels here – a shot of Margaret looking down on Henry curled up in a ball, her face filled with disgust, is probably my favorite in the whole book. Oh yes, and the late Joan of Arc is here as well, her spirit seemingly haunting Richard, which fits with the negative portrayal of her in Shakespeare’s works, and adds a nice supernatural element to the mix.

Those who loved Otomen won’t find too many similarities here – this is a deliberate tonal change of pace from her previous series, filled with drama, intrigue, and betrayal. And a few battles, including one with Richard’s father the Duke of York that forms the cliffhanger of this volume. If you like Aya Kanno and Shakespeare, this is a very good pickup for you.