Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind represented a major shift towards more polished, visually ambitious films from director Miyazaki Hayao; it even resulted in the creation of a brand new animation studio that would, in due course, become one of the most beloved companies in cinema history. But his next project released after Nausicaä premiered in the spring of 1984 bears no trace of this great new advance in the filmmaker's aesthetic. It looks every bit a throwback, because it was - and indeed not just a throwback, but a relic.

Let us rewind a bit to 1981, two years after Miyazaki's feature debut, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, and one year after he contributed two episodes to the second Lupin III television series. At this time, TMS Entertainment in Japan was approached by the Italian company RAI about a possible collaboration, based on a idea pitched by brothers Gi and Marco Pagot (the sons of pioneering Italian animator Nino Pagot): an animated adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, with anthropomorphic dogs playing all of the characters. We English speakers know the resulting show as Sherlock Hound; the translation of the Japanese title is Famous Detective Holmes, and I'd wager that it was Sherlock Holmes in Italy, though I haven't been able to find much information about its European incarnation at all. At any rate, I've found it hard to know exactly what to call it, or its protagonist (Sherlock Hound in English, Sherlock Holmes in the original), but for ease I'll be sticking with the English version henceforth.

Back to my story: Miyazaki was happy to help the Pagots develop the project, and in the event he directed the first six episodes to be produced, in 1981. That's when the rights issues kicked in. The Conan Doyle estate was able to get production stopped, and it took years to iron out the kinks; eventually, production resumed in 1984, by which time Miyazaki had abandoned TMS Entertainment; the remaining episodes of what ended up being a 26-episode series were produced by a wholly different creative team than that first batch, though some of Miyazaki's unfilmed scripts were used for the newer episodes. The series eventually premiered in November, 1984, and ran until the following May; Miyazaki's six episodes were weighted to the front, and had all aired by the end of January.

So that is how a significantly less-mature work turned out to be the director's "follow-up" to the majestic Nausicaä. Nor do I use "less-mature" advisedly, for if Sherlock Hound has any real value, it's as proof that not even Miyazaki is exempt from an occasional dreadful misfire; even if we set it in its proper context in late 1981, it's still a profoundly retrograde kiddie program from the man who gave us Future Boy Conan.

The series is based more on the idea of Conan Doyle's stories than their details or plots: Sherlock Hound (Hirokawa Taichirō) and Dr. Watson (Tomita Kousei) run a detective agency out of a flat on Baker Street in Victorian London, under the eye of landlady Marie Hudson (Asagami Yôko), frequently running up against the city's criminal mastermind, Professor Moriarty (Ohtsuka Chikao). Even in that wee précis, the Holmes scholar will already note some key differences from the text: Mrs. Hudson being given a first name, for a start (and being represented as a pretty twentysomething who catches the eye of essentially every male character in the show), or the emphasis on Moriarty, who despite his fame within the cultural idea of the Holmes stories appears seldom, and appears in the flesh hardly ever. Not so with the cartoon, where he proves to be the main villain frequently; in all six of Miyazaki's episodes, certainly (I didn't watch the others). Hound himself is neither an amateur violinist nor a cocaine addict - the latter change makes obvious sense, given the target audience - and he's not nearly as active a presence in the show. Of the Miyazaki episodes, Hound is really more of a supporting character in four of them; Moriarty is a much more prominent figure, along with his idiot henchmen. Doubtlessly, this is because he's better TV: the criminal genius has been recast as a sort of silent movie villain with a penchant for inventing dysfunctional machines, and his screaming and flailing about are much more in keeping with the show's slapsticky tone (which is far more pronounced, and manic, than in either Future Boy Conan or Lupin III). This comes at the dire cost of cheapening him as a villain, and it makes sense that Hound never seems to do very much; he doesn't have to, when his great antagonist is so readily thwarted.

Perhaps because it is so plainly kid-oriented, Sherlock Hound suffers from a profound cheapness. Animated at a barbarically low frame-rate, and sloppily designed, it looks a great deal more like the shoddy children's shows that were all that most Westerners knew of anime in the 1960s and 1970s than the relative polished work that Miyazaki had put his name to in the '70s. There's an unforgivable carelessness evidenced as early as the opening minutes of "A Small Client", the first Miyazaki episode to air.

"Fales" is almost exactly the word I'd want to use. True, we're talking about Japanese animators working with a foreign alphabet, but that kind of inattention to detail is the mark of bargain-basement animation farmed out to a Korean subcontractor by a penny-pinching American company, not an artist with Miyazaki's customary sure touch. Admittedly, most of the English text that appears isn't this poorly-executed, but there are examples scattered throughout the series (e.g. a background company oddly named "Restaurant June").

Or, for a more immediate and indefensible example, take the way that Watson is a different color in two of the episodes:

That's just cheapness. There's no other way to explain a studio making that kind of significant character change in the middle of production, and not bothering to fix the finished episodes. Or hell, maybe the episodes were being animated in tandem, and the teams didn't have access to the same paint. There's no way to spin it and have it not be a flaw.

On the subject of which: Watson is blue? For some reason, probably to make it more visually "poppy", many of the characters are given inexplicable color schemes that end up looking a bit gross. There are few characters in animation that I can name which suggest a colorblind designer quite as badly as this monstrosity, who we're mind to find sweet and sympathetic:

But at least this little girl (from the third aired episode, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", is at least appealingly drafted. There are just as many characters who have a sort of grotesque, gangrenous quality in some of their expressions, usually the villains (which excuses it at least a little, but given how visually interesting some true grotesques later in Miyazaki's cinema look, it's still hard to defend).

I do not want to focus exclusively on the show's missteps, so let me observe that, from time to time, there's a certain hint of the great visual invention that Miyazaki had already demonstrated, and would continue to express for years to come. The last of his episodes to air, "The Sovereign Gold Coins", has some very characteristic shots of a torn-up industrial wasteland that have an undeniable arresting power, and generally speaking, any time the plot concerns some wicked machine, the director reaches something close to the effectiveness of his better work.

These moments are rare, but they represent the only time that Sherlock Hound rises above the level of chintzy, disposable kids' show fare. Drama, visual or narrative, is rare in the series, which is mostly content to be a cartoon in the worst sense of it: simplistic plots, ungainly characters, broad visual gags involving no-stakes violence. It's a far cry from anything in the complex world-building and thematic richness of Future Boy Conan or the breezy good humor and pleasant roundness of Lupin III; and of course it feels nothing at all like the run of stunning visual art begun with Nausicaä, which must have made Sherlock Hound look all the crappier back in 1984. There is a profound sense that the director just plain wasn't trying when he made this series: it succeeds at a staggeringly limited goal of being fitfully amusing for 25 minutes, but it's not in the least bit lasting. It is, sadly, entirely made of fale.