There are many influential names in the Japanese manga and anime industry and Shotaro Ishinomori is one of them. Born in 1938 and passing away in 1998, he was posthumously awarded the Guinness World Record for most comics published by one author, which ended up being over 128,000 pages of material. His main genres that he covered were Science Fiction and hero-esque comics, such as Android Kikaider, Inazuman, and the like. Some of these were adapted into anime as well and today’s review, Skull Man, is an adaptation of the remake of the original 1970 one shot manga of the same name.
Happening in the 1960s of an alternate history of Japan, our story takes place in Otomo City, which has experienced more militant changes as of late. Hayato Mikogami is journalist who originally lived in Otomo City and has returned to investigate the odd rumors of killings done by a man wearing a skull mask. Along the way, he meets a young photographer named Kiriko Mamiya, who has her own reasons for coming to the city. The two find themselves working together and uncover many shocking facts, some having to do with the town’s local religious sect, and how the victims might be more than they appear.
Released in 2007 by Studio Bones, Skull Man is a rather dark tale about an anti-hero dealing out his own sense of justice. It is a detective story as well, since we primarily follow Hayato and Kiriko as they try to find more answers to the case they are on. There are also a few other plot threads going on, but they are ultimately related or involve our main characters and the Skull Man in some fashion. It is a pretty effective mystery story with some false hooks that try to trip you up, though there are some points where you can get confused, since there is also a good amount of jargon and acronyms to keep track of. Also, without going into spoiler territory, the series ends up being connected to another one of Shotaro Ishinomori’s works, though that probably only matters to those that have knowledge of his other works or don’t mind an open ending.
One of the first things that people will notice right away with this series are the sort of retro character designs that are employed. I don’t really mind them so much since it gives more character to the people in the world and makes them seem more unique. The design of Skull Man himself is pretty good as well and he is quite menacing, as he should be. There are a good number of action sequences and, it being a Bones production, they are handled well enough, but I can not say that it is them working at their best, since a good deal of the action, at least early on, is wrapped up a little too quickly.
The characters that we follow the most, Hayato and Kiriko, are likeable for the most part. They are both rather playful around each other, but they do have quite a few serious moments they share. Side characters include Hayato’s priest friend, Yoshio, a private eye named Tachigi, and others. Some of them see more development than others, though I won’t say which ones, since part of the fun in a mystery story is too see the twists and turns for yourself. As for antagonists, there really isn’t a clear one for quite a while, due to the very grey nature of this series. Still, when they do appear, it is pretty evident who they are.
On the audio side of things, the music fits most of the scenes, though there seems to be a limit on the musical score and what it can be used for. One curious aspect, at least in the US release that I watched, was that the original opening song was replaced by one of the other pieces of music used in the series, with the opening animation being replaced by clips from the series itself. I am not exactly sure why this was done, but it is more than likely a case of Sentai Filmworks not being able to get the rights to the song or the artist or label not giving their consent to use the song.
Despite a few problems, I would recommend Skull Man to those wanting a dark mystery tale with a nice dose of action and sci-fi. The 13 episode series is licensed by Sentai Filmworks in a single collection and only comes subtitled. It is also rather light on extras and only comes with trailers for upcoming releases. There was a live action prequel to the series that would have been interesting to include, but I might cover that later. The series should not be that hard to find at online retailers and can actually be bought quite cheap depending on where you look, since it seems to be a rather overlooked series.