Apologies for being a day late with this one, I was recruited to help a good friend move during the time I'd normally be writing on Sunday.
The Inside Anime Expo website has a short feature on Shotaro Ishinomori, the creator behind the Skull Man manga and other familiar properties. It's worth checking out, if mostly for the sampling of his hand-drawn artwork presented along with the article.
Without further ado, let's dive into the third episode of The Skull Man!
Episode 3: Crimson Rain Falls in the Afternoon
Actress Yui Onizuka, the understudy to the late Hitomi Tachibana, receives a death threat in the form of a photograph with a skull-shaped marker on it. She becomes overwhelmed with fear, doubly-so when she's then threatened with blackmail after having been caught two-timing her police-chief lover with a younger man. After following a ransom note to a dilapidated old theater (with Kiriko secretly following), Yui is confronted by the female motorcyclist, who seems hell-bent on getting Yui's assistant Sayoko to crack. Sayoko turns out to have a dark secret of her own in that she's a mutant being and transforms into her mutated form to rescue Yui from death. In the meantime, Hayato meets with the old man, who turns out to be a private detective. They share information, but the old man still seems to be holding back. Hayato meets Kiriko at the abandoned theater after the elusive Skull Man has come and gone. Later they discover that Yui, who they'd left to be recovered by the police, was actually killed at the scene.
Discussion: This is the episode that I suspect might be a make-or-break point for some of you who are watching along. On one hand, we get our our next very short glimpse of the Skull Man in action, and it becomes clear that his goals as of this point aren't discernable. On the other hand, the appearance of several non-human (or super-human, depending on how you categorize mutants) beings might come across as a little bit hokey at this juncture, especially for a show that has, up to this point, taken its time and been relatively subtle. The first time I tried watching this series, I got through this episode and then stopped altogether, only to pick it up and power through it at a later time.
When I think about it, this show really is incredibly multi-layered, in both tone and content. There's one part which excels as a dark mystery that's not afraid to feature the deaths of its characters. Another part reveals its original intent as the basis for a tokusatsu series. None of the characters are quite exactly who they say they are, and everyone has his or her own secret that seems to feed into the greater secret that is Otomo city.
I think secrets, both benign and malevolent, are what ties this episode together. Most of the characters featured during this episode have parts of themselves that they prefer to keep hidden. Yui, as an actress and public figure, keeps herself emotionally locked-down and her true face hidden behind the mask of fame, yet she struggles with her role as a mistress to one of Otomo City's high-powered male figures and even seems to have cultivated a relationship kept secret from him. Sayoko practices the dialog from Hamlet in private, entertaining her own fantasies of becoming a leading lady. Her more sinister secret is that she is not quite human. The Old Man seems content to deceive Hayato by playing the everyman. I love the way the series chooses to reveal this; jokes that he only knows one kind of coffee to order at the café, then orders something different and much more elaborate once Hayato leaves. Brilliant. Even Maya, daughter of the local philanthropist and volunteer at the church orphanage, seems to know quite a bit more than one might expect; she encourages Sayoko to "fly" as if she knows what Sayoko is actually capable of.
In fact, it almost seems as if the only person whose secrets are kept completely cloaked is the Skull Man himself. His alliance to the motorcyclist and her companion, who both seem able to transform into werewolf-type-creatures, isn't elaborated upon, and his disposal of Yui and Sayoko seems cold-blooded and contrary at least to what we saw as goodness in Sayoko's character. We still have no concrete idea of who the man actually is; every theory seems to be speculation based on local urban legend, assumption of motive, and fearful gossip. What connection does the White Bell Society have to this mystery man?
One of my favorite parts of this episode had less to do with meaty plot chunks and more to do with construction, though. In one scene, Hayato and Kiriko are eating at a food stand, when they overhear a large order come in from the local theater. After noticing a "help wanted" sign, Kiriko gets a temp job doing deliveries and uses that as an excuse to gather clues from Yui's dressing room. I love how this scene plays out in that it assumes the audience has the attention span to keep up with the progression of the plan. In just a couple of quick scene cuts, Kiriko is in the building and doing what she does best - snooping for information. There's so much information crammed into this series that there's very little time for plot shenanigans, and this scene proves that it's possible to set up an entire reality without taking more than a minute.
Those are about all the thoughts I have for this week. How did everyone else react to the first big "reveal" of the creatures? Are you intrigued about this new layer, or dismayed by what appears to be a bit over-the-top?