Young Mabel West is the daughter of mystery writer Raymond West, who wants her to lead a normal life. Rebelling against this, Mabel wants to be a great detective, and sets out for London to become assistant to none other than Hercule Poirot, the great Belgian detective who resides there. She finally wins the reluctant approval of her father, and embarks on an exciting life of mystery and suspense—his only demand being that she occasionally spend some time with her great-aunt, Jane Marple, in the small village of St. Mary Mead.
In 1841, when Edgar Allen Poe wrote “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and introduced readers to the detective C. Auguste Dupin he helped create a genre of fiction that has endured and thrived in the decades since, and I’m glad he did. I do love detective stories. It’s the reason I watch Law & Order reruns every night as well as being part of the reason I’ve watched over 200 episodes of Detective Conan to date. The thrill of the hunt for the killer, the match of wits and intellect between detective, murderer, and perhaps even reader are hallmarks of a good detective story. Among my favorite writers in the genre is Agatha Christie and consequently one of my favorite detectives is her charming Belgian dandy Hercule Poirot. Having read Poirot novels and seen the superb Granada television series starring David Suchet it was only a matter of time before I dove into the Poirot anime. Indeed, I did just that this past autumn with mixed results.
Before any conclusions can be reached it is best to always lay the facts out in front of us as they are. Agatha Christie no Meitante Poirot to Marple is a thirty-nine episode long television series that adapts various novels and short stories featuring Christie’s detectives Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Some mysteries are solved in the space of a single episode while others take significantly longer with novel adaptations usually running for four episodes at the most. It sounds like a good setup and could potentially work very well but problems arise at the start of the very first episode where it is revealed that while the names Poirot and Marple are prominently featured in the title and while both detectives are characterized fairly well this isn’t really their story. No, this is the story of young Mabel West and her pet duck Oliver as they (yes they) learn about detective work from these two thoroughly qualified mentors.
Mabel desires independence, to find her own path in life free from her father’s overbearing influence and expectations, a desire that eventually leads her to seek a position as an assistant to Poirot. That’s all well and good I suppose but the problem is that her father’s supposed controlling nature is never properly established. The height of his onscreen tyranny is when he quite understandably chastises Mabel for bringing her pet duck into a crowded ballroom in the first episode. Beyond that there is the point that he insists on her going to a supposedly unpleasant boarding school, a potentially good line to follow up on. The creators would have done well to open the story at the boarding school, showing the viewer what a stultifying environment it really is in order to make Mabel’s perspective more readily understandable. Unfortunately they don’t and the only reason Mr. West is overbearing is because Mabel says he is.
However, while Mabel is indeed a poor character I can’t entirely dismiss her. While she is an obvious ploy by the creators to draw in a younger audience through the experiences of a similarly aged original character she spends most of her time in the background, never becoming intrusive and getting in the way of the story. Indeed, the most valueable role Mabel plays is that of a plot device to connect the worlds of Poirot and Marple. In the end the worst the creators have done by introducing the Mabel character is merely to take the Watson role of Captain Hastings and divide it up between two characters.
No, the worst transgression that the creators of this television program committed is related to another character entirely. This is a character so utterly useless in the context of a murder/mystery program, so cynically placed that the sheer gall of the creators is mind-boggling. I am of course talking about Mabel’s damned pet duck Oliver, a pseudo-anthropomorphized little yellow duck who looks, for all intents and purposes, like he wandered into the murder/mystery show out of a Walt Disney film. Oliver’s sole function, his singular purpose in being inserted into the world of Agatha Christie is to be a cute little duck that the viewers can look at and marvel at how cute he is to the point that he actually gets in the way. There are moments where the mystery that the show is supposed to be about is shelved so Oliver can pop out of the wicker basket Mabel carries him around in like an all too cute jack-in-the-box so he can sit in the lap of and be fawned over by whichever character happens to be around at the time. The height of his hideousness comes when during one particular case Oliver actually finds the murder weapon, receives credit for it, and tears off the murderer's disguise. It all gives the impression of a production process where the creators had their priorities terribly confused.
On the story front the best I can say is that the adaptations of Christie found in Poirot to Marple are adequate and that’s all. While various blunders hinder the production (among them a rather pointless escape from a French port under gunfire) and a good deal of the mystery has been drained out of these mysteries the essential quality of Christie’s writing does manage to somehow work its way through in the end making these acceptable but nonetheless flawed adaptations. The animation is similarly adequate but a good deal more bland. Character designs are as generic as they come with a minimum of detail accompanied by a flat color scheme all around. The only area where Poirot to Marple truly succeeds is in its soundtrack which can be often quite effective.
However, despite a well utilized soundtrack I can only recommend this show as a potential child’s diversion (in which case it has the unfortunate potential to ruin the experience of Christie for future readers) or as a curious oddity for Christie fans as it was for me. If you’ve already seen the Granada Poirot television series, or better still actually read Christie yourself, rest assured you’ve already had the superior experience as both are far superior in terms of characterization, wit, suspense, and most importantly mystery.read more
I feel it very necessary to say, I have not yet read anything written by Agatha Christie. I have no doubt that the original books were superior to this adaptation, and I can tell just from watching the show that the stories had an excellent source material. The main question for Christie fans will probably be, "How much adaptation decay is there?" I cannot answer this, only talk about how I felt as someone who was experiencing everything in this show as fresh and new.
In part to provide a common link between Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, the lead detectives of our story, and also in part to give children a character with which to relate, we are introduced to Maybelle West, a 16-year old girl who is learning how to become a detective. Maybelle also comes along with the unfortunate companion of Oliver the duckling. Maybelle, when she's not being a horrible brat to her father, is mostly smiling and friendly and vapid. Fortunately, she doesn't intrude on the established stories very much. She assists Poirot and Marple, but I often times forget she is there. Oliver is harder to ignore, because when he pops his head out of his basket, the camera is squarely on him until he disappears. Oliver gets far too much screentime for a creature with zero purpose other than to be adorable.
If like me you haven't read these stories before, don't think you won't be fooled just because this is a "kid's show." Yes, sometimes they add in extra clues, but for the most part these are riddles that will challenge an adult mind. Sometimes I correctly guessed a culprit and reasoned through it, and sometimes I didn't. That's probably the genius of Agatha Christie shining through.
At the heart and despite all the trimmings, this show is classic "whodunnit," with an ample side dish of "howdunnit." Marple and Poirot are both the kind of people who prefer to solve a crime with deduction than following breadcrumbs. So, instead of a crime story where breaks and new leads in the case are handed to us, we as viewers have to slowly gather facts and read suspects. There is almost zero action in this show, and that is just fine, because it kept my brain chugging along. The suspense is good enough to cut with a knife.
While the animation screams "low budget," it doesn't really hamper the show as there's no action to be animated anyway. A positive and surprising tip of the hat should go to the soundtrack, which I felt heightened the show quite a bit, including the OP. It's more than I would have expected for a show of this type.
Despite the simplicity of all the main characters, Marple and Poirot included, and the younger audience wrapping, there is a distinct satisfaction that I got from watching this show and trying to figure out how the bad guy did it, whether I'm right or wrong. Some of the cases are brilliant, and it's easier to watch four episodes than it is to read a novel (if you're the lazy type). You do not need a background of reading Christie stories to appreciate the mystery. The show actually has made me want to go to the bookstore and check out some of Agatha Christie's other work. So while certainly not perfect in translation, the core of this anime was solid enough for a fully grown adult like myself to enjoy watching it.read more