In Japan, Conan isn't a barbarian. He's a schoolboy detective in a manga that's been running since 1994 and so far has spawned 600 episodes of a weekly anime series, fourteen animated movies, two live-action dramas and a ton of other stuff. This is a franchise. In Japan it's called Detective Conan, but in the West for copyright reasons it's known as Case Closed.
This is my first exposure to it. It's not bad, but it's a bit odd.
What's different about it is that Conan isn't his apparent age. He used to be the seventeen-year-old son of a brilliant detective, but then he had a run-in with the Black Organisation and got poisoned with something that made him shrink. Now he looks like an eight-year-old. He goes to primary school. He has friends in his class, who together call themselves the Junior Detective League. Furthermore he also knows a mad professor who makes him James Bond gadgets, so in this movie for instance he uses his Voice-Changing Bow Tie, Turbo Engine Skateboard, Detective Boys Badge and Power-Enhancing Kick Shoes.
This should have been mega-kiddified. It sounds as if it's aimed at pre-schoolers, right? It's not. This show has pretty good action sequences and people getting killed on-screen. Conan used to have a girlfriend (Ran) and he still lives with her family now, except that he can't reveal his true identity to them for fear of the Black Organisation. What's more, he still loves her. They even have a sort of relationship, in which he'll go into a phone box and talk to her through his Voice-Changing Bow Tie, which boggled my mind. How long can you keep up a relationship with someone without meeting them face-to-face? Judging by the manga and anime, so far they've been keeping it up since 1994. Sounds complicated? Yup, sure is. Fortunately the movie begins by dumping lots of backstory on us circa the credits sequence, which for me was a stroke of luck.
Incidentally "Conan"'s a pseudonym. Our hero's real name is Shinichi, but he calls himself Conan Edogawa in homage to the classics: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe. (Edogawa is a rough transliteration of the first half of Edgar Allen Poe's name into Japanese, after the style of the well-respected Japanese writer who goes by the pen name of Edogawa Ranpo. No, really. This real guy has taken Poe's name.)
I don't know about the TV series, but this film is a bit of a mish-mash. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it doesn't quite fit any obvious genre template.
1. You've got murder investigations, although not as much as you'd expect.
2. Quite a lot of the story's just about Conan and Ran, with the latter getting amnesia. This is talky and entirely focused on the characters. We also meet Ran's best friend and comedy parents, who are apparently separated (I'd assumed they were divorced) and don't get on at all.
3. You've got occasional action scenes, which are surprisingly cool. I liked Conan on his skateboard, while for some reason I loved the shot of him walking up and kicking away the villain's gun.
The murder mystery is a bit half-arsed, so maybe it's a good thing that it's only half the film. Fair play to them, it's possible to eliminate hypotheses (e.g. different sets of criminals) based on the clues that Conan notices. However the villain's identity is practically random, with no indicators except the usual audience game of "spot the least likely candidate". He's also stupid. There's one assassination where he shoots (but fails to kill) his primary target in full view of a witness, then with all the time in the world merely throws down his gun and runs off. Does the witness identify him to the police? No, because the shock gave her amnesia. Lucky, eh? Only then does it occur to the killer that it might be a good idea to eliminate her, whereupon he dedicates himself to this and shows himself to be, among other things, a terrible shot.
Conan talks a good game when it comes to the resolution and I like his logic, but it's all a bit arbitrary. I suppose that's the genre. Poirot and Miss Marple can talk the hind leg off a donkey too.
Oh, and there's a disturbing bit in which a murder investigation was apparently discontinued because the chief suspect was the son of the police chief. In Japan, that's not even unbelievable. Sometimes there are downsides to a "don't rock the boat" consensus culture.
The movie looks good. My attention was drawn by a hand-drawn car, which feels old-fashioned these days, while the start of the movie has some beautifully done animation of a roller-coaster ride. The character designs on the other hand are very TV, but that's as it should be. My guess is that the animators did a good job of making it feel the same as the weekly show, but better.
Overall, I liked it. It's okay. It also has sequences set in Tokyo Disneyland... sorry, Tropical Land. It's not even pretending at greatness, but I like the way it's giving so much screen time to its regulars, in particular Ran. There will be other, splashier Conan movies, but this kind of thing has its place too. If nothing else, they deserve credit for not only selling me on a theoretically absurd relationship, but even wringing a few sombre emotional tones from it. I hadn't expected to find myself feeling for Conan himself at all. Besides, Ran's parents are funny. However even if you're not interested in all that, the detective angle is okay and the action scenes aren't bad at all, although infrequent. Would I watch it again? Sure, no problem. Would I hunt it down and buy it? Probably not.