Review for JoJos Bizarre Adventure Set One: Phantom Blood / Battle Tendency (Eps 1-26)
My review for the Kaze issued Series 1 set back in March 2018 can be seen Here (well, via Manga entertainment but under licence. The release was a welcome one at the time) but sadly, wasn’t followed up by the much-anticipated series two and three, all of which, I believe were available for streaming on Crunchyroll. As if that wasn’t enough, that release was a second attempt at releasing the series on Blu-Ray here in the UK, the first being a Warner Brothers release. Which is a surprise as the series is, in common with the manga, extremely popular.
Manga are now releasing series 2 and 3 after a long hiatus, so it made perfect sense for them to re-release (and re-package) series 1 as well. My review for these series will follow soon.
My opinion of the first series hasn’t changed much since that first viewing, and you would imagine that both releases were identical (which I assume use the same master tapes as Manga Entertainment picked up the rights from Kaze). However, there are some subtle if not particularly significant differences in the releases. The Kaze release had a fairly punky menu with slightly clunky navigation and a raucous look and feel. This has been replaced by a much more serene, functional menu in calming pink hues. The extra features (textless opener and closers) have been jettisoned off the first disc. The biggest surprise to me was soundtrack. Both discs offer up the same (in theory) English 2.0 or Japanese 2.0 with subtitle options. But the Kaze disc is much quieter. The audio on the Manga disc is pumped up in comparison, set a little louder, on my set up at least. Odd but true. Other than that, the English (my choice for this review and the previous one) seemed identical.
The manga is one of the longest running in all-time, certainly in the top-ten, which, given the enormity of some manga series, gives a good indication of its continuing popularity in a country where almost 50% of all reading material is ‘graphical’. It all started in 1987 and is still going strong. So the anime has a lot of catching up to do as the first decent adaptation (this one) didn’t happen till 2012, almost 30 years later.
The good news is that, because there is so much raw material for the series to work from, it’s all killer no filler, but its pace is pretty relentless. Watching series 1 again reminded me just how quickly this series moves, straight into its (weird) narrative from the outset at a pace that is definitely ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ speed. Which is a good thing, and it’s not a series that’s too complex to keep up.
The series kicks off as it means to go on, pulling no punches in its portrayal of the intertwining lives of two young men – one good and righteous, and the other a bitter, scheming evil-doer for the most part; yin and yang and two sides of a single coin perhaps.
In the late 1800s, when Jonathan Joestar’s father is attacked and, left for dead, he mistakenly assumes that a chance thief, rifling through his pockets, is trying to save him. As a wealthy man, he rewards the scoundrel and, when the thief passes away, he ‘adopts’ his son, Dio Brando, inviting him to live in the family home, and become the equal of his son, Jonathan. But things do not go well. Dio is determined to inherit the Father’s wealth and sets out to destroy Jonathan.
This destruction includes souring a relationship he has developed with a local girl, as well as destroying trust and friendship with all the local teens, making Jojo’s life as miserable as possible. When the two fight, which is often, Dio seems to have the upper hand until one day when he pushes Jojo too far and, awakened by a new fury, Jojo beats him in a fight. Dio decides to play the long game and pretends to be Jojo’s friend whilst secretly poisoning the father (just as he did his own) and plotting Jojo’s demise.
So far so simple. Only I haven’t mentioned the mask. A strange stone mask was left at the scene of his Father’s attack which, when placed on the face of a wearer, appears to take over their will, turning them into a slavering and murderous zombie. But recognising it has deeper powers, Dio decides to don it, turning himself into a vampire, set to bring about Jojo’s death and his own victory.
Thus starts a battle between Jonathan Joestar and the vampiric Dio Brande. JoJo has to now master the art of “Hamon,” a unique martial art that deploys energy on an almost spiritual level in order to fight his supernatural foe, allowing JoJo to channel energy through everyday objects, turning them into weapons.
Please note, this is not for the squeamish. This may be animated but it ain’t ‘Frozen’. Blood flows profusely and the bone-crunching audio effects add to the mayhem. It’s testosterone fuelled, high energy ultra-violence – but with a human twist. And things don’t let up in the second story arc, ‘Battle Tendency, from Episode 10 onwards, which moves things on 50 years to 1938 where the JoJo mantle is taken up by Jonathan’s grandson, Joseph.
The action relocates to New York and Joseph is portrayed as a confident, strutting peacock of a man, a complete Hamon natural, who considers his battles with the ‘Pillar Men’, supernatural beings, as par for the course, despite the fact that their aim is nothing short of global annihilation. They are working towards the birth of a super-being who will be able to achieve that aim with ease. Cue lots of macho ‘Hamon’ fighting action – pretty serious stuff for the most part, but extremely diverting nonetheless, especially ambitious scenes like the chariot race which will have you gripping both sides of your armchair.
One bonus (at least for a creaking old-timer like me) was the use of a classic Prog Rock track at the end of each episode, ‘Roundabout’ by Yes from 1972. An unlikely contender perhaps but it works amazingly well somehow. I’d forgotten how good that looping, trebly bass line was. Excellent stuff.
I elected to watch the series using the English audio dub, having started with Japanese, and finding it a challenge to keep up. I thought the dub was excellent and a reasonably faithful reflection of the Japanese voices in the original, as long as you overlook the Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins style cockney accents in parts of the series. It didn’t bother me too much as the whole series is pretty OTT, but you have been warned.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures is a fun series, full of the kind of serialised melodrama that made silent movies with girl’s being tied to railway tracks so popular in the past, where it’s crystal clear who the goodies and baddies are – and boy, are the baddies bad in this series! The fighting action, whilst a little repetitive, absolutely sets the bar for such things with some very imaginative and ambitious pieces of animation.
Now let’s get on with series 2!