JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 3

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 3Creator: Hirohiko Araki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421578804
Released: August 2015
Original release: 1988

Although I had been previously aware of the manga series for some time, my real introduction to Hirohiko Araki’s multi-generational shounen epic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was in 2012 through the standalone spinoff Rohan at the Louvre. I then proceeded to read the third story arc Stardust Crusaders, at the time the only other part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to have been released English. It wasn’t until 2015 that Phantom Blood, the very beginning of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was translated, published in a beautiful hardcover edition under Viz Media’s Shonen Jump imprint. When Phantom Blood was originally collected in Japan it was released in five volumes between 1987 and 1988. However, in 2002 it was re-released in three volumes which is what Viz Media’s edition is based on. Phantom Blood, Volume 3, published in English in 2015, is largely equivalent to the fourth and fifth volumes of the original Japanese release.

Having arrived in Wind Knights Lot in pursuit of his adoptive brother Dio, Jonathan Joestar must first successfully defeat two of Dio’s strongest undead minions and then traverse a town with a population that is steadily being turned into a hoard of zombies before he even has the chance to confront his brother. The Dark Knight Blueford, who is filled with hatred for the world and loyalty to Dio, is determined to take JoJo’s life. The other knight, Tarukus, is also exceptionally skilled when it comes to dealing out death and takes great delight in it. Should JoJo and his allies manage to survive their encounter with these two undead foe, they face an even more formidable adversary in Dio. Having used an ancient stone mask to turn himself into a vampire, Dio has gained untold strength and powers. Fortunately, JoJo is a quick and talented study—under the tutelage of Baron Zeppeli he has been able to begin to master Hamon energy, the only thing other than the sun itself that can harm to Dio.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 3, page 147JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure truly is a bizarre series; Phantom Blood makes this very clear from the very start. From the characters’ weird anatomy and disproportionate musculature to the story’s strange mix of melodrama, horror, and fantastic martial arts, Phantom Blood doesn’t just strain readers’ suspension of disbelief, the manga completely shatters it. Entire backstories are revealed in the time it takes for characters to tumble down cliff sides; combatants continue to live on after suffering injures that even the undead couldn’t survive; fights quickly escalate to unbelievable extremes, opponents continuously outdoing and outmaneuvering one another. Although the “why” of what’s going on is sometimes questionable, even considering Araki’s pseudo-scientific explanations, most everything is blatantly narrated by the participants and observers, so it’s fairly easy to at least follow the “what” of all of the strangeness. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is admittedly ridiculous and absurd, but that’s part of what makes the series so entertaining.

Phantom Blood is a relatively short series, especially when compared to the later story arcs of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. While Phantom Blood is a complete story in its own right, if often feels even more like a prologue to the rest of the series, laying the groundwork for all of the weirdness and machismo to come. Phantom Blood introduces the noble Joestar family—Jonathan in particular being especially gallant and large-hearted, even towards his enemies—but even more important is the introduction of Dio, an extraordinary villain. As Araki points out in the volume’s author notes, what make Dio so terrifying isn’t his impressive powers or brute strength, it’s his stunning ability to control others. Dio is arrogant but extremely charismatic, gaining many willing followers and easily manipulating those who aren’t. Phantom Blood is frequently gruesome and grotesque, with over-the-top violence, outrageous story developments, and audacious, larger-than-life characters. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a peculiar work, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next arc, Battle Tendency.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 2

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 2Creator: Hirohiko Araki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421578804
Released: May 2015
Original release: 1988

For years the only part of Hirohiko Araki’s epic and fashionably strange shōnen manga series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure that was available in English was the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders. A standalone side story, Rohan at the Louvre was released as well, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the very beginning of the series, Phantom Blood, was translated and released in print, and in a lovely hardcover edition, too. (I have a feeling that the popularity of the recent JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime adaptation probably had something to do with that.) Phantom Blood was originally published in five volumes in Japan between 1987 and 1988, but in 2002 the first story arc was re-released in three volumes. Viz Media’s English-language edition is based on that 2002 release. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 2, published in 2015, collects part of the second volume, all of the third volume, and part of the fourth volume of the original Japanese release.

