Sentai Filmworks has been carving a name for themselves in the anime world. They've picked up several popular licenses and have been given them a solid treatment (despite the lack of an English voice dub). With complete series broken down into two halves, they are following a trend set by FUNimation and with their strong licenses they are giving the anime giant a run for their money.
The Skull Man is the latest release from Sentai Filmworks. The show originally came out in Japan in 2007, but the series actually has ties dating back to a one-shot manga from 1970 by the late Shotaro Ishinomori (more recently a manga ran from 1998 to 2001). This 13 episode anime is certainly a little on the darker side. One could tell that by a quick glance at the awesome cover, but then again you never judge an anime by its cover. With that in mind, how does this one stack up?
The Skull Man is a mystery/horror anime that follows the exploits of a journalist named Hayato Mikogami who is really just looking for a big scoop. Hayato desires nothing more than making a name for himself so with his eyes on the prize he leaves the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to head for his hometown of Otomo in order to find out more about the mysterious "Skull Man". Apparently there has been a string of murders that nobody is talking about, but rumors persist about a guy with a skull for a face stalking the night and killing people. Naturally that prize is nearly too sweet for Hayato to resist.
When he arrives it's quite clear that there's something is going on in Otomo. There's a heightened military presence, a curfew in place, and all around there's a sense that something's just not right. Could this be because of the Skull Man? Or because of something more nefarious? Hayato's determined to get to the bottom of it, but along the way he finds that he's not going to be working alone.
A young photographer named Kiriko decides to tag along with Hayato upon his arrival in Otomo. He seems like a nice enough guy and Kiriko knows nobody else (they met on the train) so naturally she dogs him at every turn. Their characters play off each other quite nicely throughout the show. Whereas Hayato is mostly serious with a strong conviction, Kiriko offers more levity and comedic value thanks to her bubbly personality. There's a fine contrast at work there and it certainly helps with the grim focus of the series.
Once the story gets going who Hayato can trust becomes a big question mark as he begins to investigate. There's a young cop who is out for him, a mysterious woman on a motorcycle who breaks curfew, an older cop who keeps bumping into him, and an old family friend that is well-connected. This is all just the interpersonal drama though, since the main plot in the series is the investigation of Skull Man and just who and what he is.
The reveal for Skull Man doesn't happen until quite later and I'll refrain from spoiling anything for you. Basically all you really need to know is that he's something of an antihero and not a bad guy in the general sense. He's more or less doing dark things to protect the people, though one would think there could be another way to go about it.
From start to finish The Skull Man is an engaging mystery series with a refreshingly dark, adult tone. The fact that the series focuses on events through the perspective of Hayato helps the atmosphere quite a bit and it leaves you tagging along trying to figure things out. It's a shame that this series is only 13 episodes because it feels robust enough to support more. The ending kind of leaves the door open, but I'm not entirely certain if the series was popular enough in Japan to warrant a sequel.
No matter how you slice it The Skull Man is a unique kind of anime that really harkens back to shows of old. Ishinomori's original concept from 1970 feels similar to some of his other works, though considering it inspired Kamen Rider I suppose that's the best comparison. Whether you're a fan of other works by Ishinomori or not, The Skull Man is definitely worth checking out and ultimately I'd say this series is strongly recommended.
The Skull Man is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The show looks pretty solid and maintains a clean image overall with some nice contrast and vibrant colors when need be. There's no aliasing of any kind and really the only drawback to this transfer is a light amount of grain and some blocking that occurs during some darker shadows. Considering there's a lot of black used in this show it happens more often than it should, but overall it's not really enough to detract from the experience.
If Sentai Filmworks releases have one Achilles heel it's the audio presentation. While the sound in The Skull Man is clean and crisp enough, the fact that it hits with only a Japanese 2.0 track is a source of disappointment. Granted the dubbing cast is very good and I typically prefer Japanese dubs to English ones, but the lack of an English 5.1 track is a disappointing omission. I suppose if this helps with the licensing and release of shows such as The Skull Man I can live, but as it stands this 2.0 is just a bit too on the flat side.
Some trailers and original Japanese Promos for the show are included for bonus features.
The Skull Man is an engaging, dark show that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most all of the 13 episodes. The tale about an antihero who stalks the night killing people is quite entertaining and watching these events unfold through Hayato's eyes leaves a strong impression. One can only hope that a second series will come out at some point, but until then this is about as good as you'll get. Consider it strongly recommended and another solid license for Sentai Filmworks.