First Impressions: Sherlock: A Study in Pink

by Rebecca Silverman,

Manga and anime adaptations of Western properties tend to be limited to the classics – children's literature such as Heidi, fairy tales, and roughly nine hundred versions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. However, every so often we do get an exception, such as Supernatural: The Anime, and now Titan Comics's release of the manga version of the BBC television show Sherlock. While we have seen manga versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective before (prior to this release, the most recent have been Kodansha's Sherlock Bones and Seven Seas' Young Miss Holmes), this is not so much a reimagining of the character by a new manga artist, but rather a strict adaptation of the BBC series. Releases in issue format, rather than graphic novels, will follow the plot of the actual episodes, starting with an adaptation of the TV series' first episode, “A Study in Pink,” part one of six.

If you've never seen the show, it's a loosely reimagined version of the very first Sherlock Holmes case from the 1880s, A Study in Scarlet. Like the book, this is where Holmes and Watson first meet, and the first issue of the manga focuses mostly on that. It varies a bit from the show in its order of events, opening with the deaths of the first victims rather than Watson's past in Afghanistan, but otherwise sticking incredibly close to the show's script, probably because it shares an author in Steven Moffat. If you're the sort of fan who enjoys relieving the same story in multiple formats, this is pretty interesting, as playing with the order of these early events does give the story a greater emphasis on the murder mystery aspect rather than the character interactions (going only by the first issue). On the other hand, casual fans of the series may be bored by this approach, and apart from the basic set up of the panels and pages, there really isn't much that screams “manga” about this. For those who have never seen the TV series but have some interest, this would actually be a wonderful introduction piece, especially if you prefer to read your Sherlockian stories rather than watch them.

Of course, this also assumes you enjoy your Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson looking like Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The art sticks closer than you might expect to the actual Sherlock actors' appearances, with Cumberbatch and Rupert Graves (DI Lestrade) being the most instantly recognizable. Artist Jay has the most trouble with the women of color, but their portrayal is still much less problematic than it tends to be in manga. Watson has more of an innocent-yet-worried look than Freeman himself, but over-exaggerated nose aside, he's still recognizable as the actor. Thus far, the homoerotic undertones are not really present, but that will be interesting to keep an eye on as the manga progresses.

These first forty-odd pages of the Sherlock manga are less a new take on the TV show and more a still image version of it. While the lack of variation from the source material is interesting, it can make for a slightly less exciting reading experience if you're already familiar with the episode, although there is something entertaining in seeing the actors drawn manga-style. If you've resisted the Sherlock fandom thus far, this is a good way to check it out that reads smoothly and easily. The closeness of this version to the show makes this perfect for two types of readers: devoted fans of all things Sherlock and those who have no experience of the series at all. Either way, the novelty of getting to read this Japanese take on a British property is undeniable, regardless of how you feel about this particular iteration of the great Sherlock Holmes.


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