JoJo’s life isn’t exactly turning out the way that he would have hoped or expected. His father lays dying in his arms after having taken a fatal blow that was intended for him. Behind the knife that will end his father’s life is Dio, a man who was raised as his brother but who has turned against the Joestar family as was always his plan and intention. Not only that, Dio has gained untold powers from a mysterious and ancient stone mask. Now a vampire, Dio is nearly immortal and possesses great strength. Even he doesn’t know the full extent of his astonishing abilities, but he has already begun gathering followers who are drawn to his charisma and promises of power. With the help of a curious man named Baron Zeppeli, JoJo becomes one of the only people who might have a chance of defeating Dio. Zeppeli unlocks JoJo’s own latent talents, training him in Sendo and its use of Hamon energy, an impressive martial technique which when mastered may make it possible for JoJo to destroy Dio and save the world.

PhantomBlood2-72JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a very aptly named series. It is an exceedingly strange manga with nonstop, over-the-top action and drama. Nearly every phrase of narration and dialogue in Phantom Blood, Volume 2 is an exclamation. Even the few relatively quiet moments are fervently intense and the calm never lasts for very long. Most of the second volume of Phantom Blood consists of extended fight scenes and training sequences. Araki keeps Phantom Blood moving along at a breakneck pace which sometimes includes the actual breaking of necks. Blood, gore, dismembered body parts, splattered guts, eyeballs, and brain matter are all fairly common in the series. There is definitely a strong element of horror in the early part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. While Araki’s artwork in Phantom Blood understandably doesn’t show the same refinement found in his later illustrations, it still has a sense of visceral dynamism and the occasional panel can actually be quite beautiful or striking.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a very odd manga. The story, artwork, and characters are all memorable if for no other reason than they are so over-the-top and strange. Additionally, Araki freely mixes historical events with historical fantasy in Phantom Blood. For example, Jack the Ripper becomes one of Dio’s earliest followers and England’s bloody dynastic struggles of the sixteenth century form a dramatic backstory for some of the other warriors that JoJo must face as he pursues his adoptive brother. Plenty of Phantom Blood is completely Araki’s own creation, though. And lest there be any confusion about all the weirdness, JoJo’s faithful and at times even useful companion Speedwagon is there to explain everything that’s going on, as well as to narrate the obvious. Speedwagon’s help isn’t needed to realize how much of a villain Dio is, though. Even before becoming a vampire Dio delighted in his own evil and the evil of others, but with his newfound powers he is in a better position than ever to make his malevolent schemes a reality. How successful he will actually be remains to be seen, but so far the results are marvelously terrifying and outrageous.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1Creator: Hirohiko Araki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421578798
Released: February 2015
Original release: 1987-1988

Hirohiko Araki’s multi-generational epic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest-running manga series in Japan. Araki began the series in 1986 and the manga is still ongoing at well over a hundred volumes. Between 2005 and 2010, Viz Media published the sixteen volumes of the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders, arguably on of the most popular, or at least well-known, parts of the series. In 2012, NBM Publishing released Rohan at the Louvre, a largely standalone manga related to Diamond Is Unbreakable, the fourth arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Finally, in 2015, the first part of the epic, Phantom Blood was released in print in English by Viz in a beautiful, deluxe hardcover edition. Phantom Blood was originally published in Japan in five volumes between 1987 and 1988, but was reissued in three volumes in 2002. That release is the basis for Viz’s English-language edition. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1 includes the entirety of the first volume and the majority of the second volume of the original Japanese release.

Jonathan Joestar, known as JoJo, is the son of a wealthy 19th-century English nobleman. He lost his mother while still an infant when the entire family was involved in a tragic carriage accident. JoJo survived, but his mother and the driver died and his father was severely injured. Years later, a young man named Dio Brando is sent to live with the Joestars. His father, who recently passed away, was the first person upon the scene of the carriage accident. Lord Joestar believes himself to be in Brando’s debt, under the mistaken impression that he saved his life, and so welcomes Dio with open arms. But Dio isn’t the upright character he often portrays himself to be. His intention is to destroy the Joestar family and take its wealth for his own using anyone and any means necessary, including a mysterious stone mask that grants vampiric powers. JoJo is the only person to suspect Dio isn’t all that he seems, and Dio is determined to make his life miserable. The two of them are raised as brothers, but despite JoJo’s initial attempts at friendship, there is no love lost between them.

