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Skull Man Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

10 min read

Skull Man CoverAn alternate reality world where Japan is split, war is the word of the day and a man in a skull type helmet is sowing destruction in Otomo City.

What They Say:
Otomo City: where freedom and justice have atrophied to the bone; where conspiracy rules the day and death stalks the night… Death in the form 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!

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! In a nightmarish necropolis where nothing is as it seems, vengeance comes in the form of a living Death’s-Head!

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors most other titles from Sentai Filmworks at this point in time. The original Japanese language track is all we get here in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. The bulk of this show is focused on dialogue and suspenseful music at appropriate times so the stereo mix works out well. There’s a decent amount of placement and depth to be had here and the banter and general dialogue comes across very well throughout it. The musical aspects of the series are fairly understated but play well with the opening and closing sequences being the standout moments. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs in a six/seven format which has been happening more and more with Sentai’s releases instead of doing a seven/six format. With animation production by BONES, Skull Man has great source materials and they shine well here with a lot of detail and some very solid blacks when those scenes come up. The transfer takes these materials and makes sure they look sharp and detailed with this release with a very clean look that’s free of cross coloration and the majority of line noise.

Skull Man goes for quite the strong visual design for this collection with the image of the Skull Man on his knees, bending over as pools of blood flow from underneath him. With the white background, the use of the blacks and reds works exceptionally well at creating a stark and vibrant piece that’s instantly eye-catching. The logo is kept simple and the text in general is minimal so as to keep all the focus on the bloodied character artwork itself. It’s a cover that sticks with you from the first moment you see it. The back cover does a black and white split across as the middle with the top half having a lot of darkness, enough so that along the right you have the Skull Man walking out of the shadows. The summary covers the basics well enough and there’s an appropriate tagline for the show as well. The bottom half with the white background has several shots from the show and a rundown of what to expect on this release as well as the basic production credits and an accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menus for Skull Man are good for setting the mood and atmosphere of the show as it uses a lot of shadows and blood splatters. The imagery of the Skull Man himself is the main thing here with a rough background behind him covered in the shadows and blood though the second volume works the best with its malevolent feeling and the instrumental music that ties it all together. Individual episode selection is the norm here and outside of that we get the special features section, which either contains just credits and trailers or real special features depending on which volume you look at. The few submenus that are here work well and load quickly and as is the case lately, no language menus are included as it is a monolingual release, though you can turn subtitles off on the fly during regular playback.

The only extras are found on the second disc with a couple minutes worth of the original promos, much of which was made up of the opening sequence. No clean versions of the opening and closing sequences are available.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This is not the Skull man I wanted to see.

Adapted from the world of the one-shot manga by Shotaro Ishinomori that was done back in 1970, Skull Man is a thirteen episode series that takes some of the visions of the future that the man had and breathes a different kind of life into it. Skull Man received a new, lengthier reboot of sorts in the manga world with by the author’s request back in 1998 and that manga series is what TOKYOPOP released during their re-invention years ago. That manga series left quite an impression on me and I wanted to see it made into an anime after seeing other Ishinomori shows come to life such as 009-1 and Gilgamesh. This incarnation of Skull Man seemingly has little to do with either of the two previous versions and essentially stands alone.

The series sets itself in an interesting time though it does take awhile to really explore it. In this alternate universe that feels like a sixties/seventies piece a little bit with some other advances thrown in to give it its own style, Japan has split itself into North and South factions that are at war with each other. There isn’t a real peace at the moment as both sides warily eye each other and as the North makes deals with the Eurasian Union to bring in more troops to be stationed there. The background focus adds some nice little elements about a previous war in Southeast Asia that various characters have experience with that colors their views on a lot of things.

Skull Man Image 4The series highlights some of how society works right from the start as we follow Hayato, a former resident of Otomo City, returning there for a story as he’s a journalist. He makes a mild friend on the train with Kiriko, a budding photographer who has forged her documents to get into the city. Otomo City is a gated city of sorts with strict controls about who can come and go, but Hayato has some secret pull that allows him to get her in there. The city has some strict curfews with nobody allowed out after midnight without special permission though it doesn’t make sense to be out that late as that’s when people seem to mysteriously die as well.

