by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Jay
Whenever a Western movie or TV series is turned into a manga, Westerners groan and whine about how it’s unnecessary. “Why, there’s Sherlock by the BBC!” say fans of the BBC Network spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. While the BBC brings the detective into the 21st century, Sherlock: A Study in Pink #1—the manga version by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiis, and Jay.—transports this Western story into the Japanese world with necessity and grace.
For readers who have not watched the lengthy episodic tales from the BBC Network, Sherlock is a re-telling of the famous character’s exploits in solving mysteries using his deductive skills. While Sherlock: A Study in Pink echoes, if not, mimics the BBC’s first episode of Sherlock, the manga gives a Japanese feel with its aesthetics and tone. Expressions such as Holmes’s mischievous smile when he finds a clue or Detective Inspector Lestrade’s irritation in Holmes’s presence settle the manga into Japanese territory. In some ways, the BBC script lends itself to the manga version of the same story.
It’s no surprise. Sherlockian tales have always had a home in Japan since Sir Doyle’s Sherlock mysteries arrived in 1894 with “The Man with the Twisted Lip”. Though Sherlock Holmes is a Western icon, Japanese people view Sherlock as “a symbol of the detective in literature and is one of the most frequently used motifs in advertising” (Japan Sherlock Holmes Club). Without Sherlock, there would be a small Japanese market in the detective agency. Detective Conan anime (Gosho Aoyama), The Kindaichi Case Files manga by Yōzaburō Kanari, Sherlock Gakuen puppet show, and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, the “God of Mystery” in Japan’s literary world, were all influenced by Sherlock Holmes, establishing a steady foundation for quirky mysteries to unravel in Japanese fiction.
What this adaptation of Holmes offers is a Japanese lens and how a British murder mystery fits easily into the tropes of Japanese manga. Well-placed comedic punches may be the same script, but they only lend themselves to the humor found similarly in manga. Readers without Sherlockian senses will be fooled from the beginning to the end of the first volume or first episode. Those who are of the “Science of Deduction” will predict the killer in the first 30 minutes and stick around for the next hour trying to unravel the 21st Century Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Between the witty banter of the detective team, the art of Jay. is strikingly poignant and clean. Hardly any unnecessary lines are visible to readers, and the screentones, obviously done by a computer, provide depth to each scene. Though beautiful and accessible for any reader, the overall tone of the art is very light for a crime novel, giving this adaptation a sprightly disposition. Murder mysteries, no matter how peculiar and insensitive the genius is at the center of the story, has many dark elements, namely death, violence, unbridled passion, and above all, grit. Because Jay.’s illustrations are clean and crisp, the story grounds itself in the comedy and quirks of Sherlock Holmes, not the mystery that is a mystery.
As for the characters and the dialogue, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the scriptwriters to the BBC Sherlock series, they have decoded the relationship and personalities of Holmes and Watson into relatable characters of today. Not much has changed from the BBC TV show, however. In reading the dialogue, readers may notice the subtle differences between Japanese and British norms. For example, Holmes and Watson stake out a murder suspect at a restaurant, the owner presumes they are on a date, leading the duo to awkwardly learn that they are indeed bachelors. The discomfort can only be dissipated by a cab with their prey. In Japanese manga, the level of awkwardness in these situations are easily dismissed or ignored.
If readers, especially Western readers, wish not to ignore a newer adaptation of Sherlock Holmes with more beauty and comedy than murder, Sherlock: A Study in Pink #1 offers a necessary companion to their Billy the Skull.