The Influence of Gothic Fiction on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Beginning from the 19th century, Gothic fiction has greatly influenced other artistic mediums, such as paintings, music and, in the 20th and 21st centuries, visual media such as films, comic books and video games. Vampires especially have become inescapable in pop culture, being the most famous monster that exceed the limits of Gothic fiction. Despite its starting point being Western folklore, Gothic has a widespread reach, even inspiring Eastern artists, specifically the Japanese, who create universally relatable Gothic stories in a traditionally Japanese format, such as manga or anime, thus globalizing the concept of Gothic.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood is an adventure manga series created by Hirohiko Araki written in 1987 which tells the story of a young 19th century gentleman, Jonathan Joestar, who must fight his evil adoptive brother, Dio Brando, who turns into a vampire. Araki claims to have been inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula while writing his manga. The medium of manga started gaining considerable worldwide fame in the 80s, when Araki started publishing, so the desire to make his work accessible for international fans through Stoker’s influence can be seen clearly in Araki’s story. Araki’s Phantom Blood is a modern-day love letter to Victorian Gothic novels, especially Stoker’s Dracula, that encompasses the character archetype of the vampire, the haunting atmosphere and the traditional plot development of classic Gothic fiction in the modern form of a Japanese manga.
Dio Brando, the main antagonist of the series, showcases the effects of child abuse on an unstable adult, a theme favoured by Gothic writers, while also being a prototypical example of a Gothic villain, namely the vampire. As a child, he is adopted by the protagonist’s father after the death of his own abusive father. He develops a deep hatred for his step-brother, which eventually leads to him becoming a vampire (an outer manifestation of his inner evilness).
As Cavallaro argues, the children present in Gothic fiction, taking inspiration from fairy tales, are often victims of abuse and persecution from their parents. The children survive the abuse, but their demonization in childhood affects their behaviour when they become adults. (2002: 152-154). Dio’s background story reveals that he was abused by his alcoholic father. Due to being poorly treated, shouted at and beaten while living with his biological father, Dio is unable to appreciate George Joestar’s kindness when he adopts him. By scarring him emotionally, Dio’s father is responsible for Dio’s eventual descent into evilness: it is his late father’s influence that pushes Dio to use the Stone Mask to transform into a vampire.
After becoming a vampire, Dio is the epitome of flamboyant masculinity, where his feminine qualities are used to underline the transgressive sexual nature of his acts. As Punter and Byron find, “the vampire is the ultimate embodiment of transgression” (2004: 268), especially regarding sexuality. It is further explained that the 19th century vampire characters are represented as evil as a guarantee of the existence of good, thus reinforcing the Victorian dichotomy of good and evil (Punter and Byron 2004: 270). Indeed, even in Phantom Blood, Dio’s evilness is contrasted with Jonathan Joestar’s humanity, selflessness and kindness. Dio’s vampirism can also be interpreted as a form of cannibalism, thus a transgression of a taboo. In religious cannibalism, as Bataille notes, “the human flesh that is eaten then is held as sacred” (1986: 71-72). Dio’s vampirism, however, transgresses this taboo even further by disrespecting his victims’ bodies and seeing humans as only a means of satisfying his hunger.
The overall atmosphere of the manga series represents another instance of its Gothic influences. Eerie music and grotesque imagery are used to frighten the audience, while the dark locations are typical of Victorian Gothic. Violent deaths and unnatural poses contrast to the realistic elements of the story, such as the presence of Jack the Ripper and typical Victorian characters, as “a testament to the hyperrealist world of comics” where both the realistic and the far-fetched are acknowledged and their veracity is questioned in a Gothic manner (Round 2012: 345). The sexual nature of the atmosphere is due to both the Victorian view of repressed desire and sexuality, but also due to the growing popularity of sexual liberation in Japanese culture in the 80s and its reflection in pop culture and manga, as Ito noticed (2008: 43).
