Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 2nd 2010
Case Closed: The Last Magician of the Century
NOTE: Since this review is based on the American release, English dub versions of the character names will be used throughout.
A notorious jewel thief known as the Phantom Thief Kid has set his sights on a newly-discovered Fabergé Egg and challenged authorities to stop him with a cryptic warning. When Richard Moore is called in to help with the case, Conan and Rachel do, of course, tag along, as does Harley Hartwell/Hattori Heiji. Things become complicated, however, when a notorious assassin shows up who also has an interest in the egg and his sights set on the Kid. As the mystery of the Last Wizard of the Century unravels, links to important events and personages in Russian history become more evident, as does the unique nature of this particular egg. What is the ultimate mystery that the Egg hides, who are the Kid and the Scorpion, why does Officer Santos suddenly seem to know who Conan really is, and will Conan finally reveal the truth of his identity to the increasingly suspicious Rachel?
As the third movie based on the long-running TV series, The Last Magician of the Century debuted in April of 1999 during the original series' sixth season in Japan. Amongst long-time fans, it distinguishes itself by both incorporating both the recently-introduced character Vi Graythorn (Haibari Ai) and an antagonist who first appeared back during Season 3. It also features one of the closest points that Rachel ever gets to figuring out that Conan is actually Jimmy.
Movies based on long-running series play typically like bloated individual episodes, featuring better graphics but little of lasting storytelling merit. In this case, however, escaping the strict time constraints of episodic TV format helps the production immensely, allowing a broader and more complicated story to be told. That The Last Magician of the Century does quite well. Its 99 minutes allow for the story to briefly explain its basic premise and character backgrounds and then engage in a plot with multiple twists and turns, one in which the initial business with the Phantom Thief Kid proves to only be a set-up for the broader story about the mysteries involved with the Fabergé Egg. So much goes on, in fact, that the story never sags or seems to be stretching and allows its characters to show off without seeming like it exists entirely to let its characters show off.
Nor is this brainless kids' fare. Oh, sure, it still has its obligatory corps of kid characters, the obligatory goofy scientist, and violence muted enough to be tolerable to older single-digit-aged children, and sure, it still has the physically youthful Conan pulling many of the best stunts in the starring role. It does not make the rest of the cast lackwits just to make Conan look smarter by comparison, however. In fact, other cast members actually contribute worthy deductions of their own from time to time. The movie also gradually and systematically expands the scope of its initial basic plot by throwing in additional curves and complications at regular intervals, giving older audiences something to try to puzzle out; half of the fun of watching a mystery is trying to figure out what is really going on before the characters do, after all, and there are so many layers in this one that a viewer's brain will have to work overtime just to keep up with the story, much less get ahead. To keep it accessible to kids, the movie, like all of the TV series content, does make it glaringly obvious when some important clue comes up, but what the clues ultimately mean is typically not so clear.
A few problems do crop up along the way which cannot be explained off merely as conveniences to allow the premise of the show to work. Once the full truth finally comes together towards the end, the Phantom Thief Kid seems a little too omniscient; if the truth concerning the Memory Egg was that obscure, how did he know about it? And how does he pull off one of the disguises he does when the body style is totally different? The latter complaint can also be lodged against the assassin Scorpion in his shadowy depictions. (On that note, there are some big hints early on as to who the Scorpion might be, but kudos to the viewer who can make the connection that quickly or even recognize them as hints at the time.) One of the pivotal plot points involving Russian history has also been contravened by recent evidence, but given the movie's original release date, that cannot be held against the series. Mostly, though, these are relatively minor quibbles.
The TV series had adequate artistry for the time of its creation but was never a shining example of artistic quality, and the movie version does not substantially improve upon that. The production values are essentially the same; the animation may be a little better, as the action scenes are uncommonly fully-animated by TV series standards and the animation in general does not take as many shortcuts as long-running TV series normally do, but the artistry does not look any sharper or richer. No sign of CG effects pop up, either, but this is not content that would benefit much from them anyway. The creation of the Fabergé Egg design is perhaps the movie's most ambitious artistic achievement, as it extrapolates a complex original design (presumably) from existing ones.
The musical score and opening and ending songs are sufficient to support the events on screen but not especially noteworthy. The same can be said of the English dub performances compared to the originals, although the English performances do at least make an effort to give Russian characters Russian accents. The dub script retains the Americanized versions of character names used in the TV series, while the subtitles give the original Japanese character names, so there should be little reason for purists to complain as long as they ignore the dub. The English script also has to dodge completely around the Japanese script in a few other places, such as a riddle heavily dependent on Japanese wordplay being replaced with a classic English riddle. In general, though, and beyond the names, the English version does not make big changes unless it has to.
Funimation's release of the movie is as bare-bones as their releases ever come. Expect nothing beyond company trailers; unlike most Funimation releases, it does not even feature bonus interior artwork.
Not familiar with the franchise? Doesn't matter. This solid, surprisingly involving mystery movie is easily accessible even to a complete Case Closed/Detective Conan neophyte and allows viewers to enjoy the series at its best without having to wade through endless tracks of episodes.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Involving, fully-plotted, lots of twists.
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