Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Season 1

By Drew Hurley 31.03.2018

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Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Season 1 (UK Rating: 15)

It's hard to explain the attraction of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and it's even harder to introduce it to people. It's truly unique and has some stylistic elements that can be instantly off-putting. Despite this, it is one of the longest-running and most beloved series in Japan, influencing countless other works and being referenced in plenty more. For those who have not experienced the franchise, or for those who have only seen the original OVA series from 1993, this is the perfect opportunity to finally see the origins of this story. Coming courtesy of Manga Entertainment this complete season is available from 2nd April.

This initial chapter in this extensive story opens on a Victorian traffic accident. A gentleman lies mortally wounded, his wife dead and their baby screaming in the wreckage. Scavengers come upon the family and are about to start prying the gold fillings from the bodies when the man comes to. He is George Joestar, a wealthy estate owner who mistakes the man stealing from him as his saviour and promises an eternal debt to the man who he thinks saved his son; this grave-robber now saviour is Dario Brando. It's all rather Les Miserables. Years later, the sons of both have reached their teenage years and have become stark contrasts to each other. George's son, Jonathan, is a bit of a twit, clumsy, and without grace thanks to his gigantic frame, but a true gentleman with a heart of gold, while Dario's son, Dio, is smart and charming, yet dark and twisted inside. When Dario dies from a mysterious illness, Dio moves in with the Joestars, being treated as a second son, a brother to Jojo, and second son to George. This brotherhood is the catalyst of a multi-generational story that transcends life and death.

Dio and Jonathan (Jojo - JOnathan JOstar) have many disputes in their childhood, usually thanks to Dio's villainous behaviour and this only escalates as the pair become adults and suddenly George is stricken with the same illness that Dio's father suffered from. This is where the story takes a completely unexpected turn to the supernatural. A relic of Jojo's mother's turns Dio into a vampire, and Dio embarks on a quest to take over the world, with the power to create zombie minions from the living or the dead. Jojo embarks on a quest to stop Dio, but to do so he needs an advantage - Vampiric Dio has gained numerous special powers, on top of his zombie-raising abilities. Taking its cue from various vampiric myths, Dio has gained regenerative abilities and hypnosis, not to mention he's got super strength, super speed, super style and super poses! More on those last two later...

Jojo meets up with a dapper Italian gent with a pencil moustache and chequered top hat, known as Baron Zeppeli. The Baron has been tracking down the mask for some time since it ruined his life long ago. Zeppeli has mastered the art of Hamon, a natural energy with a human's body that can be controlled by mastering one's breathing. Hamon energy can be used to heal and to destroy; sharing the same type of energy as sunlight, it's a natural weapon against vampires, and so Jojo becomes Zeppeli's pupil, hunting to destroy Dio and the mask that created this monster. This battle between the brothers is the first part of the Jojo story, entitled Phantom Blood and it takes up the first nine episodes of this collection.

The remaining seventeen episodes tell the story of Battle Tendency. Taking place fifty years after the final showdown between Jojo and Dio, now Jojo's grandson, Jojo (Joseph Jostar, again Jojo, this is a pattern that will become rather regular). This new Jojo has recently come over to America with his grandmother, Erina, to visit the dear family friend, Speedwagon, a major character in the first part who has become something of an oil tycoon in the last 50 years, setting up the "Speedwagon Foundation," something that becomes a big part of future seasons, too. In this season, the foundation has been working towards uncovering the origins of the stone mask that caused all of the trouble in Phantom Blood. During an investigation in Mexico, they stumbled upon an ancient temple and, within it, a cave. This is not just where the stone mask was found but also contains more, along with a man encased in stone; a man that seems to be alive, but sleeping.

