Before “Road Roller Da!” and “yare yare daze” there was “Sunlight Yellow Overdrive!” The first part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Phantom Blood, is responsible for Hirohiko Araki’s prominence as a mangaka, but it also inspired countless other anime and video games, including Street Fighter, Persona, and Mob Psycho 100. Spoilers for Phantom Blood ahead.
Hirohiko Araki had written a few other serialized manga before JoJo’s, including Cool Shock B.T. and Baoh. However, Araki struck gold with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The first volume of the manga’s first story arc, Phantom Blood, debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump in January, 1987.
Phantom Blood is a horror family-drama story about the wealthy Joestar family adopting the poor orphan Dio Brando, who secretly desires to exploit the family’s prominence in England for his own gain. Standing in Dio’s way is the gentleman giant Jonathan Joestar, the superman-esque protagonist. After discovering the secret behind the stone mask within the Joestar mansion, Dio becomes a vampire, gaining superhuman strength and speed. Heavily inspired by Fist of the North Star, Phantom Blood revolves around 1-on-1 fights, allowing for a greater focus on character motivations and strategy with characters built like freight trains.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s first magic system, hamon or ripple, is very basic in Phantom Blood. Hamon is solar energy conducted through liquids that is controlled by a person’s breathing. This makes it particularly deadly to Dio and other vampires. It also presents a clear weakness, if you can stop a person from breathing, they cannot conduct hamon. However, hamon is not used creatively in Phantom Blood. It is often just used to amplify the power of Jonathan’s punches.
What makes the fights in Phantom Blood interesting is the creativity of the fighter, not their actual powers. Jonathan is a courageous fighter who uses the arena to his advantage. This exemplified most in first fight with vampire Dio in the burning Joestar Mansion. Dio may have gained tremendous power from the mask, but he also gained a new weakness: heat. By exploiting this weakness, Jonathan defeats Dio, albeit temporarily.
Most of the secondary characters are pretty bland. Baron Zeppeli has some intriguing moments and a couple good fights, but is ultimately forgettable. In fact, all of the hamon users except Jonathon are pretty one note, leaving very little impact with the small screen time the occupy. Erina is your stereotypical female love interest. She and Jonathan share some great moments together on screen, but their romantic relationship is often sidelined for the familial one of Jonathan and Dio.
The only secondary character that intrigued me was Robert E. O. Speedwagon, a thug Jonathan met on the streets of London who quickly became his closest friend and ally. Unlike Jonathan’s other allies, Speedwagon does not use hamon. He spends most of his screen time commentating the fights and providing his friends with moral support. Speedwagon is an over-dramatic gentleman who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, even if he has to punch some vampires.
David Productions animation is slightly weak in Phantom Blood, but this is mostly due to the studio being relatively new at the time of its release. They do an excellent job blending Araki’s art style from Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency together, translating the pages to the screen well. I hold much respect for them choosing to adapt the manga almost completely for the anime, something that the Phantom Blood movie chose not to do and failed spectacularly because of it.
The score by Hayato Matsuo fits the tone of Phantom Blood well. Jonathan’s heroic theme fits him perfectly, while Dio’s them is creepy and slightly horrific.
Before I get into the voice acting for Phantom Blood, I typically prefer dub over sub, especially in more modern shows. Phantom Blood is one of the few exceptions. The dub isn’t terrible exactly, but it leaves much to be desired. Most of the characters felt miscast, with some truly odd choices when it came to vocal direction. Some of the English script is really awkward as well, such as translating Dio’s battle cry and changing his scream. The only exceptions to this are Patrick Seitz as Dio and Keith Silverstein as Speedwagon as the two seem to be having an absolute blast voicing their characters. While I am thankful for these castings as they led to the voice actors reprising their roles in future parts, the dub for Phantom Blood is okay at best. The Japanese voice acting is much better.
Phantom Blood laid the groundwork for the rest of the series, only for it to be packed into a box, placed in a volcano and shot into space. This first part of the series is mundane compared to what would follow and Jonathan definitely built a strong impression that would be continuously subverted with every future protagonist. A crazy combination of horror, action and drama, Phantom Blood is a fun time, but is nothing particularly interesting, especially when compared to the rest of JoJo’s. To be fair, this is still pretty great for Araki’s first attempt at creating something unique.