This week, the health and job security of being an anime director. Also: what other countries have tried to sell their cartoons in America?
Reviewby L.M.Tokiwa, Oct 12th 2004
DVD: Starter Set
With an episodic format, a whodunit narrative and a diminutive hero, Case Closed may have more in common with Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown than the main character's idol Sherlock Holmes. But with so many similarities to the popular children's mystery series, it's no wonder Case Closed has become a hit. What the show may lack in music, art, or continuous plot, it more than makes up for in pure investigative fun.
17-year-old Jimmy Kudo (aka Shinichi Kudo) is smart and athletic, and definitely knows it. Revering Sherlock Holmes as one of the greatest detectives ever (fictional though he is), Kudo becomes heavily involved in investigative work with the police and quickly becomes one of the best known detectives in the area. However, when he interrupts an illegal deal between some suspicious men, Kudo is knocked unconscious and fed a mysterious drug. When he awakens, the effects of the drug become rather glaringly apparent, and now Kudo must find a way to track down his assailants and solve cases from a child-sized body. To protect his friends and his identity, Kudo renames himself “Conan Edogawa” after two popular mystery writers and goes to live with his friend Rachel Moore (aka Ran Mouri), whose father works as a detective. Now Kudo must try to solve mystery after mystery in the hope that he will find a lead to his attackers, while keeping his true identity secret from Rachel and her father.
While Case Closed may start off sounding fairly complicated, you quickly discover that this is just setting the scene for the next few hundred episodes. After the third episode on the first volume, all the essential characters have been introduced, and you can proceed in practically any episode or volume order you desire. Almost as if to prove this, Funimation's Starter Set comes with another DVD of three whole episodes, rather than extras. Impatient for some double digits, the second DVD includes episodes 53 through 55, and considering you just skipped a season or two in there somewhere, there's not much different in terms of character or overall plot development. Conan is still on the lookout for his attackers, Rachel is still clueless about Jimmy Kudo's whereabouts, and Rachel's father Richard (aka Kogoro Mouri) still sucks as a detective.
If you noticed some name changes in there you spotted an excellent clue to the audio setup: Shinichi, Ran, and Kogoro all seem to have had identity crises while crossing the Pacific. Most of the main casts' names were Americanized, with the peculiar exception of Dr. Agasa, who kept his name but was given a faux German accent instead. (Note: From this point on only the dubbed names will be used). Luckily, to avoid confusing fans of the Japanese version, Funimation included two subtitle tracks, one of the dubbed script and one of the translated Japanese script, which includes the original Japanese names.
However, even with some changes in place and character names, the dub script manages to convey the same clues as the Japanese version through some rephrased dialogue. While it's obvious the English scriptwriters made a Herculean effort to keep all the verbal clues in, it's also apparent that a lot of rearranging and rewording had to be done to make the English fit. On the part of the voice actors, this meant occasional chunks of dialogue that seemed to have less to do with expression than explaining things really fast without breathing, but on the whole the dub worked out well. It's not a “good dub” in the sense that it sounds realistic, but in that it fits the character of the show. The simple designs and older drawing style call for voice actors who can pull of character acting more than realism. Therefore, the police sound appropriately (if not realistically) gruff, old men with weird mustaches sound creepily like weird old men with mustaches, Alison Retzloff is hideously cute as the young Conan and Colleen Clinkenbeard as Rachel is the ideal tough female sidekick. They may all sound a little over the top, but in a sense they make the show that much more fun.
As mentioned earlier, visually Case Closed has an older style: the slightly faded colors and numerous stills recall those pre-CG days. It also, unfortunately, suffers the same problem as the original Evangelion DVDs in that the screen can jump a bit between shots, but not to the extent that it would bother anyone used to older series. You'll find, however, that most fans of the series aren't watching it for the breathtaking animation but for the chance to test their mystery-solving skills, and in this Funimation definitely lent a helping hand.
Building off the solve-it-yourself theme of Encyclopedia Brown, Funimation's solution to the back-of-the-book answer-flip comes in the form of the DVD's Crack the Case game, in which you are given the chance to answer a series of questions about the episode to prove that you have solved the mystery before Conan. If successful, you not only get the sizzling, triumphant feeling that you figured it out, but you're given a code to unlock a set of extras which contain the dubbed outtakes from each episode. Unlike the Rurouni Kenshin outtakes, however, these are merely sound played over still images from the episodes, and aren't really worth the minimal time and effort required to punch in the codes.
If you finish the Crack the Case game too quickly, there are still a number of other extras to peruse. A 5.1 surround sound version of the dub ensures that you can hear the knife go in from numerous directions, and character profiles, a list of Conan's Gadgets, and the clean opening and closing are some extra icing on the cake. The additional DVD includes the same basic features and the Crack the Case game, but with different character profiles, gadgets, and a new ending.
While from an aesthetic and narrative sense it may not be the best anime out there, Case Closed follows a standard formula that has worked for years with series like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Boxcar Children. If you were ever a fan of mystery series, Case Closed may either be the doorway to your obsession or, at the very least, a nostalgic trip down mystery lane.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : B-
+ Problem-solving galore
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