Wayne Rock, Anime Head Writer
Chances are even if you’ve never watched a single episode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, you’ve encountered it in some shape or form on social media. Whether it’s the “It was me. Dio!” meme, the “Oh? You’re approaching me?” meme or the “Za Warudo!” GIF, Jojo’s has infiltrated the modern cultural zeitgeist just because of how naturally it reflects that word in its title, “Bizarre”. And yet, I actively avoided Jojo’s for the many years I’ve been an anime watcher. I don’t know exactly what it was; maybe it was the overly muscled designs of the main characters, the dated look of the animation or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to get invested in something so weird and zany.
Recently though, I decided to take the plunge and dive into the truly bizarre world of Jojo’s and let me tell you, I was missing out! So if you’re like me and need a little push to get you to start watching (three seasons are available on Netflix right now), join me for the next few Anime Mondays while I review each season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and tell you why it’s worth your time.
Season 1 – Part 1 – Phantom Blood
I’ll say right off the bat that Phantom Blood is really the most normal arc of Jojo’s. Now, when I say normal, I mean normal for Jojo’s. This arc alone gives us an evil stepbrother intent on killing the main character and usurping his inheritance, a mask that turns people into vampires, a powerset that is developed specifically for fighting vampires called Hamon and a man named REO Speedwagon. Yes, the series gets infinitely crazier than that.
Jonathan Joestar’s (hence the Jojo moniker) life is turned upside down when his father adopts Dio Brando into their family after Dio’s abusive father, who once “saved” Jonathan’s father’s life, dies. Immediately Dio declares war on Jonathan and starts making his life hell, beginning with randomly kicking his dog. Over the course of the next few years, in pursuit of claiming Jonathan’s inheritance for his own, Dio kisses Jonathan’s girlfriend, beats him up, turns his friends and family against him while convincing Jojo’s father that he was a perfect gentleman. After a brawl, Jojo notices that a stone mask on the wall of the house springs to life after some blood splashes on it, leading him to begin studying it. Dio on the other hand changes tactics and befriends Jonathan so he can earn his trust and stab him in the back at an opportune moment. This is where things go in a direction I couldn’t predict.
Even though Jojo was the one who was aware of the mask Dio (after getting caught trying to poison Jojo’s father) ends up escaping with it intending to use the mask on Jojo to make his death look accidental. To test this theory he uses it on a random street thug who turns into a vampire and almost kills him, the rising sun saving his life. Dio is eventually backed into a corner and uses the mask on himself to become a vampire, becoming something way more powerful than Jojo can handle. Thus this sets Jojo on his adventure to kill Dio. On his journey he meets Will A Zeppeli, who teaches him to use Hamon (Ripple in the English versions), which is basically like channeling the sun’s energy, a vampire’s only weakness (how convenient, I know) through your own body.
I really loved how this season kept me on my toes in terms of trying to figure out where the story was going and then blowing my assumptions away. In a lot of ways it’s your typical shonen anime, but a lot of breaking of convention happens to keep it consistently fresh and interesting. Dio is a superbly compelling villain; Machiavellian and over the top in all the right ways. This is the season where the “It was me! Dio!” meme originates and you’d think he said that for a much more grand attack against Jojo. But nope, it was him flexing about forcibly kissing Jojo’s girlfriend and being her first over Jojo. It’s such a dumb, childish move but it’s the one that works and gets Jojo to fight back. As silly as all that sounds, the story really works in terms of keeping you engaged, just because of how weird everything is.
If you were to try to guess where the season was heading based on the first episode alone, I guarantee you would not be able to. Every single character introduced is so memorable, from Will A Zeppeli (named after Led Zeppelin, a running thing in this series is naming characters after musicians and bands) to REO Speedwagon (see?) to a zombie version of Jack the Ripper, all of them will stay with you. The season is also hilarious as well. You will be laughing your biceps off almost every episode.
If I have one complaint it would have to be the animation. While I have grown to like the burly, overly muscled characters, mainly because they are drawn that way as Hirohiko Araki’s (the creator) love letter to action heroes of that era like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, the animation is stiff and clunky at times. I suspect that this is because of a restricted budget as this series was a 2012 adaptation of a 1987 manga and the studio may not have had confidence in it’s potential popularity. When you compare this season to the second you can really see the difference and I do believe that it suffers slightly for it.
If you can look past the animation though, Season 1 is a must watch for me. Not just because the story and characters are truly engaging, but also this season serves as setup for characters and events that occur in Seasons 2 through 5. The Jojo mantle is passed down from generation to generation represented by their shared star-shaped birthmark, and even Dio himself becomes a larger than life figure that continues to plague the Joestar family for centuries. You might think that’s due to him being an immortal vampire, but, no, vampire Dio is dispatched pretty early on. And that’s the beauty of Jojo’s; it’s never what you might think, because it lives up to the bizarre name.
Hopefully my review moves you over the fence and you consider watching part 1 of the first season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure!
Wayne’s Season 1, Part 1 Score: I give it a 7 out of 10 and that’s just because the other seasons are so much better
So what did you think of Phantom Blood? And you can check out more great anime content below:
Wayne loves to complain, and that was an unintentional rhyme. When I’m not watching movies, TV, anime or trophy hunting on PS4, you can usually find me deep in my thoughts preparing my next scathing review of a bad movie. I think Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is terrible and that The Quick and the Dead is actually a decent movie. I re-watch Death Note every year. Unlike the other fine writers on this site, I’m not a critic, but I can definitely Rock a review…(Read More)