In Defense of Phantom Blood: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

Posted January 12, 2018 by Haley Schojbert in Comic Books

Phantom Blood is the first part of Hirohiko Araki’s best-selling and critically renowned manga and anime series, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. A couple of years ago, when I first discovered JoJo, I was immediately drawn to the show’s colorful visuals and interesting character designs. Though I enjoyed Phantom Blood, I found myself giving more love to the parts and characters that followed it, forgetting what pulled me into the show in the first place. Along with the muscle-bound men wearing fashionable clothing and striking iconic poses, to me, the core of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is its characters. Phantom Blood lays the foundation for each subsequent part of the series to extrapolate upon their relationships, which despite existing within utterly ridiculous circumstances, are memorable and sincere. For the sake of spoilers for those of you who do not read the manga, I will only be discussing the parts of JoJo that have anime adaptations: Phantom Blood, Battle Tendency, Stardust Crusaders, and Diamond is Unbreakable. 

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure begins with Jonathan Joestar and his adopted brother, Dio Brando, diametrically opposed; the two characters are polarized into the roles of righteous hero and calculating, sociopathic villain. The first episode of the anime explores their backgrounds, and their bitterness towards one another. Dio has only known a cruel, impoverished world, and regards Jonathan as spoiled and weak for being born into a wealthy family. Jonathan is innocent and naive, and only gains the strength to back up his altruism when Dio systematically takes everything in his life away from him and isolates him from his peers, family, and girlfriend. These two characters are the heart of the show, and this duality is carried into every other part of the series. Along with his father George who was far too trusting and too kind for this world, Jonathan is partly responsible for Dio’s vampirism, and passes on that responsibility to his grandson and great great grandson—oops. The opening song of part one, “Sono Chi No Sadame,”—which means “The Fate of that Blood” sets the tone for Jonathan’s journey as legendary, important, and intrinsically tied into Dio. The first few frames of the opening show every JoJo, each with their own flare for the dramatic, alluding to the legacy of the series and how it begins with this battle. 

In Phantom Blood, there is little nuance to Dio and JoJos’ relationships with minor characters. Dio has some goons following him around, complimenting him on how good he is at being bad, and most of the other minor characters are there to facilitate the development of Jonathan; Zeppeli prepares him for his later confrontation with Dio, while Erina and Speedwagon support him emotionally. I mean, Speedwagon meets Jonathan and is so compelled by his kind heart that he decides to be loyal to the Joestar family for the rest of his entire life. This is hilarious, of course, but Araki amends for this in Stardust Crusaders, having each character have a stake in the conflict against DIO (now spelled in all capitals for extra emphasis) instead of being accessories to Jotaro. Polnareff seeks revenge against his sister’s murderer, who happens to be one of DIO’s Enemy Stand Users sent to kill the party (and is totally a reference to The Princess Bride, in my opinion), Avdol wants to rid the world of the evil that is DIO, Kakyoin wants redemption after DIO manipulated him into hurting people, and Iggy gets all pissed because he loses his leg. Joseph’s daughter (who is also Jotaro’s mother), Holy, is being strangled to death by invisible vines that symbolize their lineage and DIO’s roots in their family, so their motivation is to save her. 

Jonathan dies to pass the torch, creating the legacy of a family whose purpose is to finish what he started. Phantom Blood is a story of Dio’s survival and tenacity, but his return solidifies the narrative as Jonathan’s, who although suffered a tragic fate, lives on through each iteration of the character of JoJo. Going from Jonathan to Joseph and Jotaro, Araki experimented with different styles of morality, making Joseph roguish, witty, and lighthearted rather than relying on brawn; Joseph is willing to cheat in order to win, which is something Jonathan was way too honorable to do. Joseph is tied to Phantom Blood by Speedwagon’s discovery of more Stone Masks and his intense love and appreciation for his grandmother, Erina. The Masks are then used by the Pillar Men with the Stone of Aja, so they can defeat the Sun (not kidding). Jotaro is dismissive, yet intelligent and loyal when it counts, disrespecting authority, but judging those who hurt the innocent, much like Jonathan did. Although Joseph and Jotaro are flawed characters that are more complex than Jonathan, they lean on his reputation and borrow from him their more redeemable character traits.

In Diamond is Unbreakable, Dio is gone, but the antagonist, Kira, challenges Josuke in a similar duality that mirrors Jonathan and Dio’s relationship. Josuke prefers to be kind and avoid confrontation without giving into pure machismo—unless you make fun of his hair. Josuke is selfless, emulated by his ability to heal others but not himself. Josuke does not have ties to Dio despite hanging out with Jotaro, but he becomes concerned with protecting his town and friends. His antagonist, Kira, is selfish and murderous, and all he can do is destroy.  Neither of them want their way of life threatened, and unlike Dio and Kars, Kira doesn’t want to show off and brag about his accomplishments. Him and Josuke are caught in a constant game of cat and mouse. Josuke is hoping to avenge the dead and find peace for Morioh, and Kira is trying to keep his quiet life and hide in the shadows.

Phantom Blood is by no means perfect, but it is a strong first chapter to one of the most culturally significant manga series of all time. With every new part of JoJo, the characters have gotten more complex, and situations become more and more absurd, along with the enemies’ powers that they face. (What does King Crimson do, really?) JoJo’s staying power and legacy, in its own universe and in real life, is due to these compelling relationships and Araki’s ability to take risks and experiment as an artist and as a writer.  But no matter how ridiculous and outlandish JoJo gets, it will always be influenced by Jonathan’s heroism and Dio’s transcendence of humanity.

About the Author

Haley Schojbert

Haley is an editor, writer, and avid reader that enjoys role-playing games and having a lot of opinions about fictional characters.