Hirohiko Araki’s multi-generational epic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest-running manga series in Japan. Araki began the series in 1986 and the manga is still ongoing at well over a hundred volumes. Between 2005 and 2010, Viz Media published the sixteen volumes of the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders, arguably on of the most popular, or at least well-known, parts of the series. In 2012, NBM Publishing released Rohan at the Louvre, a largely standalone manga related to Diamond Is Unbreakable, the fourth arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Finally, in 2015, the first part of the epic, Phantom Blood was released in print in English by Viz in a beautiful, deluxe hardcover edition. Phantom Blood was originally published in Japan in five volumes between 1987 and 1988, but was reissued in three volumes in 2002. That release is the basis for Viz’s English-language edition. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1 includes the entirety of the first volume and the majority of the second volume of the original Japanese release.
Jonathan Joestar, known as JoJo, is the son of a wealthy 19th-century English nobleman. He lost his mother while still an infant when the entire family was involved in a tragic carriage accident. JoJo survived, but his mother and the driver died and his father was severely injured. Years later, a young man named Dio Brando is sent to live with the Joestars. His father, who recently passed away, was the first person upon the scene of the carriage accident. Lord Joestar believes himself to be in Brando’s debt, under the mistaken impression that he saved his life, and so welcomes Dio with open arms. But Dio isn’t the upright character he often portrays himself to be. His intention is to destroy the Joestar family and take its wealth for his own using anyone and any means necessary, including a mysterious stone mask that grants vampiric powers. JoJo is the only person to suspect Dio isn’t all that he seems, and Dio is determined to make his life miserable. The two of them are raised as brothers, but despite JoJo’s initial attempts at friendship, there is no love lost between them.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a very aptly named series. Phantom Blood is strange and outlandish, proceeding at a breakneck pace with a tremendous amount of drama and flying fists. It’s not subtle by any means, but the series’ uninhibited, over-the-top nature is part of Araki’s style. Heightened action and drama often take precedence over logical consistencies or realism in the manga’s artwork and story. Devastating injuries that would maim or kill most people are easily disregarded or overcome by the series’ heroes and villains, although the pain and suffering they incur certainly leave an impression. JoJo and Dio fight it out on several different occasions in the first volume of Phantom Blood, each battle becoming increasingly more violent and destructive, and they are pretty bloody to being with. And that’s not even taking into account the psychological damage that also results. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure can be brutal.
Dio is one of the most fabulous antagonists that I’ve come across in manga. Extraordinarily charismatic and completely without scruples, he makes an extremely dangerous opponent. But Dio does have flaws, and he is a much more interesting character because of them. While he is often unable to control his intense anger and arrogance, even at a young age he is able to hold people under his thrall. JoJo on the other hand, especially in comparison to Dio, is astoundingly honest, naive, and kindhearted, a gentleman through and through in both mind and deed. He uses his strength of character and impressive physical fortitude to protect his family and other people he cares about. JoJo’s repeated confrontations with Dio force hem to become even stronger as the series progresses. He grows into a formidable opponent in his own right with a firm sense of and desire for justice. The stark contrast between the two young men and the extreme dynamics of their relationship are a large part of what makes Phantom Blood such an engaging manga.