#1 Magical girl detectives
In the world of Milky Holmes, people with strong hearts are able to develop all kinds of superpowers. Elemental magic, super strength, enhanced senses, or even psychic abilities, it’s all possible. Naturally, some people have started using these powers for evil, giving rise to the so-called Phantom Thieves. And to counter these loathsome criminals, academies around the world have started training magical detectives.
The story follows Sherlock Shellingford, a descendant of the legendary detective that we know of classic literature. She is the leader of the Milky Holmes detective team, the most famous and successful group within the Holmes Detective Academy. Sherlock has powerful telekinesis, the tomboyish Nero can take control of machinery, the elegant Cordelia has enhanced senses, and the taciturn Hercule is unrivaled in strength.
However, one night while battling with their nemesis Arsène, a mysterious explosion leaves the Milky Holmes girls wounded. It soon becomes clear that their powers are gone, with no indication of how this happened or how permanent this change will be. Sherlock and her friends are thus forced to start fighting crime the old-fashioned way while also investigating how to get their powers back.
#2 Parody without edge
Milky Holmes is a magical girl show with a detective twist, but at the same time it is also a parody of those genres that aims for an older audience. This genuinely caught me off guard, because I went into it anticipating a show for kids. It all looked so perfectly tropey and kiddie, up until a classmate referred to Sherlock as a “useless loli dyke”.
The comedy is reliably sharp with touches of dark humor thrown into it, but what I appreciate the most is that this isn’t a “dark” series. In recent years I have grown accustomed to parodies on the magical girl genre being edgy “deconstructions”; see Panzer Princess Punie-chan or the slew of derivatives that followed in the wake of Madoka Magica. Series that can certainly be interesting, but it’s a trend that I quickly grew tired of.
Milky Holmes still has the cute characters, magic, and lighthearted fun of a shoujo-oriented magical girl series with dashes of adult humor thrown into it. It’s self-aware about the nature of these kinds of series and enjoys poking fun at its trappings; like mocking how weirdly-sexualized these anime can be or how they try to make it seem like nobody ever dies in these magical, city-wide battles.
#3 Idiotic characters done well
A running joke throughout the series is that Sherlock’s team is entirely incompetent. They got to the top thanks to their incredible powers, but after losing them it turns out they don’t have any practical skills whatsoever. They are terrible students, even worse detectives, and they are too self-obsessed to see how any of this might be a problem.
Describing just how thoroughly stupid these girls are is nearly impossible. They are naïve, work-shy, conceited, and lack any self-awareness whatsoever. All their classmates hate them and are just waiting for the team to get kicked out of the school. However, not even the looming threat of expulsion can motivate these girls to shape up. In fact, they routinely forget about their mission to go on fun (unearned) trips or take up new hobbies; usually at the academy’s expense, no less.
Individually, each of the girls is idiotic in their own unique ways. Nero is prone to unreasonable tantrums, especially when the academy begins revoking privileges that Milky Holmes received when they were still aces. Sherlock is obnoxiously genki at all times and catastrophically clumsy on top of that, whereas Hercule is so timid that any amount of attention sends her into a panic. Cordelia takes the cake, though. She is prone to spontaneously lapsing into delusional fantasies, which either leave her incapacitated due to sheer ecstasy or have her assume melodramatic alter egos.
In a way, watching these characters is incredibly infuriating. They have no sense of responsibility, they are entitled, and they mess up every opportunity handed to them. In spite of all that, they are still very endearing and enjoyable characters, which is perhaps the anime’s greatest achievement. I had a lot of fun watching these lovable morons make a complete mess of the plot and seeing them overcome the consequences of their terrible decisions.
It’s rare to see a series with a cast this unimaginably stupid while still managing to make its characters so lovable.
#4 Costume design
In a homage to the series’ blend of genres, the costume design mixes elements from magical girl shows and classic detective stereotypes. The outfits are clearly inspired by the image of Sherlock Holmes; long coats, large caps, and a tie. These are then given a mahou shoujo make-over by painting them in bright colors and making everything frillier.
It’s a cute and memorable look. Very inspired, in spite of feeling like such an obvious design decision. I also like how the outfits are tuned to each character. Cordelia’s ribbon has a large flower on it, Nero exchanges the bottom-half of her coat for shorts, and Sherlock doubles down hard on the laces.
That’s not where their wardrobe ends either. There are different school uniforms, casual clothes, one-off outfits, and swimsuits. All these different outfits add to the show’s variety and add some extra characterization to the girls.
Besides the usual anime and manga releases, Detective Opera Milky Holmes also saw success in video games. Developer Artdink released two visual novel-style games for the PSP, which provide a very different take on the Milky Holmes universe.
These games would see their own animated follow-up in Detective Opera Milky Holmes Alternative. This 2-episode OVA shows us what the series could have been like if it played the concept straight. In it, Sherlock and friends are actual detectives-in-training and have to solve an actual mystery in actual England. They do this under the guidance of their teacher Kobayashi Opera, a master sleuth exclusive to the video game’s canon and this OVA.
It’s a strange experience when you’re used to the crazy humor of the main series, though not an unpleasant one. The personalities of the cast are moe-fied a touch and the plot plays out more like a safe-for-children shoujo series. A nice change-of-pace after 2 seasons of complete wackiness or a perfect alternative if you like the franchise’s premise but not its sense of comedy.
#6 Uncomfortably weird villains
I have talked a lot about how fun the detective girls are, but every hero needs a villain; every detective needs a phantom thief. Milky Holmes frequently faces off against the master thief Arsène, who is backed up by her literal band of simps.
Stone River is a swordfighter that tries to act like a wise, noble samurai, only to be frequently ignored or break from his stoic character when frustrated. Rat is a young thief with bombs and fire powers, who is very sensitive about how everyone keeps forgetting his super-generic villain name. And then there is Twenty, a magician-like thief who takes narcissism to new extremes. Especially Twenty gets increasingly weird as the series goes on. For example, he is often seen acting out elaborate roleplays with a body-pillow of himself and develops a fighting style based around his erect nipples.
All 3 of them are vying for Arsène’s attention and approval, all while constantly failing to understand her true intentions. This loyalty tends to get a little too much, like in one episode where Arsène’s absence causes them to start worshipping anything that reminds them of her—stains on the wall included.
Arsène herself is a play on the hyper-sexualized villainesses, but in a novel contrast her character is the only sane person in the plot. She is a master thief for whom treasure isn’t actually that important. She wants a challenge and, for a long time, Milky Holmes was the only team able to provide that. With their powers gone, Arsène infiltrates the academy under the guise of a student president and tries everything she can to help restore her rivals to their former glory. However, as Milky Holmes messes up her every attempt to subtly help them, Arsène’s patience starts to wear thin and her methods become more extreme.
More anime & manga like this
Dirty Pair: Law enforcement with a total disregard for collateral damage.
Princess Principal: Mystery story drawing inspirations from old-timey England.
Punie-chan: Satire on magical girl tropes.