Christie wants to be just like her uncle, but when your uncle is Sherlock Holmes, that is a difficult thing to achieve. But Christie is smart and hardworking, so at the age of ten, she’s already the equal of any student at Oxford or Cambridge—at least in science and classics. When it comes to proper behavior or how to navigate the rules of society, though, Christie still needs some work. Luckily she’s surrounded by just the right people to help her hone her skills, and in a big city like London there is no shortage of crime to investigate!
Young Miss Holmes, casebook 1-2
By Kaoru Shitani
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages
Good Comics for Kids recommends: Ages 10-18; Grades 5-12
Seven Seas, March 2012, ISBN 978-1-935934-86-8
384 pages, $16.99
Part of me wants to wholeheartedly recommend Young Miss Holmes, as it is perfect to fill the ever-present gap of graphic novel mysteries and features several very strong female characters. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out several problems with it, most of which relate to the decisions Seven Seas made about packaging and promotion.
First the good: Young Miss Holmes is fun. It has snappy dialogue, interesting characters, and amusing asides. The mysteries will be enjoyable both to those who are already fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective stories and to those who have only experienced Sherlock Holmes’ detective power through movies and TV shows. Christie is smart, but not too smart, and her efforts to improve herself are touching. She is assisted by her governess, who helps her work on her interpersonal skills, and by two of her family’s maids, both of whom have their own, occasionally violent, ways of keeping their young charge safe. One of the maids, the rough-and-ready Nora, is charmingly grey ethics-wise. Sherlock and Watson make their expected appearance and both stick fairly close to their characterization from Conan Doyle’s novels, though Shitani has Holmes soften a good bit in his opinion of the detectives of Scotland Yard.
Shitani has been working in manga since the early 1970s and he started off by doing shojo (girls’) comics. His art retains that slightly old-fashioned style, which makes it an absolute perfect fit for Young Miss Holmes. The Victorian settings are highly detailed, giving readers’ eyes much to enjoy. Fans of manga “costume dramas” will find much to relish here. I wouldn’t be surprised to find some Young Miss Holmes cosplayers at anime conventions in the near future! The level of violence is about what can be expected from a series where the protagonists solve murders. Christie’s maids are fast with their guns and whips, and there are several dead bodies, but nothing is overly gory.
Unfortunately, though, that brings me to the problems with Seven Seas’ release of Shitani’s work. The first, most obvious, error lies in the title and the back matter. Young Miss Holmes is a misnomer, since Christie’s last name is Hope. Seven Seas was clearly going for a catchy title, but there is no reason they couldn’t have stuck with the title and just meant “Holmes” as a nickname for Christie, rather than her actual name. But they refer to her as Christie Holmes on the back of the book, which was unnecessary and confusing, especially when readers are told right from the beginning that Christie is the daughter of Sherlock’s sister, meaning she wouldn’t have had the last name Holmes at all. (And yes, obviously, the sister—and Christie herself—are merely inventions of Shitani’s.)
The next problem is the rating. “All Ages” has long been a catch-all term for any manga that doesn’t quite need a Teen/13+ rating. For a while, publisher TokyoPop had a Y/Youth/7+ (or 10+) rating, which was more accurate. Young Miss Holmes is a perfect example of a title that needs a 10+ rating (possibly as low as 9+). It doesn’t have enough violence to merit a Teen rating, and there are only very discreet mentions of “an adulterous affair” in relation to a case. But the vocabulary, the high amount of dialogue, and the complexity of the story make this better suited for a tween or young teen audience. (Though the title is likely to appeal to older teens and even adults as well.)
Related to the rating issue is the problem of the crossover between Young Miss Holmes and Dance in the Vampire Bund (by Nozomu Tamaki, also published by Seven Seas). The main character from Dance in the Vampire Bund shows up in one of the cases in Young Miss Holmes and the two meet again (sort of) in a special epilogue at the end of the book. For those who don’t know anything about Dance in the Vampire Bund, there is seemingly no issue. Christie meets a young woman who may be a vampire and that’s that. But Seven Seas is actively promoting the cross-over, though a special wraparound on the Young Miss Holmes book and on their website. And therein lies the problem. If young readers fall for Christie and want to read Dance, assuming it will have a similar tone and content level, they will be in for a surprise. Dance is rated Older Teen/16+ by Seven Seas and contains violence and a good deal of overt sexuality, often on the part of Mina, the vampire main character who looks like a ten-year-old girl. In Japan, the two books are published in a seinen magazine—one aimed at adult men. So there the crossover makes sense. And it wouldn’t be a problem here if Seven Seas had either promoted the crossover elements but rated Young Miss Holmes Teen/13+ so as to have less of an abrupt change between it and Dance or if Seven Seas had kept Young Miss Holmes at a lower rating but downplayed the crossover as much as possible, so as to keep the young audience for Young Miss Holmes separated from the more mature audience of Dance. Companies have successfully changed works from seinen in Japan to “All Ages” in the US, but they’ve done so deliberately and with great care. (See Esther’s post about Yotsuba&! and the Question of Appeal for more information.)
Overall, Young Miss Holmes is a great young teen mystery series. It’s enjoyable, the art is strong, and there’s terrific potential for appeal right now, with season two of BBC’s Sherlock series wrapping up on PBS, the second of the Robert Downey, jr./Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movies out late last year, and with CBS launching their new series Elementary in the fall. But adults need to be aware that, while the two series are connected slightly, that doesn’t make them both child-friendly. Removing the wraparound advertisement will help and will make it more likely that this series finds the audience it deserves.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Seven Seas.