Blond pretty boy Moriarty haunts my nightmares.
Moriarty the Patriot is a manga series written by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and illustrated by Hikaru Miyoshi as a prequel to the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from the perspective of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis Professor Moriarty. Though there are twelve volumes published in Japan, the first volume has only recently been released in English by VIZ. The first episode of the anime adaptation of this series by Production I. G. aired on October 11, 2020.
It’s a lot!
Moriarty the Patriot
Ryōsuke Takeuchi, writer, and Hikaru Miyoshi, artist
Oct 6, 2020
I’ve seen my fair share of Sherlock Holmes takes — the original stories, the Japanese drama Miss Sherlock, the Guy Ritchie films, and more — but I will admit this is the first time I’ve seen a version of the mythos starring Moriarty. The point of view flip does make the story feel fresh… if the only media you’ve ever consumed is versions of Sherlock Holmes.
I started reading this expecting to be reminded of every other Sherlock Holmes story I’ve read and watched, but instead I found myself thinking more about Death Note, Lavender Jack, and recent Netflix anime Great Pretender. And Leverage. The point is, conmen scamming evil rich people is nothing new, and neither is “morally grey protagonist deciding to fix the world by Killing All The Bad People.”
Moriarty fails to gain my sympathy due to the fact that he and his gang humiliate and murder their targets. The targets in Great Pretender do far more despicable things than those in Moriarty the Patriot, and yet feel more complex and human because the amount of time spent on each case lets the characters develop and the viewers understand why they need to be destroyed. At the same time, the conmen have a strict no-murdering policy that keeps the viewers firmly on their side.
Takeuchi’s strategy for gaining audience sympathy seems to be to make Moriarty’s targets classist snobs to an extent that I can’t imagine ever encountering in the real world. I’m pretty sure a character literally refers to poor people as “vermin” at some point, which like, not even Rose’s parents in Titanic were that obvious about their prejudices. The crimes these targets are punished for are all very personal and small-scale, primarily affecting one or two people, which makes the revenge Moriarty enacts feel more petty than noble. Even if in practice he’s killing a corrupt landowner in chapter 2, the framing of the scene makes it seem more like he’s getting justice for a young lady whose son died due to the landowner’s actions.
In Death Note, Light Yagami is pretty clearly a bad person, but the reader can’t help kind of liking him and wanting him to succeed because he’s engaged in a battle of wits with the police and detectives from the very beginning. Moriarty has no rivals in volume 1. Sherlock Holmes himself doesn’t even appear in the first volume at all (though I’ve been told he shows up in Volume 2). This is a bold move! But it didn’t work for me, because it meant Moriarty and his crew just kept operating with zero consequences or rivals or enemies arising from their actions.
Moriarty the Patriot is intended to be a prequel to the original Sherlock Holmes series, showing how Moriarty became “the Napoleon of crime” that he was in his encounters with Holmes in Conan Doyle’s stories. The problem is, Moriarty’s entire idea of “how to end classicism in 1800s Britain” is just “let’s kill all the Bad Rich People,” which does not seem like a believable ideology for a character supposed to be the smartest person ever. He’s supposed to be a villain you want to root for, but I just cannot get behind this because it’s so… ridiculous. In the manga he’s been plotting his schemes for like a decade, why hasn’t anyone pointed out to him that killing all the bad rich people will change nothing if you don’t fix the systems and structures that made those rich people in the first place?
While the strategy is outrageous, the art in this book is technically very nice. I can tell the artist used references for the environments and costuming. However. I cannot condone generic blond anime boy Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime. That is not what Moriarty looks like in my head, and I’ve seen a lot of Moriartys in my life. He looks like the protagonist of a shojo manga, not a crime mystery drama. He looks like the most popular boy in school. It does not fit.
All of the character designs feel pretty generic and like things I’ve seen before, but I was really excited when I saw Sebastian Moran looked exactly like Kuroo Tetsuro from Haikyu!! so this could be a positive or a negative depending on how you look at it. I am very curious to see what Sherlock Holmes will look like, but I don’t know if I’m curious enough to struggle through more of this series.
On the whole, Moriarty the Patriot is teetering on the line between “bad” and “so-bad-it’s-good” for me. I don’t like it, but I have spent every waking moment since I finished reading volume 1 thinking about the parts I didn’t like. I might check out the anime out of morbid curiosity, but really, if you like the idea of corrupt rich people getting their comeuppance, watch Great Pretender, read Lavender Jack, skip this.