Sherlock Hound: The Complete Series
Before you start window-shopping and price comparisoning, let's get this clear first, Sherlock Hound will be an HMV exclusive when it is released, so now you know where to go.
It's that curious thing about selling anime in the West; it helps to have a point of reference. And there is just one point of reference that Joe Public will be aware of, Hayao Miyazaki. The sole time that Japanese animation made an impact was when Spirited Away took that elusive Academy Award, and catapulted anime into the mainstream, from which it immediately began spiralling back down into the niche from which it leapt. But if there is one thing that is guaranteed to sell anime, especially in the UK, it's Hayao Miyazaki, and his Studio Ghibli. MVM, Manga and Beez may release series upon series, movie upon movie, but those analysing sales figures always look with a degree of envy and avarice at Optimum, who with their relatively small range of Ghibli films somehow manage to outperform everyone else. But you can't keep a good anime marketer down, and not all Miyazaki is Studio Ghibli. Some of the more tenuous links may be ill advised though. I still scratch my head when I see the cover of Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, with it's "From the makers of Spirited Away" tagline. Technically Studio Ghibli did work on the animation, but it is a Production I.G. movie. Manga are on firmer ground with their other output, and last year they did release the early Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata project Panda Go Panda. This year is another year for Ghibli releases from Optimum, the oft delayed Ocean Waves comes out at the start of the year, and later on we should also see the Miyazaki directed Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea in cinemas in February, and on DVD later on.
It's the ideal time to capitalise on heightened public awareness, which is no doubt why Manga Entertainment are bringing the complete Sherlock Hound to DVD on five discs. Made in 1984, this is the last television production that Hayao Miyazaki worked on, and he served as series director for the show alongside creator of Ulysses 31, Kyosuke Mikuriya. Miyazaki also directed six of the episodes as well. The mid-eighties were probably the last time we saw anime on prime time television, although few of us recognised it as such. Kids TV was replete with serial animations brought over from Japan (usually Japanese European co-productions), dubbed and shown weekly to audiences of millions. I've already reviewed the Mysterious Cities of Gold for this site, and I'm sure children of the eighties will remember shows like Ulysses 31 as well. There was also a great vogue for adapting classic tales and giving them an animal makeover to better appeal to young viewers. Around the World With Willy Fog had a whole menagerie for its cast, while Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds obviously aimed at a more canine demographic.
As you can probably guess, Sherlock Hound aims at that same audience as well, replacing the good detective and his sturdy ally with man's best friend. Sherlock Hound and Dr Watson together investigate crimes and help those in need in this 26 part series, occasionally hampered by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, and often up against their most villainous foe, Professor Moriarty. Occasional assistance comes from Hound's housekeeper Mrs Hudson, while Moriarty wouldn't be complete without his henchmen, Todd and Smiley.
The episodes are distributed as thus…
1. The Four Signatures
2. The Crown of Mazelin
3. A Small Client
4. Mrs Hudson is Taken Hostage
5. The Adventure of the Blue Carbunkle
6. The Green Balloon
7. A Sacred Image Disappears
8. The Speckled Band
9. Treasure Under The Sea
10. The White Cliffs of Dover
11. The Sovereign Gold Coin
12. The Stormy Getaway
13. The Runaway Freight Car Loaded With Gold Bullion
14. The Coral Lobsters
15. The Golden Statue of the Great Burglar
16. The Secret of the Sacred Cross Sword
17. The Adventure of the Thames Monster
18. The Adventure Of Three Students
19. The Rosetta Stone
20. The Silver Blade Getaway
21. The Disappearance of the Splendid Royal Horse
22. Disturbance, The World Flight Championship
23. The Secret of the Parrot
24. The Bell of Big Ben
25. The Priceless French Doll
26. The Missing Bride Affair
You should know what to expect by now from Sherlock Hound. It's a 4:3 regular image, an NTSC-PAL conversion with a bit of judder during the pans, a smidge of aliasing, and the occasional softness. Dating from the early eighties, Sherlock Hound is an unashamedly creaky production, hand drawn and cel animated throughout, with simple but effective character designs, and a cheap and cheerful approach to the animation. There's limited use of stock footage, but not to the extent that it becomes wearying, and despite the simplicity of the animation, it is fluid and effective for the most part. There are one or two touches of inspiration too, and not surprisingly in those episodes Hayao Miyazaki personally directed.
Sherlock Hound gets an excruciating English dub. I'm not all that keen on dubbed anime in the first place, although I have been known to change my mind with some modern productions. Even the worst modern production, even Love Hina is a work of thespian genius compared to this antiquated mess. Things really were bad in the eighties, and it shows in Sherlock Hound, which apparently has just four actors portraying the entire cast. They all put on horrible English accents, and some of the characters, particularly Watson are all but incomprehensible. To make matters worse, there are no subtitles. Still, it has to be said that I did eventually get used to it. It's a DD 2.0 track for what it's worth, although it sounds pretty mono to me.
