Phantom Blood was a fun action-horror story with some family drama, but it was not as bizarre as one might think based off the title. Battle Tendency is the part of JoJo‘s that introduced viewers to just how crazy Hirohiko Araki was willing to let the adventure be. Spoilers for Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency ahead.
Battle Tendency immediately changes up the tone Phantom Blood setup with its new protagonist, Joseph Joestar. The grandson of Jonathan, Joseph is far from the gentleman his grandfather was. A sly trickster, Joseph fights with his brain instead of his fists. This man has more allsups than any other anime protagonist I have ever seen. He literally pulls a Tommy Gun out of his butt at one point. However, he will put his life before others, even if he won’t admit it. Also, unlike Jonathan, Joseph is naturally gifted with Hamon, able to utilize many of the basic techniques seen in Phantom Blood. All of these aspects combined make Joseph one of my favorite anime protagonists of all time.
Speaking of Hamon, the magic system is used more uniquely in Battle Tendency than it was in Phantom Blood. Hamon-user Caesar Zeppeli coats himself in soap in order to create Hamon bubbles that he projects like water blades at his enemies. Tasked with furthering Joseph and Caesar’s Hamon training, master Lisa Lisa puts the two through hell so that they can defeat the Pillar Men. Our heroes are aided in their pursuits by the newly formed Speedwagon Foundation, which Robert E. O. Speedwagon was able to fund with his oil industry.
The new complexities given to Hamon are mainly due to the Pillar Men, the main villains of this part. Battle Tendency‘s first two villains, ally-turned-villain Straizo and primitive pillar man Santana, set the stage for Esidisi, Wamuu and Kars, foreshadowing their great power while also presenting how weak our characters are in comparison. The power these three possess is presented perfectly when Wamuu, the weakest of the three, instantly annihilates every soldier that awakened him. Like Dio and the other vampires, the Pillar Men are weak against sunlight. However, their wisdom and immense strength more than make up for this weakness. Our heroes must protect the ancient Red Stone of Aja, a powerful jewel that has the power to turn the Pillar Men into ultimate lifeforms. The large overarching story contrasts the smaller scale of Phantom Blood perfectly, widening Araki’s story pallet and proving he can handle both.
The Pillar Men are not the only opposition Joseph faces. Taking place in the late 1930’s during the early years of WWII, Joseph and company routinely find themselves in the cross hairs of Nazi scientists that are researching the Pillar Men. This eventually leads to an odd friendship between Joseph and Nazi officer Rudol von Stroheim due to their common enemy. As a Jewish man, it was weird for me to see the Nazis portrayed as noble soldiers willing to fight for the greater good. Ultimately, Battle Tendency is a product of the time it was written (the 1980’s) when Japan thought that their beliefs were dead and gone. Since this is a wacky cartoon with magic breathing and giant Aztec gods, I can overlook this more benevolent portrayal of Nazis. I admire David Productions for choosing to leave the story unchanged. It is hard for me to not enjoy von Stroheim’s presence on screen.
Araki also shows that character deaths can be lingering and bittersweet. Caesar’s death, accompanied by Taku Iwasaki’s fantastic score, is beautiful. What truly sells it is the way Wamuu, Joseph and Lisa Lisa react to it.
David Productions greatly improved their animation quality for Battle Tendency. The fights feature vibrant and dynamic animation. This can be scene particularly in Wamuu and Joseph’s chariot battle. The 3D environment of the arena blended seamlessly with the 2D character models. With that said, Battle Tendency still features many still shots without much character movement just like Phantom Blood. They make up for this with the iconic character poses that have since become a staple of the series.
The English dub for Battle Tendency is a huge improvement over Phantom Blood‘s. Benjamin Diskin is absolutely hilarious as the voice of Joseph. Wendee Lee brings this stoicism and bravado to her portrayal of Lisa Lisa. Keith Silverstein returns as Speedwagon and is just as great, if not better than he was in Phantom Blood. However, the true standouts are Chris Jai Alex as Esidisi, Paul St. Peter as Wamuu and John DeMita as Kars. The three perfectly capture the ominous presence of the Pillar Men, while hamming it up just enough to offset the intensity. ADR director Patrick Seitz made magic happen with this voice cast. If you have not already, I highly recommend re-watching Battle Tendency with the English cast.
Battle Tendency was a step in the right direction for Araki and paved the way for the absolute insanity contained in the rest of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It is an incredibly fun action romp with some genuinely emotional moments. This was the part that sold me on JoJo’s and it is not hard to see why.