The Skull Man
The city of Ootomo is home to three mysteries: a vigilante in a skull mask, a new religious order called the White Bell Society, and humans that have the power to transform into super-powered mutants. It’s three great tastes that work well together, for the most part.
The Skull Man takes place in an alternate history version of Japan that is no longer unified under a central government. Ootomo city is ostensibly ruled by the large pharmaceutical company from which it derives its name. The rumors of Skull Man have reached beyond the city limits, bringing wannabe reporter Hayato back to his old hometown in the hopes of finding a career-making story. On the way, he meets a young photographer, Kiriko, whom he helps get into the otherwise closed-off town.
Hayato has a lot of connections in the city, notably with the president of Ootomo Pharmaceuticals, Kuroshio. Ootomo is a city of secrets, and while Kuroshio doesn’t know who the Skull Man is or what he wants, he’s not happy about Hayato investigating the story, lest he stumble upon something worse.
The design of The Skull Man and the plot description makes the series sound like an American-styled dark super-hero comic book; but it’s more of a psychological thriller, having more in common with Paranoia Agent than Batman. Actually, now that I think about it, the best comparison is V for Vendetta, a masked anti-hero seeking vengeance, in a world of retrained freedoms.
The characters are fairly well rounded, though they are subjugated by the plot. Each have their own motivation, simple as it may be; except for Hayato who has an air of mystery about him, sort of like Shepperd Book in Firefly, you know there’s a lot more to him than is being said. Everyone in the series has a dark past and ulterior motives, though everyone else’s are revealed.
The setting of the series is fleshed out quite well. The world created for the series is complex and wholly believable. One of the nice details is that the White Bell Society holds its primary religious holiday on December 25th and reuses most of the iconography of Christmas. It’s funny, of course, because Christmas itself did the same thing, taking the traditions and date from popular holidays of older religions, most notably Saturnalia.
The mutant monsters and the origin of the Skull Man are relatively fanciful, but they’re integrated into the world well enough to not stand out as awkward. This is mostly achieved by keeping them at arm’s length and only vaguely explaining them, which in turn makes the climax of the series a little hard to follow, as it takes a sudden leap into unexplained weirdness.
The Skull Man offers a well-plotted and ultimately satisfying mystery story set in an interesting and detailed world.
The DVDs from Sentai Filmworks present the 13 episode series across two DVDs. The video is anamorphic and the audio is in Japanese only. The credits and titles are all left in their original Japanese.