This trilogy of stories is smart, fast and witty; it channels the spirit of the original TV show and has the authentic feel of manga to it as well. It turns out that a very British thing, Sherlock, can be reinterpreted as Japanese Manga and then translated back into English very successfully. This book remains faithful to the original source material while delivering its own style. Of course, in this case the source material is not Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories so much as the characters defined by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (captured brilliantly here) in the TV series. Sherlock and Manga were made for each other. Fans of either will love this book.
Conan Doyle was never precious about his hero, he gave both stage and film productions licence to wander with their versions of the Baker Street genius. Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson certainly did that with their colourful bromance series, made more than one hundred years after the characters were first created. They did, however, distil the essence of the stories in their show, portraying Holmes as an outsider, uncomfortable around company, a social misfit and an unsettling presence. These manga tales manage to convey that about the hero too. They give us a memorable John Watson, likeable and nuanced, just like his screen presence. Other characters also fit the bill; shy and sensitive Molly, the clueless detectives, the aggressive Sgt. Sally Donovan and good old reliable, unflappable Mrs. Hudson. The sharp editing and intercutting, in modern TV fashion, is very effective.
These three manga stories, published in Japanese by Kadokawa, manage to deliver the energy and excitement of the original TV drama. They are rambunctious and extremely well told, with a strong dose of humour to boot. The illustration is classic black and white Manga and the stories are easy to follow.
The best of the stories is A Study in Pink, scripted by Steven Moffat adaptation/art by Jay. It’s no surprise to us that a series of unexplained “suicides” are perplexing the police but how are they linked? When a third person dies, Beth Davenport, a junior minister, Inspector Lestrade holds a press conference. He admits that it’s the same poison in each case but insists there is no evidence of an outside influence. Sherlock texts the press room one word, “WRONG”. Every statement Lestrade makes is followed by the same text: “WRONG”. Dr. Watson has returned from the war in Afghanistan suffering form PTSD, his psychologist has him writing a therapeutic blog diary. When he bumps into an old colleague, Mike Stamford, he’s introduced to Sherlock, they are both looking for a place to live. Sherlock is tormenting poor Molly: “I was wondering if you’d like to have a coffee?” she asks hopefully. He replies, unaware of her amorous intention: “Black two sugars please, I’ll be upstairs.” This is nothing to the way he irritates Watson with his deductive reasoning, correctly surmising Watson’s recent unhappy history and his need for accommodation. Before he knows it Watson is trailing Sherlock around London on the hunt for a clever killer. A fourth victim turns up at the crime scene where Sgt. Sally Donovan refers to Sherlock as the “freak”. Sherlock reads the crime scene and scoffs at the efforts of those around him: “What is it like in your funny little brains? It must be boring.” A mysterious stranger tries to inveigle Watson into spying on Sherlock. Meanwhile the only person who knows how to find the murderer is Sherlock but catching the killer is only part of the problem facing Sherlock.
The Blind Banker, scripted by Steven Thompson, adaptation/art Jay. Soo Lin is an expert in Chinese art at the National Antiquities Museum, when she sees graffiti symbols they spook her. Watson needs a job but Sherlock could care less about their need for money, he has already turned down several jobs. He seems to be morose and withdrawn, fortunately an old school chum asks for Sherlock’s help. Shad Sanderson Bank was broken into but the criminal only left graffiti in the chairman’s office, another series of mysterious symbols. However, the security breech is a problem for the bank so Sherlock is hired to find out what happened. Edward van Coon, head of the Honk Kong desk, is missing, in fact they find his body at his flat, an apparent suicide. Sherlock, of course, knows it’s murder. Then journalist Brian Lukis is also ‘suicided’, again the symbols appear. The trail leads to a deadly Chinese clan, The Black Lotus. Sherlock is about to place himself and those around him in grave danger as the case develops.
The Great Game scripted by Mark Gatiss, adaptation/art Jay. Sherlock is in Belarus listening to a murderer’s account of killing his girlfriend. He corrects the man’s English before rejecting his case. When the man pleads that he will be hung without Sherlock’s help the master detective says (paraphrasing); Hung? No… hanged? Yes. Back in London Sherlock is bored, no, he is really BORED! But that’s not enough to get him to take the case of the murdered MOD man, Andrew ‘Westie’ West, and the missing missile defence system plans because Mycroft would like him to do that. Then there’s the bomb, faked to look like a gas leak and the letter left for him with the police. It contains a mobile, pink to mimic the one belonging to the dead woman in A Study in Pink. Sherlock receives a photo which he interprets as a warning, then a call gives Sherlock twelve hours to solve a mystery, a woman crying in the background hints at the price of failure. Clues lead Sherlock to solve an old mystery but success is met with a new challenge. A devious and diabolical genius poses the greatest threat to Sherlock and his pals. People are being murdered by a diabolical criminal mastermind and only one man can stop him – Sherlock.
The books are laid out in traditional manga style, right to left, back to front. This is the beginning of the manga version of Sherlock that has thrilled TV audiences the world over. I can’t think of a good reason why this series won’t keep going and going. I Am Sher Locked will be the next volume at some point next year. The spirit of Sherlock is alive and well here. Great fun.
Paul Burke 4/4
Sherlock: The Complete Season One Manga
Titan Comics 9781785868788 pbk Dec 2018