Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Part 1
GN 1 - Phantom Blood
England, 1880. A man lies dying in the slums of London, and tells his son to take a letter to a wealthy lord named Joestar. Twelve years ago the man saved Lord Joestar (while trying to rob him), and he wants his son Dio to take as much from the promise of help as he can. But Dio is a sadistic, evil boy who determines to kill or discredit Lord Joestar's son Jonathan and take the Joestar fortune for himself. As Jonathan (JoJo) suffers at Dio's hands, he begins to realize just how deep his adopted brother's depravity runs...and how to stop him before he destroys JoJo's world utterly.
Take a Victorian melodrama, combine it with a Gothic novel, and inject it with a large amount of testosterone, and what do you get? The first arc of Hirohiko Araki's long-running manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Phantom Blood. Available for the first time in English, Viz's release of the title marks not only a boon for series fans, but also for those of older manga, since this volume was originally released in 1986. The book itself is a small hardcover with an impressive amount of full-color and limited-color pages and a short special interview with Araki at the end, making its presentation worth the wait it's been since Viz released the third arc, Stardust Crusaders in 2005.
The story takes us to the origins of the feud between the Joestar family and Dio Brando. In Victorian England, Dio is the son of an impoverished, alcoholic father whose habits are apparently killing him. As he lies dying (much to his son's indifference; Dio is shown reading a novel), he tells Dio that twelve years ago he came across a terrible carriage accident. Thinking that everyone but the baby in the coach was dead, he tried to rob the scene, only to discover that the husband was still alive. That man turned out to be the wealthy Lord Joestar, and he mistakenly believed that Brando was trying to save him. He promised that should Brando ever need help, he had only to ask. Now Brando wants Dio to go to Joestar and get the man to raise him with his own son...something that sounds pretty good to twelve-year-old Dio.
They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and that certainly becomes true of Lord Joestar's offer of help to the Brando family. One of Dio's first acts upon arriving at the Joestar manor is to attack Jonathan Joestar's dog. Jonathan, known as JoJo, is not only the world's burliest pre-teen, he's also the sweetest, and having never before been faced with such cruelty, he doesn't know what to do. It really takes him until the end of the book, when both boys have graduated university, to come into his own where Dio is concerned, and that can make parts of this book difficult to read. Dio is the ultimate bully. He will use any means at his disposal to beat JoJo down, from kissing his sweetheart to blackening his reputation to committing atrocities on his dog. It's hard to read about if you've ever had an experience with a Dio of your own, because Araki gets him down perfectly – the dual nature, combining perfect parent manners with sadistic cruelty is probably the most realistic part of the book. Those sensitive to animal abuse should also be warned that there are a couple of pretty awful scenes, which though important to JoJo's understanding of Dio, are fairly horrible. All of that aside, Dio Brando makes for an excellent villain, the kind of despicable creep you could really come to enjoy hating. His progression feels fairly natural as he heads towards the decision he makes at the volume's end, showing us that his hate and greed really do overwhelm any other emotion he might once have had.
JoJo himself is a little less striking as a character at this point, although at the end he starts to really show the determination we saw a glimpse of early on in the volume when he saved a little girl's doll from a bunch of bullies. His combination of being a super nice guy and having fists of steel wins him allies in the slums of London, and while his brains may not be on par with Dio's (yet), he certainly shows that he has the determination and wherewithal to overcome both physical and emotional adversity. While other characters are introduced in this book, we don't really get to know them, although I'm hoping Erina will come back and that Speedwagon's role increases.
Araki's art is difficult to classify. There's a strange combination of very sweet or handsome faces atop massively muscled bodies, often giving the characters the appearance of having teeny tiny heads. Anatomy is absolutely not one of Araki's strong suits, and bodies are often twisted into impossible positions. More amusingly, whenever someone's fighting spirit or darker emotions are aroused, their hair puffs up, like someone turned on a hair dryer underneath them. We see it more from Dio, who goes Super Saiyan to the point where his hat falls off. The use of narration and punctuation makes the book feel more like a Silver Age American comic, with enough exclamation points to make an English teacher cry and a lot of telling versus showing. It works for the story, but it doesn't feel like what we think of as manga, and may be off-putting to some readers.
Although it can be gross and upsetting in places, JoJo's Bizarre Adventures' first volume, and introduction to the Phantom Blood arc, is a good read. It mixes Aztec mythology with vampire lore (the Aztec chihuateteo, spirits of women who died in childbirth, are the closest thing that culture has to vampires), combines a fighting story with a solid emotional background, and will absolutely put hair on your chest. Whether you're a JoJo's fan already or are looking for a gruesome new seinen, it is worth picking up this book. The adventure promises to be bizarre indeed.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Combines action with solid emotional back story, Dio is a very believable villain, even before the events of the book's end. Hardcover edition looks good, lots of color pages. Use of Aztec mythology is unusual.
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