Here at Anime UK News, it’s fair to say that we’re big fans of Studio BONES and I personally have a love for mystery series. So when these two things are combined in The Skull Man it should prove to be a match made in heaven, right? Well, let’s find out!
Our story follows freelance journalist Hayato Mikogami, who lives and works in Tokyo but chooses to return to his hometown to pursue a high profile case that could put his name in the spotlight. In his hometown, a series of mysterious murders have been happening and the killer is someone wearing a skull mask.
Unfortunately for Hayato, not many people have witnessed the events first-hand to give him any clues, so he’s going to have to do a lot of investigation to get anywhere. Luckily for him, on the train from Tokyo he met Kiriko Mamiya, a woman with a passion for photography who is aiming to win a prize with one of her photos. Should she help solve the case of the Skull Man, Hayato assures her that everyone will know her name.
The murders that the Skull Man is committing seem to have a pattern to them and as Hayato investigates, he begins to get a picture of what’s driving the criminal. Unfortunately, the longer he takes to solve the mystery, the more people are dying. In the first four episodes of this series, in particular, there is at least one death per story.
Having said that, towards the midpart of The Skull Man the story starts getting away from the murder mystery element and instead leans into the supernatural (including introducing a strange cult!). I wasn’t particularly fond of this direction because the series loses what it had going for it in the beginning and it muddles the whole thing.
Hayato’s hometown is small and everyone knows one another so the more Hayato digs, the more he sees the connection between those who are a target of the Skull Man and those who are potentially connected to him. As a mystery, it’s entertaining to watch this unravel to begin with, but as the series goes on, that satisfaction wears off as everything gets so much more complicated and unrealistic.
I must admit I also found it difficult to care about any of the characters. From the first episode onwards, we’re introduced to such a big group, coupled with the fact the series so easily kills off members of the cast as it goes, that you begin to feel reluctant to grow attached. Hayato and Kiriko are fine as our protagonists, but ultimately they only serve as the audience substitute and a means to go from point A to B. If they’d been stronger characters then perhaps that would have helped me through the second half of the series where everything gets a bit lost, but unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.
As previously mentioned, The Skull Man comes from Studio BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, Noragami, My Hero Academia). It is loosely based on a one-shot manga by Shotaro Ishinomori (Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider) and the manga’s remake by Kazuhiko Shimamoto, but in many ways, the anime differs greatly from either of these stories. The animation, on the whole, is fine and captures the feel of a series from the 1970s well, but it’s also fairly unremarkable most of the time. The choice of colours is quite disappointing too since they give the series a very muted look.
Music for the series was handled by Shiro Sagisu (Magi, Neon Genesis Evangelion, SSSS.Gridman) and while a lot of the tracks are overused, the selection here is fitting for a murder mystery. Although having said that, the main theme for when the Skull Man appears feels like it came straight out of sci-fi and that doesn’t always fit the scenes earlier in the show. The opening theme is “Hikari no Machi” by Tokio, while the ending theme is “Ashita wa Ashita no Kimi ga Umareru” by Chocolove from AKB48. Unfortunately, both themes are quite forgettable.
The series has never been dubbed, so when it comes to voice cast, we just have the Japanese side. Hayato is played by Makoto Yasumura (Bikou in Highschool DxD, Takuzo Misaki in Hanasaku Iroha) who gives the protagonist a wide range of emotions. Meanwhile, Kiriko is played by Ayako Kawasumi (Riveria in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon, Kazumi Yoshida in Shakugan no Shana) and she gives the performance you’d expect to hear for a 19-year-old character while matching Yasumura in terms of emotional output. They make a good duo, that’s for sure.
The Skull Man comes to the UK thanks to MVM as a complete DVD collection. It’s a little disappointing to still have DVD releases at this point, but it doesn’t seem like the show has a Blu-ray release in any other regions either. This release includes all 13 episodes of the TV anime as well as some trailers but there aren’t any other extras to speak of.
Overall, The Skull Man starts as an interesting murder mystery but quickly gets away from itself. The second half of the series loses the satisfaction of the first half and frankly quickly grows confusing, leading into an okay but strange conclusion. A difficult one to recommend either way.