The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
Moriarty the Patriot
How would you rate episode 1 of
Moriarty the Patriot ?
What is this?
James Moriarty is an orphan who assumes the name William James Moriarty when he and his younger brother are adopted into the Moriarty family. As a young man, he seeks to remove the ills caused by England's strict class system as a "crime consultant," bringing justice for the less fortunate against the corrupt.
How was the first episode?
Moriarty the Patriot's first episode was everything I was hoping for. Although different from the first chapter of the manga, unlike with Wandering Witch, this provided a solid introduction to the characters and the world of the story, and that it maintains the manga's fidelity to the basics of Victorian crime novels almost feels like the icing on the cake. It's also got a few very nice nods to the original Holmes stories from which Professor Moriarty hails – the illustration of the professor by Sidney Paget that pulls us into the action, for one, and the fact that we begin in New York, rather than London, can be read as a reference to Adam Worth, the real-life “Napoleon of Crime” whose criminal career after the Civil War really took off in that city. Meanwhile young Moriarty mimics the basic description Holmes gives of his older version in “The Final Problem” – tall, pale, and ascetic.
This young professor is not yet round-shouldered with studying, but he's already fully embarked on his criminal career – although perhaps not everyone would see it that way. He and his two brothers work as “crime consultants,” as in, if you need a crime committed, they'll help you. As of this episode, however, they're doing this in more of an anti-hero way: the crime they commit helps right a wrong that the police couldn't or wouldn't be able to fix. In Victorian London, that means that it was committed by a member of the nobility while the victims were all working or lower class, and while it wasn't strictly unheard of for such criminals to be punished, it wasn't all that likely, either. Enter the brothers Moriarty, the eldest of whom, Albert, is an earl, and therefore has entrée into high society. Just why the other brothers, William and Louis, look so different from Albert (but similar to each other) and why the three are invested in helping the downtrodden lower classes will come clear later, but for now all it means is that the case of the evil nobleman preying on young lower class boys is right up the Moriartys' collective alley.
That their offer of assistance comes from a very sincere place helps to make this episode interesting. When Albert approaches the father of one of the slain boys, a tailor, he's genuinely upset and earnestly wants to help. William (the professor of the books) seems to have less empathy, as does Louis; for William committing the perfect crime is a puzzle to be solved, a question of how best to carry out justice without calling down those who wouldn't see it that way, or at least feel compelled to do something about his particular brand thereof. The cool way he stands smoking in the dawn as the tailor repeatedly stabs the noble and coachman responsible for his son's murder to death, the small smile as he closes the crypt doors on the corpses, all say that he enjoys his work…maybe a little too much. But then part of the fun is clearly keeping the blood off of his own hands.
From the fog-muffled streets of gas-lit London to its boneyards and wealthy neighborhoods sitting only two streets away from scenes of poverty, Moriarty the Patriot captures its setting beautifully while building on the sometimes contradictory information Arthur Conan Doyle left about Sherlock Holmes' arch-nemesis. (Such as the fact that at one point there were three Moriarty brothers all named James. Conan Doyle really didn't care; he was just trying to get rid of Holmes, whom he'd grown sick of.) Whether you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes or just like a good atmospheric story with more than a hint of the old sensation novels, I don't think you'll be disappointed in this.
There's something immediately arresting about the simple twist that Moriarty the Patriot applies to one of the most famous archrivalries in all of fiction: What if Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Professor Moriarty, was the real hero, all along? It's a shame that this premiere doesn't do a whole lot to sell that premise, at the end of the day, but there's still a whole mess of potential to be had here. Plus, the show is soaked in enough misty Victorian horror vibes that it proves to be an entertaining enough mystery thriller in its own right, though it plays its cards too close to the vest for its own good.
To explain what I mean, we have to start with the end of the episode, which is when we finally discover just what Moriarty the Patriot's angle is. You see, until these final minutes, it isn't very clear how this pretty-boy anime version of Professor James Moriarty is supposed to resemble his literary counterpart, or how he's even supposed to contrast Sherlock Holmes himself. Or rather, how they are meant to contrast the great detective. Yes, this show does start off by revealing that the nefarious Professor is actually a trio of brothers: William, Albert, and Louis, which you'd think would be a bigger changeup than it ends up as. Despite possessing the typical mild differences in personality that these kinds of leading men are granted, all three of the Moriartys essentially function as younger looking and much richer versions of Sherlock Holmes. They solve mysteries like the series of brutal child slayings that have been plaguing London's streets of late, track down victims and suspects in pursuit of the truth, and make keen use of observations and deductions to draw connections between their various clues, which eventually leads them to puzzling out the identity of the murderer. The point is, it leads one to initially wonder what the point of this spin on the Moriarty character is when you could make it a perfectly serviceable Sherlock anime by replacing one of the brothers with Holmes, the other with Watson, and the third with, I don't know, maybe Mycroft?
Then we get to that ending, in which William has captured the wealthy child murderer and brought him to a tomb to meet the father of one of his victims, Mr. Eden. William offers Eden a knife, acknowledging that the rules of this “twisted society” would never allow him to take the vengeance he is owed. All of a sudden, I understood the show's overly spooky atmosphere, and the emphasis on the blood-red colors that seem to pop whenever we get a close up of William's eyes. These Moriarty brothers aren't just a prettier and wealthier recasting of Sherlock Holmes; they represent the dark corners of the human heart that are uncovered when the truth behind a crime is too much for a sane man to bear. Tools of logic and order being used to exact blood-soaked vigilante justice. Finally, in these last moments of the show, you understand how the heroes of our story could still become the criminal masterminds that Holmes may just die trying to bring down.
