5 out of 5
Directed by: Kenji Kodama, Yasuichiro Yamamoto, Masato Satō, Kōjin Och
Covers ~ episodes 1 – 30; 754 – present
The Case Closed (or Detective Conan) anime has been running, rather continuously, since 1996. That is – as of 2020 – nearly 1,000 episodes, not to mention 10+ movies. My usual prerequisite for reviewing a TV show is to have viewed the series in its entirety up to that point; shows change over the course of a given season enough such that I think that’s only fair. With Case Closed, due to my preference for subbed anime over dubbed, I was limited to legal streaming choices, which initially allowed me to watch around the first 30ish episodes or so, but then there’s a giganto chunk in the middle that’s currently unavailable, jumping to the 700s, which takes us to about 2014. Yes, that’s nearly ten years of 24-minute mystery solving I haven’t seen. However, given how similar in tone those first 30 eps felt to the last couple hundred – they are, without a doubt, the same show – I’m comfortable weighing in at this point. And, I mean, 200+ eps of any series ain’t no joke.
Is Case Closed perfect? Heh, far from it. It’s formulaic as all get out, often nonsensical in the way characters piece together clues (though I appreciate this has gotten more problematic the more variations of cases writers have had to come up with), and the core things it relies on – that no one not in the know about kid detective Conan actually realizes he’s teenage detective Jimmy Kudo; that Kudo’s surrogate dad, P.I. Kogoro Mori, can be consistently manipulated by Kudo to solve crimes for him – are inherently ridiculous, especially given the characters-never-age pace of the show, but, y’know, longevity is the name of the game, and all of those familiarities end up appealing. You laugh that Kudo’s teenaged girlfriend, Ran – Mori’s daughter – assumes her boyfriend is just out of town this whole time, while she pals around with ‘Conan;’ shake your head at how Conan uses a tranquilizer dart and voice-modifying bowtie (uh huh) to knock Mori out so he can use him to explain how the perps did X or Y. It’s all inane. You crave it.
Fans do generally seem to be divided on the different types of episodes the show offers, especially given the length of the series. There is the main “plot,” which has the nefarious and evil-plotting Black Organization responsible for trapping Kudo in the de-aged body of Conan, setting off the multi-decade hunt to suss out the Organization, and occasionally episodes will revolve around this. Some other transformed teen/kids have been affected by this, adding to the show’s character roster along the way, and Conan gets assists from Dr. Agasa, aware of his condition, and able to provide him with some Bond-esque like gadgets, such as the tranq darts and whatnot. Conan gets to ‘act his age’ moreso during episodes with the Black Organization focus or with these characters.
Then there are the episodes where Conan is partnered with the ‘Junior Detective Club,’ which is a kid-friendly gathering of an overweight, always hungry dullard; a naive know-it-all; and a crybaby. Since eps featuring this gang normally involves a lot of eye-rolling stupidity on the the Club’s behalf, these can feel like filler, but, to me, that’s ignoring that the whole show is kind of filler, and I appreciate the way these fit in to the formula all the same.
In both types of eps, what makes Conan continuously watchable boils down to a few factors: the animation, by TMS, from the original hand-drawn era to the modern flashiness, is always solid. Characters can be stiff on occasion, but the show doesn’t skimp on sets, or bringing in hundreds of characters, or tossing in frequent (and surprisingly great!) action sequences. The same goes for the voice cast – their dedication to making these characters familiar and fun has been there from the start. The cases themselves, while, as mentioned, generally involve piecing together clues that are just grabbed from the ether, are nonetheless continually fresh and as inventive as possible, mixing in ‘normal’ murder and kidnapping with lightweight thievery and Scooby Doo-style ghost-busting. To that last point, that also means the show is willing to get downright mean at points: death happens. While the main cast is likely untouchable, it still gives the show a human “edge” that more sanitized American cartoons would generally avoid. Finally, while I’ve praised how repetition is part of what makes long-running series fun, Case Closed uses its Black Organization plot and the mystery-solving shtick to slowly, slowly expand its universe: Conan and Ran are friends with various other detectives / police across various regions, and the Organization has expanded out to include several nefarious (or curious) foes. You’re rewarded with your viewership by the constant slew of long-running characters popping in and out.
So I’m in. I can’t expect a newbie to laugh at ‘The Sleeping Kogoro’ – detective Mori in his tranqued state, which is the only way he solves cases – the way I do, or even for some of the divided longterm fans to be able to tolerate the tubby, Junior Detective Genta’s always-hungry habits the way I do, but either way, the show obviously has enough going for it to earn a fanbase for 25+ years, and I definitely consider myself a part of that.