The Greatest of Villains Have Equally Great Ambitions
I will admit I was a little intrigued by this title when I first had this recommended to me as an anime to catch up on. While Sherlock Holmes movies haven’t done a great deal for me, I have enjoyed a number of TV shows that have updated the characters or taken great influence from the world’s greatest consulting detective, and even though many anime attempts at borrowing these characters haven’t exactly been brilliant, the attempts are usually intriguing for a whole bunch of reasons. I also didn’t mind revisiting Victorian London as the setting is one that various anime have utilised again and again with varying results. But when they get it right, something kind of magical happens and long time readers of my blog will know about my love of Black Butler which is also set in the era (though I’ve learned my lesson and will never watch another historical anime set in this era with one particular friend of mine who spent the entire run time of Black Butler pointing out historical inaccuracies).
What made me particularly interested in Moriarty the Patriot (or Yuukoku no Moriarty) was that from the title it was clear we were going to be focused not on the detective but on the man who becomes his antagonist. More than that it seemed like we were going to very much explore Moriarty’s motives and worldviews that shaped him into the criminal mastermind we are somewhat more familiar with.
This review is going to end up being a bit strange because my impression of this anime very much changed from my initial impressions in episode 1, to my half-way impressions, to my final impressions. That is largely due to the fact that the opening act is strongly written, atmospheric, and generally intrigues, the mid-way point has kind of settled into more episodic and predictable patters, and then just after the half-way mark we finally meet Sherlock Holmes and from there the anime begins to split its focus away from Moriarty and to be honest I felt that was to the show’s detriment.
However, let us start with the first three episodes, which to be perfectly honest were everything I could have wanted going into this anime.
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Outside of the fact that these apparently very English characters have largely standard anime hairtstyles (there’s some attempt to localise them but really, these boys are all rocking fairly contemporary anime looks), I loved the visuals in the first episode. The cuts to old statues, the use of a dark colour palette in the appropriate scenes, the fog and gloom that we associate with the city and era just worked. Even the music in the episode relied heavily on the organ and while it might have been a little on the melodramatic side it still served the purpose for the story as did the periodic thunder in the background. Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely sold on the boppy techno-esque music that hit us at the end of the episode as it was just a little on the jarring side.
Equally, the first episode delivered in terms of story and character introduction. We meet the three Moriarty brothers, Albert, William and Louis and learn a little about the dynamics of how they operate as we see them investigate a series of murdered boys in the town and then organise for ‘justice’ to be served.
There is definitely a bit of a comparison to be made between these characters, particularly William, and Light from Death Note. Admittedly, Moriarty doesn’t go as over-the-top in being drunk on his own power and also has no particular supernatural assistance, but both Light and Moriarty see their world as rotten and in need of fixing and both take fairly extreme measures in order to repair what they perceive as broken. I also like that Moriarty has a great ambition here. He wants to improve the world even if he has to break the existing society down in order to achieve that and he isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty even if he usually prefers to work via proxy leaving him clear to take the next step in his grand plan.
For those who are a little on the squeamish side, there will be blood and vengeance in this story. Between stabbings, poisonings, potential shootings, and burning a building down with the family inside, this one isn’t a shiny-happy story full of happy characters. That said, it also ensures each of these deaths serves a narrative purpose and while it doesn’t shy away from showing the killing, it doesn’t really glorify it either. Here, death is a tool and murder a means to an end.
Immediately after a strong first episode, the audience is given the background on how these brothers came together and how the dynamic formed, as we are given a two episode reminiscence of how Albert Moriarty came to meet William and Louis and just how they ended up ‘brothers’. This is definitely what I wanted going into this anime as we see a young Moriarty developing his views on the England at the time, the class system, as well as his own sense of morality. Realistically, I could have been happy with this anime ending after episode 3 as seeing young Moriarty was a pretty solid viewing experience.
You know, aside from the fact that various noble characters are ridiculous caricatures rather than human beings in how they make their class prejudices and overall stupidity abundantly clear. A lack of subtlety in the characterisation of every character outside of the central protagonists is an ongoing issue with the series. Sure, you get the point across that things are really messed up and that the noble classes aren’t exactly to be pitied, however they are all just so blunt in their power abuse and general despicable attitudes.
The mid-season works rather effectively as we move back to the brothers being grown up and we end up in a fairly episodic sequence where Moriarty becomes aware of a situation and offers ‘assistance’ and we see just how clever he really is as he plans out and executes what he calls ‘perfect crimes’. Again, a serious failing here is that while Moriarty does appear to be quite the genius, it is difficult to really appreciate him when every character he’s up against is so very, very stupid.
Despite that criticism there’s a nice range of scenarios carried out over the episodes and Moriarty is actually quite fascinating as a character here. I just kind of wish the supporting cast and the villains and victims of the week were written better in order to really showcase him in a better light. We also are introduced to two other members of Moriarty’s network who then hang around and support in all subsequent cases (which kind of makes you wonder where they were in the first episode). I’d like to say that the two brought something to the party, but other than anonymity (which none of the Moriarty brothers have) and some weapon skills, they ultimately don’t amount to much.
The turning point, is of course the two part episode in the mid-season where Moriarty boards a boat to stage a wonderful show for nobles and commoners alike and while on board encounters another young man who seems to have a gift for deduction. This particular story is great with the only negative I can find being again the seriously over-the-top villainous nature of the noble at the centre of the story. As a first encounter between Moriarty and the later-to-be-identified Sherlock, it also works exceptionally well.
Unfortunately for me, this was where the series did take a turn for the less interesting with subsequent episodes focusing on Sherlock meeting Watson and Moriarty setting up an elaborate ‘test’ for the consulting detective. The only real high point from the end season comes when the two end up coincidentally on the same train and end up solving a crime on board. Possibly it is because Sherlock’s story is so well-known and so seeing something that had originally provided a different take and perspective on the characters suddenly shift to the standard Watson meeting Sherlock narrative was a bit of a disappointment, or it could be that really once Sherlock comes along Moriarty’s screen-time is reduced and he was very much a selling point for me in this.
The other disappointment comes as episode 11 ends without really establishing where to next but leaves lots of loose ends. Admittedly, there’s a second half or season that’s supposed to air in the Spring 2021 season which may actually give this a bit more of a finish, but as it stands it just kind of stops leaving the audience without much in the way of closure or resolution.
When left wondering if I recommend this I’m in two minds. Part of me thinks yes, if you enjoy this kind of mystery story and don’t mind taking the villain’s perspective for the majority, there’s plenty to enjoy particularly in the early part of the series. Depending on how you take Sherlock’s episodes later in the season, there’s no real change in quality throughout, so you might find these more or less enjoyable depending on whether you like this particular anime’s take on the detective. Despite that, this isn’t a must watch and while I really enjoyed this depiction of Moriarty, too many other characters just don’t feel nuanced enough or well written enough to really do the overall concept justice. I appreciate what it was trying to convey but felt it could have done it better.
Still, if you’ve watched Moriarty the Patriot I would love to know your thoughts on it.
Images used for review from: Moriarty the Patriot. Dir. K. Nomura. Production I. G. 2020.
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