Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"The curious incident of the dog in the night-time"

"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
"Silver Blaze"

Doyle (Holmes) didn't make it on my circle's top ten list of best non-Japanese mystery novels ever, but to be honest, I too didn't vote for Doyle either (despite me being the one who nominated him in the first place). Partly because other people from other circles will probably nominate something out of the Holmes canon, partly also because I am not sure whether I can truly claim that I don't know of ten other detective novels that I would deem better than any work in the Holmes canon. I am not talking about historic importance, just as a work on its own. But enough of small talk.

Both the editor of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo and Amagi Seimaru have been promoting Sherdock the Detective Dog on their Twitter accounts lately, so I tried the first volume, despite the description on the back. I am fairly sure I would never ever had bought it otherwise. For the premise is: Sherlock Holmes is for some reason reincarnated as a dog. Called Sherdock (Sherlock + Dog). In Japan. And his owner is a young teenager called Wajima Takeru, who is also the only person who can actually communicate Sherdock. Because Takeru also happens to be the reincarnation of Watson (in fact, the name Wajima Takeru can be read as Watson thanks to the complexities of the Japanese language). In Japan. And together, they fight crime!

And nobody in their right mind would have picked this up without some pushing, right?

But to be honest: this is a surprisingly fun series! Of course, you really have to accept first that Sherdock is not even remotely similar to the real Holmes, only spouting misquotes like 'Elementary, my dear Watson'. And imagine you being a teenager, only to have Holmes teasing you about a classmate by saying the following: I can see you're in love with her. And it's one-sided too. No, not likely. But it is funny though. Just imagine Holmes being all smug about it. Anyway, accept the premise of a talking, detective dog who might or might not be Holmes, and you will actually have a fun time.

The series consists of semi-inverted stories. At least, in the first volume. You don't actually see the murderers commit their crimes, but it usually quite clear who the guilty party is: the problem is to prove how he did. It's like when you tune in on an episode of Columbo just after the murderer has commited his crime (which for some reason, is something that happened to me quite often). Unlike Reizouko Tantei, the hints are fairly available to the reader (and they don't rely on specialist knowledge like Kuitan). The stories aren't what I would call classics, but they are not bad and I did like the emphasis on visual hints, an element that is usually not present at all in books.

Visual hints are definitely a reason why I like detective manga. I already sorta mentioned it in a review of an audio drama, but there are a wide variety of hints that rely on the human senses, that just don't translate well in written words. If one reads manga like Conan and Kindaichi Shounen, you'll see that the authors make great use of the visual element of their stories, burying hints in the art. And unlike video, you can easily go back a few pages to confirm things (like normal books), which removes the problem of visual hints in video that are either to hard to detect (short screen-time, too small to see at one glance), or too obvious (with the director trying too hard to convey the fact that something is a hint).

And of course, one of Sherdock the Detective Dog's charm points, or at least, that's what the writer probably aims at, is that Sherdock has the problem of being a dog and not being able to do everything he would like to do himself, thus needing Takeru to act as his human proxy. As of the first volume, this dynamic mimics that of the main dynamic in Conan by the way: Conan has at one hand the freedom to do a lot because he is an 'innocent' child, on the other hand there is a lot he isn't allowed to do himself, thus needing an adult partner to do things for him. The same holds for Sherdock, with the difference that he can just ask Takeru to do things for him, while Conan usually has to act and slyly lead adults to do the things he wants to have done.

Sherdock the Detective Dog is still running, with the fourth volume recently released. For some reason I never really got into Q.E.D. Shoumei Shuuryou (and I haven't even read the spin-off  C.M.B.), but I might follow this series because a focus on inverted stories does make it feel different (even though they are also present in both Conan and Kindaichi Shounen).  I have no idea how this series is going to develop further though. At least with Conan, there is the whole Black Organisation storyline that keeps everything together. Are we going to find out more about why the heck Holmes is a dog? Is Moriarty going to appear as a dog too? I think I am more afraid than curious to how this series is going to develop in the future, but there is only one way to find out. At least, only one that doesn't involve driving in DeLoreans, blue police boxes and other machinery that might mess up the space-time continuum.

Original Japanese title(s): 安童夕馬(原)、佐藤友生 (画) 『探偵犬シャードック』第1巻

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