Review

by Carlo Santos, Mar 7th 2010

Case Closed: The Phantom of Baker Street

DVD

Synopsis:
Case Closed: The Phantom of Baker Street DVD
Shinichi (Jimmy) Kudo was once a promising teen detective, until a run-in with some shady criminals and a mysterious drug left him trapped inside a little boy's body. Now he has taken on the alias of Conan Edogawa and continues to solve crimes in his new guise. His latest case, however, takes him to Sherlock Holmes' London—over a hundred years ago! Such time-traveling is made possible through a new virtual reality game system, with Conan being one of the fifty participants in the game's trial run. Unfortunately, this high-tech adventure goes awry when an AI created by a troubled computer genius takes over the game and challenges the players to finish it ... or die trying. Now Conan must use his detective skills to solve the case of Jack the Ripper if he is to prevent a real-life "game over."
Review:

With our pint-sized hero being named after Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes himself, it was only a matter of time before their worlds collided. This 2002 movie makes it happen by working a virtual-reality device into the plot—a far-fetched technology that is just barely believable, if you try not to think too hard about the obvious scientific loopholes. Then again, in a world where a high school student occupies the body of a grade-schooler, and his girlfriend still hasn't figured it out after all these years, scientific rigor obviously isn't the point. It's about action-packed sleuthing, which this movie does decently at the end ... but fumbles through a painful beginning and poorly paced middle to get there.

It's not like the beginning is terrible on purpose. It's simply that the filmmakers took on a challenging double storyline—the virtual search for Jack the Ripper, plus a real-world mystery involving daddy Kudo—and the challenge turns out to be a bit too much. We get 40 minutes of prologue before the kids even enter the game, with characters, conversations, and incidents setting the stage for what is to come. Although some scenes are essential, a lot of time is also wasted on Conan and friends making small talk (and lame jokes) with others, along with a heavy-handed subplot about Japan's regimented, prestige-based culture and the need for radical social change. All in all, this introduction takes up over a third of the movie—and they expect young audiences to sit through this?

Things get better once the virtual London scenario kicks in, but even that portion has its flaws. The British scenery and homages to Doyle's work are a welcome change from the series' usual trappings, but the fact remains that it's all a simulation. One can almost hear the audible groans of disappointment every time the movie cuts back out to the real world. It also doesn't help that the pacing is all over the place: here's Conan and friends strolling a historic European city, here's a gunfight just for the hell of it, here's some conveniently placed clues, and—uh-oh, time's running out!—here's the events leading to the dramatic confrontation with Jack the Ripper! Ultimately, it feels like an awkwardly stretched-out episode instead of a feature film, and Holmes doesn't even show up to help. How do you do a Sherlock Holmes homage without the man himself? This is how, and it's not very good.

A dramatic, action-packed ending is this movie's one saving grace, especially with the Kudo father-and-son team solving their respective mysteries in that inimitable "One truth prevails" style. In a departure from formula, the culprits are already known in each case, but learning how and why they did it is thrilling nonetheless. Ironically, it's the one point where the London arc loses its luster while the real-world scenario shines: Mr. Kudo's deductive analysis of the game creator's murder is a gripping, masterful monologue, while Conan's showdown with Jack the Ripper culminates in a banal Hollywood-style fight aboard a moving train. There's still one unexpected mystery for Conan to solve at the very end, though, so wait for it.

Even the animation staff seems to have realized that the movie's first act is a flop; everything prior to the London scenario is a morass of stiff poses, dull colors, and recycled animation. If it's any consolation, at least the original characters created for the film stay true to the style of Gosho Aoyama's character designs. Still, the real-world portion of the story was clearly handled by the studio's second-stringers, with the all-star squad taking care of the action in England. Evocative colors, period costumes, and well-researched backgrounds make Conan's trip to the 19th century a visual delight, and things only get better once the action kicks in. If other scenes seem stiff and done on the cheap, it's because all the effort clearly went into the final act, where we finally get theatrical-quality animation and some impressive set pieces. Too bad that kind of polish couldn't have been applied everywhere else.

On the other hand, the music production in this film remains consistent ... consistently mediocre, that is. A number of critical scenes are inevitably ruined when some out-of-place lounge jazz or a mournful rock ballad cuts in to try to set the mood. Considering the time and place in which the story is set, modern pop seems like the last thing that ought to be on the soundtrack. Admittedly, some of the music is taken from the TV series for the sake of thematic consistency, but to just drop it in there without adapting to the needs of the setting and story is a sign of laziness.

Viewers with sensitive ears may also have to brace themselves for further assault with the English dub, which frequently borders on overacting. It seems that, with the storyline as far-fetched as it is, the cast has chosen to take a tongue-in-cheek dramatic approach, which weakens some of the film's more serious moments. Sticklers for translation would do best to stay with the subtitled version, of course, which also uses the characters' original Japanese names rather than their Anglicized form. But neither audio track can help prevent this disc's most embarrassing technical issue: the Japanese text used to introduce characters and locations are hard-coded into the video footage (i.e., it's "part of the artwork"), so there's no way to replace them except to slap an ugly gray rectangle on the footage and superimpose English text on top of it. Imagine the joy of trying to follow the subtitles when a big gray box stating "Important Secondary Character" suddenly pops up and collides with the text, making everything unreadable.

The very idea of The Phantom of Baker Street seems like it should have been a winner—the most popular detective anime of recent years crossing paths with the detective hero that started it all. But the idea falters in its execution, with the storywriters taking on too many subplots at once, wasting too much time in getting to the good part, and then finally making a mess of the good part once it's there (honestly, a Sherlock Holmes homage with hardly any Sherlock Holmes?). It also doesn't help that the production values are all over the place, with the animation staff only stepping up their game when fists are flying and trains are exploding. When the end credits finally roll, we get to see a montage of photo and video footage that was taken during on-location research in London. Shame that they couldn't have put that effort into the actual anime.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C-

+ Departs from the standard formula with a picturesque historic location and a unique "double mystery."
Stumbles over its own grand ambitions with an unwieldy beginning, an awkward middle, and inconsistent production values. Oh, and enjoy the ugly text overlays.

Director:
Kenji Kodama
Shouji Takizawa
Screenplay:Hisashi Nozawa
Storyboard:Kenji Kodama
Music:
Sueaki Harada
Seiji Hayami
Tatsuhiko Hizawa
Ken Muraoka
Katsuo Ono
Kiyoshi Tanaka
Original Manga:Gosho Aoyama
Character Design:Masatomo Sudô
Art Director:Yukihiro Shibutani
Chief Animation Director:Masatomo Sudô
Animation Director:
Yoshiharu Shimizu
Junko Yamanaka
3D Director:Hiroaki Matsuura
Sound Director:Katsuyoshi Kobayashi
Director of Photography:
Motoaki Ikegami
Takashi Nomura
Executive producer:Michihiko Umetani
Producer:
Toshio Nakatani
Toshihiro Nakazawa
Michihiko Suwa
Fumiro Ueda
Masahito Yoshioka

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Case Closed: The Phantom of Baker Street (movie)

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Case Closed: The Phantom of Baker Street (DVD)

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