This stone man is known as a Pillar Man and named Santana. He is the first of four that awaken back into this age and serve as the antagonists of the series. These four are the last of their kind; an ancient race of super-powered humanoids that sleep for generations, and their leader, Kars, was the creator of the stone masks. Now the four are being awakened by Nazis and the only way to stop them is by using the energy system from Phantom Blood, Hamon. Luckily, Jojo has inherited that ability but has never learned how to truly control it, with it bursting out when he gets angry. Jojo finds himself embroiled with the Pillar Men - and some Nazis, for good measure! - so needs to find allies and someone to teach him how to harness his powers.

In a fitting throwback to the original, Jojo meets up with the young Caesar Zeppeli, grandson of the Baron who taught his grandfather. The pair strikes up a classic shonen rivalry as they train together underneath the final Hamon master in the world, the mysterious and beautiful Lisa Lisa. Lisa Lisa and her two disciples train diligently to take on these godlike monsters before they turn the Earth into their feeding ground. There are lots of ridiculously over the top training scenes and montages, combined with the Araki's signature battles that have since become core to Jojo's style. Araki was against the overuse of tournament style shonen battles where each member of the group of good guys face-off against specific appropriate characters in the bad guys for fitting match-ups, relying too much on "power levels" and instead came up with battles that rely on characters strategically and tactically outsmarting each other… while fabulously posing.

The rating this series received in the UK is a 15 thanks to the violence and gore seen throughout. The series makes use of smart camera angles and conveniently placed shadows to avoid showing off the worst of the viscera but there's plenty of blood and guts - eviscerations, decapitations, exsanguinations, and amputations.

The original manga launched in 1987 and creator Araki Hirohiko was clearly inspired by the other similar battle manga of the era, with the most obvious being Fist of the North Star, and many of the characters and general designs are so reminiscent of Kenshiro. This art style is everywhere in Phantom Blood, with only glimpses of the style that Araki was to later develop and become famous for; a style that mixed the '80s broad-lined, hyper-muscled men with inspirations from art and famous music album covers. '80s music has always been a huge inspiration for Araki, beyond just the art style, as is evident in numerous aspects of the story; for example, in Phantom Blood, there is Dio, Zeppeli (Led Zepplin), and Robert E. O. Speedwagon (REO Speedwagon). The unique poses and high-fashion styles were yet to develop in this first part of the story but what does show in these first stories is Araki's penchant for playing with colour palettes. The entire colour palette of characters completely alters. Brown hair becomes blonde, outfits change completely, the entire atmosphere switches in the blink of an eye; it becomes a key part of the artistic style as the series develops.

Through Battle Tendency, Araki's fabulous original style begins to materialise. The aforementioned colour filters are back and better than ever. Combined with patterned filters that cover the action, Battle Tendency also begins to overlay the kana of the sound effects much more regularly, creating a style perfectly faithful to the source material. The biggest impact of this new season is the introduction of the series' signature fabulous poses. These hulking muscular men suddenly bursting into eccentric positions for all manner of reasons; they could be mid-battle and suddenly shift into vogue, or even just mid-conversation they may strike out as if they were walking the runway in Milan. It takes some getting used to but is a quintessential part of the franchise. The '80s rock references return, too. The Pillar Men are named AC/DC, Wham, Cars, and Santana. There's Suzi Q and Lisa Lisa, among lots more for fans to keep an eye out for.

This release brings both the original Japanese dub and a brand new English dub. The English dub takes the ridiculousness of the original and revels in it, while the original takes everything completely serious. There are some absolutely awful attempts at German, Italian, and English accents, but if anything they enhance the craziness of the experience. For such a fantastic release, this is sadly without any extra bonus features other than the usual perfunctory clean opening and closing, and some trailers.

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure has been running for 30 years now and been getting better and better as Araki has been perfecting his creation, and that the very first series is of this quality just shows how important the franchise is. Many people have not given the series a chance because of the outlandish outfits, the bizarre poses, and the insane characters, but now is the ideal opportunity to see why the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. There's a reason so many other series have drawn inspiration and influence from this historic series and now the UK has a chance to experience the first chapters of this story in the best possible way - a fabulously faithful adaptation that looks gorgeous on Blu-ray.

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