JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest running and most popular manga in Japan, starting out in 1986 and still going strong to this day. But the history of JoJo in the west is far from simple, and for the most part kind of unsatisfactory. But this could finally be changing.
JoJo is currently on Part 8 in Japan, and to date the only complete part published physically in the west is Part 3: Stardust Crusaders, which stars Jotaro Kujo, who is subsequently the most well-known of the “JoJo”s in the west. It’s only now, as the fantastic anime continues to air (the new one’s from 2012 onward, and isn’t related to the apparently subpar OVAs), that we are finally getting prints of Parts 1 and 2 in delicious, great looking hardback editions from Viz Media. Better late than never. The first volume of Part 1: Phantom Blood has just come out, with the final two volumes scheduled for May. Part 2: Battle Tendency should follow later in the year.
The difficulty in getting it to the west has mainly been about localisation and legal issues. But thankfully we can now begin to move on from that. And hopefully in a hurry too, as there a lot of parts for us to all catch up on.
For those unfamiliar with the concept JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a generational manga, with each Part being set in a different time period with a different protagonist, all of whom share some sort of connection to one another and have the nickname “JoJo”. Not all of the Parts follow a chronological order, and some of them don’t even share the same “universe”.
The Prologue of Phantom Blood opens up with a mysterious blood ritual revolving around a stone mask that seems to grant some kind of power. It’s described as “wonderfully bizarre”. It then skips forward. The hero of Part 1 is Jonathan Joestar, who we first meet as a baby when he is discovered by Dario Brando, an alcoholic thief, in a crashed carriage along with his father George Joestar. Both the driver and JoJo’s mother have died in the crash. When George wakes he mistakenly believes Dario is trying to save their lives from the crash instead of stealing jewellery and pledges to repay the kindness. The stone mask is also revealed to have been in the carriage.
Years later the story begins proper with Dio Brando the Invader. JoJo is now a young boy, living a happy life in his father’s mansion, standing up to people bullying girls but getting beaten up, and all that sort of mildly generic anime hero beginning stuff. But Dio, Dario’s son, arrives, after his father has died. George has agreed to raise Dio as if he were his own son, but Dio secretly wishes to claim the Joestar fortune as his own, and he plots to break JoJo mentally in order to do it. This begins as soon as he steps off the carriage in a classic panel where he mercilessly knees JoJo’s beloved dog, Danny.
Dio’s torment only continues from there, upstaging him in manners and education, turning the other boys against him, and even interfering cruelly in JoJo’s love life. And it all comes to a grisly and terrible end, while Dio is ever careful to remain undetected by the adults, much to JoJo’s frustration, as Dio has been open with him about his selfish designs (which is even more cruel).
Seven more years pass and JoJo and Dio have both become young men, and are graduating university for Archaeology and Law respectively. Despite butting heads before JoJo and Dio are now keeping up the pretence of being brotherly friends, though they both feel the same way as they used to. George Joestar has fallen ill. JoJo hopes to impress his father with his research on the mysterious stone mask from the beginning of the manga, but during his studies he stumbles across a letter from Dario to George that seems to implicate Dio in Dario’s death and his father’s illness.
This sets JoJo off on a quest to London to try and find the Chinese man who sold Dio the bogus medicine he’s been using. But while JoJo is away Dio becomes intrigued with the potential to kill someone using the stone mask, little suspecting its supernatural qualities. Needless to say JoJo gets into some scrapes while in dangerous areas of London, involving quite a bit of fighting as he has grown into a very muscular person (along with Dio). And, of course, Dio begins to discover more about the true powers of the mask.
The two plot threads come back together as JoJo and Dio meet each other once again back at the Joestar Manor, as they always had to. This volume uses the chapter split originally used in the Japanese rereleases of the manga, meaning that it ends partway through the A Youth With Dio arc. This means the volume ends on a massive cliffhanger. Of course, this makes you really want to know what happens next, but at the same time it’s a little bit unsatisfying. A lot of the volume is set-up and build-up, and it never really arrives at any of the things it promised. In general it’s a little bit slow. The anime adaptation gets to the end of this first volume at around the beginning of episode 3, of 9 episodes. Really it could end a lot more naturally if they had included just a few more chapters, which is a bit of a frustration.
It’s difficult to recommend this manga on its own, though it is fantastically well put together. The hardback is very nice, and feels great to hold and read. The front and back art are new pieces of artwork by Hirohiko Araki, and there’s even an interesting little interview with him at the end (which is perhaps a little bit sort). The art is fantastic, and it’s easy to see why Araki has become so well-known for his style. His artwork contains a lot of detail, but is also very glamorous. The bizarre poses a lot of the characters do have entered popular culture, being known as “JoJo-dachi”. On the colour pages the colour is decided more by style than realism, and that’s what JoJo is all about, both artistically and narratively. Yet it’s not simply chaotic, everything is calculated and works together very well. The heavy use of stylised onomatopoeia is another highlight.
The translation is also very good, and seems to be in-keeping with the style of the manga as a whole. Some of the English does feel a little clunky in places, but like the rest of the manga, it seems to work in its own way. “How delightfully bizarre,” sums it up well. Not only the translation, but the volume as a whole.
It’s absolutely fantastic to have the beginning of JoJo finally available in the west, and for the following volumes to be only around the corner. But, as satisfaction can only really come by connecting this volume with its successor, its release truly can’t come soon enough.
All 8 parts are included in the Story Mode of the fantastic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle. While they’re not exactly deep, they give a good idea of the story of JoJo as a whole. It’s a game that is treats the series with a lot of love, and is also terrific fun. We have it on sale at the moment for only £9.99, so why not check it out? Get it here!