The Skull Man was originally a one-shot 1970 manga by legendary manga-ka Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of such classics as Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider, and Kikaider, among many others. Kazuhiko Shimamoto revived the title for a longer run in the late 90s/early 2000s, one that did get released in the States by Tokyopop in the early 2000s. For the most part, though, the title languished in obscurity until BONES picked it up in 2007 and produced this 13-episode anime adaptation. The series may well fade back into obscurity after a few months, however. Though its gritty style would seem to be the kind of thing that works well amongst American fans, its artistic design style is a little too archaic and it does not have quite the flash that would be expected of hit current titles of this type. Those who take a pass on the series for those reasons may be making a mistake, though. Overall, it's better than that.
The Skull Man is equal parts mystery and horror, combining the sensibilities of an old-school detective story with bloody '80s monster flicks. It's awash in brutal and unforgiving violence, although (surprisingly) the violence rarely dominates the story. Instead, it is used more to punctuate the ugliness involved in a complicated scheme to turn unsuspecting people into monsters and the man dead-set on destroying people so afflicted, even if that means becoming evil himself. In many senses the Skull Man probably has more in common with the title character of V for Vendetta than any other masked avenger, down even to his penchant for spouting poetic references, albeit one with a more supernatural than scientific power base and who has some rather powerful minions at his disposal. In fact, for much of the series whether the Skull Man is a hero or villain is in doubt; viewers will certainly question that through the first few episodes at least.
The title character is not actually the series' main character, though. That role falls more to Hayato, whose investigation into the matter of the Skull Man brings him to the brink of the damnable things brewing in Otomo City. Hayato initially gives the impression of being a lovable scoundrel, and indeed he does have an occasional light-hearted moment early on. As he starts to get more intimately involved in what's going on, he turns more serious, but this is more of a natural story progression than an outright change to his character. Kiriko complements him by providing more youthful enthusiasm, fodder for one bawdy early scene, and a potential romantic conflict later on despite her almost exclusively dressing in a boyish fashion. She is much more integrally involved than just being a hanger-on, however. Just below this level is a broad array of major supporting cast members, including Shinjo, a dedicated young police officer who thinks Hayato is up to no good but is basically a good guy himself; Gozo Kuroshio, a prominent Otomo businessman who looks out for Hayato but may also be involved in some much more questionable matters; Father Yoshio Kanzaki, a priest and childhood friend of Hayato's who gets deeply mixed up in the affair concerning The Skull Man; and Kyoichiro, an older private investigator who frequently crosses paths with Hayato.
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