anime

Sherlock Hound – Episode 3


Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I thought we’d take in a fresh episode of Sherlock Hound, largely because I am having a delightful time with it, and am eager to see more. But don’t worry, I’ve also got a more technical excuse for diving back in: we have arrived at last at the first episode actually directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and will be enjoying his directorship for two more straight episodes to come.

Even without Miyazaki actively directing, it feels like the show already bears a great number of his signatures. He was the show’s initial chosen director, and only left the project when rights issues sent it into development hell, meaning he was likely responsible for establishing a great deal of the show’s aesthetic, narrative style, and tone. The results of this seem clear in its every aspect: the slightly steampunk, ramshackle technology, the celebration of turn-of-century European urban spaces, the Lupin-derivative physical comedy, the design and personality of our heroine Barbara. Only Holmes’ personality seems to push against the general Miyazaki tone, though you could perhaps draw a line from him to Miyazaki’s curmudgeonly Porco Rosso.

Given we’re already seeing so much of Miyazaki in Holmes’ design philosophy, I’m eager to see how the show executes in his hands. Episode three was not just directed, but also storyboarded and even written by Miyazaki, so if any episode might give us an indication of his vision, it would be this one. Let’s see what the master has in store for us, as we explore another vivid episode of Sherlock Hound!

Episode 3

It seems like general-purpose title cards were more common for older productions, and I appreciate how well they can set a tone. Anne of Green Gables’ shot of Anne smiling over the Lake of Shining Waters perfectly evokes her fanciful perspective on the natural world, while Holmes slumped over his couch serves as an immediate reminder that regardless of how competent he may seem, the dude is a mess

Noticed for the first time that Holmes keeps smoking his pipe even as he pursues this escaping aircraft. That smug sonofabitch

“Little Martha’s Big Mystery!?”

Oh my god, right from the first composition, there’s so much damn movement! We open on an establishing shot of the Bank of London, with three full cell layers of boisterous moving traffic. The scene feels almost film-tier in its generosity of background movement, all designed simply to emphasize the genuine bustle of a city in motion

Inspector Lestrade has business with the bank

We’re immediately led into a room marked by even more richly detailed incidental animation, as we watch a tableful of bank employees inspect a wealth of silver coins. Animation is so time-consuming that most shows tend only to animate the main active characters, but nothing creates a sense of actual lived-in reality like a setting that’s alive with background motion. Scenes like that feel like places you could actually stumble into, rather than backgrounds to a stage drama. A great number of Miyazaki’s films are lent solidity and texture by their abundance of background workers going about their lives, from Kiki to Mononoke to Spirited Away

Also appreciate the wide diversity of dog-person designs here, with no lazy “default” designs

Every idle moment is full of playful, expressive animation, like Lestrade and this bank employee butting heads as they examine a counterfeit coin. I was already loving this show, but Miyazaki is spoiling us

Apparently the animation director for this episode was motherfucking Yoshifumi Kondo, so this is all making a lot of sense. Kondo also served as the show’s original character designer, and beyond Holmes was a frequent collaborator of Miyazaki and Takahata, eventually serving as character designer and animation director on a variety of their films. He was actually the man who was supposed to serve as their successor at Ghibli, until he tragically died after only directing the phenomenal Whisper of the Heart

Additionally, running down this episode’s list of key animators reveals a bevy of names who were all involved on a variety of Lupin projects. No wonder so much of the key animation from the OP looks so Lupin-esque

Everything is just so boisterous, with lots of flavorful little embellishments of character movement as Lestrade and his companions squash and stretch in consternation. It’s a counterfeiting scandal!

More absurdly generous background scenery as Holmes and Watson putter down the street, with dozens of background characters and vehicles milling about

And our first shot of Moriarty is equally compelling in a very different way, with his vast shadow on the wall conveying his larger-than-life threat

Moriarty’s counterfeiting press gives the animators a fresh opportunity to indulge in lots of intricate mechanical animation

As Moriarty berates his goons, we see the visual possibilities afforded by these hapless subordinates realized in full. Moriarty is a fountain of larger-than-life angry expressions, while his minions flail about like drunkards on black ice. Flavorful, funny character animation as an end unto itself

The frantic movement contrasted against the anxious horn accompaniment almost reminds me of something like Fantasia, with the visual action and orchestra working in harmony to create drama without dialogue

