Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is an OVA series spinoff of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, specifically of Part Four, Diamond is Unbreakable. The four OVAs were released individually from 2017 to 2019 and received new attention following their addition to Netflix in February 2021. They adapt a series of one-shots of the same name, written and drawn by Jojo’s creator Hirohiko Araki and first published in Weekly Shonen Jump. Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan focuses on the titular Rohan, a manga artist first introduced as a villain in Diamond is Unbreakable before joining the main cast as a reluctant hero, though more often than not, he was motivated by the urge to find material to inspire his future work rather than any moral qualms.
Rohan is a character that seems somewhat tricky to make a spinoff about, being one of the most ego-driven characters in the entirety of Jojo’s, as well as one of the most unlikable in theory. In that vein, Thus Spoke builds off of Rohan’s smarminess instead of shying away from it, turning a glaring character flaw into a feature of the series. Structured as an anthology story where Rohan recounts various stories from his past, the series follows Rohan stumbling his way into various horrific misadventures. In line with his character in Diamond is Unbreakable, for much of the series, Rohan acts only out of an interest for material reference, if not pure self-preservation.
While the general understanding of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is that it’s a classic battle shonen story, the inclusion of horror in its world isn’t unprecedented. In fact, nearly every single part of Jojo’s has some element of horror, be that vampires and zombies in Part One (Phantom Blood), a ghost town filled with corpse-puppets in Part Three (Stardust Crusaders), and so on. Much of the horror-based themes came to a head in Thus Spoke’s parent season, Diamond is Unbreakable, where the story focused on a balance between goofy slice-of-life episodes and underlying terror that comes with the knowledge that a monster is on the prowl all the while. A large portion of Part Four is spent establishing the town of Morioh, Rohan’s hometown and the setting of Diamond is Unbreakable, making its characters and their relationships feel real and lived-in. The introduction of the Part’s villain, Yoshikage Kira, recontextualizes what we’d seen so far, turning a group of potential allies into a cast of potential victims.
While Diamond is Unbreakable focuses on fear of the known being wrong in some way, Thus Spoke instead channels a fear of the unknown, not a new concept by any means, but one that works nonetheless. Due to that shift, Thus Spoke opts not to use Morioh as its setting in any form beyond framing (much of the story is set around Rohan recounting his experiences to the cast of Part Four), rather exploring the world outside of Morioh, a choice that’s true to the travelling roots of Jojo’s. The unfamiliar locations not only lend themselves to the alien nature of the threats Rohan faces, but also allow the visual style to naturally shift without contradicting anything that’s come before. Trading the warm color palette of Part 4 for a colder one, the show builds off the horror elements of Diamond is Unbreakable, but this time it switches the tone. While the big appeal of Part 4’s unsettling elements is how fear and dread can live in even the most bright and colorful of spaces, one of the most terrifying villains the series has established presented beneath a stark yellow sky, the spinoff paints its characters in blues and greys, instilling a sense of unease from the very start.
Despite the tone-shift, everything that makes Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure special is present in full here, Thus Spoke featuring a return for Araki’s distinct dialogue style, poses, and, possibly most importantly, his fashion sensibilities. Despite that, Thus Spoke’s animation has received some criticism for some awkward stills and a more glassy look it’s adopted for its characters. That said, the animation is never distracting, and it even works to make the fear on screen seem that much more unnatural. The first OVA released, Millionaire Village, features Rohan invited by his editor to a remote village where she hopes to buy a home for herself. Millionaire Village is the entry in the series that focuses the most on atmosphere, and seeing as it was released an entire year before the next OVA would hit, the animation style may have been made to fit the core of this particular story. This isn’t to say that the animation doesn’t fit the rest of the entries, all of them require a sense of fear and unease that the softer style of Diamond is Unbreakable may not have been able to deliver, but it certainly fits Millionaire Village to a tee.
Despite the new ground that Thus Spoke establishes and explores, its lore is still very much rooted in that of Jojo’s, which isn’t saying much, as Jojo’s has featured vampires, aliens, ghosts, gods, and zombies, meaning that most stories have a place in this world. While spirits had been established in Diamond is Unbreakable, with the villain’s victim acting as a ghost-guide for the core cast, that side of the world remained largely unexplored until Thus Spoke, where spirits account for half of the going-ons. The last episode also returns to unexpected territory, bringing up the idea of humans being avatars for ancient gods, Mercury in this case. This was somewhat explored in Stardust Crusaders, where the latter half of the part featured a cast of villains almost entirely boasting abilities named after Ancient Egyptian deities. This return to a concept established 28 years earlier and that’s been left untouched since shows an interest in building the world of JJBA not only forwards, but backwards as well.
Despite its respect for what came before, Thus Spoke also isn’t afraid to turn franchise tropes into something more for its own purposes, not at all shying away from the more bizarre aspects of Jojo’s but using their ridiculous nature to make the stories feel that much more alien and surreal. Beyond just the obvious example of fashion choices, Thus Spoke also plays with the unique builds and features of Jojo’s characters, introducing characters that are designed just as wackily as the rest of Jojo’s cast of characters, but using them as an element of unease rather than just another feature of the bizarreness. Additionally, the now-iconic poses are put to work, making things seem not only more dynamic but also more unnatural. One of the most striking and genuinely eerie images in the OVA includes a character obsessed with growing his muscle (itself a return to the more muscular, tall characters that populated the first three Parts of JJBA) striking a pose while rock-climbing. By perfectly balancing the absurd and the engaging, Thus Spoke acts as a testament to what the world that Araki has created still has to offer after running for 34 years with no end in sight.
Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is a prime example of what spinoffs can be, developing the world and its lead character without stepping on the toes of anything that came before. It picks up the hints of horror that Jojo’s had previously established and fully dedicates itself to them, creating an experience that can be enjoyed both by fans of the series or viewers just looking for a unique horror anthology.