Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood may not be as engaging as what follows it, but with interesting art and a well-defined rivalry at its core, it still serves as a sufficiently strong opening chapter.
The story of Phantom Blood follows Jonathan Joestar and his sinister adopted brother Dio, and their rivalry. The story initially portrays Jonathan as being inferior to Dio, who actively works to undermine him, but gradually Jonathan not only catches up with Dio, but surpasses him. However, a wicked plan is brewing, which may impact far more than the Joestar family. One of the strongest points of the story is that little of it, with the exception of a supernatural catalyst and the occasional henchman, is not a direct result of an action carried out by a main character. There are few coincidences, and the story progresses at a steady rate, providing sufficient build-up and pay-off. On the down side, this does in a sense feel like a prologue to the superior follow up, Battle Tendency, as you are left with many questions regarding the vampires and superhuman powers, and neither the aforementioned build-up or payoff are significantly large. However, this is good in some ways, because it leaves the viewer enough to get a general idea of the world without overloading them or biting off more than it can chew. The story, viewed alone, isn’t quite as fulfilling as it is alongside its contemporaries, but is still moderately entertaining.
The characters are what drive the story forward, and they do it effectively and with an abundance of style. Jonathan, our main protagonist, is a fairly straight-thinking, simple man, but one with heart and determination. Dio, his adopted brother, on the other hand is much more sinister, manipulative and insincere, and these two characters mirror each other excellently, each illustrating qualities that the other lacks. The portrayal of these characters from their adolescent years helps to establish their individual characteristics and dynamic, which only becomes more intense and consequential as the story continues. The supporting characters are also quite interesting, particularly Speedwagon and Zeppeli, and the villains are sufficiently challenging and visually appealing to serve their purpose.
Jonathan’s father, however, is not depicted in a way that makes him seem wise or endearing, which is problematic given that the manga seems to be asking the audience to become emotionally invested in him outside of his role as a father. Also, though Jonathan’s honourable attitude juxtaposes Dio quite well, it does lead to him being a slightly dry and predictable character, outside of battle scenes. Dio is the most enthralling character, stealing the audience’s attention whenever he appears, and is perhaps Phantom Blood’s greatest achievement. He’s not Johan (Monster) or Griffith (Berserk), but he oozes malice and charm.
The art for Phantom Blood is distinct, high quality and memorable, with every male character being built like a house. The visual highlights are Jack the Ripper, Zeppeli and the two resurrected soldiers, all of whom are simply radiant with style and character. The facial expressions are also notable, as they blend in with the style while simultaneously feeling authentic and believable. The style does improve over time, but even though this isn’t quite as bombastic in design as Stardust Crusaders, its humble, down-played visual look helps to ground the art with the narrative.
All in all, Phantom blood is not quite as outstanding as the other entries in the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise, but is nonetheless a triumph in both artistic and character-building integrity.