Anything the Hayao Miyazaki listed in the credits is going to get a great deal of attention, and while he wasn't involved for the full production run, Sherlock Hound certainly bears many of his hallmarks. That doesn't necessarily make it a classic, though...
What They Say
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle) during his time at Japan's largest animation studio, TMS. Before he went on to create Totoro and Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki captured a whole generation of childrens' imaginations with his retelling of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries using a loveable cast of canines. For the first time ever in the UK, all 26 episodes of the cult toon classic are collected into one deluxe box set.
"Sherlock Hound", released as either Famous Detective Holmes or Detective Holmes in Japan, is an anime based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series where all the characters are depicted as anthropomorphic animals, the majority dogs, though Holmes is a fox and his enemy Professor Moriarty is a wolf. The show featured regular appearances of Jules Verne-steampunk style technology, adding a 19th-century science-fiction atmosphere to the series. It consists of 26 episodes aired between 1984 and 1985.
Sherlock Hound is a must-have addition to any self-respecting anime fan's collection, especially those that are Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli completists.
Audio is presented in English only - there's no Japanese track with this release - and is in mono. The audio is free of the noise that you may expect from a series as old as this is (I'd be almost certain some restoration work has been done here, but don't hold me to that), but it's also noticeably muffled in places. Initially, that's quite off-putting, but I found that I soon got used to it. Definitely room for improvement, though.
Video is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect, and looks pretty damn good for its age - the print is clean, clear, and with no sign of the nicks & scratches that you'd expect from a series that is now almost 25 years old (the initial batch of episodes was produced in 1984), leading me to suspect once again that some restoration work has been done here. There are no encoding defects apparent, either.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The menus used are the same on each of the five discs in the set: a book floats in, with a montage of clips from the series playing on the cover, then runs through a series of "pop-up" pages with static images from the show. Options are provided for Play All and Episode Select - selecting either triggers a short animation while the option loads, a pet hate of mine as it unnecessarily slows down access to the main event. There's no problem with making sense of the menus, though - mainly as there aren't many options to work with in the first place.
Nuthin'. Move along.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
If you've paid any attention to classic literature in your life, then the name Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, shouldn't be unknown to you. A resident of late-19th-century London, Holmes was possessed of a powerful intellect in inquisitive mind, which combined to allow him to solve any mystery he put his mind to. He was usually assisted in his work by his companion Dr Watson, and hindered by his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty. Sherlock Hound lifts the basic idea of Doyle's characters, populates their world with canines instead of humans, and places them in stories that are considerably more child-friendly than the source works would have been. None of this is a bad thing, in theory - the good and the bad of it comes down to implementation, and we'll look at that in a moment.
First, though, let's take a look at Miyazaki's involvement in the series. His visual style is writ large on the series, which has a very Ghibli look and feel to it that makes for a good first impression. Unfortunately, while the great man was brought in with the intention of directing the full series, some time spent in production hell while rights issues were dealt with saw him move on to other things after only six episodes in charge. Kyosuke Mikuriya was then brought in to complete the series, and while he kept Miyazaki's look and feel his episodes are missing a certain "something" that's hard to define but is still noticeable. Disappointing, but these things sometimes happen. That does mean, though, that those who trumpet Sherlock Hound as a "Miyazaki series" aren't being entirely honest.
With that out of the way, let's move on to the stories themselves. Each episode is self-contained, with the majority of them based around the latest hare-brained get-rich-quick scheme cooked up by Professor Moriarty. Railway networks built between the Thames to run a mechanical sea monster on? Holding Big Ben to ransom? Creating aeroplanes that bear more than a passing resemblance to pterodactyls? We've got them all, and more besides, with the Professor's loyal but generally clueless sidekicks Smiley and Todd doing most of the hard work while their boss dreams of untold riches. His plans are fanciful and elaborate, but always leave a hook that Hound can latch onto to unravel the scheme and defeat Moriarty's plans. While Hound and Watson normally solve each mystery on their own, the bumbling Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard - a well-meaning if not very bright officer of the law - can usually be found hovering around the edges of the investigation with his near-endless supply of bobbies, while Hound's landlady Mrs Hudson supplies the tea and a few other, more surprising, talents as the series goes on.
So far, so good. It also has to be said that some of Moriarty's plans are entertainingly complex, while the Professor himself, in all his over-the-top glory, is probably the best character in the series. The series also passes the "toddler test", in that my 3-year-old loved it (it briefly knocked Panda! Go, Panda! off its perch as her favourite DVD - although normal service has now been resumed). It'll be more grown-up people that actually buy the series, though, and they may well find the series overly repetitive - each epsiode is the same basic plot rehashed over and over, just with a different scheme underpinning it, while Hound's reasoning in unravelling the Professor's plans is simplistic and easily worked out in advance. While this shouldn't surprise, it does mean that the series isn't one for watching more than an episode or two at a time, otherwise the repetition soon becomes tedious. There is some fun to be had in seeing the Professor's ingenious steam-powered inventions, but that's not quite enough to outweigh seeing the same story twenty-six times.
Part of me loves Sherlock Hound - it looks the part, it's filled with neat little scenes, and it's worth watching for Moriarty alone. But it also gets stuck in a rut of repetition and is overly simplistic in the way that Hound unravels his mysteries. Those aren't flaws, as such - the series was created for younger kids and is structured in a way that works very well for them - but it does mean that the series doesn't have quite the appeal for adults that certain other Miyazaki-helmed productions have. The lack of a Japanese audio track & subtitles is also something of a disappointment. That said, this set's still good value for money, and worth a look for anyone who appreciates Miyazaki's style.
English 1.0 Language
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.