Sherlock Hound - Case File 1 Review

Japan’s greatest animator Hayao Miyazaki’s reputation continues to grow in the west with his latest animated film Spirited Away beating the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums and Gosford Park to win (jointly with Bloody Sunday) the prestigious Golden Bear at this year’s 2002 Berlin Film Festival. His pre-Studio Ghibli work on Sherlock Hound back in 1984, while less prestigious or adventurous than his later films, still shows all the hallmarks of a unique talent, developing characters and animation techniques that he would later use to great effect in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle In The Sky.

Sherlock Hound (Meitantei Houmuzu) was an animation series developed for television in a joint production between Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS) and the Italian national channel RAI. Produced unusually in English for ease of translation to other languages, the series became a big hit in Japan when it was featured on a movie double-bill with Miyazaki’s first independent feature Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Featuring the anthropomorphic adventures of the Great Detective, the Sherlock Hound series gives only the barest of passing nods to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon, aiming it squarely at the younger audience and cranking up the fun and steampunk adventure factor. Sherlock Hound and Watson are pitted against dastardly villains and their bumbling sidekicks, running into incompetent law-enforcement officers in episodes filled with uproarious slapstick capers.

Sherlock Hound - Case File1 contains the first 5 of the 26 episodes in the series. Three of the six episodes that Hayao Miyazaki directed for the series are on this DVD (A Small Client, Mrs Hudson is Taken Hostage, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle), the others were directed by Kyosuke Mikuriya. Pioneer have put the English language versions on one side of the disc and the Japanese versions with English subtitles on the flip side. The English episodes contain 1-2 minutes of extra material, while the Japanese episodes include previews of forthcoming episodes so the episodes couldn’t appear on the same side using different audio tracks.

The following episodes are on this DVD (English title/Japanese title):

The Four Signatures/He’s The Famous Detective
We are introduced to Hound and his initial meeting with Watson as they are about to set sail from Calais (curiously translated as Curry in the subtitles of the Japanese episode). Crossing the channel, they are pursued by the Bengal Pirates in search of Lord George, a former colleague who has betrayed them and made off with a box of jewels. High speed sea-chases ensue. Based ever-so-tenuously on the Holmes novel The Sign of Four

The Crown of Mazalin/The Evil Genius Professor Moriarty
This episode introduces Hound’s/Holmes’ famous adversary, Professor Moriarty - a cackling, vulpine Terry Thomas-style villain – and his two incompetent side-kicks (who first appeared in the previous episode). A precious crown goes missing and Dudley the son of the owner is suspected, but Holmes appears on the scene and saves the day despite the bungling of Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.

A Small Client/Little Martha’s Big Mystery
Miyazaki takes over directing reins and you’d certainly know it. The animation in the first two episodes is nice enough but unexceptional, but the series really hits its stride here with Miyazaki’s trademark tight and exciting storyboarding with action scenes that rival anything in the earlier Miyazaki Lupin III film, The Castle of Cagliostro. Bearing some resemblance to Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb (with added cute kids and no sign of any severed thumbs), the clever detective work contributes to a fun and exciting plot.

Mrs Hudson Is Taken Hostage/Mrs Hudson Is Taken Hostage
More wonderful animation, packed with details and elaborate backgrounds, humour and slapstick as Hound’s housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, is abducted by… you guessed it – Professor Moriarty!

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle/The Blue Ruby
Bearing no relation that I can recall from the original Holmes adventure of the same name, Moriarty’s sidekicks terrorise the London streets in a pink flying mechanical pterodactyl (maybe I missed that bit in the book), causing a distraction so that their boss can make off with a precious jewel, only to find himself the victim of a street-urchin pickpocket. Great animation again with lots of humour, action and chases.

Remastered from the original 35mm source film, the Japanese episodes have been digitally enhanced and restored, but there is no noticeable difference between the picture on the English and Japanese episodes. The image is clear, bright and colourful with minimal artefacts – an occasional white dust-spot and nothing more.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack on the English episodes is not terribly clear. The sound is dull with some hiss and lacking any dynamic range. It is certainly inferior to the sound on the corresponding Japanese soundtracks, all of which have re-mastered audio tracks but overall there is really not much difference in quality between the English and Japanese episodes. As the episodes were originally produced in English and the voice talent is so good and so appropriate to the characters (Sherlock Holmes and everyone in London speaking Japanese would sound just a little out of place I think), I doubt that even the most hardened purist could find a reason for preferring the Japanese dubs to the original English episodes.

No extras on the disc at all. The menus are fine and you can directly select an episode. This is only really chapter selection though as the DVD will continue on to the next episode after one finishes.

Although packed with detailed animation, elaborate backgrounds and fun plots Sherlock Hound would hardly impress today’s younger audiences. When it came out in 1984 however, it was way ahead of its time for a children’s animation series and still retains a charm that modern TV animation often seems to be lacking. While not essential Miyazaki, no fan of the director would be disappointed with this early work well-presented here on this Pioneer DVD.

8 out of 10
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out of 10

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