Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 1st 2008
Case Closed: The Fourteenth Target
Ever since an incident involving an experimental drug, genius teen detective Jimmy (Shinichi) Kudo has been trapped inside a little boy's body. Going by the pseudonym Conan Edogawa, he now solves uncrackable cases with the help (or hindrance) of his high school sweetheart Rachel (Ran) and her father, private detective Richard Moore (Kogoro Mori). His latest challenge appears to be a countdown to death: a serial killer is going after people connected to detective Moore, based on an esoteric formula involving the thirteen numbers in a deck of playing cards! With targets dropping one by one, Conan will not only have to figure out who's next, but also who's responsible—and stop the killer in time.
The cleverest thing about Case Closed: The Fourteenth Target is also the most difficult to translate: a series of number tricks and wordplay based on the characters' Japanese names. As one can imagine, this doesn't really work out in the localization, and hardcore language purists would probably do well to run away now and not look back. Behind the wordplay and arithmetic, however, is another solid Conan case: plenty of suspense, a wondrously elaborate solution, and a flash-bang finale loaded with explosions. However, this movie sticks so close to formula that it fails to improve upon it in any way: the animation is only slightly better than the regular series, and the story simply takes longer to execute. In short, it's one of those movies that just happens to be a really long TV episode.
However, being a really long episode isn't always a bad thing for a movie—this one takes the sense of urgency found in the main series and manages to draw it out into a 90-minute thriller. Few things are quite as suspenseful as a race against time, and counting down a deck of cards certainly does the trick. Victims 13, 12 and 11 (King, Queen and Jack) all get hit in quick succession, and once Conan spots the pattern, that's when the storyline really starts to take off. The chase to warn the next victim—as well as finding the killer—keeps the story going at an exciting pace, whether the next scene involves hard-hitting explosions or tense, quiet dialogue. This one's got plenty of classic mystery-thriller sequences: an aircraft crash-landing, a closed-room murder, an underwater escape, and of course, a precarious gunfight in the finale. When it comes to the elements of action and suspense, this movie delivers well.
What a shame, then, that the rest of it is enslaved to the rules and conventions of the series (and this is the part where being a "really long episode" happens to be a drawback). The movie wastes an entire opening scene with flashbacks explaining how Conan got to be the way he is, and then blindly goes through a checklist of things that always happen in the series: Conan always unlocks the first vital clue, he always uses one of Dr. Agasa's gadgets for help, there's always some romantic tension on the side, Conan always figures out some amazingly intricate solution, and he always explains it by posing as the bumbling detective. In fact, the only kind of character development that happens here is between the members of the Moore family, and everyone else is either superhuman (Conan) or disposable (all the side characters). The mystery may be challenging and deep, but the characters in the story are not.
As usual, Gosho Aoyama's simple and angular art translates easily to the screen, and the production budget of a feature film helps to avoid the usual sloppiness associated with TV animation. The character designs are not only distinctive, but also manage to stay on model throughout—no sudden changes in face shape or anything. The color quality also stays reasonably bright and sharp (at least for a 1998 production), and the movie manages to make its way through some visually impressive settings, including a soaring helicopter ride and AN Entertainment complex built on the bay. However, a number of technical limitations are still apparent: most of the gesture animation relies on shortcuts typically seen on TV, even going so far as to "slide" a character across a speedlined background, and the lack of detailed light and shadow makes everything look rather flat. In other words, it's touched up to the point where it's visibly better than a TV production ... but still lacks the polish of a true blockbuster animated film.
Music is another area that's lacking in polish; anyone hoping to hear the dramatic strains of a full orchestra will be sadly disappointed. Synths and a small session band provide the soundtrack here, leaning towards pop and jazz tracks that punctuate some of the more dramatic scenes. When the music stays subtle, it works, but some moments are completely overshadowed by a melodramatic wailing saxophone or the boom-chicka-boom of a fusion groove. A couple of syrupy ballads also find their way into the movie as background music, but this attempt at creating emotion sounds woefully artificial.
And now we come face to face with our translation nightmare. Everyone already knows that the main characters' names were Anglicized when Case Closed first came out, but this one is so loaded with changes and name puns that comparing the dubbed and subtitled versions of the movie is like watching two different stories. For example, a clue like "He has a 'three' [in kanji characters] in his name" for Victim No. 3 becomes something like "He is the third of three brothers." This conversion would almost work, were it not for actual video footage showing the characters' names in Japanese kanji, then highlighting the number that gives the clue. Clearly, the dub script doesn't agree with the images shown on screen, and this makes for some hilariously incongruous puzzle-solving. It also doesn't help that regular dialogue in the dub is wildly different from the original translation. If it's any consolation, the dub voice acting is quite laid-back and listenable, and it's actually the Japanese voice actors who might be accused of overacting. But again ... if you want to follow this mystery the way it was truly written, subtitles are the only way to go.
Although The Fourteenth Target makes a good action-suspense movie with a clever mystery setup, its strict adherence to the world of Conan Edogawa ends up being its own undoing. In order to protect the continuity of the series, it avoids any serious character developments or story twists, and it blindly follows the usual plot points and gimmicks because "that's the way Conan's always done it." Even more egregious, at least for international fans, is how the English dubbed version of the movie solves the clues in a completely roundabout way because Japanese name puns are untranslatable. Fortunately, this language issue doesn't affect Conan's final revelation of who the killer is, and neither does it ruin an action-packed finale. But one still wonders how much better this movie could have been if it weren't so intent on simply being an extended TV episode.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : C-
+ Great suspense thanks to a clever premise and delightfully tricky clues, plus plenty of action to top things off.
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