Skull Man has a very Kaze no Yojimbo feeling to it as we follow Hayato and Kiriko into Otomo City. Hayato’s old residence is still there though it’s scheduled to be demolished soon, so they have a place to crash. There’s a bit of back and forth as Kiriko tries to prove herself to him as a partner in the unfolding mystery that’s going on in this city. People are afraid, very afraid, of a mysterious man known as the Skull Man who comes out at night and seems to kill people with nothing in common at all. Rumor has it that he’s a dead man named Tatsuo Kagura come back to life to gain revenge for the killing of him and his parents years ago in a corporate dispute that changed the course of the city.

Like any show of this nature, there’s a decent sized cast that’s slowly explored and a lot of local area mysteries that come to light. Several of the people that have been killed by the Skull Man – or the strange other creatures of the night out there – are part of the White Bell Society. The Society was an offshoot of something from a scientist years before that became a religion instead though its origins are tied tightly to the source of what all is going on. There are corporate interests going on with the man who runs the town through the local government, there’s a military faction that’s trying to start something and then there’s a mysterious foreigner that’s making some moves to deal with the creatures that inhabit here that are part of something called the Lost Numbers from the South East Asia War.

Skull Man Image 3And to humanize it all a bit more, there’s a priest named Kanzaki who served in that war as a chaplain who is trying to make amends. Through him, there are several ties that are kept together, such as the interest of a certain daughter who Hayato also knows. The stronger tie is that Kanzaki and Hayato grew up together and it’s strange for Hayato to see Kanzaki this way. Kanzaki as a priest is a boon for Hayato though as he’s quite helpful and it provides a central place in the series where a lot of tings happen, or at least a lot of people come and go from which has Kiriko and Hayato both paying a lot of attention there.

Skull Man has two primary mysteries to it that play out across the whole thing. The first one is who exactly is the Skull Man. For the first several episodes he barely makes a couple of token appearances in order to set the stage. It’s rather disappointing in fact since he is the title character and more time is spent on the slow moving mystery build of the city in general. As the cast expands and the nuance of all the relationships is slowly explored, there are a lot of potential people that could fit under that mask. The not knowing is fairly interesting at times with all the possibilities, but in the end, the Skull Man himself is not the central focus of the series when he should be, and that weakens it overall.

The other main mystery is a bit more vague as it involves the creatures that are appearing in the city and causing various levels of chaos. We get to see them at the end of the first episode as the a murder occurs in front of Hayato in the middle of the night. As it progresses, we see more people turning into them when a special pendant they wear is broken, though most don’t seem to realize the consequences of doing so. There’s some good emotion infused into the show when one young woman succumbs to it who has ties to both Hayato and a police officer that’s been assigned to watch him. Hayato’s past with her is deeper and it turns an already intense situation into an even more personal one for him. But these creatures in general, which gets tied into the Lost Numbers mystery of creatures with more intelligence to them, doesn’t feel like it’s ever fully explored. There are nods and innuendo spread throughout and it feels like they’re trying to tie it to something else, throwing in various names for it such as Project Gago, GRO and more, but it never feels truly cohesive.

Skull Man Image 2

While the story in Skull Man never felt like it came together well, the animation for it is top notch throughout. BONES handles the chores for this series and they do a really solid job of taking the kind of classic designs that Ishinomori had for Skull Man and adapting it into modern styles. The bulk of the cast has just slight tweaks from what’s considered a norm today, with differences in eye style and hair, but there are some characters which go a bit further, such as the foreigner and those around him who have an almost otherworldly feel to them. The creature designs are intriguing, but they’re often not on the screen long enough to really savor. When a character called Nami transforms, she has a really neat looking design but it lasts only a couple of minutes in that form. All of these designs combined with a richly detailed series of backgrounds and settings that have a very lived in and varied feel only adds to the overall spot on visual production that Skull Man has received.

In Summary:
It’s not uncommon for a series not to be what you think it should be, especially coming from established material. Skull Man has some things familiar to what’s come before but it falls rather short of them. Its central character never truly gets the proper screen time he needs in order to cement the show and a big part of that is because so much of the series tries to leave it as a mystery as to who the Skull man is. What we get here has a lot of potential to it – the animation production is great and the background of the story with the state of Japan at this time is engaging if underused – but in terms of the actual narrative, the character themselves and how it all comes together, it simply never gels right though it does end with some of the best material of the series. It’s highly uneven, has plenty of plot holes yet still has things that make it appealing. It’s simply not what it should have been though and I doubt the 1998 manga will ever get a proper anime version unfortunately.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English subtitles, Skull Man Japanese Promos

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 2nd, 2010
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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