April 6, 2006
Sherlock Hound, as it's known in the West (in Japan it's simply "Meitantei Holmes," or Famous Detective Holmes) doesn't have all that much to do with Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. The whole setting is really just a framework to create an fast-paced adventure show, with slapstick comedy bits piled onto spectacular car chases. In other words, it's a terrific piece of animation, a giant ball of fun.
Sherlock Hound was started in 1981 at animation studio Telecom, with Miyazaki at the helm, and an amazing amount of talent; chief among these include Yoshifumi Kondo (animation director), Kazuhide Tomonaga, Tsukasa Tannai, Nobuo Tomizawa, Masako Shinohara, Koichi Maruyama, and Atsuko Tanaka. The great Yasuo Otsuka even makes an uncredited cameo for one episode.
The series was very clearly an homage to Animal Treasure Island, the 1971 Toei film that largely cements the "Miyazaki Style." The Telecom staff was thrilled at the opportunity to create something with the same boyant energy, and it shows in nearly every frame. This is the perfect example of just how effective animation, hand-drawn animation, can be in the right hands. I don't think anything in the CGI age has yet matched it.
There's something of an instant, pick-up-and-play feel to Sherlock Hound, very lightweight, that marks it as the end of an era. Miyazaki's worldview was becoming more clouded, more complicated, as middle age approached. Future Boy Conan carried serious, somber undertones just under the surface; by the time Nausicaa made its way to the big screen in 1984, that darker side was taking over. His inner conflict is something that defines the Ghibli era, that battle between youthful idealism and adult cynicism; note for example the third acts of Castle in the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro, and the crises of identity in Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso.
The "Classic Miyazaki" period of Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island and Lupin has long passed, and Sherlock Hound is kind of an Abbey Road to the era; in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Now on to the history lesson. Six episodes were created at Telecom before the series was put on hiatus. As far as I understand, this was due to conflicts with the Conan Doyle estate, who apparantly weren't too pleased with this unorthodox treatment of the Sherlock Holmes characters. The series was shelved, until Miyazaki refashioned two of the episodes as the opening short film for Nausicaa in 1984. The public was enthralled, so the series was revived, with 20 new episodes set in production. However, these new episodes were not created by Telecom nor any of the principle players (apart from the actors), but at another Japanese studio, and the difference shows. The original six episodes were integrated into the TV series as follows:
Episode 3 - A Small Client
Episode 4 - Mrs. Hudson is Taken Hostage
Episode 5 - The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
Episode 9 - Treasure Under the Sea
Episode 10 - The White Cliffs of Dover
Episode 11 - The Sovereign Gold Coins
In 1984, Tomonaga, along with Kondo (director), Tomizawa, Tanaka and Nizu created the famous Nemo pilot, which is one of the greatest pieces of Japanese animation ever devised. This was Tomonaga's baby, and he masterfully packs all the excitement of Sherlock Hound into a four-minute action classic. It's just another example of the amazing talent at that time. If only their version of Nemo was the one that finally made it to the screen. If only Miyazaki and companay could have made more Hound episodes. All part of the great "what ifs?" of life.
Here in the States, Sherlock Hound is available on DVD from Pioneer; the entire series spans six seperate DVD's, but the original Telecom/Miyazaki episodes are on the first three. Those discs should be part of your collection and put into heavy rotation. The later episodes? Eh, not so good.