Ootomo City is home to rumors of a mysterious “skeleton man” that haunts the night and may also be responsible for a recent series of bizarre murders. Hayate Mikogami, a tabloid reporter and former resident of Ootomo, chooses to return to his hometown to investigate the Skull Man in hopes of a big scoop. Early on when trying to enter the city he begrudgingly befriends the young photographer Kiriko Mamiya, in town to search for her missing brother. As Hayate begins his investigation of the Skull Man, aided by the old man detective Kyoichiro Tachigi who knows more than he lets on, he soon realizes there’s much more to the Skull Man than mere rumors. Who is Kagura Tatsuo, long thought dead but who’s revenge is still alive? What is the truth behind the several powerful organizations in the city: the Byakureikai, a religious cult that has taken hold; the Ootomo Concern, the undisputed masters of the city; and the sinister Brain Gear, makers of cyborg super soldiers? As the mysteries accumulate on one another and the death toll rises, Hayato will be forced to confront a shadowed darkness from his past that now threatens the entire world, and at the center of everything is the Skull Man!
Skull Man is based on the original 1970 manga of the same name created by Shotaro Ishinomori, meant as a precursor to his new Kamen Rider series. The Skull Man’s dark story of an anti-hero out for revenge quickly caught on in popularity. I can’t say the anime has anything in common with the original manga, but it still follows the tradition of the henshin hero that Ishinomori created: a vigilante that fights monsters to protect humanity, even if Skull Man is darker than most. The anime is unique in that we don’t see things from the Skull Man’s perspective, but Hayato’s, making the anime much more of a mystery series. Skull Man is all about mysteries from the start. You’re bombarded with new evidence and facts every episode and ultimately it’s up to the viewer to put everything together. There aren’t really any plot holes, but the anime doesn’t go out of the way to state things clearly.
The animation is by Bones, so it’s pretty consistent throughout with realistic designs, though sometimes the more cartoony looks of Ishinomori’s characters shows up. The action scenes and fights were very well done, invoking the sense of fluidness and dynacism I associate with tokusatsu and henshin heroes. The music was perfect, with several haunting tracks for the many scenes of intrigue and horror. I found both the OP and ED mediocre in the beginning, but on repeated listening I have fallen in love with them.
The Skull Man is a mixture of a modern day detective story with the supernatural and sometime bizarre world of the superhero, where everything is approached with a level of realism. It has a somewhat slow beginning, but episode three is really the first to hook you in. From there on it’s a thrill ride to the very end, especially the last few explosive episodes. Those looking for a more darker, mature anime, perhaps with a sci-fi bent, should really check Skull Man out. It’s also only thirteen episodes, so it’s not a long investment. Thematically, I would say it’s similar to Darker than Black, except with a more connected and epic plot. Would definately love to see a sequel to this in some form, which leads me to talk about the ending. Spoiler territory now.
The ending may take a little explanation for those unfamaliar with Ishinomori’s work. The final scene shows a Skull Man-possessed Hayato being turned into a cyborg by Brain Gear that looks a lot like Black Ghost, the main villian from Cyborg 009, another major Ishinomori work. You will also notice that Kiriko’s child looks like Joe Shimamura aka. Cyborg 009. In this way, Skull Man is just an elaborate prequel to Cyborg 009. It’s ironic that Hayato saves the world at the end of the Skull Man, only to be turned into Black Ghost who wants to destroy it. I would love to see this lead into a remake of Cyborg 009 headed by Bones. It’d be an interesting modern take on the story. The ending really was epic, though. The military was attacking the city, Brain Gear’s walking mecha were attacking the military, the Byakurekai monsters were attacking everyone, and there was Skull Man in the middle of it. So great. This series really needs more attention than it got.