The Joestar Mansion is a remarkable example of what Wagner calls “Victorian domestic Gothic” (2014:115), where Jonathan and Dio grow up under the strict rule of George Joestar, a typical Victorian patriarch. Despite seeming perfect gentlemen, it is here that “misery, unhappiness and crime not only pervade […], they arise from within” (Wagner 2014:110). Dio displays increasingly evil behaviour even before turning into a vampire, such as humiliating Jonathan in public, assaulting the girl he fancies, killing his dog. Dio initially conceals his newfound vampire identity and attempts to poison George to make his death seem natural, but he reveals himself and murders George, leading to the climactic fight in the Mansion. Symbolically, the burning of the Mansion after Dio the fight represents the destruction of the home as a safe space for its inhabitants while also redefining Jonathan’s Victorian values as taught by his father.
Windknight’s Lot, Dio’s castle which he acquires after the events that unfolded at the Joestar Mansion, represents the typical Gothic castle that uses opulence to hide its dark secrets. While not actually ‘haunted’ by ghosts, Dio’s vampire servants lurk in the shadows and frighten visitors. As Williams remarks, the Gothic castle inhabited by a male is “engineered around a desire to blame the female who has some will of her own and refuses to give it up, and to horrify the female […] with this spectacle of superior strength” (1995:114), which happens in Windknight’s Lot. Here, Dio brings his female victims to be tortured and killed after engaging in sexual acts with him. For instance, Dio squeezes a woman’s eyes out while she begs for mercy, he murders numerous women in his bedchambers, leaving their nude bodies to be discovered by Jonathan as a display of his evilness.
Although radically different in plot than Stoker’s Dracula, Phantom Blood pays homage to the 19th century novel in many aspects. The most obvious one is the protagonist’s name, Jonathan Joestar, after Jonathan Harker, one of the main characters from Dracula. However, the most striking tribute Phantom Blood offers to Dracula is the theme of good (represented by humanity) versus evil (murderous vampires) where good is guaranteed to prevail from the start, the only uncertainty being the sacrifices required. If Dracula ends with the death of the vampire and a ‘happy ending’ for Jonathan and Mina, Phantom Blood ends on a bittersweet note: the evil is defeated, but Jonathan dies alongside Dio, leaving Mina (his wife) to care for their unborn son and an orphaned infant alone.
Another similarity between the two is the power of seduction of the vampire. The seductive aspect of vampirism relates to the idea that “the man in power demands one thing from the woman – submission to his will – and directs all his resources toward achieving that end” (Williams 1995: 112). This is best seen in how the vampire relates to the protagonist’s beloved: Dracula seduces Mina, feeds her his blood to turn her into a vampire at her death, thus cursing her; Dio, on the other hand, ‘seduces’ Erina in their childhood, forcibly stealing her first kiss and strikes her afterwards. Both Mina and Erina feel humiliated after these acts, reinforcing the idea that the men have done them just to prove their power over the helpless women. Both Dracula and Dio have numerous victims that they seduce and murder in sadistic manners, even turning them into vampires by biting and infecting them with vampiric blood.
At the end of Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire’s blood still flows through Mina’s body and subsequently, through her child’s as well. This is interpreted by Kuzmanovic as “the possibility that the man of the next bourgeois generation might have to struggle with his own masculine self-identification all over again” (2009: 422), which is more evident in the case of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, as the future generations of the Joestar family must fight against evil in the following arcs of the story, even against a revived Dio, who attaches his severed head onto Jonathan’s body, thus symbolically uniting the two types of masculinity.
To sum up. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood is not only an adventure story that seems Gothic on its surface, but it is a homage to the Victorian Gothic novel Dracula that draws inspiration from it and presents its tropes from a modern lens, of a Japanese manga artist. The prototypical vampire villain of the Gothic, victim of childhood trauma, is present in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood through the form of Dio Brando, who uses his power to seduce and murder innocents and acts as a foil for the protagonist. The atmosphere and locations reflect Gothic elements such as the ‘haunted castle’ or ‘unhomely home’. The similarities between Dracula and Phantom Blood underline the globalization effect on literature, both from the West to the East (Gothic elements), and also from East to West (manga elements).
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Beginning from the 19th century, Gothic fiction has greatly influenced other artistic mediums, such as paintings, music and, in the 20th and 21st centuries, visual media such as films, comic […]