It's good stuff, to be honest. I wish the show's direction was as ambitious as its color palette, and I want to see more overt playing around with the mythos of Holmes and Victorian London in future episodes. Moriarty the Patriot is brimming with potential, but it will take another episode or two until we can deduce whether the show might be capable of living up to it.
There are few gambles riskier than a new mystery anime. While there are some excellent mystery series out there, including the eternal Detective Conan, you're far more likely to run into inept or bloated monologue-fests where overly impressed anime men solve ludicrously easy crimes by just kind of guessing. Or you get mysteries so complex and contrived that the only reason anyone can solve them is because the writer needs them to. So it was with a healthy amount of skepticism that I loaded up this pre-screening release of Moriarty the Patriot. And I'm happy to say that so far this gamble has pulled in the jackpot.
The most important part of a mystery is balancing information and logic, creating a puzzle of sorts where your genius detective can take all the information presented to your audience and find some secret key hiding in plain sight. Moriarty's introductory mystery is pretty simple by most standards, but what sells it is his deduction. He takes the presented information of the child victims of a serial killer, compares their backgrounds, and susses out a likely profile from the presumed commonalities of someone who'd come into contact with that particular combination of people. From there he hunts out the single outlier of the case, compares where his profile would overlap, and casually narrows down the suspect list to a single person. It's done so quickly and matter-of-factly that you'd be forgiven for thinking it narrative convenience, but there's a clear and consistent logic to it all that makes Moriarty feel like a suitable smartypants without turning his intelligence into a superpower.
If that was where things ended, then Moriarty the Patriot would be a solid crime thriller with a lavishly-realized Victorian London setting, but this show is named after Sherlock Holmes' most infamous enemy for a reason. Moriarty isn't a detective seeking justice for the police, but a “crime consultant” – effectively an anti-hero who assists those with no other choice in breaking the law without being caught. In this introduction that amounts to him helping the father of one of the victims exact revenge on the killer, and it's that edge which gives the show...well, its edge. The story doesn't end when the mystery is solved, but rather the real story begins as the affluent Moriarty and his companions set out to utilize that information to commit the perfect crime. That added bit of complexity makes the whole machine that is the narrative all the more impressive. There's also the potential for commentary in how our hero, a London aristocrat, becomes a “criminal” to allow the commonfolk to strike back against the upper class that abuses them. Whether that thread gets picked up across the series proper is a big “If” but it's another layer of intrigue to make this show worth watching.
And tying that all together is a wonderfully moody production. The show doesn't have much to speak of for pure animation, but that hardly matters as its use of color and lighting perfectly capture the prestige drama it aims to emulate. Every frame is drowning in atmosphere and every line of dialogue is perfectly paced to carry the viewer through it all effortlessly. Director Kazuya Nomura has several great titles under his belt, but his work on Joker Game is the most pertinent here, another superbly-directed period mystery, and those skills paired with the excellent script it makes for a deliciously dramatic watch. If you're at all in the mood for a good, bloody mystery, this is the show to bet on.
This series was not initially on my radar, but it was one of the most-anticipated titles for many other ANN writers. Clearly I should have been one of them. I am taking the rare step of giving this debut a maximum rating because I honestly cannot imagine how this could have been done any better.
In the original novels, Professor Moriarty was a criminal mastermind whose intelligence was a match for that of Sherlock Holmes. Here he is a relatively young bishonen with a mind as keen as the best detective, except he has turned his intellect elsewhere. Though the truth of this matter does not come out until late into the first episode, this Moriarty uses his wits to set up perfect crimes – or perhaps more accurately, actions that are technically criminal but might be seen as a brand of justice by some eyes. In this case he ferrets out an earl who has been preying on and then killing boys and arranges for the father of one of the victims – an ordinary tailor – to wreak bloody revenge on him in the very same mausoleum where the earl had his way with the boys.
There is no ambiguity here; what the tailor did is absolutely criminal in the eyes of the law, and it certainly wasn't moral. Whether or not it was right is another story, and I appreciate that the writing did not take a stance on that. The viewer is left to decide if Moriarty should be called a villain or a true patriot of the people for arranging this crime. This does, however, stay well in line with how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described Moriarty: as a man who almost never acts directly but rather through henchmen.
As fascinating as the conceptual set-up and execution is here, the real treat of this episode is the production effort by director Kazuya Nomura (Joker Game, Run with the Wind) and his Production I.G team. Though very little about the visuals is subtle, this is nonetheless a masterpiece of ambiance. Gothic statuary, fog-shrouded London streets, and shadowy mausoleums all create an oppressive atmosphere of dread, of evil actions being afoot in the night, and precise use of musical score and just the right touch of graphic content only enhance the impact. The terror that the victims feel is palpable, and no exaggerated expressions are necessary to reveal that the tailor's promise of vengeance wasn't idle or that the earl is deeply concerned about the all-too-precise way that Moriarty is implying that he did something without saying what it is. That was not the only scene in the first episode which gave me a slight shiver.
If this series can maintain anything close to the level of quality seen in this first episode then it will be widely-regarded as one of the best series of the season.
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