Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 3rd 2004
DVD 1: Secret Life of Jimmy Kudo
Jimmy Kudo (Shin'ichi in the original Japanese version) is a 17-year-old amateur detective with enough talent to help out the police with their
toughest cases. While at an amusement park with his crush, Rachel (Ran), he tails a pair of suspicious-looking fellows who knock him out and feed him a "poison pill." Imagine Jimmy's surprise when he wakes up alive and well -- with the body of a 6-year-old boy! In a panic, he turns to the kooky inventor-next-door (Dr. Agasa) for help. To keep his transformation a secret, he adopts the name of Conan Edogawa (after Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Japanese mystery author Edogawa Ranpo). It's not like the police are going to take a kid seriously -- but it's up to Conan to help Rachel's bumbling detective father solve mysteries. In this volume they tackle the kidnapping of a millionaire's daughter, a murder at a pop idol's apartment, and hunting a stash of Mafia gold.
There's been plenty of furor over Funimation's handling of Detective Conan/Case Closed -- from the questionable name changes to the dubbing of the theme music to the placement of the show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block. But does the show itself hold up to the standards of quality?
Case Closed doesn't try to be a masterpiece, and it doesn't have to. It's basically an episodic detective series in the style of Agatha Christie, where "closed-room" mysteries give you a limited number of suspects and part of the fun is trying to solve it before the sleuth does. In this volume, each mystery is contained within one episode, although an undercurrent of continuity runs through the series with Conan/Jimmy's quest to restore his body. When I first heard of this series, I thought, "Why did he transform into a kid? Why can't he just solve the mysteries as a teenager?" (Snarky answer: If he did, it'd be Kindaichi Case Files.) It turns out that the teen-trapped-in-a-child premise provides a dramatic element to the show: Rachel reveals to Conan that she has feelings for Jimmy, but now that he's trying to keep his transformation a secret, he can't reciprocate. Ain't love grand? Add this to his ongoing search for a cure and you've got a unifying factor in a show that would otherwise be nothing but stand-alone episodes.
The mysteries aren't extremely suspenseful, but I found myself following along with each episode to collect the clues and see who the killer was. Like any good mystery, it's never quite who you expect, and there's often an elegant leap of logic when Conan arrives at each solution. For those who like puzzle solving, this show is right up your alley, providing some interactivity as opposed to other anime titles where you just sit and watch the story.
As a character, Jimmy starts out a little too perfect -- he's intelligent, athletic, good-looking, AND girls fawn over him -- so it's just as well that he gets a blow to his ego by being demoted to the body of the more likable Conan. Rachel is a pleasant if somewhat bland love interest -- she's much more interesting when she's berating her slob of a father, who fancies himself to be a great detective since he doesn't realize that Conan is helping him behind the scenes. The secondary characters, like Conan's classmates and the suspects in each case, tend to be cookie-cutter stereotypes that are either amusing or irritating.
The artwork and character designs are pretty unique; I couldn't place the time period of this show until I finally looked up its year of production (1996, if you're curious). The super-pointy noses and big ears aren't the "ideal" anime look, but it's certainly distinctive. The DVD quality brings out some really sharp colors and lines, but the mid-90's production values restrain the animation to average frame rates and lots of stills and pans.
So how about those translations? Let's get the biggest problem over with: Funimation changed the character names to make them more accessible, yet most of the secondary characters keep their Japanese names. What direction are we going in: trying to Americanize everything or maintaining the Japanese cultural aspects? They even renamed Tokyo Tower to "Todo Tower," which seems pointless since most anime fans already know that landmark from plenty of other shows. And yes, they dubbed over the songs with English lyrics: a superfluous practice, since most other shows currently on Cartoon Network leave the theme songs in Japanese. It should also be noted that there are two versions of the subtitles -- one that matches the dub script, and a more direct translation of the Japanese script. Be sure to select Japanese audio if you want to get the correct subtitles.
The dub voice acting is directly proportional to the importance of the characters: major players like Jimmy/Conan and Rachel are competently voiced and sound like real people, while secondary characters come off as caricatures. For example, Dr. Agasa talks with a fake German accent, and Conan's heavyset friend George gets stuck with a "dumpy fat guy" voice. Overall the dub is a passable effort, and would be better if they'd put some thought into the other characters besides the main protagonists.
The extras on the disc are enough to keep serious fans busy -- there's a full set of character profiles, credit-less opening and ending songs, and a short dossier on Conan's gadgets. You can also activate a "Crack the Case" quizlet in each episode that ultimately unlocks more features. The DVD case, incidentally, has a gritty "case files" style cover that would look so much better if it weren't for the cheesy "Case Closed" logo gracing the top.
Detective Conan/Case Closed isn't an absolute must-have, but it's a fine example of the detective mystery genre. If you want something outside of the usual squealing schoolgirls or fighting explosions and guns, this is a good anime to start with. Or, of course, you could always catch it on Cartoon Network.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C
+ fun for those who like solving puzzles, interesting characters and art
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