We have a special treat today folks. From all the way back in 1986, we have Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, one of the bigger and more famous long-running manga titles in Japan. With over 100 volumes in total, many novels and animes, and even a couple of video games, this is a juggernaut of a series. However, let’s step back to the very beginning of it all, with the first story arc. Finally getting a print edition (and a hardcover no less!), let us begin the first part of this long adventure. Is it good?
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 Phantom Blood, Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written & Drawn by: Hirohiko Arakii
Translated by: Evan Galloway
After a brief opening where we learn about this mysterious stone mask that the Aztecs use to have that granted them eternal life, we flash forward to 1880. Somewhere in England, a young man by the name of Dio Brando is adopted by George Joestar, the patriarch of a very wealthy family. George thought he was saved before in the past by Dio’s father, so by fulfilling the man’s dying wish, George brought Dio into his family. However, this kid has some special plans to change his life around while there.
You see, George has a son by the name of Jonathan Joestar (Jojo as a nickname), who is a very sweet but naive kind of kid. Dio plans on ruining his life and discredit him so that he becomes the sole heir to the Joestar fortune. From there begins a very long and nasty scheme to psychologically break and destroy Jojo. However, that’s only one part of this very long tale and eventually, things will come back to that mysterious stone mask, now residing in the Joestar estate.
Ominous foreshadowing alert folks!
Now, I am as familiar with Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure as many other manga/anime fans out there. I did know that there would be a lot of action, supernatural antics, and pure craziness in the manga in some ways, hence the “Bizarre Adventure” part of the title. However, if you were just to read this book and just stop at a certain point, you might be a bit underwhelmed. The Phantom Blood Part 1 is a rather slow and plodding start to what becomes such a huge franchise, that if not for the ending and hearing about what will be coming, this may not exactly sell you on continuing with it.
The story, to start off with and ignoring the odd Stone Mask opening, is about an aristocratic family (sort of) and internal problems going on with them as a newcomer enters and starts screwing with the youngest member. There’s nothing wrong with this by any means, since the story is executed rather well. You feel sympathetic for Jojo, while growing to hate Dio really quickly. I mean, sure, I don’t get how Dio pulls off some of his plans at points (how exactly does he turn Jojo’s friends against him so quickly?) and some of his actions seem very over the top, but everything works here for the most part.
However, the book might not feel all that exciting at this point, since not a lot actually happens beyond Dio messing with Jonathan. It’s decent drama and all, but probably not why someone would buy this series. It picks up when there’s a time skip and we see what the Dio’s new evil plan is, but if you were expecting something more in the bizarre department or that you have heard exciting things about the series, you will probably be disappointed. Thankfully, the story does pick up significantly in final third when the action kicks in more and the rather unusual aspects start happening. It starts showing its true colors and gets you really excited to see where things will be going now. Outside of the very awkward and abrupt ending the trade collection has, the final section of the book should easily renew anyone’s interest if it was fading.
While there isn’t much to this supporting cast so far (we meet some people, but don’t get much out of them at this point), the two lead characters, Jojo and Dio, are pretty solid. Like stated before, Jojo is a very likeable character and you really come to care about him over the course of the book. He’s a true gentleman as characters say, always trying to believe in the good of people or trying to do what’s right, even if his emotions at points get the best of him. Also, throughout the book, you watch him grow and develop as a character too, seeing him get stronger both physically and mentally after dealing with the abuse and troubles he has.
Dio, on the other hand, is an absolutely terrible human being. You can sort of understand how he would be messed up a bit considering the father he had, but his anger and sadistic nature seems to even go beyond that (as one character stated, he may have been born this rotten). It gets to the point where it’s hard to really buy into his wickedness considering how extreme it is (makes you wonder how some people buy into his facade at points), but he works regardless as a great antagonist in this drama. Considering the ending of the book, he may be getting more dangerous soon.
The writing on the book is solid and holds up pretty well, especially considering it’s almost thirty years old. The pacing isn’t too bad and things move rather smoothly most of the time. Sometimes though, it goes a bit too fast or too slow in areas, while having some weird transitions at points. The feels a bit uneven because of that, but it’s not often. The characterization is good for the most part and no one ever feels too out of character. When the supernatural aspects to come into play, they are rather effective. They feel creepy, unnerving, and give you a real sense of dread. The dialogue and narration are fine, but even with this being translated and having the dialogue adjusted, it feels a bit stilted and unnatural in areas. It’s often seen with the monologues a few people have and some of the narration. Still though, the writing in general isn’t too bad and shouldn’t cause many problems.
The artwork is both good and bad. There are plenty of things to like about it, but there are also some areas that really don’t look so good either. The characters are designed rather well and are easily distinguishable from one another in the facial and clothing areas. Body type is a bit sketchier though, since most guys are incredibly beefy and have huge arms and legs to them. There’s nothing wrong with that, since it seems just to be the style of art, but it does get a bit silly when the characters have such tiny heads on gigantic bodies. Speaking of silly, it’s really hard to tell the age of characters in this book. Jojo and Dio, even though they are teenagers at the start and then age seven years by the end of the book, never really looked like they get older outside of getting bigger muscles. The action of the book looks incredibly intense and exciting, with how brutal and powerful each of the blows look. Where it starts getting wonky with the fighting is the body movement, since the foreshortening is awful and characters bend in some of the most awkward manners I ever seen. It really gets downright distracting at points and can take you out of the moment.
The other areas of the artwork fare better. The layouts are nice and easy to follow, while the scenery and locations look nice. I especially like some of the detail put into the scenery and characters, helping a lot with making things so distinguishable. The designs and areas where things tend to get more supernatural and wild really look amazing, and really help with the creep factor. There are also some color pages in here, but strangely, most of the color pages have an orange and brown color palette. It’s definitely something you don’t usually see and leads to some more interesting imagery at points, but it’s kind of ugly looking regardless. Overall, the artwork is a mixed bag and it does take some time getting used to. If you just can’t get into after reading the entire volume, then it’s probably not something you’ll turn around on.
Last thing to note about the book is its production quality: The page count is about the same as that of a Viz Signature book like Real or Terra Formars, but the entire book itself is a hardcover. The binding, at least on my copy, is very nice and allows for you to open it up rather far without any words or artwork being cut off. The book has a brief interview bit with the creator of the series at the end that gives you some thought about what he was thinking when he was writing and drawing this part of the series, which is nice. The only odd thing about this collection is that, according to some brief research I did, the collected edition of this in Japan actually had three more chapters in it. I’m not sure why they were taken out, and presumably put in the next volume, but that certainly explains the very abrupt ending here.
It could be just me, but that looks rather painful.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 Phantom Blood, Vol. 1 is a decent, but not so great start to this series. While it picks up at the end, it feels like it does not truly represent what this series is about and what it became as time went on. The story is fine and has two solid characters, but it’s not all that exciting to start with. The writing is decent and the artwork is hit or miss at points. If you are fan of the series and haven’t checked out the first part of the manga yet, this is worth your time. However, if you have never read Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in any way, I would recommend holding off on buying this until you get the second volume or at least find it at your local library.
Jojo’s Bizaree Adventure is available from Viz Media. The second volume of Phantom Blood is actually already available online for $10.99 digitally from Viz, along with the third volume. However, the physical copy will be arriving in May. The third part of the series, Stardust Crusaders, is already available from Viz and is actually completed. Finally, Part 2: Battle Tendency will start being released this coming fall.