And the machines have so much personality! As Moriarty overworks the press, the anthropomorphized “face” of its upper platform and lower press-teeth sag and deflate, the fluid metal conveying the machine’s breakdown as a clear visual expression of distress

Moriarty has apparently kidnapped an engineer, who he demands fix his machine

So much of Moriarty’s charm is contained in the flickering movement of his beady little eyes, as well as the devilish curling of his snout. His face is perpetually contorting itself into unpleasant shapes, and it’s simply wonderful

The engineer demands he be allowed to write a letter to his family, which will presumably offer Holmes the clues he needs

We finally get a look inside Holmes’ and Watson’s apartment, which is disheveled as you’d expect. The clutter of books and beakers speaks both to Holmes’ vast array of fascinations, as well as his disinclination to actually follow through on anything

Kondo is a top rate animation director, and in his hands, the characters are really able to fully inhabit and even “sag into” their own bodies, with playful exaggerations of form emphasizing their various personalities and postures

As Holmes’ dutiful minder, Watson drapes him in a blanket and leaves him to his rest

But suddenly, a client! And a very small one at that

The young girl Martha is looking for a cat named Mrs. Holly

Her animation style is distinctive in its own way, evoking that tottering quality of small children who aren’t quite sure of their own balance

The newspaper the girl brought also has a Help Wanted ad circled, asking for a press machine specialist. And so the hunt is on

More generous pans across the rivers and rooftops of London as Holmes begins his investigations. I imagine one of the things that most excited Miyazaki about this project was the opportunity to luxuriate in old-fashioned London architecture, and he certainly doesn’t let the opportunity go to waste

Once again diving back into the staff lists, it appears that all three background artists for this episode would go on to collaborate on future Ghibli productions

Martha’s father was apparently quite the clever one, and left a sequence of clues leading Holmes to the discovery that if you pass light through his letter, specific marked characters will reveal his current location

“Can I put looking for Holly on hold, and look for your Papa first instead?” Holmes actually has a great way with kids, since he basically never differentiates his behavior based on his company, meaning he speaks to them like they’re adults

You can see Ghibli-reminiscent character acting instincts in Martha’s movement, as her hair echoes her brief surprise and then elation at this request

Ahaha, I love Holmes just storming into Scotland Yard and dragging Lestrade out by the elbow. “Get over here and be my policeman for a moment, I’m solving a major case” – a very appropriate visual representation of their narrative friendship

And at last we run into one of the opening’s cuts of animation, as Holmes and his companions just barely catch the last train to Eyford. I figured those cuts had to be from Miyazaki’s material

More generous establishing shots with the train in motion. The first shot of the train itself makes sure that many portions of the train are in active motion, avoiding a sense of incongruity at a seemingly motionless object panning across the background, while the followup shot is a tiny jewel of parallax movement as we watch the sunset, trees racing by in the foreground. Both shots evoke a sense of urgency in their own way

Lestrade finally gets to be an active and useful collaborator, swiftly calling in reinforcements as they pass another station

Our mechanical engineer is quite a hero in his own right, tricking Moriarty’s minions and attempting to break out of the mansion

Moriarty and his goons really do need copious character animation to truly come alive. Great sequence of his idiots attempting to break down the door, only for Moriarty to “show them how it’s done” by kicking the door and then hopping around in agony

And a welcome sprinkling of genuine deduction from Holmes, as he swiftly recognizes the “hour outside of Eyford” drive as a feint to disguise how close the counterfeiting operation truly is

Haha, I’m loving all this generous debris animation, as they bust basically every door in this house into splinters

Fifty police officers frantically galloping up and down the stairs, and then they blow up the whole dang house. What a preposterously generous episode

And Done

Goddamn Miyazaki! Of course, given how illustrious this episode’s staff list turned out to be, it’d be silly to credit this episode’s brilliance to Miyazaki alone. With such an incredibly capable team producing it, this episode went above and beyond the already-impressive standard of the show’s first two episodes, relishing us in endless character animation, bountiful background tableaus, and all sorts of frantic action scenes. The characters felt genuinely alive here, as did the streets and residences of London itself. Such a generosity of animation talent, matched to material that so perfectly suits their talents, is a rare and beautiful thing in this industry. I feel absolutely spoiled by that episode, and can’t wait to check out the next one!

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