Detective Conan: The Phantom of Baker Street
- Original title
- Meitantei Konan Beika Sutorito no Borei
- Japanese title
- 名探偵コナン ベイカー街の亡霊
- Running time
- 107 minutes
- 16 July 2002
Detective Conan is something of an institution in Japan. A clever, stylish mystery series for children, there are now 37 volumes of manga, 6 movies, and nearly 300 TV episodes. The Phantom of Baker Street is the sixth movie. Sadly, it falls prey to insanity.
Shin'ichi Kudo is a high school detective, son of a famous mystery novelist. One day he snoops after the wrong men, and is force-fed an experimental poison. Instead of killing him, it transforms him into a six-year old. With the aid of a slightly dafty mad scientist, he manages to secure lodgings at the home of his karate-loving girlfriend under a fake name, Edogawa Conan - made from his two favorite mystery writers. Her father is a really bad detective, but so egotistical that he cheerily takes the credit for his new found success, even though Conan is simply drugging him and using a voice altering bow tie to solve the cases for him.
As part of his disguise, he attends elementary school again, and his friends there have forced him to form a child detective squad. Only one other person knows who he really is: the woman who made the poison, who has fled the organization, also in the guise of a child. This is all explained rather reathlessly during the opening credits.
Normally, with a movie spin-off from a long running series, I would be concerned about how effectively they manage to make it stand alone. However, The Phantom of Baker Street simply doesn't actually make enough sense to bother. Despite a few cultural bug eyes at a children's series revolving, week after week, around grisly murders, Detective Conan has always worked with an internal logic that allowed it to appeal to small children and keep the attention of any adult who enjoys a good mystery. Every crime is done for a reason, the criminal always confesses when caught, children never die, and it basically allows for terrible things to happen without ever making the world out to be a really scary place.
The manga artist, Gosho Aoyama, has a unique art style that is replicated well in animation. Several of the voices are quite well done, especially Conan's, which switches between cocky adult and innocent child at the drop of a hat. And the theme music, Bondish, swirls up at key moments to life the whole shebang from sinking into the often fatal 'detective explains it all' tedium.
The Phantom of Baker Street, however, has abandoned its senses from the very beginning, in which a ten-year-old genius computer programmer flings himself off a penthouse balcony. The opening credits then tried to obscure the rather queasy silence by being so incredibly loud the kids in front of me both slapped their hands over their ears. The main action picks up at a gala unveiling of some new virtual reality pods made by the company the whiz kid worked for. Conan, his girlfriend, her father, and his friends are all along as guests; his father is the guest of honor, having contributed to the story of one of the games. The room is filled with the children of politicians and other wealthy, powerful families, all here to try out the VR machines. This then leads to a hilariously out of place attack on stasis and nepotism in the Japanese government. The suicide's adopted father then murders his real father for no apparent reason, but this can't be considered a mystery - we see him do it, and they don't even try to make a mystery out of the method. He is quite easily the stupidest criminal the series has ever produced.
However, the fun and games are interrupted when the Noah's Ark AI program, the last work of the whiz kid, takes over the VR machines. It explain that it plans to 'reset' Japan by killing all the kids playing the game. If one of them manages to complete the game's mission without dying, then everyone will be freed; if not, their brains explode. Conan and company enter the game - like most of the movies, this one includes as many recurring characters as possible without providing any reason for them to be there. Watching them all die in a burst of game over graphics is quite disturbing, but their only purpose. In the game, they try to find Jack the Ripper and his boss, Moriarty, without the aid of Sherlock Holmes, who was supposed to be helping them. When they find Jack, he turns out to be a cross-dressing ninja in anachronistic looking kevlar armor.
Not one word of the above feels for a moment like Detective Conan; it seems like they hired some cyberpunk guys to write their script for them, added a lot of explosions because they had the extra budget, but nobody remembered to include the mystery. I won't deny that I had a hoot seeing where their madness would lead them next, but that is hardly an excuse for not understanding the nature of the franchise at this stage of the game.