Poirot and Holmes on Holiday in Japan

Katsura Hoshino’s Cover for Sherlock Holmes
Katsura Hoshino’s Cover for Sherlock Holmes: Who knew Victorian England was so Colorful?
I had only been in Japan for a couple of days, but I had already perfected my answer to the constant question: why are you studying Japanese? My answer: because I like Japanese detective fiction. Which always leads to discussions about how I got to know about Japanese detective fiction, etc. But one day, I was sitting in front of the university, when a friend came to me with a story about Western detective fiction. It didn’t hit me until much later, but it must have been a strange sight: Me, a Chinese-Dutch, sitting there talking with a Korean girl, in Japanese, in Japan about famous Western detective fiction like the Poirot and Arsène Lupin novels. It doesn’t get more international than this, I thought. Until then, I had actually never thought about how Western detective fiction was seen in Japan (or Asia in general for that matter). Or how people get to know them.

But of course, as the modern crime fiction did start in the Western world, it is no big surprise that names like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are well known there, just like they are here. But still, I did wonder how people in Asia perceive the Western detectives.

Raised in the Netherlands, I know my first encounter as a child with Agatha Christie was through the TV show Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet. Even now, Suchet is Poirot for me. My first real memory of Holmes is an old cartoon of The Valley of Fear (starring Peter O’Toole as Holmes’ voice). But would Japanese children get to learn about these famous detectives, and if so, what would their impression be?

One of the funnier encounters I had with a Japanese version of Sherlock Holmes was when I happened to stumble on a new release of Sherlock Holmes story collection in a nearby bookstore. What was so interesting about this release was that it featured a specially drawn cover by the artist Katsura Hoshino, who writes and illustrates the popular comic D.Gray-man. A somewhat enigmatic Holmes watches over a busy Watson, running around with manuscripts. The contents were just a selection of Holmes story translations, and Hoshino only drew the cover, no other illustrations are present in this release. However, this was clearly an attempt by the publisher to entice children and young adolescents to pick up the book by using the Hoshino name.  I guess I fell for the trap, too, though.

A more original take on Holmes is Sherlock Hound (1984-1985), which is an

Sherlock Hound, the animated series
No, not fetch Watson, the GREAT game
animated series where every character is depicted as an anthropomorphic dog. While the stories were original, it was clear to anyone who our sleuthing dog was based upon. The series was relatively popular and was in fact released in the United States and is still viewable.  An interesting fact is that a lot of episodes of this series were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the prominent film director famous for movies like Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky.

NHK Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple
NHK Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple
More recent is the NHK cartoon series Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple (2004-2005),  which is, like the title suggests, a series based on the classics by Agatha Christie. The worlds of Poirot and Marple were linked together by the original character Mabel West, who was a relative of Mrs. Marple and assistant to Poirot.  What is quite surprising is how faithful the adaption was to the original work, ignoring Mabel.  Some logical changes have been made, like clues that rely heavily on English idioms that don’t translate or changing the name of Inspector Japp to Sharpe, probably due to the derogatory implications ‘Jap’ has. All in all though, it’s a pretty amusing adaption of the original work into Japanese. I am quite surprised actually that Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple hasn’t been released to western audiences, as I think it would make quite a nice introduction for the younger public to Christie’s work.

Now, if only Japanese detectives were as well represented outside their borders!

Ho-Ling Wong blogs at Ho-Ling no Jikenbo


  1. John P. Murphy

    I went looking for Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple back when I learned it existed. I found a few fan-subs online and really enjoyed them, but nothing else. I suspect that this has more to do with the Christie estate than anything else — I bet they only got the license to make the anime on the condition that they didn’t bring it to the (probably more lucrative) English language markets.

  2. Ho-Ling Wong

    I really think it’s a shame it never made the jump overseas. With series like Scooby-Doo still going strong (Scooby Doo Inc. is really fun), you’d think such a detective cartoon actually based on Western fiction (as opposed to something Detective Conan) would appeal to the public. Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple is a lot more accessible for a younger public than the original novels or the live action series. And at least loyal to the source material. Why would the Christie estate block this series, but [url=http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2011/06/miss-marple-everlasting]allow a young Marple[/url]?!

  3. Terrie Farley Moran

    It is too bad that these aren’t available every where. This type of video often leads kids to want to learn more about the characters by–reading! I watch a lot of Scooby-Doo with my grandkids and that has led to reading Scooby-Doo books. I love it when media brings us all together.

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