Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anime Music Review: The Skull Man Original Soundtrack 1&2

Skull Man is an anime that most probably haven't seen. Based on a manga from the 1970's, the anime reprises and illustrates the aforementioned source material to future generations into a short-lived miniseries featured in 2007. When I saw Sagisu's name for music accreditation, I decided to seek out the soundtrack. Then I watched the anime. In that order. While a decent, yet, brief series, Skull Man's audio steals the show, far surpassing the anime. In fact, after hearing the two volumes released by Geneon, I realized most of the cuts didn't make the cut, or were abridged much to the dismay of an outstanding, lesser known soundtrack and work of Shiro Sagisu. 

For shame, the riffin' title opener "Hikari no Michi" by Tokio wasn't even included on these soundtracks.

Shiro Sagisu, whose known for this work with Neon Genesis Evangelion and BLEACH, employs everything he's known for: impressive production values, masterful composition, and sharp session players resulting in a memorable score. Beyond the packaging, Sagisu presents an array of music styles to help draw us into The Skull Man's cryptic, mysterious world.

Skull Man's focal audio objective is best described as neo- 'noir' mystery throughout. Like his darker works in this vein with the almost entirely synthesized Casshern and BLEACH TV Soundtracks 1 and 2, Skull Man encompasses and packages Sagisu's influences from those series but also his crowning achievement Neon Genesis Evangelion with the support of dreamy strings and violin leads in both London and Tokyo, trickling electric keyboards, casually bluesy guitars and slowly into a realm of his unrelated "Songbook" volumes, venturing into jazz.

Like the entirely French tracklist on the Rebuild of Evangelion releases, Skull Man follows suit here with more of the same dubious titles for each track accompanied by Japanese diction.

As per Sagisu gathering excellent session players for his works, he rounded up the best here, most of which have been used on other projects like Kare Kano, Evangelion and BLEACH. This is one tight rhythm section of jazz players at that: Osamu Koike (Tenor Saxophone), Shin Kazuhara and Eric Miyashiro (Trumpets), Makoto Kuriya (Piano and Fender Rhodes) and his recurring Shiro's Songbook sidemen Andrew Smith (E.Guitar) and Jerry Brown and Greg Lee (Bass). Each musician gets to show off their stuff on more than a few tracks and damn well at that.

Soundtrack 1 opens with a series of plush jazz that typically pairs sax-and-trumpet to give each track a backbone of horns. L'Echo D'Obscur and its detective agency sax and Miyashiro on mute trumpet lead, tip-toe bass leading into some of the series' best tracks Code Dérobe, which immediately lures in with beautiful Rhodes tickling the foreground of horns, stomping upright bass, piano and some strings backing. Each musician, Kazuhara on trumpet and Koike on the tenor sax each get solo time, edited in the series. 

Récit d'Exclusif is the early main theme of sorts of the investigative Hayato Mikogami with a chill, jazz-funk electric bass, Rhodes easily captures the mood of the original manga's 1970's era jazz with a given sound of funky bass, electric pianos and a masterful tenor sax lead. Enjoy the solos here too, as you didn't get to hear them in the anime.

Need to Chase and Une Ville De Complot show of more of Smith's cool guitar soloing, both falling right into the vein of a modern detective noir with sinister masks on each.

Skull Chase is classic jazz; snappy piano and thick upright bass with more trumpet and sax, solos for each or a piano version which features only the acoustics. Skull Action also has a jazz-centered piano rendition, where the original features a layer of strings accompaniment, both found on the second volume.

Much of the audio beyond the smooth jazz conveys the sour sense of relax in Skull Man's world with images of dancing with ghosts like the acoustic guitar and strings, waltz of Les Jours, Mes Amours and the Evangelion-inspired strings of Pour Mieux Vivre and accompanied piano solos. Vers Mon Pays sounds like a grandfather clock melody before a keyboard-led into a bed of luscious strings.

La Lutte Contre La Douleur and L'Elegie heard in many scenes recurring featuring  signature Sagisu arranged strings and a solo trumpet.

Soundtrack 2 are mostly 'B' tracks; they might have been able to throw them on the first with this disc resulting in filler. Instead, the inclusion of some (must-have) follow-up tracks that play in the direction of the first volume are here with the disc ending in a series of said forgettable, filler bumpers.

Start To Check Up is more  70's jazz-funk and fusion, with some bossy, marching electric bass and drum, growling guitars and some outstanding sax by Koike, Smith with some shimmering Rhodes to carry a disc favorite while Touch The Fuse! follows suit with a more peppy tempo and firey trumpet.

Filler or not, background Par Ténèbres sets a garish mood with cryptic Rhodes, spider-like double bass, trippy synthesizers and spastic, acidic violin that echoes the obscure and foghorns in Par Ténèbres II.

Smith shines again on Underground, which was nowhere to be heard in the anime; best described as a heavy-metal jazz jam session with fierce drumming, grunge and adlib solos in the dark spotlight.

Skull Man has one vocal, a wonderful French piece by lyricist Meri Neeser in a lounge-jazz style Nos Rêves d'Enfants with Osamu Koike complimenting the sultry female vocals with smooth saxophone and solos.

If there were any reason to buy a soundtrack, it's to fully appreciate the aural soundscape that accompanies the film. Even a year later, both discs are as fresh as when I first enjoyed them. For me, it's the handful of jazz-fusion easily enjoyable outside the show and immersive orchestral pieces that too live very well outside the anime. A real shame Skull Man isn't more well recognized even with Sagisu's name attached as it's one of his most solid, memorable works since the Evangelion days.

Both are must-haves, especially since most of the best tracks are minimally represented in show and deserve more attention that can be carefully digested outside the series. With volume two releasing six months later, it's too bad these discs never reprinted as a double set so you'll be tracking both down and steering clear of those (cheap) eBay fakes. 


Original Soundtrack 1 : 9.5 (A)

Original Soundtrack 2 : 9.0 (A-)

More Audio Samples from Soundtrack 1 on CDJapan

The Skull Man Original Soundtrack 1

01 L'Invitation à Noir 
02 Skull Action
03 L'Echo de l'Obscur
04 Récit d'Exclusif
05 Une Ville de Complot
06 Les Jours, Mes Amours
07 Code Dérobé
08 Vers Mon Pays
09 Un Suspect de Lune
10 Par Ténèbres
11 C'est Une Sacrée Saleté de Vicieuse
12 Sous La Pluie
13 Need To Chase
14 Poésie et Prière
15 Skull Chase
16 Silhouette d'Affaire
17 Nos Rêves d'Enfants
18 L'Elégie
19 Dans La Bourrasque
20 Boléro Noir
21 Promotion Video Theme
22 CM Bumper (A)

23 CM Bumper (B)

The Skull Man Original Soundtrack 2

01 L'Invitation à Noir (Short Version)
02 Touch The Fuse!
03 Start To Check Up
04 Le Plus Bel Endroit du Monde
05 Le Grand Frisson
06 Skull Chase (Piano Version)
07 Par Ténèbres II
08 Underground
09 La Lutte Contre La Douleur
10 Pour Mieux Vivre
11 Skull Action (Piano Version)
12 Les Chemins du Destin
13 Dernière Rhapsodie 

14 Impact, Destin Noir
15 La Dernière Bataille
16 Nos Rêves d'Enfants (Instrumental)
17 CM Bumper (C)
18 CM Bumper (D)
19 CM Bumper (E)
20 CM Bumper (F)
21 CM Bumper (G)

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