In the world of Manga and Anime you're likely to find many unusual stories that are massive and incredibly unique in scope, several of which garner high praise and several more that fall into obscurity. In this case while the aptly named JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has left a massive cultural impact on the Manga industry overall, its first saga "Phantom Blood" only brings a small (but very important) part of the overall appeal of the series.
To put things bluntly Phantom Blood's story isn't anything ground breaking: it is essentially what you'd get if you tried to cross Castlevania with a dark adventure series and feels more like a Seinin series than a Shonen series (what it actually is). It takes place in the 19th century and begins with the recently orphaned Dio Brando being adopted into the aristocratic Joestar family, where he proceeds to make his adoptive brother Jonathan Joestar's life a living hell by alienating everyone close to him in an attempt to become the favoured son in the Joestar family and presumably to become the biggest bastard that the world has ever seen in the process. Dio eventually becomes a vampire by way of a mysterious stone mask (just go with it) and like most villains sets his sights on world domination. Jonathan and his companions Robert E.O Speedwagon and Ripple master Will A. Zeppeli go on a mission to hunt Dio down and to destroy the accursed stone mask in the process. To summarize despite being weird the narrative is extremely linear and should not be taken too seriously, as it serves little more than a framing device for the fight scenes and gore. Which is all it really needs to do honestly.
As far as the characters are concerned the truth is that there isn't a whole lot to most of them; Jonathan is your typical naïve, idealistic hero on a mission to save the world and is easily the least interesting JoJo in the entire franchise, Speedwagon is Jonathan's sidekick and while he's not useless he mainly plays a supportive role in fights and frequently has the job of exclaiming about just how awful their current situation is and Zeppeli is the mentor figure with a sordid past involving the stone mask. Supporting characters while occasionally superficially interesting generally lack characterisation and are at worst are relegated into being two dimensional cannon-fodder. The character who really deserves special mention is Dio, who despite being a deplorable evil monster of a man is both extremely entertaining in a twisted sense and more fleshed out as a character than anybody else. Dio simply steals the show away from Jonathan whenever he's on the scene, the show and whatever he fancies taking away from his adoptive brother.
By far the strongest thing that Phantom Blood has going for it are the fight scenes, which are both highly entertaining and well thought out. Battles in this series are almost always about outsmarting the other person as opposed to the more common "overpowering the other guy" and this is something that continues on through the other parts. To combat Dio and his vampiric minions the series introduces a fighting style that utilises an energy source referred to as the Ripple (think chi combined with UV rays from the sun), which is used in conjunction with physical attacks. It's explained that only select few individuals can harness the power of the Ripple as it requires constant focus on the rhythm of ones own breathing (which of course Jonathan is capable of doing). While the concept of Ripple energy is interesting in itself, it is hardly anything unique and lacks anything to make it really stand out over similar concepts in other series. It's not until the next part in the series, “Battle Tendency” that it becomes something more unique and even then the concept is abandoned in the third series for something much more creative.
As for the art style of the series, it is quite reminiscent of "Fist of the North Star". Araki takes joy in drawing extremely muscle-bound main characters, wearing well designed and unique clothing and will almost always have a handsome face to top things off (Jonathan and Dio are prime Examples of this). Minor villains aren't quite as privileged in this regard as quite a few of them can be described as looking like hulking trolls, which can be distracting at times when its focusing just the two extremes without a sense of middle ground. Scenery is often inventive with a few locations later on that distinctly look like something out of a horror film, which again is very appropriate given Dio's vampiric nature. Overall despite some minor gripes, the art remains pleasantly consistent throughout the series' run.
In conclusion if you're just interested in an over the top action series or are just interested in the premise then this may be worth a look, if you want to get into JJBA however then it is a must read as it will give you a greater appreciation for the later parts in the series. In any case while Phantom Blood may have its flaws it is a truly unique journey that you're not likely to forget.
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