「緋色の瞳 第一幕」 (Scarlet Eyes Part 1)
“Hiiro no hitomi daiichimaku”
Anytime an anime is overtly political, I’m cautious about getting too swept up in it. This is tricky territory for the medium, perhaps because Japan is a country that more or less practices “managed democracy” and where obedience is prized much more highly than individualism. Promising starts have often fizzled into trainwrecks, and I can count on one hand the series (most of them written by Aikawa Shou, it seems like) which managed to be genuinely subversive and pull it off. Concrete Revolutio was the most overt, and stuff like UN-GO and Shin Sekai Yori are subtler about it.
So far at least, Yuukoku no Moriarty seems to be following the former route. Using the Holmes mythology as a framing device it’s taking dead aim at the historical icon of the rigid class system, Victorian Britain. Whether it will limit its scope to that or take veiled aim at the Japanese class system as well it’s too early to tell, but classism worldwide tends to have more that unites than divides it. To say that this is a ripe target for a good anime to take aim at is an understatement; the only real question is whether Moriarty the Patriot is the right anime to do it.
These are extremely early days – two episodes out of a scheduled two cours. But damned if Moriarty isn’t the anime of the season so far, at least among the ones without wolverines and Russian steam baths. The show hasn’t really put a foot wrong. It started off by showing us what sort of man the protagonist is, for better and for worse. Now, it takes us into the past and shows us how he came to be in the unique position he inhabits, with a surprising focus on the oldest – and biological – son, Albert.
In 1866, William James Moriarty (though I doubt that’s been his name for long) looks to be about 12 years old. He (Ishigami Shizuka) and sickly brother Louis (Touyama Nao) are in the care of the aristocratic Moriarty family, but clearly treated in Cinderfella fashion – with the bulk of the hostility coming from the mother, who wanted no part of adopting them. The father seems generally detached, but was manipulated into adopting an orphan by a countess (holding court at Gastros Club, seen in the premiere) – a lady the other nobles seem keen to impress. The family also includes Albert’s younger biological brother William, who’s obviously a bad seed and the designated villain of the piece.
Albert is the most fascinating character in the story in many ways. He’s full-blooded nobility, but an idealist who hates the rigid class structure of the setting. He spends much of his time helping out at a “ragged school“, a charitable institution set up to educate (or keep tabs on) street children that was common in 19th Century London. It’s there he meets William and Louis, and William instantly fascinates him The boy is clearly a genius, the adults around him enthralled by his brilliance, and he spends his time as an “advisor” to the townsfolk for food and a bit of money. But he’s also helping the lower classes fight back through crime, and teaching his fellow urchins how they should deal with those who oppress and seek to maintain the system.
Albert is shocked when he learns that William is helping thieves and fomenting violence against “caddish” nobles – but only a little. He’s enthralled himself, in fact, because he sees in little William both the inclination and the ability to shake up the system in ways he himself can’t. That William would be a revolutionary is quite natural, but that Albert would too is far more surprising – and interesting. When his father foists off the job of choosing an orphan to adopt onto him, it’s obvious who Albert is going to choose – though whether he voluntarily accepted Louis too or William simply refused to be separated from him is not yet revealed.
In Albert’s eyes, what William is doing – and more, is capable of doing – is “wrong in the service of right”. I can’t stress enough how extraordinary it would be for someone in Albert’s position to feel as he does, but that makes him a compelling mystery. Some things are clear here – I think we can guess what happened to the “original” William, and that Albert was complicit in that event. What we don’t know is whether the same fate (engineered by William, no doubt) befell the parents, as is the eventual role of Holmes and Watson in the story. But as premises go, this is one of the more interesting I’ve seen in anime for a long time – and so far the characters and execution are its equal. Lots can still go wrong here, but the sheer upside of Yuukoku no Moriarty is positively intoxicating.