If you think about it, the world was a vastly different place in 1996. Bill Clinton was President, Dolly the sheep became the first successfully cloned mammal, the first ever DVD was released in Japan, and eBay listed its first online auction. I bring this up because that also happens to be the year that Case Closed aired on Japanese television. Here it is 2009 and like eBay, Case Closed is still going strong.
Funimation continues to bring the super sleuthing to the domestic DVD scene and I recently had a chance to sit down and enjoy the fifth season of the program (which aired in Japan back in 2004).
Released across 4 discs, the Uncut and Unedited Case Closed Season Five consists of 25 episodes (# 106-130) in a pair of thin packs. With a total runtime of 615 minutes, the set includes a few nice extras: Character Spotlight on the Junior Detective League and a Conan's Gadgets profile on the lead character's Stretchy Suspenders and Junior League Communicator. Finally, the fourth disc contains a nice assortment of Funimation trailers. Language options include both original Japanese dialog (with English subtitles if so desired) and English dub both of which are in stereo. The set is rated TV PG but is definitely on the conservative side of the scale. I imagine that the PG rating stems from the fact that many of the mysteries investigated deal with mature concepts such as murder or arson but it should be noted that never is there any real onscreen violence or gore. The same goes for nudity and foul language- Case Closed is a class act all the way in its ability to discretely present adult-themes without resorting to uncivilized tactics.
The show, for those who have yet to experience it, follows a pretty simple formula whereby the title character happens upon bad behavior that requires a good deal of intelligence to successfully point the finger of blame. Sounds like standard mystery-genre fare so far but what's unique about Case Closed is that the lead is played by a 17-year-old (Jimmy Kudo) investigator who has been transformed, via an experimental drug, into a child. The kid goes by the name Conan Edogawa after two popular mystery writers and goes to live with his friend Rachel Moore and her private detective father, Richard. If you're looking for back story, I strongly recommend considering Funimation's Case Closed DVD Starter Set as the fifth season wastes very little time retelling past events. Instead the show follows its tried and true formula of setting up intricate mysteries for Conan to knock down.
A majority of the 25 episodes contained within are two-parters where in the first of the two spends its full 23 minutes setting the mood and establishing the mystery. The second part, through a clever little trick, breaks the mystery down for the benefit of the police (and the viewer). Keep in mind that it's young, barely noticeable kid Conan who is actually the brains behind solving the crime but is forced to disguise his voice to sound like the generally clueless Richard Moore when unveiling the facts, motives and so on.
It's formulaic and has certainly been done before but with a track record like Case Closed's, no sense fixing what isn't broken. Indeed, the show does have a rhythm that I can only describe as addicting. The first few episodes had me simply following along to establish of a baseline of what to expect, later episodes had me doing my best to solve the crimes before our hero Conan and to be honest, most of the time I wasn't successful (perhaps explaining why I'm reviewing anime right now instead of working in a forensics lab).
Sorry Scooby-Doo, but it's the depth of the mysteries that places Case Closed on a pedestal when compared to American efforts. Perhaps not quite as deep as those found in a modern mystery novel, (keep in mind, we often have a mere twenty-three minutes to assemble then solve a mystery here) Case Closed does pride itself on a pretty realistic criminal mind. As stated above, the themes are more closely related to what we may find on say a prime time mystery series like CSI or NCIS than they are Inspector Gadget.
Peppered throughout the 25 episodes presented here in the Fifth Season boxed set is single, stand alone episodes (as opposed to the richer two-parters) that typically feature Conan and his young classmates working together to solve cases (the Junior Detective League). While enjoyable for their more juvenile tones (especially the antics of the goofy fat kid, George), these episodes often feel more like silly filler material to the more serious themes of the big cases.
As is always the case (no pun intended) with this show, the artwork and visual style aren't extremely rich or polished. Instead the animation is fairly simplistic but gets the job done. Focusing on the show's beauty (or lack thereof) is truly missing the whole point of what makes Case Closed so special. This is suspense-driven story telling that goes the extra mile to make sure each episode provides sufficient resolve.
The English dub is pure Funimation which means is just nails the little language details that make the original mystery fun. I can only imagine the work, planning, and translating this must require to get right. The effort pays dividends though when you view the finished product and literally forget that this wasn't originally written in English.
In all Case Closed Season Five managed to dazzle without any of the traits I usually use to judge solid anime. Rather than flashy visuals or over-emotional acting, Case Closed sticks to the simple formula of letting interesting story telling stand on its own merit. The cases themselves are often masterful in terms of scope, motive, and resolve. An interesting and likable cast of characters is just the icing on the cake. When you look at it that way, Case Closed's apparent success and longevity is really no mystery at all.