By Kaoru Shintani. Released in Japan as “Christie High Tension” by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Flapper. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
I will admit, when I first saw that Seven Seas had licensed Young Miss Holmes I was looking at it with a wary eye. Being a longtime fan of the original stories by Watson (via Arthur Conan Doyle), I was not especially looking forward to something that sounded like “Sherlock Holmes gets outsmarted by his ten-year-old niece.” Of course, the fact that it was written by Kaoru Shintani should have clued me in. Being a old and established mangaka, famous in many countries (except, of course, North America, where Area 88 utterly failed to take off for Viz), he was not about to let this become some cutesy story about a precocious brat, nor would he forget that this is Sherlock Holmes, brilliant detective. What we get instead is a nice balance, using the Holmes stories to tell the story of a child who is indeed very smart and precocious, but who still can be realistically childish and whom Sherlock can still out-think.
I will leave it to those unfamiliar with the Sherlockian canon to discuss how these stories work for those who are not familiar with the basic plots. Given I read this volume with my copies of Leslie Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes sitting about 6 feet from me, I am not that person. Suffice to say that this first omnibus features five stories from the canon. Two are generally considered to be among Watson’s best: The Red-Headed League and The Dancing Men. Two more are not in the top pantheon, but do have elements to recommend them: Thor Bridge and The Sussex Vampire. And one is generally simply considered bad, to the point where scholars sometimes try to say it was not canon, and that rather than being a Watson tale it was actually written by Conan Doyle, based off of a play he wrote: The Mazarin Stone.
The manga essentially uses the adventures as basic templates: the events are much the same, and sometimes the outcomes are the same as well. But it is not wedded to Watson’s story either. It can’t be, given that the whole point is to insert Christie, Holmes’ precocious niece, into every story and have her attempting to solve the mystery as well. Sometimes that’s all the story basically does: the events of two of the tales play out much as the originals, with added Christie. A third simply has Holmes “on another case elsewhere”, and has Christie taking the role of the detective. And two of the stories actually end up being altered from the original. The alterations, while occasionally stretching credulity, did not make me toss the book away in frustration, so I would have to say they are a success.
As for Christie, she’s a lot of fun, but I admit I was more taken in by her supporting cast. Holmes and Watson are reasonably canon, once you accept the fact that Holmes is given a precocious niece, meaning he spends a fair amount of time being exasperated by her more than would seem appropriate. That said, in the stories he appears he figures out the solution almost immediately – must to the consternation of Christie, who can see he knows but not HOW he got there. And he doesn’t like to explain, which is totally in character. Watson is also treated with respect, though he has a smaller role in this manga. This is not the “Jam!” Watson from poor adaptations. Speaking of Watsons, Christie cleverly gets her own after the second story: Grace Dunbar, the wrongly accused governess in Thor Bridge, is hired by Christie’s (unseen) parents to be her own governess, and for the rest of the book takes on a Watson role to Christie’s Holmes. Fans of Thor Bridge may find this amusing.
And then there are the two maids. First off, before he got his big break with Area 88, Shintani was an assistant of Leiji Matsumoto’s. (No doubt this is why his art style remains very “70s shoujo’, even when he’s writing for adult men.) He’s also quite influenced by Osamu Tezuka, as 99% of manga artists tend to be. And so he also has what Tezuka fans have nicknamed a “star system”: he reuses character designs and personalities in different series, renaming and reconfiguring them. Thus Nora, the uneducated but wisecracking maid we meet in the first chapter, will be recognizable to Shintani fans as Irene from Suna no Bara (“Desert Rose”), a 15-volume manga he wrote for Hakusensha’s Young Animal in the early 90s about a female anti-terrorist group. And Ann-Marie, the prim and ladylike maid with a surprising knack for guns, is based on Helga from the same series. (Speaking of which, Grace Dunbar may be from the original canon, but Shintani’s design is Tina from his manga series Cleopatra DC.)
Secondly, I love Nora. Basically everything about her was designed to appeal to me personally: wisecracking street-smart woman who wields a whip, beats up would-be rapists and has ‘bedroom eyes’, aka droopy eyelids. I will admit I’m not as sure about Nora’s ‘Texan’ accent (I suspect it was thick Osakan in the original), but as I’m not entirely sure of her origins (which will be revealed in the 2nd omnibus, along with Ann Marie’s), I’ll let it slide till then.
Speaking of Nora’s whip, I note that Seven Seas has this volume rated at ‘All Ages’. I see their point – it’s hard not to sell a series about a young girl solving mysteries and not try to hit that market – but there is a certain amount of violence in this series, including corpses, head wounds by gunshot, and Nora’s gleefully whipping her attackers, complete with blood dripping from her whip handle. (You can certainly see why Christie’s parents hired Ann Marie and Nora – they’re as much bodyguards as they are maids.) Looking at the second omnibus, which will not only feature The Hound of the Baskervilles (!), but also The Five Orange Pips (!?!), I honestly don’t see this level dropping soon. It’s not overtly gory – this isn’t Hellsing – but was enough to make me notice it. So be aware that parents may want to review the series to see if it’s too violent.
Lastly, it’s best to mention the crossover. Despite what Seven Seas’ own manga site says, this series is *not* a spinoff from Dance in the Vampire Bund, the very popular vampire manga that also runs in Comic Flapper, the magazine Young Miss Holmes runs in. Dance in the Vampire Bund is also Seven Seas’ best-seller. It’s tempting to say the series was licensed for the crossover, but I doubt it. More likely Media Factory said ‘Hey, we have this 7-volume series, and it SO HAPPENS it crosses over with your big hit.” In any case, Mina appears where you would expect her to, in the Sussex Vampire story. While you’d expect that this would alter the whole point of the story, it manages to fit Mina’s vampirism in without distorting the original solution (and also gives the writer an excuse to make Christie a quick healer, though thankfully not a vampire.) Vans of DitVB should find it fun. (And yes, yuri fans, Mina is clearly attracted to Christie, but nothing comes of it. She’s ten.)
Given the sheer amount of research I did after reading the first volume, I think by now you can guess that I greatly enjoyed Young Miss Holmes. I expect it will be 3 big omnibuses here, as it’s 7 volumes in Japan. (A new series has recently begun in the same magazine, showing Christie as a young woman, still dealing with Holmes cases.) Unfortunately, the 2nd one is not scheduled till November, meaning we’re in for a long wait. I definitely recommend it to fans of good manga. Hardcore Holmes fans may gripe a bit, but they should also be able to enjoy it. I’d give it more of a T rating, though.