“The Last Ripple” (or “The Last Hamon,” depending on translation) marks the end of the first story arc, ‘Phantom Blood.’ In it, Hirohiko Araki neatly ties up the few hanging plot threads including the oft more than hinted at romance between Jonathan and Erina and the final fate of the Stone Mask. Sadly what feels like a fairytale ending is not to be as ‘Phantom Blood’ was always, in essence, a horror story from the beginning. For a Shonen story, the finale of Phantom Blood is a bit of a shock, even when you know it’s coming.
In “New York’s Jojo,” the series skips a generation and crosses an ocean into a new century with a new Jojo and a new type of evil altogether. Joseph Joestar, Jonathan’s grandson, travels to New York with his grandmother to meet her friend, Robert Speedwagon.
1. Return to Horror
‘Phantom Blood’ started as a horror story, and although it became a series of escalating combats in the middle, “The Last Ripple” sees it return to its gothic horror roots. As the tale concludes, we think the evil of Dio and the mask have been put to rest. Jonathan and Erina marry and seem to have a more idyllic life ahead of them. Together they set out to visit America, leaving, at least temporarily, their friends and troubles behind. As viewers, we know there is something afoot as in the last minutes an elaborate casket is loaded on the ship. It does not take long for things to go awry on the ship. An incidental character, Father Styx drunkenly stumbles his way to the hold and is the first to discover the horror aboard. Jojo and Erina do, thankfully, get to spend some quality time together before things go terribly wrong. During dinner, Jojo spies Dio’s manservant Wang Chung in the shadows and their possible fairy tale future goes to hell. I won’t spoil the final battle, but it delivers a stronger end to the story of Dio and Jojo than their previous fight. From the opening of the episode, we know Dio saved his head from dissolving and he needs a new body. The surprise is his attitude toward Jojo; Dio expressed an odd sense of honor and surprising respect for him at the end. The way ‘Phantom Blood’ ends feels really different.
Erina Pendleton is a pretty fascinating character, even if we only get to know it mostly by inference. We know she is played as the damsel in distress in her first appearance and the victim of assault later, but the little tidbits we learn after she washes Dio’s kiss away with muddy water really make her a strong character. We know she served as a nurse for her father while away from England and continued to aid him in his hospital upon their return. We see her try to aid Jonathan against the horrors facing him in “The Final Ripple” before saving someone in the final moments aboard the ship. She raises a child alone in Victorian Britain, not a place or time known for its kindness to single mothers no matter the reason. When we see her again in New York, she shows a better attitude towards race than is common in most places. She openly accepts Smokey into their circle and treats him as family right away. Joseph’s deference to her shows that she must brook no BS, as he’s such a different person away from her.
3. Shifting Gears
Not many comics change so much between story arcs as Hirohiko Araki’s “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” and that might be one of the reasons for its and his longevity. ‘Phantom Blood’ was very much a gothic horror story, even if it did maintain some Shonen tropes in its structure. It was very much about human hopes and desires and the dashing of those by the greed and avarice of others. What it grows into with ‘Battle Tendency’ is something much more influenced by the pulp age adventures of the thirties and forties and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In episode ten alone we encounter corrupt cops, racist mafioso, get in no less then three fights, and see a Tommy Gun gunned to good effect, even if it did seem to appear from nowhere. The storytelling, too, is different, even with all the pulp era action it feels much more sedate and relaxed the the first arc. It is actually more action packed, like its pulp influences, but Araki does not seem in as much of a hurry to hit plot points. The biggest difference has to be the hero, Jospeh Joestar. Where Jonathan was sedate, stoic and deliberately gentlemanly, Joseph is loud, brash, bombastic, and a bit of a braggart. He’s full of himself and often proud of that fact. Well, at least if his grandmother is not around.Continued below
4. Role Reversal
We see so many stories particularly in long running comics about the relatable villain (eg:Magneto), the redeemed villain (eg The White Queen or, again, Magneto) or the villain that becomes an anti-hero (Deadpool or Deathstroke), so it’s very compelling to see a hero go the other way, and see it done so well and willingly. Many such fallen hero stories, Anakin Skywalker included, are marked by things like mind control, magic spells, bold outright lies, or some kind of set up or fake out (Terra, anyone?) Straits makes a choice openly, for an all too human reason: to become something dark, awful and by nature something we would call evil. We knew him very shallowly in part one, as he was one of Zeppeli’s contemporaries come to help defeat Dio and destroy the mask. We get hints of his adventures with the Baron and, most likely, continued doing ostensibly good deeds in the decades since. What makes the murder of his and Speedwagon’s crew and assault on Robert Speedwagon himself compelling is the nature of his reason. In all the decades he recalled Dio’s power and, moreover, his eternal beauty and youth and coveted it himself. We don’t know if he thinks his Hamon skills will let him control it. We do know he’s concerned about Joseph Joestar as the boy and his connection to Hamon is the last thing he asked Speedwagon about before he makes his move. It’s the kind of thing that makes this largely mysterious background cypher from the past immediately interesting going forward. He admitted his opponent in a way that was unhealthy and that feeling remained long enough to be fulfilled with the discovery of a treasure trove of stone masks.
5. Adventure Archaeology
Much like the Indiana Jones series, if you find something maybe you should not mess with it. Someone in the employ of Robert E.O. Speedwagon found something that makes Speedwagon get the old band back together. That being him and Straits, who now runs Tonpetty’s monastery to investigate something directly related to the Stone Masks. The dig reveals a lot, and I mean a lot of masks. If that wasn’t frightening enough the cave holding them resembles something HR Giger would have thought up. Lastl,y I don’t know how they know but there is a living body entombed inside the walls here. I always loved that page in the manga just because of all the wild ideas it conjured. All of this says do not freaking disturb and nuke the site from orbit just to be safe. If you ask me, Straits had other ideas once the opportunity arrives. His weakness does more than alter him though, it kind of sets this entire story arc into motion.