There have been a gazillion adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes on TV and on film. I’d say I’m a fairly “well read” person who’s devoured a lot of classic novels however I have yet to read any of the original Holmes stories. I have however seen a few of the adaptations but Famous Detective Holmes (more popularly known in the west by the name Sherlock Hound) is my absolute favourite.
The show aired in Japan from 1984 to 1985 and was produced by the renowned Tokyo Movie Shinsha (Lupin the 3rd, Space Adventure Cobra, Cat’s Eye and many more). It’s probably most famous in the west because of Hayao Miyazaki’s involvement however he only directed and storyboarded six of the twenty six episodes produced, the rest being handled by Kyosuke Mikuriya.
The series contains many of the traditional Holmes characters only in a universe where almost all of them are anthropomorphic dogs. It also has a distinctive steampunk sci-fi style to it with lots of fantastic steam powered vehicles (many of them created by the nefarious villain and rival of Holmes Professor Moriarty).
Each of the 26 episodes stand alone, there are no real story arcs running throughout the series. They generally involve a plot by Moriarty to steal something in an ingenious way and Holmes, his assistant Doctor Watson (and occasionally Mrs Hudson) have to outsmart him and his henchmen Todd and Smiley. Then there’s the long suffering inspector Lestrade who’s obsessed with catching Moriarty but inevitably fails (often painfully). Interestingly he fulfills a similar role to Inspector Zenigata in Lupin, the only difference being he’s on the same side as the hero.
The series has a lot of charm and its characters are a big part of what makes it shine thirty six years after it aired. As much as Holmes and Watson are very likeable characters what really makes it for me is Professor Moriarty, expertly played by Chiako Ohtsuka (who also portrayed Jagi in the 86 movie version of Fist Of The North Star). He’s just such a humorous version of the character, Ohtsuka imbues him with such a sense of energy and his antics never fail to bring a smile to my face. Here he’s portrayed as a wolf which definitely fits his cunning nature. About that though, while he pulls off some amazing robberies and creates some impressive pieces of technology such as flying metal dragons and giant steam powered cars he’s not exactly great at getting away unscathed or with any of the loot. Often his vanity is his downfall, he wants people to acknowledge how great he is, often to the detriment of his current plan. For a series villain he can be surprisingly sympathetic and at times dare I say, sort of adorable. Whether it’s having an over dramatic mini-breakdown or fantasising about what his life would be like if he was married to Mrs Hudson he doesn’t always fit the dastardly villain archetype perfectly.
Animation wise the show is damn good throughout. There are some great set pieces, a ton of chases and a lot of vehicular action. There’s constant motion in which you can notice little minutae details such as the movement of clothes, fur and vapour and it often captures a real sense of speed. Considering this was made in 1984 when a lot of TV anime could still sometimes be of variable quality in the animation department it’s quite impressive. Tokyo Movie have always been a great studio though, some of their 70’s output looks incredible for the time (See the first series of Lupin the 3rd). Apparently two of the nicest looking episodes (Adventure of the blue carbuncle & Treasure under the sea) were edited together into a feature which played as a double bill in Japanese cinemas with Naussicaa of the Valley of the Wind prior to the TV series airing and with a different voice cast to what the finished show ended up settling on.
The music isn’t incredible but its tunes are memorable enough that you’ll probably be humming the oft repeated tracks as the series continues. Overall it fits very well and the opening and ending themes are decent to boot.
Interestingly Holmes is also the only anime I can think of where the opening and ending sequences consist entirely of actual footage from the show rather than pieces of animation specially prepared for that purpose.
I couldn’t help but notice Mrs Hudson’s role in the show decreased as the show went on. She’s quite involved in the early episodes and even gets a few episodes that focus on her but by the time the episode count has reached double figures she only ever plays a minor role in the stories. I wonder if that had anything to do with Miyazaki’s love for strong female characters and his departure from the production part way through. I could be reading too much into this but whatever the reason she is a big miss because her episodes are fantastic.
Had this show been on TV when I was a kid in the 80’s I think it would have fit in with many of the other “literary” antropomorphic shows such as Dogtanian & The Muskehounds and Around The World With Willy Fogg. I’d have watched it for sure.
If you’re looking for something with an intricate ongoing plot then Famous Detective Holmes may not be for you. However if laughs and action and some lovely animation and charming characters are what you’re in the mood for you could do a lot worse than this show. Highly recommended.
Availability: In the US you can get it from good old Discotek Media under the title of Sherlock Hound (Though the discs have the western title this release includes both the English and Japanese edits of the show). These discs have some really nice production info in the liner notes which anime history buffs will get a kick out of.
In the UK only the English language dub edit has been released however it now seems to be out of print.
NOTE: Screencaps are taken from the Discotek media US DVD release of the show.