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Chibi Review: Skull Man Complete Collection

Gia checks in with the first half of the Skull Man anime.


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 Collection

Release Date: 02/02/10
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
Discs: 2
Runtime: 13 episodes (325 minutes)
MSRP: $39.98


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.

 Our hero, Hayaot (right)
 Our hero, Hayaot (right)

 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:

 Yeah, it even has one of THOSE scenes.
 Yeah, it even has one of THOSE scenes.
It's probably due to the fact that this series is based on a manga from the late '70s, but by modern standards it's not completely bleak in every way shape and form as one might expect from something like this, as I mentioned before. But in addition, there is an unexpected amount of comedy, generally in the form of the over-the-top lead characters of Hayato and Kiriko...although the domestic mutually-tsundere interactions in the first couple of episodes grate, they thankfully diminish as the story moves on. But they're still very silly people in their normal interactions-- in a particular scene in episode six, they remind me more of the goofy detective and assistant in Darker than Black than like protagonists themselves.

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...

 The End! Now, what do YOU think?
 The End! Now, what do YOU think?
JackSukeruon Feb. 24, 2010 at 7:20 a.m.
I started watching this series solely because I heard it was a darker version of Kamen Rider, and hey animated Kamen Rider seemed like a cool idea. I got pretty disappointed with the lack of actual skull man at first and when he appeared he seemed...uncool. All in all it was far from what I expected, and I have to admit I wasn't initially sold on the characters either.
It wasn't until about halfway through the series that I really started digging it, in part thanks to a certain twist ( SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.
). After that, I enjoyed it most of the way through and the way it wrapped up in the final episodes was satisfying for a KR fan like myself. The ending was...interesting as well.
giaon Feb. 24, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.
@RockmanBionics: I really wish our spoiler tags were less buggy-- I can't get under there. But I suspect I know which twist you're talking about and I agree completely. Although I had already considered the possibility that 
I'm really looking forward to watching the rest, and I'm not really into any tokusatsu particularly! :) It's just a cool mystery, and definitely not an easily predictable one.
Halberdierv2on Feb. 24, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.
well, I heard there is some link to Cyborg 009, maybe Black skull there may be linked to skull man, or may even be the skull man (purely speculative).
JackSukeruon Feb. 24, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
@gia: Yup, that was it. 
I'm glad to hear you're enjoying it. It's pace and subject matter made it difficult for me to recommend to any of my friends, and heck I myself only stuck with it through the first episodes because I was into KR. But for the last half I was pinned. 
There are some more things about the story and the ending I'd be glad to talk more about once you've finished it. So get to it ;)
cfatalison Feb. 24, 2010 at 9:18 a.m.
@Halberdierv2 said:
" well, I heard there is some link to Cyborg 009, maybe Black skull there may be linked to skull man, or may even be the skull man (purely speculative). "

Kelleth moderator on Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:02 a.m.
@cfatalis said:
" @Halberdierv2 said:
" well, I heard there is some link to Cyborg 009, maybe Black skull there may be linked to skull man, or may even be the skull man (purely speculative). "


I promised myself to get this and i will but i need to order it in via a store in the Hague and i haven`t gotten the time to get there yet and even so there is a big chance that they won`t order it for me. but i still promise to get the box one way or another.
@gia: Wait they won`t be using Hikari no Machi for the opening? that`s.. not that bad! i mean the song itself is totally unrelated its about some girl moving out of her parents home or something. :P
And 13? so this does confirm that the Prologue isn't on the dvd pack that`s a shame :(
cfatalison Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:08 a.m.
@Kelleth: and that's why i would get the original japanesse box, and keep my subs
  and for the info, really? i didn't know that
Kelleth moderator on Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:23 a.m.
cfatalison Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:32 a.m.
@Kelleth: then again this is cyborg 009 , mindscrew abound
Kelleth moderator on Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:39 a.m.
Well yeah most of the team is older then most peole think hell i keep forgetting how old 001 is XD
giaon Feb. 24, 2010 at 1:53 p.m.
@Halberdierv2: I've heard that, but I've never read/watched Cyborg-009, so I didn't even want to try to explain it ;)
Nikoon Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:02 p.m.
Where's the live action prequel episode? I know there is one. Uses the same outfit, but it's all live action. Came out right before the series, by a week or so. Really, why is that simply not an extra?
cfatalison Feb. 24, 2010 at 11:17 p.m.
@Kelleth said:
" @cfatalis:  
Well yeah most of the team is older then most peole think hell i keep forgetting how old 001 is XD
the very first skull man?
Kelleth moderator on Feb. 25, 2010 at 4:47 a.m.
cfatalison Feb. 25, 2010 at 5:18 a.m.
@Kelleth: i though the manga, sorry
edit: mistake about which skullman is which
Kelleth moderator on Feb. 25, 2010 at 6:20 a.m.
cfatalison Feb. 25, 2010 at 6:30 a.m.
@Kelleth: freakin mindscrew
Kelleth moderator on Feb. 25, 2010 at 6:37 a.m.
cfatalison Feb. 25, 2010 at 6:39 a.m.
@Kelleth said:
" @cfatalis: 
i did watch it, i can kinda forgot most of it, or got confused i am going to watch it all over again
Nikoon Feb. 25, 2010 at 9:10 a.m.
I have a question regarding the series. Might be kinda spoiler, so...
And where's that live action prequel episode?

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