Introduction:Skull Man is an anime adaptation of Kamen Rider creator Shotarou Ishinomori's 1970 manga of the same name, widely credited as one of manga's earliest anti-heroes (Tezuka's Black Jack didn't begin its serialization until 1973). For fans of tokusatsu, it's also thought of as Ishinomori's personal version of Kamen Rider; a different take on a similar concept.
Note that the above OP is the one used for the Japanese version of the show. I might not have known specifically that the OP theme music, by TOKIO, and its animation were essentially forbidden for Sentai Filmworks to use if it weren't for this blog-- but I definitely would have noticed how lame the replacement OP is. It's as though they took the trailer and threw in some completely unrelated music to it, and given Sentai's barebones release style, that seems likely.
As of this review, I have watched about half of the series (7 of 13 episodes).
Skull Man, Complete CollectionRelease Date: 02/02/10
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
Runtime: 13 episodes (325 minutes)
Plot:From the publisher:
"Otomo City: where freedom and justice have atrophied to the bone; where conspiracy rules the day and Death stalks the night - Death in the ofrm of the Skull Man, a literal Grim Reaper whose skeletal grin presages grisly mayhem and murder, even to the monstrous mutants that haunt the city's underworlds!
Now, to investigate a bizarre slaying, journalist Minagami Hayato and photographer Kiriko Mamiya must stalk this ultimate predator, through a festering cadaver of a city where the corruption flows in rivers as deep and foul as the sins of the reigning elite, and unearth a secret so shocking that an entire city has been turned into a tomb to contain it! In a nightmarish necropolis where nothing is as it seems, vengeance comes in the form of a living Death's-Head in Skull Man - The Complete Collection!"
That is some of the craziest run-on sentencing I've seen.
Anyway: the story is a lot more of a noir-ish detective tale than the more grisly description here, I think-- and I don't mean that in the sense that everything's always grey and rainy and a narrator talks over everything like the term "noir" usually evokes, but in the sense that it's a complex, layered, and very dark mystery.
I mentioned that the series has a "noir" feel to it, but with the exception of scenes that actually contain the Skull Man himself, which are fewer than you might expect, the palette is decidedly more chipper. That's in part because in Otomo City, a city that apparently seceded from Japan in the alternate history of the series, has a curfew-- you have to have a permit to go out at night. Since most of the story is detective work rather than the Skull Man's jaunts, the story primarily takes place during the day.
The mystery here is impressively complicated, and it's not until episode three that you even start to get a hint at how big a mystery it is. But the best part is the series never talks down or tries to make it easy on you. It's not an episode in Law and Order, where you can guess early on who's the red herring and who's really a bad guy and all that stuff. Seven episodes in, I'm still not sure about some of the characters-- but it's that strong, intriguing, calculated "not sure," not the result of a confusing narrative.
Said mystery is also quite layered: you've got the city government, a pharmaceutical company, a religious organization, and the mysterious Skull Man all tangled up in some kind of conspiracy, but who's in league with who and why?
Tone and Soundtrack:
Come to think of it, it's impressive that they've got enough comedy to distract from the mild goofiness of the Skull Man's outfit.
On music, the soundtrack of Skull Man is fantastic, tragically dull opening sequence aside. It's not the kind of soundtrack I want to buy and play in the car (I have a terrible habit of singing anything that comes on, including music sans lyrics) but definitely the kind that improves the experience of the entire series.
Screenshots (Episodes 1-2):
Pros and Cons:
- Superb animation
- Strong soundtrack
- Interesting, layered mystery
- Crappy opening sequence
- Protagonists' relationship doesn't become cool until episode 4 or 5.
If, Then, But:If you like these, then you might like Skull Man. But...
- Darker than BLACK (But with an older-school feel)
- Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne (But less torture porn and lesbian subtext)
- Kamen Rider (But darker and more adult...and animated)