The Best Way to Watch Jojo's Bizarre Adventureby Joe Dempsey,
It appears as though there will be no stopping the Jojo's anime train. With the announcement that there will be an anime for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Not Crash-sorry, I mean Diamond is Unbreakable, it looks increasingly likely that every arc of the Jojo's manga will be animated. So perhaps you, as someone who missed the train when it originally left the station, are looking for the ideal place to start this franchise before its animated form gets too long and intimidating. Considering the manga's storyline spans multiple generations across different time periods, it can be confusing at first glance to know what to make of it all.
It is at this point some horrible, diabolically evil and fundamentally wrong person will attempt to mislead you. Slithering over your shoulder and whispering into you ear, they will inform you that you should skip the first two arcs, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, and jump straight to Stardust Crusaders. This is, after all, where the franchise really took off in Japan, and it is indeed technically true that you can watch Stardust Crusaders without having seen the first two arcs. They lay out the facts you need to know right at the start of Stardust Crusaders pretty clearly and there's no real chance of you getting lost. However skipping Phantom Blood and particularly Battle Tendency is like skipping the part where you eat an entire box of fancy chocolates so you can get to the part where you feel bloated and ashamed.
All right, maybe that's a bit harsh. But I'm here to tell you why you should watch Part 2: Battle Tendency before starting Stardust Crusaders, and also why you should even watch the occasionally maligned Part 1: Phantom Blood.
Let's start with why you should watch JoJo's Bizarre Adventure in general since all 3 generations are working off the same hymn sheet. Jojo's is what you would get if the creators of professional wrestling were allowed to make their own anime. It has the same dramatic bravado, where each character feels and speaks like they are on top of the world right up until the moment where their opponent reveals they have the upper hand through some trick of theirs. When a character unveils their method of gaining an advantage, they could not be more delighted with their accomplishment and will use that moment to “grab the mic” and speak brilliant nonsense about how much they rule and their opponent isn't worth the effort it takes to merely look at them. The over-exaggerated muscle proportions obviously feed back into that professional wrestling motif.
Saying "this is like pro wrestling!" isn't a huge selling point for most sane people. I'm hardly a fan of the medium myself since most of it is...well, rubbish. So perhaps it would be better to stress that Jojo's is more like what professional wrestling wishes it was able to make. It successfully creates its own weird internal logic that explains its supernatural abilities in wonderfully nonsense way. Because it is a cartoon, the dramatic pauses and artificial slowing of time works far better. The visual directing, in particular the colour design, helps with this bombastic presentation to make everything feel like the most sensational thing has just happened. It all lends itself to this pantomime presentation where each camera pan and musical cue makes you want to cheer the heroes and boo the villains, all while wearing the biggest grin on your face because you know how dumb this all is and you love it for that.
Stardust Crusaders has all of this, but the key difference between it and Battle Tendency is a matter of stakes and pacing. Battle Tendency takes 17 episodes to finish, while Stardust Crusaders clocks in at an impressive 48 episodes. Which might be fine if Stardust was a constant thrill-ride of stakes perpetually upped, but it's not. It's an episodic series where our heroes defeat a succession of villains while they move slowly towards a single goal. The goal never changes, the battles don't really get tougher, our heroes never really get stronger, and any moments where it seems like something truly dramatic has happened turns out to have been smoke and mirrors. That's fine if you want to view Jojo's and a comedy first and foremost. Something to laugh at, then forget.
In Battle Tendency, every fight is the most dramatic, the most harrowing, and the most difficult the main character has ever faced. Each victory comes after being pushed to his limit only to reveal that another, scarier villain and more powerful opponent lies in wait. You could call it shounen power creep, but that negative trope only comes into play when it starts to feel like you're running out of ways to make your villains and heroes stronger and start power-creeping in a way that makes previous plot points feel frivolous. So long as you can make the next adversity the hero has to pass feel like the next logical step in their progression, it doesn't become an issue. People don't criticise Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for having shounen power creep. Each episode can still be brilliantly funny in the same nonsense way Stardust Crusaders is, but while fighting a new baddie in Stardust can sometimes feel like it's just a chore for our heroes, in Battle Tendency it will always feel like the most exciting moment to date.
However while there may be disagreement on the relative quality of Battle Tendency versus Stardust Crusaders, most fans seem to at least agree that Battle Tendency is worth your time. It's with the first generation, Phantom Blood, that more people say you should skip altogether. This was long before the manga author Araki got to grips with how he wanted to tell his story. You don't need to watch it to completely understand who Dio is and why he's so scary since the start of Stardust does a commendable job of explaining why. You don't need to know what Hamon is before you start Battle Tendency because they explain that in the beginning too. And yes, Phantom Blood is a little weaker compared to some of the later arcs. Don't let this deter you, though - it's 100% worth watching, and not for continuity reasons. More because it's still an excellent anime by itself.
First thing to understand is that Phantom Blood doesn't suffer from the accursed “must be exactly like the manga, warts and all” adaptation that plagues many a flawed manga. We've had a couple of decades to look back on Phantom Blood and realize not all of this really needs to be here - and so the show, thankfully, is dramatically cut down to the key moments. This helps it from ever being bogged down, so we can revel in the early days of Dio as he asks people how much bread they've eaten in their life. It's structured far closer to a gothic horror story than the adventure tale of later seasons. In doing so it loses a lot of the silliness that makes later seasons so funny. This is also thanks to its stoic lead Jonathon Joestar. Not that it can't still be very silly, but that comes more from how dramatically everyone reacts and pulls fashionable poses while doing so. It's not the riot Battle Tendency is, or even Stardust Crusaders, but it's still a unique, worthwhile show.
Phantom Blood still retains that gravitas that makes every moment feel like the most unbelievably dramatic thing that has ever happened. The striking use of color, changing the moment the tide turns in battle, remains. It is a clash of honor versus betrayal, righteousness versus deceit, and every other classic Good vs Evil tale that ever was. The show's heightened sensationalism makes this feel fresh again. Stardust Crusaders might have much crazier things happen in its battles, but they never catch that same exhilaration Phantom Blood achieves. It comes very close, right at the end when the crew finally confront Dio (oh and I suppose, since you're twisting my arm, the fight with Vanilla Ice has this too). The show finally recaptures that breathlessness you experience, when it feels like this is what everything has been leading up to - but it's largely been missing the rest of the time.
Regardless, Phantom Blood is only 9 episodes long, so if it isn't working out for you, you'll know right away. Stardust Crusaders, on the other hand - that's a nearly 50 episode slog. You stand a better chance becoming properly acquainted with the incredible theatrics, over-the-top melodrama and insane action of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure if you just do the right thing: start at the beginning!
Did you start watching JoJo's Bizarre Adventure with Phantom Blood, or did you skip to Stardust Crusaders? Did you go back and watch the first two seasons? How did they compare, in your estimation? Let us know in the comments!
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