Phantom Blood, Volume 1, page 80JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a very aptly named series. Phantom Blood is strange and outlandish, proceeding at a breakneck pace with a tremendous amount of drama and flying fists. It’s not subtle by any means, but the series’ uninhibited, over-the-top nature is part of Araki’s style. Heightened action and drama often take precedence over logical consistencies or realism in the manga’s artwork and story. Devastating injuries that would maim or kill most people are easily disregarded or overcome by the series’ heroes and villains, although the pain and suffering they incur certainly leave an impression. JoJo and Dio fight it out on several different occasions in the first volume of Phantom Blood, each battle becoming increasingly more violent and destructive, and they are pretty bloody to being with. And that’s not even taking into account the psychological damage that also results. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure can be brutal.

Dio is one of the most fabulous antagonists that I’ve come across in manga. Extraordinarily charismatic and completely without scruples, he makes an extremely dangerous opponent. But Dio does have flaws, and he is a much more interesting character because of them. While he is often unable to control his intense anger and arrogance, even at a young age he is able to hold people under his thrall. JoJo on the other hand, especially in comparison to Dio, is astoundingly honest, naive, and kindhearted, a gentleman through and through in both mind and deed. He uses his strength of character and impressive physical fortitude to protect his family and other people he cares about. JoJo’s repeated confrontations with Dio force hem to become even stronger as the series progresses. He grows into a formidable opponent in his own right with a firm sense of and desire for justice. The stark contrast between the two young men and the extreme dynamics of their relationship are a large part of what makes Phantom Blood such an engaging manga.

All You Need Is Kill

All You Need Is KillAuthor: Ryosuke Takeuchi
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata
Original story: Hiroshi Sakurazaka

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421576015
Released: November 2014
Original release: 2014

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill but I distinctly remember enjoying it, perhaps even more than I initially thought that I would. And so, I was very excited to learn that Takeshi Obata would be working on the manga adaptation not only because I like the original All You Need Is Kill but because I also enjoy Obata’s illustrations. (Hikaru no Go, which he worked on, actually happens to be one of my favorite manga series.) I was even more excited when Viz Media licensed the All You Need Is Kill manga for an English-language release. In Japan, the series was published in 2014 in two volumes. Viz’s digital release was also two volumes, but its 2014 print edition was released as a single-volume omnibus under the Shonen Jump Advanced imprint complete with color pages and a larger trim size. While Obata provided the artwork for the manga adaptation of All You Need Is Kill, it was Ryosuke Takeuchi who outlined the script and storyboards.

Humankind has been at war with the Mimics for years, but it seems like it may be a losing battle. The Mimics, alien creatures that continue to evolve with each confrontation, have begun to close in on Japan, the only country remaining that has the ability to produce the high-tech battle jackets used in the war. If Japan is lost, the rest of the world will soon follow. Keiji Kiriya is a young jacket jockey about to face his first battle. He, like so many others, is killed in action, except that he then revives in his bunk, thirty hours before his death. At first Keji thinks he’s dreaming, but then it happens again. And then again. Time after time, Keiji lives and dies fighting against the Mimics. Doing all that he can to survive just a little bit longer each round, Keiji focuses part of his attention on Rita Vrataski, considered to be the best jacket solider in the world. Following her example, Keiji might actually have a chance to escape the time loop alive.

Because I haven’t recently read Sakurazaka’s original All You Need Is Kill it is difficult for me to make a detailed comparison between it and the manga adaptation. Generally though, I feel that the novel is the stronger work of the two, but the manga has quite a bit going for it as well. Most of the resigned humor and social commentary found in the novel and even Keiji’s internal development have been downplayed in the manga in favor of the story’s external spectacle, action, and battles. As manga is a visual medium it makes sense to have this slight change of focus, but as a result All You Need Is Kill does lose some of its emotional impact. As for the artwork itself, Obata does an excellent job conveying the drama of the plot. The jackets and heavy action sequences look great, too. The Mimics’ design does leave something to be desired though—they aren’t as terrifying as they should be—and some readers may find the occasional fanservice more distracting than anything else.

