It's strange. Before I even knew what Anime was, I was still deeply entangled with it. Two of my most cherished cartoons from childhood were actually of Japanese origin, something I did not find out about until a far bit after I learnt what Anime actually was. Of course, they weren't the only cartoons I watched that turned out to be of Japanese Origin, but these two were among my favourites.
The first of these wasn't very subtle about its Japanese Origin, it was more that at the time I didn't really know about Japanese Animation as a concept. I am talking about a series that was called in the West, “Samurai Pizza Cats”, and bears talking about another time.
The second, that comes to mind at least, is much more subtle about its origins. Mainly because it uses some decidedly non-Japanese source material. This series was inspired by what are perhaps the most famous works of a certain English Author. That Author is Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame. Ladies and gentlemen, today I wish to speak to you about...
The Japanese name for the series can be translated to “Famous Detective Sherlock Holmes”. Imagine, if Sherlock Holmes was still the cultured mystery solving gentleman we all know and love, but more adventurous and athletic, without losing any of the charm we imagine him to have. Imagine Moriarty is not only a criminal genius, but an amazing inventor, crafting diabolical machines such as a flying machine made to look like a pterodactyl and an amphibious steamboat/car with mechanical arms, who is more often made to look rather bumbling due to his own overconfident arrogance. Imagine a fun show clearly aimed at kids, but inventive and clever enough to bring a smile to an adult's face too. Imagine that Mrs Hudson, the house keeper, is practically a badass who drives fast, is an excellent shot with a handgun, but still remains a refined and dignified lady. Now imagine everyone in the series is an anthropomorphic dog.
Truth be told, it doesn't look too much like your average Anime does it? However, you'd probably get a feeling of familiarity from watching the series all the same. Where could this feeling come from? Well imagine one more thing.
Imagine that the some of the founding work for this series, and the first 6 of the 26 episodes made, was done by Hayao Miyazaki.
I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw off the ground before I explain.
Miyazaki, is a name that I'd sure you all know. If not, they you probably have a poor memory. But you will know the name “Studio Ghibli”. That Miyazaki. Sherlock Hound isn't a Studio Ghibli production, indeed it was actually Miyazaki's last TV series before Studio Ghibli was formed. He only worked on a fifth, but I believe having some of his magic as a cornerstone of the series helped an awful lot. Unfortunately part way into production, it was suspended due to problems with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. By the time these problems had been sorted out, Miyazaki had already made Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and was well on his way to co-founding the Studio Ghibli we all know and love. One of the other cornerstones is a perhaps less familiar Kyosuke Mikuriya, responsible for Ulysses 31, who directed the rest of this series.
Now before I explore more about why this series is so magical, I would like to go into how I came into contact with this series. Much like the rest of my early connection with Anime, it was built upon strange coincidences. My understanding is this. My sister, or perhaps my mother on her behalf, was a member of a video-order club, one of those mail order magazines where you can get good deals, but need to order a certain amount to stay in.
Apparently we received a video or few of this series by mistake. For whatever reason, we were allowed to keep them. I think we may have brought more of the videos, I'm not sure, all I know is that we had a few of the volumes, but not the complete series. And that I loved it. I would often rewatch this magical series as a child. Again and again I would find myself coming back to this series.
Time went past, and I grew up. I went on to fall in love with Anime. Watching a certain Lupin the Third movie, I was suddenly struck by how familiar it felt. Especially a scene where Lupin was swimming up a waterfall, the charming exaggerated theatrical way his limbs moved in a classical swimming pose, as he did the impossible. At the time I thought I must have been thinking of Inspector Gadget, since Inspector Zenigata reminded me a little of that series' titular character. At the time I didn't even realise this was a work of Miyazaki as well, indeed The Castle of Cagliostro was his First feature length Anime.
Fast forward again, and bored, I decide to watch an old video tape. I select Sherlock Hound. The episode I watch has a scene where Inspector Lestrade, attempting to catch up with Moriarty, and to stop falling, starts trying to literately swim through the air. Despite this being impossible, he succeeds for a couple seconds, before physics overules him and he falls back down into the water. If you haven't figured it out, he uses the exact same “Charming exaggerated theatrical” swimming motions that Lupin used. One revelation and a bit of googling, I discover that, indeed, there is a connection, a Miyazaki connection.
If you watch a Miyazaki episode of the series, you will probably be able to tell. They will each bring to mind at least one of his later works in some shape or form. Each is a Miniature Miyazaki Masterpiece! For example, take what is perhaps my favourite episode, and one of the most memorable...
