First Impressions – Yuukoku no Moriarty

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In recent years I’ve come to notice that a “Kishimoto Taku slot” has appeared on my anime schedule.  My fellow Kobekko (I flatter myself) Kishimoto-sensei has become anime’s go-to guy for quirky, offbeat seinen adaptations (and sometimes originals).  A look at his resume reveals the sort of series I mean – in recent vintage the likes of Fugou Keiji and Kitsutsuki Tanteidokoro.  He specializes in detective/true crime stories but not exclusively, and any season that doesn’t have a show that fits the mold doesn’t feel quite complete to me.

Well, who better to turn to for this season’s entry than Kishimoto Taku?  He isn’t always involved with the eventual winner but usually seems to be, and Yuukoku no Moriarty is the one I’ve had my eye on since the fall schedule firmed up.  I could only think of one series to call a potential sleeper this season, and the only question was whether Moriarty was under the radar enough to qualify.  It is a Production I.G. series after all, though that doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to.  It features a fairly prominent director in Nomura Kazuya, and is based on a manga by All You Need is Kill author Takeuchi Ryousuke and artist Miyoshi Hikaru.

Based on one episode, I’m feeling pretty optimistic.  This was an excellent premiere – tightly written and handsomely produced.  I.G. has put together a very good staff here, with Art Director Tanioka Yoshio’s work especially striking in the premiere.  The Sherlock Holmes mythology could hardly be more familiar ground for anime – the medium’s obsession with recasting him in myriad anachronistic settings rivals that of Oda Nobunaga.  But Moriarty the Patriot seems to have an interesting twist on the formula, focusing on super-villain Moriarty (though Holmes and Watson will appear) and class struggles in Victorian England.

This Moriarty is in fact three of them – brothers, though the middle one, mathematics professor William James (Saitou Souma) is the clear focal point.  He and younger brother Louis James (Kobayashi Chiaki), blonde-haired, look nothing like eldest brother Albert James (Satou Takuya).  That’s because they were adopted into the aristocratic Moriarty family, though just why William and Louis have red eyes has not yet been made clear.  William casts himself as a “crime consultant” – pointedly, not a detective – and takes an interest in mysterious affairs which have Scotland Yard baffled.

The first of these, an anime-original story in fact, concerns the molestations and murders of a group of local boys.  While this mystery isn’t especially complex, I think that’s more or less the point – and it’s quite straightforward and logical in its solution.  Implied here, it seems to me, is that if the victims were the children of the aristocracy rather than the humble merchant class (and even a street urchin), the police would have been a lot more diligent in solving the case.  This clearly irks William, who has little difficulty in piecing together the trail which leads to the killer, a member of the exclusive Gastros Club (which I suspect we haven’t seen the last of).

The crux of this is that the killer, the Earl of Argleton (which, interestingly, is the name of a “phantom town” that appeared as a real place on Google Maps in 2009 for reasons that have never been explained) is no mad genius.  He’s just a vile sicko who indulges his cruel vices because he can get away with it, and isn’t especially good as covering his tracks.  The police could surely have found him if they felt motivated to do so, and that they never did – and William did, despite not needing to use much of his own genius – is the point.

Indeed, Taku and co-writer Zappa Gou chose this as an introduction story for very clear reasons.  Class is at the center of Yuukoku no Moriarty, and despite being adopted into the aristocracy William James Moriarty clearly expresses hostility towards it.  His sympathies (and that of Albert too, notably) lie with Eden, the tailor whose son Roddy was the Earl’s most recent victim.  We learn a lot about William here, not least that he’s quite comfortable with vigilante justice and being the one to see it meted out.

Suffice it to say, I see worlds of potential in Moriarty the Patriot.  Class warfare is a goldmine for a really good writer, as Kishimoto has proved himself to be.  I can’t vouch for Takeuchi-sensei as I haven’t read either this or “Kill” in manga form, but they’re quite well-regarded.  It’s also going to be interesting to see how Holmes is tied into the plot – will he be a foil for William, acting as the defender of the upper classes?  Will there be tension between Albert and William, or is the manor-born eldest on-board with his stepbrother’s subversive goals?  And will the series use Victorian classism to hold up a mirror to class issues in Japan?  I’m certainly looking forward to finding out the answers.

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