Jul 12, 2012
WandererRedux (All reviews)
As the second Part of the long running series Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Battle Tendency finds itself in an interesting position that many other series would not find themselves in: it sits between what some might consider an average first act and a third act where many people say "is where the series becomes really good" and it is thus not unheard of for people to gloss over this part all together. Which is a shame as Part 2 is a great part in its own right and doesn't see half of the praise that it deserves.

While the story of Phantom Blood was difficult to explain due to just how bizarre yet oddly linear the narrative was on paper, Battle Tendency's is a case of it being both very weird in nature while also being much larger and better defined in scope. Events take place a few decades after the end of Phantom Blood, picking up in 1930's America when the world was on the edge of a second world war. We are quickly introduced to our protagonist Joseph Joestar, age 18 who is a nigh splitting image of his grandfather Jonathan. Joseph possesses an innate ability to harness the power of the Ripple, an ability that he has inherited from his grandfather before him and can use to great effect, quickly utilising it to rescue a pickpocket named Smokey Brown from a couple of corrupt police officers. Meanwhile we are reintroduced to his "Uncle", the aged Robert Speedwagon (who has managed to strike oil and create an organization in his name between the 50 year gap), where it is revealed that he has discovered ruins which allude to the origins of the vampire-creating stone mask. It is here that he uncovers the true origins of the accursed mask and a promise of a threat that is of a much greater scale: vampire transcending beings simply known as the Pillar men.

In summary it's basically more of the same nonsense that was present in Phantom Blood, but more refined and benefitting from a shift in genre; while it can be said that Phantom Blood's atmosphere was designed to reflect classic horror's like Dracula, Battle Tendency strives to provide a more traditional adventure series like Indiana Jones. This is especially apparent as the series visits multiple countries around the world as the story goes on. Note that while the series is more refined than its predecessor it still falls for similar pot holes that hurt the overall tone of the story (probably the best example of this is how the main characters are aided by the Nazi’s at one point without any sense of irony), which is more of a quirk of Hirohiko Araki’s writing style and continues to pop up throughout the series. In the end the story is what it is: the series is funny when it’s meant to be funny, sad when it’s meant to be sad and you're rooting for the main characters to overcome their enemies around every bend of the story, which is exactly what needed to be done.

In contrast to a majority of the characters in Phantom Blood, the characters in Battle Tendency are all interesting and more complex than how they initially appear. Joseph, despite the strong resemblance towards Jonathan (the previous part's protagonist for anyone unfamiliar) is about as similar to him as night is to day: while Jonathan was more of a stupidly naïve hero who always fought in a gentlemanly manner, Joseph starts out as a rebellious, jerk-ish hothead whom is not above fighting dirty or comically running away from a situation. This immediately makes his character a lot more interesting, as it shows that he's a far cry from Jonathan’s near messianic level of heroism yet maintains a sincere care for those who he makes deep connections towards. This causes him to give his all to protect them and in turn leads him into becoming a better person as a result. Overall he’s a much stronger main character than Jonathan was and the story benefits greatly from it. Supporting protagonists and secondary characters are likewise more interesting than in the previous part, with the important ones possessing a surprising amount of depth behind their surface personality traits. Special mentions go towards Caesar, eventual rival and friend of Joseph and Stroheim, a patriotic Nazi soldier whom Joseph encounters on his journey, as they both provide a great contrast between themselves and Joseph. The only real characters one could take an issue with are Suzi Q who was introduced solely to provide a love interest towards Joseph and the Pillar Men whom make some baffling poor decisions for beings of their age and intelligence level. To top things off they're frankly not as memorable or entertaining a villain as the first parts villain, Dio. Of course these are more nit-picky complaints than anything else and can easily be overlooked when focusing on the more positive aspects of the series.

As was the case with Phantom Blood, the combat is the absolute high point of the series and has matured to be a lot more creative in execution. The Ripple fighting style that appeared in previous series reappears here shockingly enough, but the utilisation in Battle Tendency favours focusing Ripple energy (basically chi mixed with UV rays for those unfamiliar) into other objects than transferring the energy into their foes by punching them. This logical evolution adds a broader range of combat possibilities and strategies that were simply in a state of infancy when the Ripple was used in the previous part and is nearly comparable to the “Stand” abilities that appear in part 3 onwards. The abilities that each of the Pillar Men possess are very entertaining as well (if a bit less creative) and subsequently provide excellent enemies to Joseph and Co.

The art style of the series is essentially more of the same as the previous arc; featuring handsome muscle-bound characters and beautiful women with a liking for uniquely styled clothing. Having said this there is definitely an evolution in Araki’s drawing style as lines appear bolder than what they did in Phantom Blood and panels appear somewhat neater, giving an impression of increased experience. Background art is worth a decent mention as well: this series visits a variety of different countries and is able to capture pure scenic at the best of times. All in all the artwork is something that you may enjoy, though it is hardly the author’s best work.

So is Battle Tendency a good manga to read? Yes, provided that you have read Phantom Blood before reading this part. It’s a superior series in nearly every way and gives a good indication of just what direction the series is heading towards. If Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure was to be compared to a butterfly’s lifecycle; Battle Tendency would be Jojo’s chrysalis stage; in the middle of changing from its Phantom Blood larvae stage and heading towards its emergence from its cocoon (Stardust Crusaders), where it becomes something awe inspiring. If nothing else if you're planning to read this series the way through then this part is definitely worth the time you'd spend reading it.