❉ We review the first two instalments of the second manga adaptation of ‘Sherlock’, printed in English for the first time.
Before we do anything else, let’s talk about Japan and British media. Their interest in US and UK entertainment is generally far greater than fans (especially fans of anime and manga, who often consider Western options inferior to Eastern) are aware. With regards to British entertainment specifically, they’ve been fans for more than 40 years, with The Gay Boys’ Dragon Hour (a dub of Monty Python’s Flying Circus followed by a discussion of the episodes) being the highest rated television program in Japan in 1976.
With the advent of the Internet and the more global approach to fandom, there is a lot more sharing going on. In Japan, shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Life on Mars have a huge following, spanning demographics but largely among young and middle-aged women. Sherlock in particular has struck a chord – Benedict Cumberbatch has a massive fan base thanks to the show, and artists’ sites are full of fan art and dojinshi (a term for indie-produced comics in general, but usually used to refer to fan works). Publishers have taken notice, and Sherlock is the most recent UK property (after Jeeves & Wooster) to receive a licensed manga adaptation.
The Sherlock manga was originally syndicated in Kadokawa’s Young Ace magazine, which serves the seinen (male readers of teenage years and up) demographic. For example, it ran the manga adaptations of Evangelion and Kill la Kill. This surprised me, as Sherlock’s fan base in Japan tends to be primarily female. What that told me in advance, though, was that this would be a very straightforward adaptation, focused primarily on the action and murder mystery element. The art style definitely reflects someone who produces mainly female-targeted work, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the primary buyers of the compilations were not your regular Young Ace readers, but overall it seemed more widely accessible than a lot of manga in male-targeted mags.
The manga is true to the script – to the point that, minus some ‘when last we left our heroes’ moments, the English translation is cribbed directly from the show. The artist, Jay (previously a dojin artist), has an excellent eye for likeness but doesn’t always necessarily use it. Sherlock and John are unquestionably Cumberbatch and Freeman, with secondary characters appearing “close enough” for fans to register but not quite bending into the leads’ borderline caricature style. Sherlock’s V-shaped alien smirk and John’s wide-eyed Bilbo Baggins smallness are absolutely overstated, which can be jarring here and there; but when it’s good, it’s very good indeed.
The ‘cinematography’ strays off a bit from the show, which is fine. Manga has its own style and pacing. Jay makes good use of dramatic angles (some from the show, some more in line with Japanese comic book sensibilities) and infinite canvas to mimic some of the show’s more cinematic approaches that don’t translate well to the printed page. Indeed, some of the most beautiful two-page spreads are a right-to-left (manga, remember) fade from a ‘normal’ page of panels into a collage of actions and elements.
My only true problem with the ‘translation’ was more a discrepancy between English and Japanese. Japanese can make a sound effect out of anything: a smile, silence, a person’s name. And they do that a lot in manga. Translating it so it doesn’t look ridiculous is hard – you can simply write out the syllables, translate it literally, or get creative. Neither of those first two is really preferable, and this went the route of the second extreme. A door slamming open with a BA-N!! was translated below as ‘BURSTS OPEN!!’ which… felt odd. This happened a lot throughout. Honestly, when I put on my editor hat, my only feedback to the team would be to come up with some sound effects. That’s genuinely it. And speaking as an anime and manga proofreader by day, that’s some of the least feedback I’ve ever given to a project.
The tween-chapters art are lovely sketches of the main characters, and the ends of the individual episodes have some very nice variant covers (including the obligatory chibi art). They’re nicely put together volumes, still true to the original publications but not so alienating that Sherlock fans not into anime and manga won’t feel put off. (Though, as a note, the localizers don’t ‘flip’ manga like they used to – this is a right-to-left read.)
Kadokawa did well by the show, and Titan did well by Kadokawa. And it’s wonderful to see this back-and-forth exchange between cultures and fan bases for a shared interest. The second series is currently being adapted to manga form in Japan, and hopefully Titan will continue working with Kadokawa to make them available to an English-speaking audience.