Young Miss Holmes, Casebook 5-7

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.

The Young Miss Holmes series wraps up here with an omnibus of the final three volumes, and also takes a departure from canon, as only the first story, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”, is a Watson story published by Conan Doyle. That said, some of the titles of the remaining stories here may be familiar with Holmes and Watson, particularly the “Canary Trainer” mentioned in “The Adventure of Black Peter”, and the infamous “Giant Rat of Sumatra”, mentioned in the “Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” story. Shintani makes a decent effort at leaving the Holmes canon, and it allows him to do a bit more with Christie than simple sleuthing, particularly in the finale, which is basically an action movie with very little detecting.


The canonical Holmes story, Solitary Cyclist, does a decent job of having Christie and Sherlock join forces. Violet Smith is an old friend of Grace, Christie’s governess. Christie herself is chomping at the bit to become more independent, while still retaining a childlike air (particularly in the Circus chapters). That said, she’s not only more mature than most girls her age but far more modern, discussing how she has no desire to be a young lady the way the Victorians see them, and is already taking her savings and starting a pension plan to allow her servants to retire happily. It’s a good way to try to drag Holmes into the 21st century a bit, while still maintaining the charm of the original. (That said, I could have done without the appearance of Queen Victoria herself, in the weakest part of the book.)

The book is not faultless, of course. There is less nudity and gore than the first two omnibuses, but there’s still lots of corpses for an All-Ages rating, and Comic Flapper and Shintani still seem to sexualize Christie more than is necessary on a few title pages. The use of ‘moneylenders’ once or twice comes with some Victorian stereotypes, although it’s not really bad unless you’re looking for it. (Indeed, most of the villains here suffer from “I am ugly and therefore a villain” disease, which is quite common in comics and manga alike.) “The Dying Message” and “The Flying Dancer” aren’t too bad, but are weaker than the other stories we see here.

The Canary Trainer story is easily the creepiest of the book, featuring murder, suicide, child slavery, hypnotic suggestion, and child prostitution. It also merges Christie and Holmes the best of the five stories seen here, as they start out pursuing two totally different cases that only turn out to be the same thing right near the end. However, in a shocking display of canon ignorance, Shintani may have drawn Mycroft Holmes as slim. Luckily, there’s an out: everyone who says “that must have been Mycroft” didn’t actually see him. Perhaps it was Sherringford. Let’s go with that.

Things come to a head with the 7th volume/last third of the book, The Giant Rat of Sumatra. This helps to avoid the stereotype of “foreign villains” by sending a troup of good guys from India to help protect Christie from the thuggee bad guys. They are, of course, led by a young woman who is basically the Indian version of Christie, complete with tomboy mannerisms and snarky retainers. She’s good in a fight, however, which is a bonus, as Christie decides to simply go to ground in her mansion and let the villains come to her. Which they do, in one big final conflagration.

The series ends with the return of Christie’s parents, which marks a good stopping point – I’m sure they won’t totally stop her getting into adventures, but no doubt she will have to slow down a little. Shintani is currently writing a sequel, Christie London Massive, featuring a 17-year-old Christie, a whole new cadre of battle maids (led by Nora, no fear, she’s still there), and perhaps a familiar adversary of Sherlock Holmes thrown into the mix. Of course, that’s Japan. Whether it comes out here or not depends on how well the print and E-Book versions do. I had a ball reading them, particularly as a Holmes fan, and definitely recommend picking up the whole series.

Also, there is a dodo. For some reason.

Young Miss Holmes, Casebook 3-4

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.

The second omnibus volume of Young Miss Holmes, I will admit, did not thrill me quite as much as the first. Shintani is starting to have more difficulty inserting Christie and company into the Holmes stories, and I suspect, given there’s 3 volumes (one omnibus) to go after this that he might veer off the canonical road soon. He also has that odd habit that most manga writers who started in the 70s and 80s do of inserting humor – usually quite low humor – at the oddest points, something he no doubt got from Tezuka (you can see traces of this in Adachi and Takahashi’s writing as well). That said, this is still a lot of fun, with Christie being incredibly precocious while avoiding cloying qualities, and some much needed backstory for her two maids.

The first half of the book is taken up with The Hound of the Baskervilles, quite possibly the most famous of the Holmes stories. There are no attempts to alter the outcome of the story such as we saw before, and it spins out (with much compression) as expected. As I noted above, we get lots of opportunities to see Christie be brilliant, making deductions and logical leaps. At the same time, though, she has the patience and drive of a 10-year-old girl, and her maids realize this – though they’re still not able to corral her very well. And, as Shintani knows what’s popular and what isn’t, we get some nice opportunities of seeing Nora using her whip, including a battle with the Hound (which doesn’t go well, but luckily she has an unseen rescuer.) And again, thankfully, Holmes arrives at the solution faster than anyone else, including Christie.

The second story adapted here is The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons, which has a solution that is obvious enough that Shintani can easily write Holmes out of the tale and have Christie solving everything. This also reintroduces Detective Dexter of Scotland Yard, who we briefly saw in Hound, and who pops up every now and then from now on. He has an immediate attraction to head maid Ann Marie, something Christie notes and is quick to take advantage of. Again, the case plays out much like the original, but makes for a nicely entertaining adaptation.

A brief short story, The Memories of Nora, follows, and is what it sounds like: an original story by Shintani showing Nora’s life to date and how she became a maid at the Hope Estate. It’s not a pleasant childhood to say the least (and has some annoying ‘evil gypsies’ stereotypes to boot), but lets us see that Nora has no regrets as to where she’s ended up.

The final Holmes story adapted for Christie is The Five Orange Pips. Wisely, Shintani leaves the main mystery to Holmes, if only so that Christie doesn’t have to feel responsible for the fallout. Christie’s plot rests with Ann Marie, who has a complete freakout when she hears about the pips. As with most modern North American readers, the solution is far more obvious these days – we know what KKK stands for – so the storyline concentrates on Ann Marie’s own tragic childhood, and her change from a sweet little child to an instrument of God’s vengeance (as Holmes rather awkwardly puts it).

I must note once again that Seven Seas’ All Ages rating for the book is entirely inappropriate, in my opinion. Leaving aside the brief non-sexual shots of underage nudity, there’s simply a giant pile of violence here, including lingering shots of corpses with their throats slit, as well as a young girl killing an entire mansion full of people. I get that ratings can sometimes drive sales, and that it’s very hard to sell books starring 10-year-old cuties to adults. But come on.

That said, I am very grateful to Seven Seas for bringing out this series, which is a fast-paced and fun mystery series with a cute and sharp as a whip protagonist, and can’t wait (though I will have to, as it’s not out till September 2013) for the conclusion. And note with amusement that even Christie herself has started to call her maids ‘Herculean’.

Young Miss Holmes, Casebook 1-2

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.