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Why you should watch Japan’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, now on HBO

New deals and healthy Netflix competition help Miss Sherlock jump stateside from HBO Asia

miss sherlock on HBO and HBO Asia HBO Asia

Robert Downey Jr. went over the Reichenbach Falls in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows nearly seven years ago. BBC Sherlock is more or less over, with its leads locked into Marvel contracts for the foreseeable future and the showrunners off modernizing Dracula. And while Elementary is on its sixth season at CBS, you could say the show’s fallen victim to the American television curse of procedurals going on for far too long. Sure, we could always bust out our copy of The Great Mouse Detective, but as a lifelong Sherlock fan, I know when the world needs a new Sherlock Holmes adaptation. And the time is now.

Thankfully, we just go it — and it’s come by way of Tokyo.

Introducing Miss Sherlock

Miss Sherlock, an eight-part, Japanese television series produced jointly by HBO Asia and Hulu Japan, originally aired earlier this year in Japan and other Asian markets. The series garnered so much attention (becoming a favorite of illegal streaming) that HBO decided to release it stateside earlier in September.

In Miss Sherlock, the Arthur Conan Doyle narratives skew female in nearly every way, starting with Holmes and Watson being rethought as women — and badass ones at that. While Lucy Liu as Watson in Elementary was a great start to the evolution of women’s roles in Sherlock Holmes stories beyond walking plot devices or romantic interests, Miss Sherlock strikes a deeper chord, thanks to two stunning leading ladies.

Yūko Takeuchi as Sara “Sherlock” Shelly Futaba in HBO’s Miss Sherlock HBO Asia

Sara “Sherlock” Shelly Futaba is played by Yūko Takeuchi. She’s eccentric, quirky, a touch arrogant, and can wear a killer pair of heels. She’s unabashedly feminine, and also has no time for nonsense. It’s a fresh injection of everything the Sherlockian world needed in their newest Holmes. She also happens to play the cello, not the violin, a cultural twist that makes the overt changes more organic.

For Miss Sherlock, Dr. Watson becomes Wato Tachibana, aka Wato-san. Instead of the Second Anglo-African War, this Watson, played by Shihori Kanjiya, is a surgeon back from Syria, a contemporary conflict for a contemporary series. More wide-eyed scared woodland creature than the sharp gaze of Sherlock, Wato Tachibana is learning how to get back on her feet. She meets Sherlock’s wave of indiscretions and rudeness with bows and frantic apologies.

Like the best of the original stories and adaptations, the success of Miss Sherlock all comes down to the friendship between Holmes and Watson. What is a detective without his level-headed companion? An overwhelmed genius turning in on himself, and terribly alone. What is a Watson without their Holmes? Lost, aloof, and suicidal, if we go by the BBC Sherlock’s interpretation.

At first it’s hard to justify why Wato-san stays with Holmes, especially as she’s belittled and treated as little more than a child. But her need for emotional connection as she struggles with PTSD of her time in Syria prevails; this Holmes and Watson eventually find each other in friendship. Sherlock’s emotional arc begins right off the bat, there’s no fooling around here. She needs Wato-san, and though it takes her most of the season to fully realize that, she does. That’s the important thing.

Miss Sherlock is Sherlock Holmes through and through, but it is a very Japanese Sherlock Holmes, which makes sense, as the country is no stranger to the character, lore, or DNA that goes into making a perfect adaptation.

Sherlock Holmes and Japan

Sherlock Holmes’ stories always had a fanbase in Japan, though they came to the island years after being originally published in Strand Magazine in 1891. The first story to make it to Japan wasThe Man With A Twisted Lip” in 1894, relatively quickly followed by A Study in Scarlet and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both of which were translated and published in newspapers.

While it would take until 1955 for the full canon to be translated and published in Japan, it was enough for Holmes, himself a master of “baritsu,” to capture the imaginations of an Eastern audience. But when it did, it was an eruption.

In 1977, Tsukasa Kobayashi founded the Japan Sherlock Holmes Fan Club. Hayao Miyazaki’s Sherlock Hound appeared in the ’80s and the Case Closed / Detective Conan manga and anime series has been long running and long loved. There was even Sherlock Gakuen, a puppet show produced by NHK, and more recently, a new Sherlock manga. In 2004, Yuichi Hirayama, Masamichi Higurashi, and Hirotaka Ueda edited and translated Japan and Sherlock Holmes for the Baker Street Irregulars literary society, solidifying the impact of Holmes for the history books.

The BSI, as it’s more commonly referred to, is the invite-only fan club for Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts. The offshoot societies, known as scions, are scattered around the whole world and don’t tend to have any barriers to membership other than a love of Sherlock Holmes (and the occasional society that is still men only ... despite it being 2018). BSI counts Neil Gaiman, Curtis Armstrong, Issac Asmiov, and even yours truly as members. And there is a very strong contingent of Japanese members in the BSI, and those Sherlockians around the world have a lot of feelings of Miss Sherlock.

yuko takeuchi as sherlock in miss sherlock HBO Asia

Sherlockians weigh in on Miss Sherlock’s mysteries

With years of cultural absorption, Japan’s take on Sherlock’s cases are, just like the reimagining of core characters, personal but faithful. The retelling of Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” is, in particular, great fun and refreshing in its telling. While the opening whodunnit, inspired by A Study In Scarlet, is painfully easy to solve, the rest of the mysteries are compelling and interesting. (Plus there’s tons of catnip for Holmes fans: nods include a Stradivari in “Sachiko’s Moustache” and Baskerville as a computer password later on.)

In the premiere, “The First Case,” we are introduced to Wato-san after her mentor’s stomach explodes and Sherlock is put on the case, which involves pills and caring for children — a dead ringer for A Study In Scarlet. But after that first episode, the cases are more of a blend of gruesome originality and canonical inspiration.

While cases are all sort of linked, building up to the ultimate reveal of Moriarty, the true arc of this series is Sherlock and Wato-san becoming a team. It’s not right off the bat, it’s a growth and a process, and the series takes its time in finding their footing with their relationship. Miss Sherlock also doesn’t fall into the trap of letting the mysteries become so big, vapid, and nonsensical that many other recent adaptations have. No spoilers, but the highlights include “The Missing Bride,” “The Wakasugi Family Curse,” and the thrilling conclusion “The Dock” with one of the most inventive characterizations of Moriarty in a long while.

If my outpour of love wasn’t enough, I checked in with a few other diehard Sherlock fans just to double check my gut instincts. Ray Betzner, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, who’s also in one of its scion societies, Sons of the Copper Beeches, told me he thought Miss Sherlock was as “cutting edge and as plausible as anything in canon Holmes.” Liz Huxley, member of Watson’s Tin Box, a Sherlock Holmes fan society in Maryland, reveled in an adaptation filled with women, noting that the show “smashes the Bechdel test.” Carla Coupe, a member of societies such as Watson’s Tin Box, John H Watson Society, Red Circle of DC, and the Diogenes Club of DC, admits that she “kept wanting [Wato-san] to grow a backbone,” but also that “since I feel that way about the original, it’s nothing new.” Ah yes, the plight of all Dr. Watsons: never-ending suffering.

Self-professed Sherlockians dig Miss Sherlock. Global audiences dig Miss Sherlock. And if you don’t mind ditching the deerstalker, you might love Miss Sherlock, too.

Miss Sherlock is now available on HBO U.S. and streaming partner platforms.

Kristina Manente is a freelance writer, audio wizard, travel blogger, podcaster, and all around nerd with a tea obsession. She also has a really cute dog.