Sherlock Bones, Volume 1: The 12:20 Witness by Yuma Ando, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley
Originally published in 2012 as 探偵犬シャードック(Tanteiken Sherdock) 1
English translation published in 2013
Sherlock Bones #1
Followed by Sherlock Bones Volume 2
When Takeru adopts his new pet, he’s in for a surprise—the dog is none other than the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective. What’s more, this “Sherdog” has decided that Takeru is the reincarnation of his long-time assistant, Dr. Watson. Takeru may think Sherdog (or he himself) is crazy, but with no one else able to communicate with Holmes, he’s roped into becoming the canine’s assistant all the same. Using his exceptional sleuthing skills, Holmes uncovers clues to solve the trickiest crimes.
I have been on something of a Sherlock Holmes kick over the past few weeks, albeit one which has not been reflected on the blog itself so far. That is because I have spent much of my time revisiting material I have already reviewed or, in a couple of cases, that I plan to write about in the future. A consequence of this though is that my account with a major online retailer has gone into overdrive with its recommendations (a welcome reprieve from the previous situation where I only ever have Gladys Mitchell novels pushed into my suggestions) and I stumbled onto this first volume of a manga series.
As with another manga mystery series I have been reading, Case Closed, the premise is that a great detective has found their intelligence and personality pushed into a body where it will not be taken seriously. In this case the reincarnated spirit of Sherlock Holmes finds himself in the body of a small and rather cute dog that at the start of the book has been taken to an animal shelter for reasons we learn later in this first volume. There he meets Takeru, a teenage student who loves animals who might just be a reincarnation of Dr. Watson and who adopts him.
Takeru names his new friend Sherdog and is shocked when he discovers that he can understand him. Sherdog ends up accompanying him to school shortly afterwards and stumbles onto a dead body in a toilet block not far from the Swimming Pool. A text message sent moments before seems to suggest that the death was an act of suicide but Sherdog believes it was murder, noting that it is impossible that he could have died so quickly after sending it. Instead he believes it was a person he saw leave the bathroom moments earlier. The problem is that Takeru is certain that they have an alibi as he was with them in a different space at that same time.
What we have then to kick this series off is an example of an unbreakable alibi story, albeit a relatively simple one. This choice is a pretty smart one as it allows additional time to be spent on establishing the recurring elements of this manga, particularly the relationship between the central characters. This is important given the high concept nature of its premise and I felt it did a good job in this regard, giving a very strong sense of how the central pairing of characters will relate to each other and the way they will have to work together.
Takeru, as our Watson, gets to play more of a role than many other versions of that character as he is forced to speak for Holmes. At times he is bumbling and awkward but he is also quite willing to assert his own opinions. While the reader is not likely to be in much doubt as to which of the pair will be right, I think the opinions he voices do a nice job of emphasizing some of the more emotional elements of the case and make the final resolution a more interesting one than it might have been.
Turning to Sherdog, I really enjoyed the way he was drawn and I could see enough of the original Holmes character in him for the book’s premise to work. Certainly the prickly, dismissive side of Holmes is there and I enjoyed the added layer of frustrations he experiences as a result of his body change and having to rely on Takeru for help.
If there is a disappointment with Sherdog however it is that, so far, his being a dog has only been represented in terms of the physical restrictions he has of not being able to speak or interact with some objects. I hope that some of the subsequent volumes see him utilize his dog senses and abilities. The other thing I am hoping for, though not necessarily expecting given that this is a relatively short series of just seven volumes, is a decent explanation for why he is a dog now rather than a human.
This first volume also gives us hints that another Holmes universe character exists in the orbit of these characters. While it’s a cute nod to Holmes lore, I will be curious to see if this is a throwaway moment or something that becomes more important as the series progresses.
Getting back to the murder case, I think that the book establishes its scenario well, clearly describing the set of circumstances that create this unbreakable alibi problem. The initial puzzle is not, as I suggested earlier, likely to challenge those who have read many of these sorts of stories before but it would make a good introduction to them for those newer to the genre. What’s more, the author adds a secondary challenge in one of the later chapters that adds a little complexity for those who reach that first part of the solution quickly. While I am not convinced that the plan used would work in real world conditions, it is bold and entertaining and feels appropriate for this more stylized type of storytelling.
The other aspect of the puzzle that I appreciated was the development of the killer’s motive which is far more thoughtful than I expected based on the very broad tone of the piece. I appreciated the amount of time spent on exploring what is a serious topic and that the book avoided giving us the sort of easy, tidy resolution that would have been so easy but which would have felt inappropriate for this story.
One aspect of the book that can feel a little inappropriate however is its art style. Yuki Sato’s artwork can certainly be charming – Sherdog in particular has lots of personality – but the way that some of the female students and the swimming teacher are drawn felt quite objectifying. What particularly disappoints about this is that it feels out of keeping with the tone of the book more generally, making it feel rather cheap and broad.
Still, while I don’t love everything about how this idea was executed, I have to admit that the book is frequently a lot of fun. What appealed to me most was seeing the relationship between Takeru and Sherdog change over the course of the volume and it is that which makes me curious to go on and read the second volume which I am sure I will at some point go on and do.
The Verdict: A cute concept is realized fairly well in terms of the writing, though I found some of the art choices questionable. Some solid comedic moments make this an easy, entertaining read and while the mystery is simple, I appreciated that it was presented quite clearly.