Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Season 1 Collection (Cert 15)
3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Kaze UK) Running time: 650 minutes approx.
My initial opening line for this review was going to be “The title says it all” but the reality is, it doesn’t – not by a long shot. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is definitely bizarre but is also psychedelic, action packed, violent, gory, testosterone fuelled, manic, random, abrasive, and utterly bonkers to boot.
The creation of mangaka Hirohiko Araki, this nutty epic saga of the Joestar family first appeared in print in 1987, originally animated as two series of OVA in 1993 and 2000. This 26-part TV outing from 2012 is the first attempt to adapt the manga in chronological order now brought to us in pristine HD.
So, what’s it all about? Even condensing the central details of this sinuous and sprawling labyrinth of lunacy is a Herculean task but I shall try my best. This release covers the manga’s first two story arcs, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, featuring two generations of JoJos defending humanity against vampires, ancient gods, supernatural beings and cyborg Nazis spanning over 100 years.
It begins in 1868 England when thief Dario Brando is scavenging a horse driven coach crash scene when groggy survivor George Joestar thinks Brando is trying to save him and his young son Jonathan, and vows to be forever indebted to him. Fast forward to 1880 and a young man of similar age to Jonathan – aka JoJo – arrives at the Joestar mansion: Dio Brando, the son of Dario with a letter from his recently deceased father.
Dio is taken in by George to honour the debt to Dario and quickly succeeds in alienating JoJo from his friends and family while sabotaging Jojo’s relationship with his sweetheart Erina Pendleton. Eventually when an elderly George is taken ill, Dio reveals his true ambition – to become the sole heir of the Joestar fortune. However, JoJo catches Dio out and they resume hostilities but Dio harnesses the power of a cursed stone mask in the Joestar’s possession which turns Dio into a powerful vampire.
And that is just the first three episodes! Everything hereafter is one giddy twist after another that sees the introduction of a host of supporting characters to further the plot in their own way, by either teaming with JoJo or becoming a vessel for Dio – and if not that, they are a threat in their own right until Jojo and his friends can vanquish them.
But that is not all. The second, lengthier story arc is set in 1938 where Joseph Joestar, grandson of Jonathan and the new holder of the JoJo moniker, is a brash and conceited 17 year-old living in New York who not only has to contend with the demons of his grandfather’s past but has to contend with his own cadre of supernatural enemies as well as influencing the direction of World War II!
Using the name “Dio”, after the late great singer Ronnie James, is a deliberate tribute by series creator Araki as a huge music fan, which he applies to many other characters. I warn you now, some are cringe worthy. There’s Robert E. O. Speedwagon, Will A. Zeppeli – an important figure who teaches JoJo about the mystical power of Hamon – a monk named Tonpetty, and his students Dire and Straitzo!
There’s more! One foe in the second arc is Santana (renamed SanViento in the subs), along with the unholy trio of Wammu, Kars and EisiDisi (the Japanese pronounce “e” as we say “a”). Still not enough? Meet Hamon expert Lisa Lisa (an obscure one there) with her assistants Messina and Loggins (Loggs in the subs), and her maid Suzi Q.
However, what stands out the most about this is that there is not a single trace of irony in the use of these names, an observation that frankly applies to the whole show. Things occur that appear to come from left field, contrivances are ludicrously farfetched, and logic bowed out of the plot about 10 seconds into the first episode. It is as if Araki is trolling us and knows it, or is earnest in his work and thinks it’s a masterpiece.
But here is the kicker – on the plotting front, Araki actually knows what he is doing, and as detached and isolated as everything appears to be, the numerous disparate, flapping skeins are brought together in a supremely deft demonstration of cogent, well planned convergence that is so water tight, they should have built the Titanic out of it!
Despite being like The Goon Show on steroids, the show is one huge barrage of shouted exposition heavy dialogue, ear-splitting bombast, and stomach-churning gore presented in retina burning colours. The art style is reminiscent of 60’s Pop Art, with thick lines around the characters and various discordant textures and renders, while the animation during dialogue scenes is archaically static; thankfully the plentiful fight scenes are given priority on that front and look amazing.
Given the sheer manliness of the Joestar clan and the amount of muscle bound bravado they exude that practically bursts through the screen, the two JoJo’s and by extension, most of the male characters, might not be so endearing for some fans. Not that this is a deliberately non-inclusive show as Lisa Lisa kicks all kinds of butt, but it doesn’t have too much of a softer side to offset the violence and primal swagger.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure very much lives up to its title and in many ways represents the best and worst of anime excess. The problem is I honestly don’t know if it is a work of tongue-in-cheek genius or a case of Emperor’s New Clothes. Everything is delivered completely straight faced without a single knowing wink to the audience which is either its greatest joke or its biggest flaw.
Jojo unquestionably provides non-stop entertainment, the writing is superbly crafted but is SO zany, irreverent, and raucous some may feel bludgeoned by its relentless magniloquence and surfeit of ideas. It is, however, an unforgettable experience.
Blu-ray Edition Inc. 160-Page Art Book
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black