It's hard to do the nostalgia thing if you have no prior experience with the subject material that is being waxed lyrical about. You invariably wind up approaching it as you do any other new product, and with Sherlock Hound not making it to terrestrial television in my recollection, it's likely that few will approach this series with gold tinted spectacles in place. I did give it my best shot though, as Sherlock Hound most certainly looks as if belonged on television back when a sock puppet was upstaging Phillip Schofield. It almost worked as well, as I did feel the smallest of warm glimmers begin to swell in my chest, that faint scent of hot chocolate and cheese toasties that my mum used to make when I got home from school, and the vague sense that Grange Hill should follow after watching one of these episodes, or John Craven's Newsround.
But it was a fleeting feeling, and try as it might, Sherlock Hound didn't manage to fan that sputtering ember into the blazing inferno of 'things were better when I were a lad' accompanied by the music from a Hovis advert. And without that nostalgia, you have to take this show at face value, and it's very much a product of its time, in terms of character and episode structure, and in terms of the stories that it tells. Sherlock Hound is an episodic series, repetitive and formulaic, and it's a formula that doesn't bear a marathon viewing session. You can see it making better sense at one episode a week though, which is no doubt how it originally played. Somewhere a crime happens, Moriarty is responsible, and Sherlock Hound and Watson must solve the dastardly crime, hampered in their efforts by Inspector Lestrade and his Keystone Cops. Of course Moriarty and his browbeaten henchmen always escape at the end to return another day. Of the characters, as usual it's the villains that shine the most, with Moriarty akin to Dick Dastardly in his overblown schemes and moustache twirling villainy, while his minions Todd and Smiley are there to receive his ire and carry out his whims, as well as flatter his ego when required. Sherlock Hound and Watson are fairly nondescript as hero characters go, pretty much without flaw or nuance, but amiable and watchable nonetheless.
But it has to be said that the formula did begin to wear on me near to the end of this set, and to my embarrassment, I fell asleep during more than one episode. Worse than that, I had no desire to skip back and find out what I had missed. It's inevitable that Sherlock Hound would be successful, and Moriarty would be humiliated, but escape to offend another day. The real draw of this collection no doubt will be the Miyazaki name, and it's more than just an idle connection. He was the co-creator of this series, and originated many of the stories. Far more interesting are the episodes that he personally directed, six of them in total, and it must be said that the difference shows immediately. The obvious one is the difference in colour scheme, as the character of Smiley is a rather sickly green in the six stories, but the imagination and vibrancy of the animation is significantly greater. There are more quirks and little touches to the animation, and these six episodes are a joy to watch, leagues ahead of most of the other stories on this disc. They are episodes 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, and 11 if you are interested.
They are fairly early on in the run, and it's certainly in the first half of the series that most of the stronger episodes are. It's also early on that you find a smidgen of continuity between the episodes, something that is quickly forgotten as the series progresses. You can also see little touches that crop up in later Miyazaki works like Porco Rosso, The Castle of Cagliostro and Kiki's Delivery Service. The most striking thing is that this Sherlock adaptation gets relocated in time to the early twentieth century, where biplanes, zeppelins, cars and electricity, supplement the horse and carriage and the steam train. That fascination with flight that so permeates Miyazaki's films also shows up here, with Hound's housekeeper Mrs Hudson a retired aviatrix, and many of Moriarty's plans requiring use of a propeller driven pterodactyl of a monoplane.
Sherlock Hound is entertaining enough for the younger members of the family. At least it has been deemed suitable by the BBFC, who have given it an appropriate U certificate. No doubt a killjoy at OFCOM will be red-faced in a fit of apoplexy at the sight of a main character who never removes a pipe from his mouth (and worse, smokes it), as well as a villain who on occasion threatens violence to children, kidnaps them, and is prone to using firearms against the police and Sherlock Hound. It will also be tempting indeed to Miyazaki completists, and it must be said again that the episodes that he directed in this set transcend the other stories. A few years ago, the RRP for six episodes would have been around £40, so when you look at it that way, this set is still worthwhile for those six episodes alone.
Long ago back in 2002, Geneon in the US released Sherlock Hound, and they did so in both English and Japanese. Unfortunately those discs are long out of print, and now fetch 3-figure asking prices 2nd hand on sites like Amazon. I can understand Manga Entertainment's thinking on this. It's a children's show, aimed at a demographic that will not exactly appreciate reading while they watch. It's also why the Tamagotchi movie was dub only last year. Also, with no terrestrial broadcast of Sherlock Hound back in the eighties, the nostalgia market will be comparatively smaller. So it makes sense not to have the original language track. If only the dub wasn't so bad…