JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan tells a series of stories that follow a famous manga author, Rohan Kishibe, who also possesses a remarkable ability to read and alter the lives of others. Rohan seeks out a modest life, but he gets pulled into a number of mysteries that put his eclectic skills to the test in this unique anthology-style series.
“Millionaire Village” sends Rohan and his editor to a strange and secluded community that seems to be governed by a suspicious amount of good luck and staunch manners. “Mutsu-kabe Hill” tells a good old fashioned ghost story that’s centered around a lovers’ spat that goes terribly wrong. “At A Confessional” is a surprising narrative where Rohan is mistaken for a priest and gets told a grim story and finally, “The Run,” pits Rohan in an unconventional match of physical fitness with dire consequences. While all separate stories, Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan collectively paints a larger picture about humanity and the insecurities that fill everyone.
There are countless anime series that feel atypical and surreal, but JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the most anime shows to ever anime. On its surface level it chronicles the battle between good and evil like most shonen anime series, but JoJo is a series where absurdist fashion and hyperbolized poses are just as important as battle training or a strong attack. Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is a four-episode OVA spin-off that focuses on one of Diamond is Unbreakable’s most distinct supporting characters, acclaimed manga artist, Rohan. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has been running for decades, but there have been an extremely minimal amount of side-stories and OVAs of this nature, which makes the release of a dubbed version of Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan particularly exciting.
To begin with, while these stories exist in the larger JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure universe, Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan can still be enjoyed without any existing JoJo knowledge. These self-contained adventures function as creative character studies and in the end the series feels like a bizarre Twilight Zone-esque creation, only one where all of the characters have supernatural powers.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure in general has a very distinct art style, but Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan carries over the notable character designs and aesthetics that are more present in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind. Color palettes play by their own rules and visuals explode without warning. The memorable art design in Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is likely enough to get people to check out the animated series based on curiosity alone, which reinforces the self-contained nature of these OVAs.
Each of these four episodes place Rohan in a wildly unique scenario that leans into different genres like horror, mystery, and even comedy. In terms of storytelling, all of these installments are tightly paced and have minimal fat, but it’s quite difficult to actually get ahead of them to figure out where things are headed. This is slightly aided by how Rohan is such a consummate wunderkind that even though there are moments where he seems out of his element or overwhelmed, there’s still a general energy that he’ll find a way out of these problems. He’s an incredibly cocky and egotistical character, but that actually works in the favor of these episodes.
Rohan feels detached from humanity in a lot of ways and that his manga work is the one place where he’s able to come alive without frustrations. There’s a reason that this character resonates enough to get his own spin-off, which has even received a recent live-action adaptation. Rohan Kishibe is an infectious character and these installments accentuate that and leave the audience wanting more rather than leaving people bored or frustrated that there isn’t a larger cast in these stories.
None of these four episodes are duds and reception on these contrasting stories is likely to vary among audiences, which is a testament to their versatility. “The Run” and “Millionaire Village” both feel like the strongest mix of mysterious storytelling with heightened anime madness, the latter of which is an especially twisted take on etiquette and Stepford Wives-like submission. That being said, each episode has their own individual strengths. “Mutsu-kabe Hill” verges into some truly disturbing territory that gives the entry an extra level of bite, but each episode generates a bewildering feeling where it’s not quite clear what’s been witnessed. There is absolutely no other anime or anthology series where the majority of an episode plays out on a treadmill. They’re fantastic exercises in tone and ornamentation.
Part of the fun with Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is that it’s structured as if these are just a handful of random events that have happened to Rohan, which may not even be playing out in chronological order. These four stories are labeled as episodes 5, 2, 16, and 9, but this is all that there is and none are missing. This gives the series the ability to progressively add more installments over the years if it’s so inclined and it’s a clever, open-ended approach to the series. These entries are enough, but there are truly limitless ideas that are possible that there’s still a ton to explore with Rohan and it’d be nice if David Production slowly pumped out more of these.
When it comes to the dub itself, the work here is fantastic, but it also establishes an interesting precedent since it’s the first union dub for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. All of Netflix’s anime productions are union jobs and Bang Zoom! Entertainment takes the reins here. A major subject that was in question if Vic Mignogna would be back to reprise his role as Rohan from Diamond is Unbreakable in lieu of the reckoning that he’s had in the voice acting industry. Landon McDonald takes over the role and while he does seem to be intentionally aping Mignogna’s performance, it sounds comfortable and he’s still able to make the part his own in a brief span of time. This angle where Rohan is constantly exasperated with those around him makes the radical character work. The rest of the cast across the episodes are just as enjoyable. Brittany Cox works well as Rohan’s editor, Izumi Kyoka, while other performers like Crispin Freeman, Skyler Davenport, and Bob Carter get some sizable roles to have fun with here.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is a breath of fresh air and it’s an easily digestible collection of stories that are both impressive in a visual and narrative sense. It’s a fun and enjoyable watch that’s also a strong gateway into the JoJo universe for anyone that’s been on the fence about checking out the anime. Considering that Diamond is Unbreakable isn’t currently available on Netflix and the existing JoJo seasons are set to leave American Netflix in March, it’s honestly surprising that a dub for Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan was produced for Netflix at all. However, it’s nice that this exists and the dub does an excellent job with this strange corner of the JoJo universe.