Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
This 2012 anime series was based on the first two story arcs of the manga by Hirohiko Araki. The series as a whole deals with the bizarre adventures of the extensive Joestar family, with protagonists having repeated “Jo” sounds in their names, thus “Jojo.”
Phantom Blood takes place during Victorian times, as Jonathan Joestar, scion of the wealthy Joestar family, gets a new adoptive brother, Dio Brando. Dio’s abusive childhood has left him charming but utterly evil; he decides to supplant Jonathan as the Joestar heir. Dio begins a campaign of cruelty and treachery to render Jonathan friendless and broken.
Things are complicated by a mysterious stone mask, which turns out to have the ability to turn humans into vampires. The second half of the plot has Jonathan learning a special martial art, the “Ripple”, which simulates the effects of sunshine and can destroy vampires.
Battle Tendency picks up the story in the 1930s, with Jonathan’s grandson Joseph Joestar. Joseph learns that there are more of the stone masks, and in the process of tracking them down, becomes embroiled in a battle against the Pillar Men. The Pillar Men, it turns out, feed on vampires the way vampires do on humans, and are out to eliminate their one weakness so that they can rule forever. Joseph must learn how to fully access the Ripple before it’s too late.
The Bizarre Adventure series is well-known for being over the top even by shounen fighting manga standards. Strange powers, interesting battle poses, unusual fashion choices and clever battle strategies are all part of the charm. The anime runs with this, often providing stylized versions of key panels from the manga, and visible sound effects.
The two protagonists provide an interesting contrast; Jonathan is an honorable Victorian gentleman who battles in an upright fashion, while Joseph is a wisecracker who uses sleight of hand and dirty tricks to win his fights. He’s even willing to accept help from a Nazi cyborg (once the Nazi cyborg stops being on the other side, that is.)
The villains are great, too. Dio plays the charmer in public, while plotting evil secretly (until he turns into a vampire, but still keeps being pretty charismatic.) The Pillar Men are both amusing and terrifying, arrogant in their overwhelming power, but each with personality quirks that make them individually interesting.
As hinted above, there’s quite a bit of blood and unsettling violence in this series; Dio kills a dog in a horrific way in a very early episode. Araki feels no compunction about killing off major, minor and incidental characters, even protagonists. Younger and more sensitive children might find this series upsetting, parental guidance is suggested.
Currently, a new season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is airing, featuring the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders, set in the 1980s and starring Joseph’s grandson Jotaro Kujo.