Watch It Now
Story = D
Video = B
Audio = C
Set in an alternate history of Japan, freelance photographer Minagami Hayato returns to his hometown of Ootomo to investigate rumors of a man wearing a skull mask committing murders there. Once in the city, he discovers connections between the victims and a local pharmaceutical company, a new religious sect, and strange half human, half animal creatures. Along with a young photographer, he decides to find out who the Skull Man really is. (Source: ANN)I really have to stop this habit of waiting months after watching an anime to finally write the review; because once again I have a back log of nine, count them NINE anime and manga to review. Of course, waiting months to write a review doesn't do much for the accuracy and legitimacy of my reaction but so be it. Here's my long awaited review of Studio's BONE's attempt at dark, cerebral storytelling known as The Skull Man.
The Skull Man anime is based on an a 1970's one-shot manga and its 1998 sequel. The original story—from what I've read on Wikipedia—is dark, grim, gritty, and violent. The protagonist of the first manga was one of the medium's first anti-heroes, as he is willing to take innocent lives in pursuit of his revenge. And that's really what this anime adaptation needed to be: a grim story about a man's obsessive drive for vengeance.
But unfortunately that is not the route the anime took; instead it attempts to be the Serial Experiments Lain or maybe even Ghost in the Shell (movie) type of quiet, cerebral, moody storytelling; resulting in an show that is neither character nor plot-driven, but mood-driven with characters talking in unnaturally flat—but nevertheless melodramatic—tones. That's not to say that the story isn't dark at times because a lot of people do die, but the tone is so inconsistent and the narrative is so slow and underwhelming which makes for a series that is downright boring.
The first episode starts with a girl running from some monster, but then runs into the title character. It seems like a strong, eerie start to the series, but the rest of the episode and most of those that follow are entirely too conventional in terms of the plot, characters, and visuals. The two main characters—the journalist Hayato Mikogami and the tag-along photographer Kiriko Mamiya—are investigating the a series of murders, and Hayato suspects the culprit to be the legendary "Skull Man"; but other than Hayato's insistence that the Skull Man is important, there is never any real reason to find him particularly noteworthy or compelling. Other than being a potential murderer, nothing is revealed about him until much later in the series. As a result I never understood what was driving him or any of the other characters, making it hard to empathize with or care about what happened to them.
The biggest problem with this mood-driven show is that said mood is neither consistent nor well-executed. The moments of silence and stillness that are intended to be time for either the audience or the characters to quietly reflect on the situation, seem instead to be more like dead space intended to kill time. The violence that is present—especially the fights with the monsters—are too strait-forward to add either tension or excitement. And if that weren't bad enough, there are some horrible anime cliches thrown in that really cheapen the show and completely throw off the dark cerebral tone. For instance, I knew that it had reached a low-point when I saw the "Oops, you accidentally saw me naked and so I'll yell at you and kick you out of the room" scene.
The animation was fine, but I think that Studio BONES was a poor choice to produce this show. It's not that I don't like BONES—their stuff is usually consistently high-quality and the fact that they were involved with this show was the main reason I wanted to watch it. But it's that very consistency that worked against them here. Their animation style and character designs seem to have similar qualities from series to series, and that style did not fit with this show. The show needed a studio that was a bit more experimental and edgy. The ideal studio, I think, would have been Madhouse; but obviously they can't do everything.
I'll conclude by saying that I was very apathetic about this show. I simply didn't care about what was happening from the beginning to the end. It could have been cool, but that potential is confounded by a number of stylistic and directorial missteps making for a show that is simply not worth the time.
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