The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle is truly a wonderful display of Miyazaki. It is a beautiful display of all we love of Miyazaki. His love of strong female leads and his excellent portrayal of them. In this episode the homeless orphan Polly proves to be crafty, fearless and very endearing. Miyazaki's attention to detail, in the flow of environment, animation, events, characters and actions make this episode stand out brilliantly. Also present is his almost trademark fascination with flight, and steampunk. That flying machine of Moriarty's I mentioned above will remind you of the one you'll have seen Nausicaä. Do yourself a favour, and make sure to find some way of watching this episode. I'd almost go as far to say this is Miyazaki at his finest. You could even call it a real Gem of an episode.
While the episodes that Miyazaki directed are simply magical and some of his best work, he can't be given the full credit for the entire series obviously. The other episodes still retain the same charm, and have their own clever tricks within them. So either his influence stayed the whole series, or working on this series had a profound effect on him and also his later work. Or perhaps it was a two way process of inspiration? Also resonsible for the series' designs was Marco Pagot. No, not the pig from Porco Rosso, he was the series' character designer and writer. Though to name a hero after someone, even if the character no longer uses the name, must be a show of a great deal of respect.
The series has a wonderful wealth of characters to enjoy, action sequences to marvel at in every episode. Every episode also has something of a bit more cerebral treat, as often Moriarty's schemes are actually pretty clever and interesting, and Hound's methods for foiling them often even more so. Seeing these puzzles explained is one of the joys that is more particular to this series. They may not be the most advanced and complex plots, since this is a children's series after all, but it is still brings to mind a similar feeling to watching an episode of CSI, or reading DeathNote, or manga within a manga: PCP from Bakuman. Clearly any child brought up on this series will grow into an Oxford University Student! Alright, so that's pushing it, but this is truly a great series for all ages, just like any of Miyazaki's film.
Also the animation is excellent when you consider that this series is as old as me. And the DVDs I watched had the picture looking pretty damn clear too. The characters are wonderfully designed, detailed, and animated, as are their environments, and the machines that fill their world. It is very easy on the eyes. As I said, the style isn't what you might usually expect from Japan, especially when compared to what it exports these days. There is often a lack of shading, though it is used rather stunningly for effect when added and often the series gives a feeling of depth by use of detail instead. Best of all though, is the complete lack of conspicuous CGI that you can find in almost every series these days-Now there's a development I don't tend to miss too much when watching a vintage series.
The Music, which is as fondly remembered as many of the scenes in the series, was composed by Kentaro Haneda, who also composed music for Macross. His music would mostly have a fun, whimsical feel to it, but could give a more urgent atmosphere or faster pace when needed. It perfectly matched the series.
Since I've reached adulthood, I've owned the series twice on DVD. Once as a bootleg, where unfortunately the DVD quality was worse than the Subtitle quality. They did, interestingly enough, include the Japanese audio, where I learned that the opening music was supposed to have words...
And what beautiful words they are too.
This Japanese audio is unfortunately missing on my other version of the DVDs, Manga's Release, though the actual quality is much more reliable. Also I think I read once that the series was intended for an Italian audience, and was originally dubbed in English, as a halfway point in translation, though this may be mumbled up memories. The dub seems to fit well, at least to me. But that might be old unreliable nostalgia. Same way the voice work in the original Transformers cartoon is actually pretty silly, but fans wouldn't have it any other way. Sherlock Hound doesn't have the most professional or natural voice acting, but in a series where all the characters are based on dogs, it probably pays not to be too serious.
So if my long article on the series didn't make it clear, I recommend this series. I don't think I could recommend it enough, so go forth and watch. For nostalgia. As an enjoyable all age series. As some of Miyazaki's best work. For a good old laugh.
And for this Space Invaders reference. It even has a Space Invaders sound effect. This is in one of the Miyazaki episodes, “The Little Client”.
For those of you in the UK, the DVD can be brought at various online stores. I brought at Zavvi during their insane sale, though it looks that HMV is currently cheapest
, fitting, since it was originally an exclusive for them.
For those of you in the US, then you can catch the dubbed episodes on Crunchy Roll.
For the curious among you, the episodes that Miyazaki directed were:
"The Little Client"
"The Blue Carbuncle"
"Treasure Under the Sea"
"Where Did the Sovereigns Go?"
"The Abduction of Mrs. Hudson"
"The White Cliffs of Dover"
These are the Japanese names, the English names vary slightly.
Well until next time, Kagato TEG/ ChessboardMan
Or should that be, Blasting off?