Studio: David Production
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure's first story arc, Phantom Blood, comprises nine episodes and sets the tone (for the most part) of the next hundred-some episodes to come: non-stop action, bipedal slabs of meat posing like renaissance sculptures, weird horror and gore elements, references to classic rock, and hilarious delivery of lines that over-explain everything.
The JoJo series as a whole follows the Joestar family from the late 1800's to the present day. Members of the family, no matter where they are in time or on Earth always get embroiled in a massive battle of good versus evil. From evil vampires to serial killers, Nazis, and gangsters the Joestars always find themselves in the titular bizarre adventures.
One of the biggest selling points of the series, for me at least, is that multi-generational story telling that allows the author to completely change the plot and location with each arc. So while the Phantom Blood arc is very much a Victorian pulpy gothic tale, further arcs include discovering the secrets of a Twin Peaks-esque town and a race across America on horseback.
But it all starts here, with the battle between Jonathan Joestar, and the wicked embodiment of all evil in the series, Dio Brando.
After mistaking the intentions of Dio's father as chivalric, Jonathan's father, an affluent member of English society, offers the Brando family anything they need. That offer is taken up in Dio's early teenage years and he becomes the adopted son of the Joestar family. It's apparent the young man doesn't intend to be friends with Jonathan and is using this new position to take the wealth and power of the Joestar's for himself. Thus begins a Cain and Abel style struggle stretching from adolescence into early adulthood.
Oh, and there's an ancient stone mask that turns the wearer into a vampire, a "hamon" ripple energy martial art, a castle, a village full of zombies, and the fate of the world at stake.
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There is a lot going on in just nine episodes and from the story perspective it makes Phantom Blood very breezy and fun to watch. But it also means that things just kind of happen. For instance, Jonathan's martial art master appears on the road out of nowhere saying, "Hey buddy, you need to fight an evil vampire, let me teach you how". This combined with how middling the actual fights are compared to the insanity of what we'll see in later seasons makes Phantom Blood weak -- yet still exceptionally entertaining.
The characters are where I think Phantom Blood truly shines. There's an over-the-top almost caricature nature to their portrayals that makes even mundane events so much more exciting and hilarious than they would be otherwise. Dio is pure menacing evil with basically no motivation for being evil aside from disliking his biological father. Counterpoint that with Jonathan's chivalric manliness and you have a hilarious conflagration of dueling emotions and motivations. That's not to mention the secondary cast, all of whom play to that cornball fun in a way few anime have accomplished so well.
Visually, the animation takes a little getting used to. It looks cheap and the color palette can be off-putting but it's an effective way of translating the manga and keeping author Hirohiko Araki's iconic style. The true hero here is the sound design and voice acting. Every actor is giving it a thousand percent and delivering lines with hilarious punch and emotion. The theme song is killer but it's the choice of ending theme that sticks with you. Roundabout from Yes's classic prog album Fragile bleeds into the final exciting moments of each episode before the credits roll and the way it's done is pure sound design perfection. When this released nearly ten years ago I was pretty shocked to hear a Yes song in an anime; but in retrospect I'm happy that JoJo has introduced so many people to this world of classic prog and rock in general.
Overall, the Phantom Blood arc is rough and barrels too fast toward the finale for the story to ever find its footing. That said, Jonathan Joestar's story still offers all the elements that makes JoJo so beloved and is worth a watch by any anime fan who hasn't yet given it a chance.
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is available on Crunchyroll and Netflix.