This article contains spoilers for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is beloved by shounen anime fans for its nonstop action, absurd and over-the-top showdowns, and creative Stands (physical manifestations of one’s true self). It’s a bombastic series that defies predictions. We’re still waiting for the fifth part of the manga, Stone Ocean, to be released as an anime adaptation, and the story is still ongoing. Strangely, there’s still no confirmation that a fifth season is even coming yet.
In the meantime, however, we got something of a holdover: Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan. An adaptation of a series of one-shot chapters from JoJo creator Hirohiko Araki, it bridges the gap between the fourth season, Diamond is Unbreakable, and the fifth season, Vento Aureo. But while it follows manga artist Kishibe Rohan and what he’s been up to between both seasons, it takes on a decidedly different slant than the vanilla anime. Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan takes more inspiration from episodic horror anthologies, like that of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. It is, by all counts, a horror series.
It’s a new direction for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, though not completely unexpected. The thing is, JoJo has always been riddled with disturbing, horrific, and downright chilling moments. They’ve just been couched between action-packed showdowns and bombastic character design so that the terror creeps in without you even realizing it’s there. Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan approaches the genre in a much more straightforward manner, though, wearing its influences on its sleeve. Both series, including JoJo to a staggering degree, are inherently spine-tingling properties, even if they don’t seem so at first blush.
Creator Hirohiko Araki is a ravenous horror fan, after all, and makes no secret of his passion for the genre. In his book, Hirohiko Araki’s Bizarre Horror Movie Analysis, he cites some of his top 20 favorite films as Misery, Alien, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The work itself is divided into several parts, each exploring a different branch of chilling media, such as “Bizarre Murderers,” “Animal Horror,” or “Sci-Fi Horror.” It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to think that, despite Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan originally being meant to be unrelated to JoJo, Araki created it to satisfy his love for the macabre.
The episode “Mutsu-kabe Hill” follows a woman named Naoko Osato, who belongs to a well-to-do family. She’s living in a house that belongs to said family along with boyfriend Gunpei Kamafusa. But she can’t be with Gunpei, as she’s already betrothed to a man her father has chosen. Plus, Gunpei is a family gardener, a profession her father won’t abide. The two end up arguing, and Nao tries to pay off Gunpei to get him to leave, as she knows her father and fiancé are on their way to the home. But tensions escalate as the two become violent.
Nao pushes him into a set of golf clubs and Gunpei dies instantly. He’s bleeding, and while Nao struggles to figure out what to do with his body, her father and fiancé are approaching her home. No matter what she does, she can’t get Gunpei’s corpse to stop bleeding. In the end, she lives with this bizarre phenomenon, telling no one about her plight, and doting on Gunpei’s corpse, disposing of the blood he continues to generate for the rest of her life.
Several comparisons can be drawn from this episode to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the narrator commits a murder, dismembers a body, and hides it beneath some floorboards. Despite having seemingly gotten away with the perfect crime, the narrator is driven insane by the sound of his victim’s heartbeat. He ends up confessing to the authorities as he believes they can hear it, too. It’s the story of an unreliable narrator whose sanity is slipping.
Though the narrator in that story ended up confessing to ease his suffering, Nao chose to live with the consequences of her crime, succumbing to a monster that lives off of people’s affection. The stories are quite similar in tone, though with very different outcomes.
In “At a Confessional,” Rohan recounts a story of how he met a man who confided in him while in an Italian confessional. The man spoke of a beggar to whom he refused food and instead forced to work until he died. The beggar returned as a ghost, swearing revenge on the man who wronged him, promising he’d return on the happiest day of the man’s life. Return he does, as the man has enjoyed riches beyond belief, a beautiful marriage, and the birth of a daughter.
The beggar appears in the form of an apparition in the man’s daughter’s tongue. He forces the man to toss pieces of popcorn his daughter was eating into the air and catch them with his mouth three times in a row in an absurd challenge. If the man succeeds, his life will be spared. If not, he’s beheaded instantly.
This tale immediately recalls Stephen King’s Thinner, a similar story about a man who’s committed several wrongs, cursed the father of someone he’s murdered — this time, because he runs over a woman while driving and engaged in a sexual act with his wife. The curse finds the man, who is obese, becoming thinner and thinner at an uncontrollable rate.
Eventually, there are options available to the man, who pleads for a resolution. He’s informed by the same person who cursed him that he can eat a strawberry pie with his blood in it and die, or give it to someone else for him to be spared. It’s just as gruesome as forcing the rich victim in Kishibe Rohan to munch popcorn or die.
In JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, the scares seem to come directly from a series of inspirations for Araki instead of new stories based on the media he’s obviously consumed.
The first JoJo arc, Phantom Blood, sets the stage by introducing a swath of Gothic horror elements. It introduces the eventual vampiric rise of DIO in a Victorian society, which directly references classic novels like Dracula and Frankenstein. There’s even a serial killer named Jack the Ripper, who faces off against Jonathan and his allies, pulled straight out of history — a perpetrator of grisly murders who ends up transformed into a zombie. The undead are also a major component of Phantom Blood, likely due in part to Araki’s love for classic zombie cinema.
In the arc Stardust Crusaders, Jean-Paul Polnareff finds himself de-aged by a Stand user named Alessi. A young woman named Malèna nurses him back to health, up until Alessi uses his Stand, Sethan, unceremoniously de-ages her to that of a fetus outside of the womb. A few of Araki’s favorite horror movies of all time, including Basket Case, center on body horror, which doesn’t make this narrative decision surprising. But for those reaching that point in the story for the first time, it’s chilling in a way that even some of the most nightmarish films can’t even touch.
While the visual of a fetus itself isn’t as offensive as some gnarled, disfigured victim, its implications are disturbing, to say the least. A fetus outside of a mother’s womb will eventually succumb to a slow death, especially one of Malèna’s apparent age. That makes Polnareff’s eventual victory over Alessi and his Stand so bittersweet.
The entirety of the fourth arc, Diamond is Unbreakable, plays out like a classic slasher flick with the introduction of Yoshikage Kira, a man with a powerful obsession with hands to the point of fetishism. He murders women with “beautiful hands,” then keeps the hands as his “girlfriends.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare Kira to classic killers like Psycho‘s Norman Bates or The Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter, as Kira is believable and charming when he isn’t committing grisly murders.
Most of JoJo’s Stands are horrific on their own, and even though their story arcs enhance their terrifying power, there’s a fair amount of fridge horror to be found in these beings. The Freddy Krueger-like Death 13 can kill you in a nightmarish dream world while you sleep. Metallica (yes, named after the heavy metal band) forces you to cough up razor blades or have scissors burst from your chest.
Another Stand, Green Day, can secrete a deadly mold that will rot and destroy the flesh of anything it touches in an instant. Lastly, Rohan Kishibe himself has a fairly disconcerting Stand: Heaven’s Door. It allows him to literally read someone like a book, then erase parts of their being, or add in what he pleases, like the ability to learn a new language as his pal Koichi asks in Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan.
It’s easy to see how Araki has masterfully melded horror into every space when it comes to both JoJo as well as Kishibe Rohan. With that in mind, it’s strange that the former has been relegated only to a series of one-shots when it shows so much potential as its own project, in which Araki gets to stretch his Rod Serling-esque legs or impart some very Argento-like stylings into his works. For now, we can appreciate what’s there — and continue finding parallels to additional well-loved classics in the genre.
Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is available to stream on Netflix now.