In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery series, Sherlock Holmes is a preternatural genius. He solves crimes that the police cannot. The only criminal ever to escape justice from him is Irene Adler.
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. … And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
A Scandal in Bohemia
However, his ultimate nemesis was Professor James Moriarty. Holmes foiled Moriarty over and over but the master criminal was smart enough never to get directly involved. Holmes is eventually able to force his nemesis into a duel of sorts at the Reichenbach Falls. Unable to prevail in combat, he instead takes Moriarty over the falls with him. Doyle was tired of writing the series and wanted to send his protagonist out with honors.
It didn’t work. The public demanded that he keep writing and that Holmes not be dead. Doyle bowed to the pressure and continued the series. It seems Holmes had actually prevailed and had spent the time he was missing and presumed dead doing ultra-secret work for the French government.
BTW, Holmes was patterned after real people, Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon and medical professor of Doyle’s and Henry Littlejohn also a professor of medicine. Both believed one could use the scientific method to determine who committed a crime. Even the tiniest details could be crucial so everything had to be undisturbed and recorded in extreme detail. The two are fathers of modern forensic pathology.
Bell and Littlejohn cooperated in an extremely convincing determination of the identity of Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, the assumed perp, a local butcher, took his own life when the police closed in. I know everyone wants it to be Prince Albert. But it wasn’t. (There’s also some mythology about the identity being written secretly on papers by the two men in competition and both coming up with the same name never to be revealed.)
There is some of Holmes in Doyle himself. His analysis was instrumental in getting Oscar Slater, a man convicted of murdering an elderly woman, a retrial where he was found innocent.
Since then, Holmes has become a mythological hero. Movies too numerous to count were filmed and vast amounts of fan fiction have been written. He is the single most portrayed character in the history of cinema. The early Basil Rathbone movies weren’t too bad, the later ones were horrid. Robert Downey Jr. took a successful swing at it when he wasn’t Iron Manning around. Scarlett Johansen had a part as a doomed and rather naive Irene Adler.
For my money, the very best classic Holmes portrayal was by Jeremy Brett on PBS Masterpiece Mystery. I loved that show to death. He caught Doyle’s original intent perfectly.
The very best contemporary version was Benedict Cumberbatch, also on Masterpiece Mystery. He was so good it catapulted him to the top of A-list actors. We’ve seen him as Khan in the Star Trek reboot, Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” and as Doctor Strange in the MCU.
There was also the American TV series Elementary, with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Holmes and Watson. I love shows where Watson is not played as a bumbling idiot in order to make an ordinary detective look smarter. None of the really good variations make that mistake.
Among the many variations of the Sherlock Holmes theme, it was inevitable that some would focus on Moriarty. (There were even a couple of Star Trek TNG episodes on that.) Volumes could be read into his character. And so we have an anime called… Moriarty the Patriot.
It is the New York of 1911. A young boy is reading Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem. An elderly man in a police uniform takes the book away from the boy and comments on the boy’s excessive love of books and that he himself has no interest in detective stories. The boy’s father is mentioned in passing.
The voice-over narrator speaks of Professor Moriarty, “the only villain to confound the great detective Sherlock Holmes.” (Bit of revisionism here as in the original stories Holmes takes him down in the end. As noted above, that particular honor really belongs to Irene Adler.) It is interesting that “The Final Problem” is set in 1891, 20 years before the anime’s prologue. The illustration in the book shows him to be an older man. It is a copy of the actual illustration from the original publication of “The Final Problem”
Moriarty then and Moriarty now.
Yet when we move on to see our protagonist, the era and location have changed. we see a young bishi. A handsome blonde designed to set all our hearts aflutter. But there is a difference. This isn’t James Moriarty, it is William James Moriarty.
The setting of the story sure seems to be Victorian London, not post-Edwardian New York. This means the story proper is set decades ago, long before the boy was conceived, probably long before Moriarty would have made Sherlock’s acquaintance. The first name of William could be an invention of the anime’s author.
No doubt we will see the mystery of that opening resolved by series end. It is like Chekhov’s “rifle over the mantle.” There is no point in putting it there front and center if you are not going to use it eventually.
Back to our story…
Moriarty behaves much like Sherlock Holmes. He likes to solve mysteries but only takes on the ones that are the most interesting. He has a strong moral code. His method of logical deduction is exactly what we’d expect. However, his sense of justice is somewhat different as he seems to be willing to go extrajudicial and avoid police involvement.
Lord Albert and Louis
He has a close partner, Louis, instead of a Watson. Louis is also a blonde bishie and a megane to boot. So far his only other assistant is the handsome Lord Albert, although there are at least two other men in the OP who probably also work with him.
In the first episode, our protagonist becomes interested in a series of gruesome murders of young boys. Several have been kidnapped, sexually abused and killed in a particularly horrific manner. Our hero isn’t doing this for money. It is simply an interesting case and it offends his sense of decency.
We are led along the deductive path followed by Moriarty. The real mystery isn’t in “whodunit” but rather the process by which he identifies patterns. The pattern – and how the pattern is broken – leads him to a way to identify the perp. Once the pattern is identified catching the criminal is inevitable.
Moriarty has an interesting way of dispensing justice. If Holmes were around, he would not approve. I think I am going to enjoy this series. The first episode is Sherlockian mystery done right with a twist.