As the title says, after many years of reading manga I started on the legendary Jojo series. Starting right at the beginning with reading the whole of Part 1: Phantom Blood. For those that don’t know Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest running manga series of all time, with 131 volumes so far, split into 8 parts, with a 9th on the way. This is one of those series that I’ve known about for a very long time, but haven never actually read, mainly due to the length, and I didn’t really know anything about it, apart from that it was supposed to be weird.
Looking for something new to try, I decided to make a start on the long running series and read the whole of part one in one go. I read the recent editions which tells the first part over 3 volumes (which is 5 volumes in Japan). I had no exposure to the series, so didn’t know what to expect at all, and was surprised by how good bits of it were and how dull other bits are.
Phantom Blood kicks of the series by telling the story of Jonathan Joestar, the naïve and optimistic son of a wealthy landowner. Jonathan’s father adopts Dio Brando, whose own father has died. Years prior Jonathan’s father believes his life was saved by the elder Brando, while he was actually robbing him, which leads him to owe Brando a debit, that is repaid by raising his son. Jonathan and Dio have an instant rivalry, with Dio’s only mission being to inherit the fortune Jonathan’s father will leave behind.
That’s a brief explanation of the plot that sets Phantom Blood in motion, with the story getting stranger and more bizarre from there. There is also a mask that is pivotal to the story that is introduced in the opening pages of the first chapter, telling you straight away that this isn’t a story grounded in our reality, even if the next few chapters take place in Victorian England and don’t feel that fantastical. When Dio wears the mask, at the end of volume 1 in the new editions, he’s given powers that make him beyond powerful. I feel that the story can be split into two, pre and post Dio wearing the mask. In my opinion the story is a lot more interesting in the first section.
When we first meet Jonathan he’s trying to be a gentleman, protecting a woman, Erina (who later becomes Jonathan’s love interest and is also one of the best characters), from bullies, but is beaten up in the process. His instant reaction is to snap at her when she thanks him, stating that he was just trying to be a gentleman. It’s not the architype hero you’d expect from a Shonen series. A far-cry from someone like Goku, Jonathan is a deeply flawed character. He’s selfish, egotistical and a loner that no one trusts. His only friend is his pet dog, Danny, who he throws stones at and mocks when he first meets, and is only kind towards him once Danny saves him from drowning. He’s not a nice person as he’s growing up, even though he thinks he is. As he does grow up, and especially after Dio becomes all-powerful, he becomes the hero we expect from this kind of story, and that’s when he stops being as interesting. Jonathan’s character arc is definitely engaging and he feels more fully rounded, but he does become one-note as Phantom Blood moves on, and my attention started to turn to the side-characters, specifically his teacher Mr Zeppeli (named after Led Zeppelin).
Dio on the other hand is a complicated character throughout and does stay interesting even when he becomes the main villain. He’s envious of Jonathan, never knowing what a family is. There’s a sense that his destiny of becoming a true villain isn’t set in stone, and that there was something that could have kept him on the side of good. He has a respect for Jonathan that only grows as the pair become locked as enemies, right through to the end of the first part he has surprising character moments, and isn’t just a one-note villain.
My biggest problem with Phantom Blood is the pacing. I was completely engaged and loving the first part right up to Dio donning the mask. It wasn’t that strange, but a lot of fun and the characters felt complex. But once everything becomes superpowered, the fights take centre stage and there’s an incredibly long fight between Jonathan, Mr Zeppeli and two knights that Dio brings back from the dead that feels almost never ending. I’m pretty sure it’s longer than the fight between Jonathan and Dio, and just felt like typical Shonen stuff and it wasn’t even that interesting of a fight. I think the final 60 or so pages of the last volume really picked up again, and I absolutely loved the ending. The long fight probably suffers mostly due to age, there’s so many epic fights in Shonen manga, and as this is 35 years old, there are a lot that have taken the formula and made it better.
The main part of the story, after the mask, is a lot stranger than the set up would lead you to believe. There’s strange powers, zombies, and the introduction of Me Zeppeli, who teachers Jojo in the ways of Hamon, a fighting style that uses breathing techniques. He’s introduced, kneeling on a wall before jumping down using his knees, and just gets weirder from there on out. It’s a tonal shift from the more grounded and dark opening and sets up for a fun adventure that is quickly bogged down by long fights. While the fight with the two knights seems to go on forever, there is also a much briefer fight with zombie Jack the Ripper, which would have been a lot better spread out. The knights fight takes so long, that the main fight between Jonathan and Dio seems short in comparison, and it’s a shock it’s over so soon.
I know a lot of people say that Phantom Blood is the weakest part of Jojo, and I’m still going to carry on reading. Overall I did really enjoy it and the best parts massively outweigh the weaker moments. It’s an iconic and influential manga that I probably should have read a long time ago.
Thanks for reading and until next time,