When he smells fresh muffins in the oven, Judge William Lee becomes the Phantom of the Baker's Dozen.
One truth prevails.
Detective Conan is the star of a long-running Japanese franchise that began in 1994 with a manga written and illustrated by Gosho Aoyama. It has spawned 67 volumes of comics, 18 seasons of television anime (since 1996), numerous video games and 14 movies (the 15th has already been announced). Yet, Meitantei Konan is virtually unknown to North American audiences. Funimation Entertainment licensed the television series for North American broadcast and 50 episodes were aired on the Cartoon Network in 2004 before it was yanked due to low ratings. Case Closed: The Phantom of Baker Street, or Meitantei Konan: Bekâ Sutorâto no bôrei, was originally released in 2002 and it is the sixth movie in the franchise.
Viewers don't need an intimate knowledge of the backstory and characters' histories to follow along with this self-contained tale. Nevertheless, a speedy intro narration furnished with clips from earlier productions makes a valiant attempt to bring new viewers up to speed. Jimmy Kudo is a 17-year-old prodigy who regularly assists the police with his detective skills. One day, some mystery men try to kill Jimmy with an experimental poison but instead the secret drug reverts Jimmy into the form of a pint-sized seven-year-old. Jimmy adopts the identity Conan Edogawa, named after the creator of the greatest detective in literature, fearing the bad guys may target his friends if they ever realize that Jimmy lives. Only a handful of people know Conan's true identity: his parents, Booker and Vivian Kudo; Professor Agasa; and Vi Graythorn, a former chemist of the organization that tried to kill Jimmy, who has suffered the same side effect from the poison. Conan and some of his elementary school friends have formed the Junior Detective League and they solve some pretty serious crimes when they're off the playground.
In The Phantom of Baker Street, the kids attend the glitzy launch of a new virtual reality game system called the Cocoon. Players are sealed into individual pods and their avatars work together in the game world. When a computer engineer is murdered, Conan discovers a clue that prompts him to enter the game to identify the killer. The game environment is 19th century London and Conan's adversary is Jack the Ripper. The dangers of the game world have lethal consequences when an artificial intelligence called Noah's Ark hijacks the product demo. Noah's Ark, threatening to change Japanese society by wiping out the next generation, says he will electrocute the 50 kids locked in the cocoons if none of them can win the game. Meanwhile, celebrated crime novelist Booker Kudo is on the trail of the killer in the real world and hoping his son has the smarts to outwit the game level that he helped design.
On the surface, the animated adventure of this Japanese Sherlock Holmes appears deceptively simple. There are two contrasting character designs: angular features for the adult characters and cartoony, rounded features for the younger characters. The former reminds me of those imported sci-fi serials from the 1980s while the latter leads me to expect frenetic Saturday morning energy. Yet, the story avoids the techno-babble and melodrama of futuristic anime and refuses to stoop to using recycled animation like other shows designed to push toys. Instead, The Phantom of Baker Street is an enjoyable mystery that aims more toward the teenage and older crowd.
These kids are not solving mysteries, a la Scooby-Doo. The movie opens with a suicide, develops with a murder and then threatens to kill a bunch of kids if they can't win a video game. The level of suspense is quite engaging and I found myself quickly invested in the fates of these characters even though I had never watched an episode of the series before. There are a lot of scenes that are heavy with dialogue but the script manages to make those moments of exposition fit in naturally. There is even the classic whodunit setup where the sleuth addresses a roomful of suspects and explains the steps that led to his deduction. A big theme of the story is class privilege and corruption in Japanese society—the kids who receive passes to test the game are sons and daughters of the rich and powerful—which seems like an issue not on the radar of most seven-year-olds. Likewise, pitting elementary school kids against a historical serial killer is a formidable challenge. That said, Conan is up to the task and those challenges are scaled down accordingly. The spoiled rich boy standing in for the upper class is a tolerable minor adversary and the teamwork displayed by the young detectives makes them worthy opponents to the virtual Jack the Ripper (whose history and technique are greatly toned down). Still, don't let the cute kid artwork fool you into thinking this is Dora the Explorer's Japanese play pal.
The level of animation in this 2002 production is a touch better than your average episodic anime. The quality is comparable to direct-to-DVD movies. Computer-generated effects are used sparingly and blended well with the ink and paint elements. The action sequences are executed with considerable skill. Without being overly violent, those scenes are exciting and the movement is very clear.
The picture quality of this Funimation DVD is decent. Colors are slightly dark but not detrimentally so. The picture takes a step down in quality during the introduction that uses clips from the series. There are also a handful of scenes where permanent English subtitles contained in a big grey box appear on screen. I suspect this is done to cover up the permanent subtitles that served Japanese viewers whenever a non-Japanese character spoke. Considering that the video is derived from later-generation elements, it still holds up pretty well.
The preferred audio option is the English dub furnished in 5.1 surround. It's an average surround presentation that puts the voices cleanly in the center channel and shares music and sound effects in the four directional speakers. The rewritten English script is typical of the quality and care Funimation gives their imported properties. The voice actors put in dependable performances and the dialogue sounds natural. The original Japanese audio is also included on the disc but its soundscape is noticeably limited in comparison to the new mix. Purists will appreciate that it's there along with English subtitles that translate the original script.
It's a given in detective stories that viewers will not solve the mystery ahead of the movie's hero. The best examples may convince viewers that they could have figured it out as well but, really, the pleasure lies in observing the master sleuth in action. Detective Conan supplies enough of that pleasure and I can understand the character's lasting popularity. Generating a good level of suspense and presenting some satisfying puzzles, Case Closed: The Phantom of Baker Street is a refreshing anime title. Speaking as a newcomer to the character, I enjoyed it very much as an introductory installment.
Not guilty. Case closed.
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