Although it may not have the same substantive weight of the original, All You Need Is Kill makes for an entertaining and exciting, action-packed manga that reads quickly. Though not without flaws, it succeeds well as an adaptation and as its own work. Particularly effective is how Obata emphasizes the time loop by utilizing very similar panels but with slightly different page layouts with each rewind, keeping the manga from becoming too repetitive. The way Obata draws Keiji changes as well. The young soldier becomes stronger and harder with each loop, but also more haunted and battle-weary. An explanation for the time abnormality is eventually given that at least makes sense superficially and sets up a nice plot twist, but it starts to fall apart if given too much critical thought. Still, the All You Need Is Kill is a great read for anyone interested in military science fiction and action. For the most part I was pleased with the adaptation; I’d still recommend that readers give the original novel a try, too, though.

Genkaku Picasso, Volume 3

Genkaku Picasso, Volume 3Creator: Usamaru Furuya
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421539201
Released: May 2011
Original release: 2010

The third and final volume of Usamaru Furuya’s short manga series Genkaku Picasso was originally published in Japan in 2010. Viz Media released the English-language edition of the volume in 2011 under its Shonen Jump imprint. Genkaku Picasso was initially serialized in the manga magazine Jump SQ. Furuya mentions in the series’ afterword that he was somewhat surprised to have been approached to create a manga by one of the Jump SQ editors since he didn’t consider his previous work to have had much popular, mass appeal. (Furuya made his debut in the alternative manga magazine Garo and is particularly well-known for some of his more avant-garde work.) Genkaku Picasso was originally intended to be only two volumes long. Happily, Furuya was able to expand the series to three volumes, which allowed him to tie everything together in the way that he wanted. Although I enjoyed the first volume of Genkaku Picasso the manga starts out a little unsteady. But by the end, Furuya has created a fantastic series.

For most of his life, Hikari Hamura has been content to keep to himself and concentrate on his drawing. He’s earned himself the nickname of Picasso from his classmates (much to his dismay as he greatly prefers the work of Leonardo da Vinci), but up until recently they have mostly ignored him. Picasso is as strange and gloomy as he ever was, if not more so, but many of his classmates are beginning to feel drawn to him for some unknown reason. What they don’t realize is that Picasso has been helping to solve their personal problems. After nearly dying in a bizarre accident Picasso has gained a strange ability that allows him to see and draw the darkness that exists in another person’s heart. He can enter into those sketches, and by changing them he influences his classmates lives, hopefully for the better. This power is something that Picasso has tried to keep hidden from the others but it becomes difficult for them to disregard his increasingly odd behaviour, especially when he seems to know things that they would never reveal to someone else.

Genkaku Picasso starts out as a fairly episodic series. Generally, I found the longer stories—those lasting several chapters—to be more successful than the shorter ones as they feel less rushed and more thoroughly developed. It’s only really during the second volume that it becomes clear that there is also an overarching plot. The details of that larger story are completely reveled in the third volume of Genkaku Picasso. With a little bit of a lead in, “Hikari’s Story” takes up nearly half of Genkaku Picasso, Volume 3. It’s the longest story in Genkaku Picasso and is what pulls together the entire series. Up until this point in the manga, while Picasso has certainly been the protagonist, the stories have largely focused on his classmates and the issues that they are struggling with. But in “Hikari’s Story” their roles are reversed and it’s Picasso who needs help. It’s an extremely effective turn of events that brings the series full circle quite nicely.

The ending of Genkaku Picasso is actually a little heart-wrenching. Picasso starts the series almost a complete loner. Except for Chiaki, who hung out with him despite his protests, most of his classmates simply took no notice of him. Picasso was perfectly fine with this, or at least that’s what he told himself. As Genkaku Picasso progresses, Picasso slowly gathers people around him as he helps them with their problems. But it’s not until the third volume that he actually admits that he has friends and that he actually wants friends. Picasso has to be completely honest with himself and with the others, which in reality is a very terrifying thing to have to do. With “Hikari’s Story” the entire series becomes about Picasso and shows the tremendous amount of growth that he has gone through. I’m very glad that Furuya was able to extend Genkaku Picasso and give it a marvelous conclusion. Even considering its somewhat awkward start, Genkaku Picasso is a wonderful series. I thoroughly enjoyed its quirky humor and characters, its engaging artwork, and its somewhat peculiar but ultimately heartfelt story.