Five years ago, I would have never imagined seeing the first two story arcs of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure come to the States, especially in its original manga form. What Hirohiko Araki started in 1986 eventually became one of the highest-selling manga throughout all of Japan. To this day, the series has sold over 80 million copies in Japan alone, and that number continues to grow every day. It began to have some footing in the US, when Viz licensed and released all 16 volumes of JoJo's third story arc, Stardust Crusaders. But this left out the original (1-5) volumes of the first arc, Phantom Blood, and the following story (5-12), Battle Tendency. So just what is this strangely-titled series, why is it so iconic in Japan, and why did it take so long for us to get the first two story arcs here in the States?
Let's take it from the top. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure revolves around different members of the Joestar family; Jonathan, Joseph, Jotaro, etc. (hence the name, JoJo). Each story arc centers on one of these family members taking down supernatural enemies and saving the world, using special and unique powers they each possess. The major appeal of the series is something else entirely. While being very strange and unpredictable, this show is also known for all of the crazy poses and techniques all of the characters in the show demonstrate. People in Japan especially have turned these poses into a fashion statement. So the last question to ask once again is, why the difference in the States? Why only give us the third story arc of JoJo and nothing else?
Do you remember Yu-Gi-Oh? The popular anime series/card game that garnered such a large following, due to its success with Kids WB (back when that was still a thing) and card sharks all around the world? Well, you may or may not remember that the Yu-Gi-Oh series was not always about the card game. The first seven volumes of Kazuki Takahashi's now famous manga revolved around the main character Yugi Mutou; a boy who loved to play games. One day, Yugi solved an ancient puzzle, which allowed a spirit trapped inside to come out and actually possess Yugi's body. And this was all we really knew about the series at the time. It was quite unpredictable, and nobody really knew where the story was going. But it wasn't until volume 8 of the manga forward that everything became more clear. That duel monsters (the name of said card game) was actually a reproduction of battles from the days of ancient Egypt, and that the spirit of the puzzle was none other than the pharaoh himself. But the majority only care about what the series is famous for: the card game.
So why am I bringing all this up? Well JoJo's Bizarre Adventure actually draws some similarities here. The first two story arcs of JoJo did not garner the same amount of popularity that the third arc and beyond did. The first serial covered Jonathan Joestar, rich and good, and Dio Brando, poor and evil. Dio tries to work his way into the Joestar family, so he can murder Jonathan's father and claim the family fortune. This plot went completely sideways after an ancient mask gets involved, turning Dio into a vampire-like being, while Jonathan learned the ways of Hamon in order to combat him and his forces. What made the third story arc so different from the first two was the use of beings known as "Stands." These Stands were like avatars to the character's personalities that would fight alongside them. They were possessed by both the main characters and the villains of the show, and became a staple for the manga ever since. This is one of the reasons why I believe Viz chose to start with Stardust Crusaders, instead of Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. It is to this day the best-selling chapter of the entire series, and it appeared that Viz was iffy on whether or not they should risk the title coming to the states. This was further evidenced by poor sales in the States for another manga of Araki's, Baoh. Prior to the release of Baoh, Viz had actually stated in a newsletter that they were planning to localize JoJo's Bizarre Adventure to the States in the early 90's. It's pretty obvious what happened next.
One other factor that Viz became more open about in 2013, was that localizing the early chapters was more or less a legal nightmare. Taken from Viz Media's official Facebook page:
This certainly makes sense when you consider the numerous character names, such as Robert E. O. Speedwagon, Poco, Tonpetty, Asidisi, and Dio himself. Despite all odds, we finally saw the release of the rebooted JoJo's Bizarre Adventure anime from 2012-2013, as well as the current season (at the time of writing this), Stardust Crusaders. In the US, we were finally able to stream the series on Crunchyroll in April, 2014. Why it took so long for us to get a proper anime adaptation when the manga is so hugely popular in Japan is still a mystery to me. We received an OVA for Stardust Crusaders and a movie for Phantom Blood in Japan, but that was about it. Though it is quite irksome that it took so long for these things to come out, it is still a relief (and in some ways, a miracle) that they finally did.
My only hope now is that the series becomes popular enough stateside, so that we may get to see a growing trend of people making the iconic poses and talking about all of the unexpected things we see/read from this amazing title. This one has been kept in the shadows for way too long in the US, and I can only dream of it finally getting the recognition it deserves.