Friday, December 7, 2018

A Case of Identity


"She's not my friend."
"Miss Sherlock"

Huh, I've used the Sherlock Holmes tag at least once every year since I started this blog, even when I wasn't really writing about mystery fiction.

I think my own introduction to Sherlock Holmes was the series of Austrialian TV cartoons based on the novels (with Peter O'Toole as Holmes, though I watched them dubbed in Dutch), and while I don't consider myself a Holmesian by any means, Holmes has been a series close to me since. Holmes is in fact a being close to a lot of people in this world, as evidenced by the ridiculous amount of appearances he still makes nowadays in various manners. Be it in a confrontation with Dracula or Cthulhu, in the twenty-second century with a robot Watson, or reimagined in the form of a mouse or dog, creators always reach back to Holmes. I have to admit that I can be a bit of a cynic when it comes to "new" interpretations of Holmes, and I still can't see how a confrontation with Dracula could work out in a positive and entertaining manner but sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised. For example, I really didn't see the use of having a Sherlock Holmes series set in modern times, but I loved BBC's Sherlock right from the very first episode, and who could've guessed that a videogame where Sherlock Holmes is always making the wrong deductions would actually be an excellent and unique interpretation of the beloved character?

That said, the first time I heard of the 2018 drama series Miss Sherlock, my expectations were really not that high, as the premise of a Sherlock Holmes-inspired show with two female leads in modern day Tokyo wasn't particularly exciting. The gender swap was something I could shrug at, as I don't really care either way, but the concept of "modern day Tokyo" was enough to sound the alarms, because I had a feeling that this drama would not be inspired by Sherlock Holmes, but by Sherlock. It reminded me of the TV drama adaptation of Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice/Himura Hideo series a few years back. It was an excellent mystery show on its own, but oh man, all the cues it took from Sherlock in terms of direction.... It's hard to not see Sherlock if the protagonist is dressed in a long coat while having semi-maniacal fits and words are projected on the screen.

And Miss Sherlock sadly enough turned out to be indeed a series that draws major inspiration from Sherlock. I mean, the coat and the projected words and stuff don't even seem that bad, but when you consider that even Miss Sherlock's theme music seems to be inspired by Sherlock's main theme, it's really hard watching this without being constantly reminded where most of the ideas came from.

But okay, if you can get past the extreme Sherlock-ness of Miss Sherlock, what do you get? Well, it's a reasonably entertaining Sherlock Holmes show. Miss Sherlock starts with the return of doctor Tachibana Wato (because: Wato-san) from Syria, where she worked as a volunteer surgeon (considering Japan has a Self-Defense Force, a logical change). She was wounded in an explosion in Syria, prompting her return to Japan. Upon arrival in Japan, she's welcomed at the airport by her old mentor and friend, but a mysterious internal explosion blows up the stomach of Wato's mentor, killing him on the spot. In the ensuing police investigation, Wato learns that Inspector Reimon has called in the consulting detective Sherlock, a rather rude and self-centered, but also brilliantly sharp woman (she took on the name "Sherlock" after a certain incident). More people are killed in the same way as Wato's mentor, but Sherlock manages to solve the case with the help of Wato, who has to move in with Sherlock as Wato's own accomodations had had a rather unfortunate mishap.

What follows is a show that is a decent and fairly amusing, but not remarkable interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Some episodes of Miss Sherlock are more heavily inspired by the original stories than others, while others feel more like they were inspired by Sherlock. There's an episode heavily based on The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire for example, but the extended twist at the end works  well enough as a way to really make it feel like a real story set in modern day Japan and a good example of a reasonably good adaptation of the original source story, followed by some original material of the production team. The episode based on The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor has a nice twist that actually feels Holmesian, though it seems rather silly to go through all that trouble for that goal. Another early story feels quite Holmesian with a seemingly meaningless act (a vandalized painting) at the start that builds up to a story of larger crime. The emphasis on the "modern" can be a bit much though, with deadly new viruses and poisons becoming the McGuffins of the episode a few times.

