This Miss Sherlock review is based on the series’ first two episodes.
By some measure, Sherlock Holmes is the most-adapted character of all time. This makes adaptations both harder to pull off in any kind of novel way, as well as doubly interesting to dissect as we have so many versions of the character and his storytelling universe to compare them to. Why did these storytellers make the choices they did? How do those choices change the story? What do they tell us about the original canon and, more importantly, what do they tell us about the cultural context of their making?
Miss Sherlock, the female-led Japanese adaptation now available to stream on HBO, isn’t an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s as much as it is an adaptation of BBC’s Sherlock. The similarities aren’t subtle: Miss Sherlock‘s Sherlock plays a stringed instrument, solves mysteries in a signature coat, and has an older, disapproving brother who works for the government.
Narratively, the plots of the first two episodes also share similarities with their Sherlock forebearers. The first sees the Watson character—here, Dr. Wato Tachibana (Shihori Kanjiya)—just returned from a war zone and looking for a place to belong, in both the figuratively and logistically senses. When her colleague’s middles are liquified by a bomb right in front of her, Dr. Wato is quickly pulled into a serial murder investigation where she meets freelance detective Sherlock Holmes (Yuko Takeuchi), a socially-inept genius who has trouble getting close to others.
Yes, this all sounds very familiar—and Miss Sherlock even adopts some of Sherlock‘s visual language quirks, as well—but this adaptation features some major differences that make it worth a watch for any fan of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock, or international TV.
First, it casts its two main characters as women, which automatically changes the dynamics of so many of the main relationships and scenarios. Watson’s nurturing and empathetic nature plays differently when seen in a female character, as so does Sherlock’s determination to avoid social pleasantries. As a female viewer, there is something particularly cathartic about watching Inspector Reimon (Kenichi Takito), the Lestrade character, value Sherlock’s opinion over the opinion of the much less experienced Sergeant Shibata (Tomoya Nakamura), the Anderson character. In Sherlock, Sherlock finding glee in the relative power he has over Anderson feels like petulant privilege. In Miss Sherlock, it still feels petulant, but there is a presumed social justice to it as well.
The second major difference? Miss Sherlock is set within Japanese culture. The change obviously creates a totally different context for the characters and mysteries to unfold. As with any TV watching outside one’s own culture, there are so many cultural nuances and clues I am sure I don’t catch, but there is also so much more to learn and observe—from the food (the breakfast Wato and the Mrs. Hudson character make for Sherlock in the second episode!) to the police and medical cultures to how PTSD and counseling are viewed in Japanese society. It’s also a treat to see Tokyo treated like a character in Miss Sherlock in the same way London is in Sherlock. Guys, I am a sucker for international TV.
The strengths of watching a Sherlock adaptation set in another culture become especially evident in the second episode, which shares some qualities with Sherlock‘s second episode, “The Blind Banker.” Both have to do with mysteries and murders set in the international art world. Both heavily feature Asian cultures—Miss Sherlock focusing on Japanese art trading and Sherlock resting its mystery on a Chinese art smuggling ring. “The Blind Banker,” while including many nuanced, wonderful domestic character moments between Sherlock and John is justifiably heavily criticized for its regressive, racist treatment of Chinese characters and culture.
As with many international adaptations, Miss Sherlock finds its own, unique footing the further away it gets from its pilot, as the ripples of the different choices it has made continue outward. There is a lot to like about this Sherlock adaptation, the most of which is the female-led cast and story, which is reminiscent of the delightful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is, in many ways, a Sherlock Holmes adaptation.
As with any good Sherlock Holmes adaptation, the strength of the series lies not in the quality of the mysteries—though that is important (and they are fun, unpredictable, and occasionally gruesome)—but rather the quality of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. After only two episodes, it’s hard to tell how the relationship between Sherlock and Wato will develop, but given how Sherlock is already stealing Wato’s food and Wato is already rolling her eyes at Sherlock by the second episode, these two are well on their way to being another classic Watson/Holmes pairing.