Monday, January 21, 2013

The Geek Interpreter

"Among these unfinished tales is that of Mr. James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world"
"The Problem of Thor Bridge"

I have been quite busy the last few weeks with perfecting my techniques for postponing writing reports until the last day (?), which will probably continue until the end of January, so I haven't been able to read  / write as much as I actually want. Hope to post at least one book review by next week though...

We all know that Sherlock Holmes is hip again since the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC series. When I visited South-Korea in September, I was surprised by the amount of Sherlock Holmes books they had in the bookstores (seriously: I can't actually read Korean, but I saw multiple versions from I assume different publishers, so were they all different translations!?). Heck, I already reviewed a manga about Sherlock reincarnated as a dog! Anyway, so I wasn't that surprised when I came across a manga called Sherlockian!. I was surprised when I read the back though, because this wasn't a manga about Sherlock Holmes, it was a manga about Sherlockians! (or Holmesians as civil people should be using) and the canon problems they analyze! It was a ridiculous concept for a series, which was why I bought it at once.

The university student Harada Airi likes to read the Holmes stories and one day discovers that her professor Kuruma is actually a Holmesian. Kuruma invites Airi to a local Holmesian meeting (thus making her a member) and... that is it. The series unfolds as Airi starts to learn more about the little problems Holmesian like to study, like the disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, or the first name of Watson, or the precise location of that darn war wound of his, which for some reason or another are usually also related to a current problem Airi is facing in her daily life.

There is not much to say about the series, actually. I liked the first volume, because I like Sherlock Holmes and because I am familiar with Holmesian problems. Which is both the strength and weakness of this series: I don't know how big a Holmesian writer Ikeda is, but he has done enough research / read enough secondary literature to create amusing, sometimes touching short stories. They feature daily life mysteries (or sometimes not even a mystery at all), with Holmesian problems as their theme: one great story is about how a dying man enjoyed reading the Holmes stories, until he came across the point where Watson's wife calls him James instead of John, arriving at the assumption that his wife might have been cheating on him. Another story on the other hand reenacts the disappearance of Mr. Phillimore, when a colleague of Airi at the local bookshop disappears after she went back into her apartment to get an umbrella for her father. It's not a big mystery and the story serves mostly as a vehicle to present the Holmesian problem, but it works.

But what I consider a weakness of this series, or at least what I think is unclear, who should be reading Sherlockian! ? First of all, I can't imagine that people who haven't read Holmes will find any enjoyment here. Secondly, the reader needs to be interested in Holmesian problems. Thirdly, said reader shouldn't be a big Holmesian him/herself, because then Sherlockian! doesn't has much to offer. I enjoyed Sherlockian!, even if I already knew about the problems posed in this volume (except for the Jack the Ripper story...), but this is really a series that is aiming at a niche, inside a niche, inside a niche.

Though I would totally recommend it to Japanese Holmes fans who want to learn about the canon...

Original Japanese title(s):  池田邦彦 『シャーロッキアン!』第1巻

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