Eventually, the story will also build up to something larger as it approaches the grand finale. I think most people can guess that Sherlock will eventually face a "Big Bad" at the end of the series. Your mileage may vary here. I thought the concept behind the Big Bad was not only far too obvious, but also reminiscent of the lesser parts of Sherlock and I couldn't really take it serious. By the way, I have seen far too many Japanese productions with some link to Sherlock Holmes now with characters whose names are based on Moriarty....

As depictions of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, I think Miss Sherlock's Sherlock is more inspired by Sherlock's Sherlock than the source!Sherlock Holmes, but Wato works quite well in the context of the series. She's not an army surgeon like other depictions of Watson, but a private citizen, a doctor who suffers from PTSD after her experiences in Syria, and she works well as a humanizing factor, though admittedly, this also means she kinda ends up as the 'says or does something that helps Sherlock solve the case' character, with little else to contribute to the investigation.

Miss Sherlock is undeniably a Sherlock-inspired series, and that brings a certain burden. The series can be a bit uneven, and I think the first half, which is more firmly rooted in the source material, is more entertaining than the second. It works reasonably as a Sherlock Holmes-in-the-modern-day adaptation, and the gender/location changes too work well enough as something different once in a while. But while the series can be fun, Miss Sherlock has little truly original to offer, and most of the time, you'll have the feeling you have seen this already in one form or another. It's a decent series, but misses just that extra oomph.

Original Japanese title(s): 『ミス・シャーロック』


  1. I've watched only the first episode of this back when it was broadcast, but didn't find it to my liking. I meant the tagline for this was "most beautiful Sherlock" and didn't sound very inspiring :)

    I similarly checked out of Sherlock(and Elementary) though after one episode so modern-day Sherlocks are perhaps not my thing.

    However since it was mentioned I really enjoyed the Arisugawa Writer series. I remember checking it out only because Gosho Aoyama had mentioned liking it somewhere and was pleasantly surprised. In fact it was my first complete Japanese drama.

    1. The first episode of Miss Sherlock wasn't the series at its best, but yeah, if you don't like Sherlock/Elementary etc. anyway, Miss Sherlock's definitely not going to change your mind.

      The thing with the Himura Hideo series was that the source material is still pure puzzle plot, and even the Sherlock-coating couldn't hide that it was something done by Arisugawa. And while I often say that the Writer Alice/Himura Hideo books are far too light compared to the Student Alice series, they work better on the screen, as I assume the Student Alice novels are far too complex to work good on the screen.

      That said, there's actually a live-action TV special of the third Student Alice novel. Never released on disc though, so I can't find it :/

  2. (Kinda) hijacking this thread, but what did you think about (yet-another-adaptation) シャーロック with Dean Fujioka as Sherlock? It's different than other adaptations in the sense that the series starts with animosity between the Sherlock & Watson (though mostly from latter's side). I also felt that all the contemporary adaptations are inspired by Sherlock than the original Sherlock Holmes series including this one. Still an interesting watch.

    1. Also, thoughts on the rakugo performing Sherlock in the new anime Kabukichou Sherlock?

    2. Dropped Kabukichou Sherlock after the first episode, didn't really seem interesting as a mystery show on its own, nor as a "Sherlock Holmes" inspired show.

      Sherlock Untold Stories however is part of my weekly drama schedule (together with Aibou 18, Shibou Flag ga Tachimashita and of course the third Jikou Keisatsu series). I didn't really like the first episode that much, though it had slick presentation and acting, so I stuck around and by now it's quite good. It's certainly a BBC Sherlock-inspired show and while at first I wasn't really that convinced about the very loose way in which they tie their stories to the original canon, I find it works pretty well now. It's fun looking for the original references to the untold stories from the canon, and while these episodes only loosely use those references as inspiration (the parsley and butter in the stomach of the victim in the first episode for example), I think it helps give this show a more unique vibe.

    3. While I wait for the sub-gods to finish subbing ep 2 onwards of the show, it's good to know that the show and the mysteries are good. I didnt catch the parsley + butter reference! Thanks for pointing that out.
      I think my main gripe with Kabukichou Sherlock is that the mysteries are exactly or almost same as the original ones. However, I do like it a lot due to the originality in the eccentricity of characters rather than being another Sherlock inspired show.