England. 1866. The London suburbs. A smartly dressed fair-haired boy is posting a letter for his mother; his older brother Albert offers him a ride home in the family coach. But why is their youngest brother Louis doing housework when they arrive? And why does the family’s butler admonish the fair-haired boy so rudely? A worse reception awaits inside: the boy’s mother attacks him, calling him ‘Underclass filth!’ and as the fourth brother, William, arrives home from school, we learn from his disdainful attitude that the two are orphaned brothers from the lower classes, adopted by Lord and Lady Moriarty at Albert’s behest – only to be abused and treated like servants. Albert first spotted them on a charitable visit to the orphanage and was impressed by the elder’s extraordinary problem-solving gifts. His own younger brother William bitterly resents their presence in the household but Albert has other plans in mind. When William and his mother accuse the two younger boys of stealing the family silver, Albert acts. What follows is ruthless, premeditated – and genuinely horrifying.
‘Everyone in this country should have an equal right to happiness,’ Albert James Moriarty tells the two adopted boys as his ancestral home burns. ‘This hierarchical system is like a curse… If the monsters of this world were to disappear, then peoples’ hearts would be cleansed, thus removing the curse, and our country would become a beautiful one.’
The story then leaps forward thirteen years to Durham in 1879. Professor William James Moriarty is lecturing a class of admiring undergraduates in mathematics at the university. Albert has become a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Infantry and Louis, the youngest, is looking after the new family estate. On his way home, James becomes aware of the animosity seething among the local people directed toward the local gentry, especially one Baron Dublin. The brothers determine to take action…
“I, William James Moriarty, Crime Consultant…have come to bestow upon you your punishment.”
What really motivated Professor James Moriarty to become the ‘Napoleon of Crime’ in the Sherlock Holmes stories? In Ryosuke Takeuchi’s re-imagining of Conan Doyle’s original creation, there’s not one but three Moriarty ‘brothers’ who are so appalled at the class divide in privilege and wealth between the rich nobles and the poor that they are determined to bring about change. The crimes they commit are undertaken to right the injustices heaped upon the members of the lower classes, acting more as a kind of nineteenth century Robin Hoods, ‘inflicting punishment’. And, as so often happens in this kind of ‘robbing the rich to pay the poor’ narrative, crimes committed in the name of social restorative justice can in some ways be condoned to our way of thinking, because the nobility have been shown to behave abominably, using their birthright to manipulate and prey on the poor.
Perhaps we should get some of the problematic issues for native British readers out of the way first. In this not quite as well-researched as it could have been version of the Victorian British Empire (also the setting of Yana Toboso’s popular dark fantasy manga series Black Butler, slice-of-life Emma and Kaori Yuki’s God Child). This is only compounded by the US translation which has children saying, ‘Mommy!’ and ‘Yeah!’ – little niggles, perhaps, but enough to prevent the reader becoming fully immersed in this version of the nineteenth century England.
Titles in the United Kingdom. Please get this right! Count should be Earl. In Black Butler, we have Earl Phantomhive, so it isn’t too difficult to get it right, even without resorting to Wikipedia. And as for Baron Lenny Dublin… It’s just a little strange to find chunks of British Empire history in the text followed up with such blunders. Also… grapefruits grown by the common folk in County Durham?
Even though original Conan Doyle characters, sharpshooter Colonel Sebastian Moran and young Fred Porlock make an appearance in the third story in this volume, ‘The Dancers on the Bridge’, readers hoping to meet Sherlock Holmes or Dr Watson will be disappointed; they don’t show up until Volume 2! (Although there is a single mention of the name on the teaser first page.) And, even though the two stories of restorative justice that follow the initial story ‘The Scarlet Eyes’ are interesting, they serve more to establish William James as a young genius mathematics professor and demonstrate his resourcefulness in solving mysteries and seeking restorative justice for the impoverished victims of the wealthy nobles, backed up by his brothers. The attractive character designs created by mangaka Hikaru Miyoshi are eye-catching, as is the strikingly dramatic cover art.
So, how convincing is this new bishonen Moriarty (not to mention his two equally good-looking brothers who don’t exist in Conan Doyle’s stories)? In one of the little bonus manga ‘Louis the Depressed’ at the end of the volume, writer and artist make gentle fun of their conceit in altering Conan Doyle’s creation, showing the original Sidney Paget illustration of Moriarty from the Strand Magazine (neither young nor handsome). More light-hearted fourth wall-breaking follows as the brothers assess how many times Conan Doyle introduces ‘his’ Moriarty into his stories (only six). The author, Ryosuke Takeuchi, storyboarded All You Need is Kill and Hikaru Miyoshi’s first work was collaborating with Gen Urobuchii on Inspector Akane Tsunemori, a manga version of Psycho-Pass Season 1; these are significant as a backlist, pointing to a certain darker seinen tone of voice (even though the manga is published in shonen JUMP SQ). Apart from my earlier complaint about the US tone of voice creeping in to the translation, the unnamed translator does a fine job with all the historical info-dumps and the copious amounts of dialogue; for all the action, this is also a very talky manga.
An interesting – but flawed – volume, as an introduction to the series, and – let’s face it – we’re all impatient for Sherlock to make his first appearance. I’ve read ahead and can confirm that things definitely improve when the detective and his faithful companion Watson brush up against the Moriarty brothers for the first time.
As I write this review, Moriarty the Patriot (the anime TV series) is about to make its debut in the Autumn 2020 Season – and I’m sure this will bring many more readers to the manga. The trailer does a very effective job in evoking late nineteenth century London – and we’ll be covering this new anime in our Season Preview.
Read a free preview on the publisher’s website here.