Way back in the 1980s no one in the UK knew what anime was, except for maybe a handful of hardcore fans (and Helen McCarthy). Yet long before the days of simulcasts and specialist anime labels, there were hundreds of hours of animation of Japanese origin on terrestrial telly. Children of the 80s fondly remember the slew of Japanese co-productions such as Mysterious Cities of Gold, Ulysses 31 and Dogtanian and the Muskehounds, even if they didn’t realise they were anime. It’s perhaps surprising then that Sherlock Hound never made it onto UK screens; especially seeing as it’s inspired by one of the most famous British literary creations. There’s really only one reason for this 1984 kids show to have been released at this late stage, and that’s the involvement of one Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki’s involvement with the show was limited; he did a lot of early development but had to leave production when it was shutdown partway through. As a result he only directed a handful of episodes in this 26 episode set, with the rest handled by Kyosuke Mikuriya.
As suggested by the title this is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, only with all the characters replaced by anthropomorphic dogs, Dogtanian-style. The series was a co-production with Italy’s RAI network (most of the other co-productions of the time were with France) but the majority of the work was seemingly done by Japan’s TMS. The crew list features a number of figures beside Miyazaki who would go on to higher prominence, such as the late Yoshifumi Kondo who would go on to direct the Ghibli classic Whisper of The Heart before his untimely death.
The series features Hound investigating original cases (rather than ones based on the original works) in a lovingly rendered Canine Victorian London. Most episodes will feature Hound investigating a tough case that Inspector Lestrade and Scotland Yard are unable to crack. More often than not the dastardly monocle-wearing Moriarty and his hench-dogs are behind it, often in some kind of elaborate steampunk contraption. A chase ensues and Moriarty is foiled, but escapes to reoffend another day. Fairly formulaic it may be, but given its intended audience it was very well done.
The artwork and animation are unquestionably of its era, but it’s all very charming. It will remind viewers of the right age of Dogtanian and other shows of that ilk, so there’s a nostalgic atmosphere even if you never actually got the chance to watch it the first time. Of course, this was originally intended for a younger audience, and I imagine they would enjoy the cute characters and sense of adventure. I certainly felt that the younger Christor would have lapped this up, had it aired alongside similar shows such as the Muskehounds and Willy Fogg.
Although Sherlock Hound will appeal to fans of 80s animation and to young children it certainly won’t be for everyone. Some will find the visuals dated and the storylines simplistic. It also comes complete with an authentically 80s dub that features some truly terrible attempts at British accents. Some people will find that it puts them off – and there’s no alternative track – but to others it will fit well with the show’s retro charm.
The music was largely retained from the original, although instrumental versions replace the original intro and outro themes. It’s not the most memorable music you will ever hear but it more than does the job.
It’s not exactly surprising, but the episodes directed by Miyazaki stand out as the series’ highlights. For those familiar with the master’s works, you will spot some of his favourite themes; a passion for flying, strong female characters and a number of others. The depiction of Hounds’ housekeeper Mrs Hudson as a young, feisty heroine more than capable of looking after herself is one of Miyazaki’s biggest contributions. He reportedly originally wanted the series to focus on her as the real brains behind Hound, but she remains a proto-Miyazaki-heroine. His episodes feel much like mini-movies, and are easily the standouts of this collection.
This is a bare-bones release with no special features and no original language track option. This isn’t really surprising considering the age of the show, and this release is probably not really aimed at hardcore otaku anyway. Nonetheless, you get 26 episodes which is good value, especially as this release can be picked up cheaply if you shop around.
Sherlock Hound is a good buy for any fans of old school animation, or for parents or family of young children, and provides plenty of entertainment. If you’re a completist who absolutely has to have anything with Miyazaki’s name on the cover, or someone who’s interested in where Ghibli came from, then this is definitely a purchase worth investigating further.