The Skull Man: An Intriguing Murder Mystery Wrapped in an Urban Legend – Anime 1st Impressions

The Skull Man is an anime that beeped on my radar after I read a review for it written by Jon Spencer. I added it to my watchlist, and then forgot about it as I navigated through the maze called life. This past October, when I went searching for spooky, horror type anime to watch as a form of celebrating my birthday, JS was kind enough to remind me about it. It’s safe to say that he is starting to know my anime tastes pretty damn well because after catching the first two episodes, I admit that I’m hookedon this series (which he figured I would be). Here are my initial musings on the first couple segments.

The Skull Man is a shōnen, superhero, mystery anime series about a reporter named Mikogami Hayato, who returns to his hometown of Ōtomo City after many years when a legendary figure known as The Skull Man is rumoured to have murdered a famous actress in the city. On his journey to Ōtomo, he encounters a young female photographer that ends up joining forces with Mikogami to unravel this murder mystery.

The very first thing that caught my attention with this show was the opening song. “L’Elégie” by Shirō Sagisu (he’s fucking brilliant, by the way) kicks off with an eerie almost battle hymn type of melody that then gets a strong trumpet presence. It’s very dramatic and fits the notion of “mystery” that comes to mind when I read the snippet and saw the posters over on HiDive. As an instrumental music aficionado, it hit all of the right buttons to make me interested straight from the start. The music is actually one of the most stellar aspects of The Skull Man, which I’ll chat about a bit more later.

As the first segment kicks off with the actress’s murder and then flashing to Mikogami pitching his story idea to his bosses, I could tell that this anime was going to have a more paced and thought-provoking storytelling ambiance to it. There’s a lot of dialogue and subtle focuses on the smaller details of the background, which if the audience pays attention to, they can catch it before our characters do (I always find this to be immensely fun and interactive).

The main character has a rather entertaining personality too. He can be a tiny bit bull-headed and obnoxious, but he isn’t without compassion or conviction—or a loudmouth—which makes it easy to want to see how he goes about solving the mystery of The Skull Man, as well as getting his ass into trouble. Plus, the audience learns more about him as he revisits memorable places from his childhood, not all of them great or full of joy, mind you. His unexpected partner in crime, Mamiya Kiriko, who’s a sixteen year old aspiring photographer is the type of anime character that tends to annoy me somewhat. She’s so energetic and tends to stick her nose into delicate situations and sometimes makes them worse because of it. But she’s also not insufferable. I feel like there is something that she’s hiding with respect to her presence in Ōtomo City, and I’m keen on finagling out what that is.

The storytelling itself reminds me a lot of the old black-and-white noir detective films. You’ve got a struggling dude who wants to get his next big piece for a big slice of monetary pie, but there’s always something more sinister and complex beneath the surface of that superficiality. Plus, Mikogami’s outfit to the ways people exchange dialogues, to the incredible music—it all screams noir mystery, yet it’s very contemporary and visually (cinematography-wise) removed from what one would expect of noir. I think it’s neat and gives a lot of food for thought, creatively speaking, but I can also see how some viewers might ascertain it as the anime “not being able to make up its mind.”

The Skull Man is… well, still a giant fucking mystery. He… she? They have only really popped up twice so far, which is fitting for a figure that’s supposed to by some kind of mythological legend, so I haven’t had a chance to formulate any thoughts on them yet. Based on what’s been revealed and what I know of the skull folx Japanese mythos, I’m inclined to believe that maybe this person is some sort of vigilante antihero of justice? Or maybe they’re hellbent on vengeance for wrongs committed against them. I have no clue! But sticking around to discover all of that is eighty percent of the fun. The other twenty is that damned music.

I love Jazz music, especially 1920s speakeasy-type tunes. There is so much about this specific time period and genre of music and what it represents that I could go on for pages, but I won’t. All I’ll say is that it fits the noir elements I mentioned earlier perfectly, and given the very shady surroundings and way of living in Ōtomo City (there’s a curfew and people hanging out at night can get arrested, just to name one of a few), the musical score can be very telling of a bigger conundrum than just some urban legend going around murdering folx, which also adds to the awesome sense of intrigue.

Anyhoo, first impressions of The Skull Man are great. There’s actually a lot more that I could discuss here, but I don’t want to give away all of the goodies in case if anyone else wants to pick it up and check it out for themselves. Even so, the fact that I have so much I want to discuss tells me that I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this anime. I just hope the ending won’t leave me frustrated as fuck as some mystery serials tend to do. If you’re interested in watching this for yourself, you can catch it over on HiDive (linked below).

Native:  スカルマン
Source: Manga
Demographic: Shōnen
Genre: Superhero, Mystery
Season: Spring 2007
Episodes: 13
Studio: BONES
Director: Takeshi Mori
Content Warnings: Violence, blood, and deaths. Some mild language. Consumption of food. Drinking. Smoking.
AniList: Skull Man
Streaming: HiDive

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