Playing out like some kind of odd fusion of Scooby-Doo, Agatha Christie, and Sherlock Holmes (with the occasional detour into slasher and giallo territory), the Japanese anime CASE CLOSED is an incredibly addictive show that more US-based horror fans should take the time to dig into. With 25 seasons under its belt, the continuing series is one of the longest-running anime in Japanese history; likewise, it’s based on one of the longest-running manga ever published.
I was a little late to the CASE CLOSED game myself — my girlfriend sat me down and made me watch it when Los Angeles channel KSCI-TV started airing it in late 2011. This is the local Japanese network, and not all of the episodes were subtitled. I didn’t care, because the premise was so simple and so engaging I was immediately hooked.
CASE CLOSED (a.k.a. DETECTIVE CONAN) follows the adventures of Conan Edogawa, a pint-sized private eye who looks like he’s nine years old, but who in reality was once teenage private eye Jimmy Kudo. While investigating the actions of a group of mysterious men, Jimmy was poisoned and left for dead… but the experimental poison didn’t kill him, instead reverting him to the appearance of a young boy.
For reasons far too complicated to get into, Jimmy pretends to be a young boy named Conan Edogawa (taking his name as a fusion of his two favorite authors, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rampo Edogawa), glomming onto private detective Richard Moore, whose daughter Rachel is Jimmy’s true love… and yes, the idea of this 9-year-old kid pining for the teenage love of his life does make for some awkward drama. Richard and Rachel don’t know that Conan is Jimmy — nor do Amy, George and Mitch, a group of youngsters who drag Conan into starting the “Junior Detective League.” The only one who knows Conan’s true identity is a loopy scientist named Dr. Ogasa — who, like a Japanese Q, outfits Conan with some fun gadgets to aid in his detective work.
Everything I’ve just told you is based on the episodes that have been made available in the US so far. Funimation picked up the stateside distribution rights to the first 104 episodes in 2003, and they were the ones who got Cartoon Network to air it in 2004. Currently, Funimation has those episodes available on DVD in 5 seasonal volumes and streaming on Funimation’s official site. There are also a handful of CASE CLOSED films that the distributor has the rights to.
Below I have outlined 5 stories from what’s readily available to U.S. audiences; the season and episode info is based on how Funimation has released them. I’ve also included like-minded episodes for next steps, key scenes or images that should entice the leery horror fan — and a bonus recommendation for a CASE CLOSED film. Happy hunting!
GHOST SHIP MURDER (Season 3, Episodes 11 & 12)
A pretty classic set-up in any murder mystery/detective story is that of the cursed town — and CASE CLOSED has stories to spare in that department. In this prime season 3 two-parter, Richard is invited to give a lecture to an island community that supposedly harbors your classic pirate’s curse — which may also be tied into a lost treasure. Of course, gruesome corpses begin to pile up, suspicions are cast (particularly in Richard’s direction), and it’s up to Conan to solve the riddle of the “Ghost Ship Murder.”
Key scene/image: The first victim is found pinned to a wall with a samurai sword through his neck.
[See also: THE MOONLIGHT SONATA MURDER CASE — Season 1, Episodes 11 & 12]
GOMERA! (Season 3, Episode 13)
One of my favorite episodes is this season 3 classic (seriously, season 3 is so solid, any episode would be a great intro to the show) that takes place on the set of a kaiju film. Gomera (a clever portmanteau of Godzilla and Gamera) is the Junior Detective League’s favorite monster and, in a premise straight out of SCOOBY-DOO, they’re thrilled when they get a chance to visit the set of the latest entry in the ongoing series. However, in between filming, the kids witness the murder of a despicable studio exec… at the hands of Gomera himself! Who donned the suit, and why did they kill? It’s up to the Junior Detective League to figure it out.
Key scene/image: Killer in a kaiju suit, murdering a man with a large kitchen knife.
[See also: VAMPIRE VILLA — Season 4, Episodes 12 & 13]
THE DISAPPEARING ACT (Season 1, Episode 21)
Quite a few episodes of CASE CLOSED begin with the Junior Detective League and their efforts to prove themselves as distinguished crime-solvers. Season 1 episode THE DISAPPEARING ACT focuses in on the kids investigating a local haunted house, where people have seen spectral lights and heard bone-chilling screams. In what I’m assuming is a spoiler to nobody, the cause of all this mayhem is far from supernatural — but what the kids find in the house’s basement is quite melancholy and disturbing in its very human horrors.
Key scene/image: While it may be a cheat, since it’s in the character’s head, Amy’s vision of demons floating above the haunted house is pretty gnarly.
[See also: SCHOOL OF GHOULS — Season 5, Episode 13]
MOUNTAIN VILLA MURDER (Season 2, Episodes 11 & 12)
The mysterious masked killer is the key genre convention in this season 2 two-parter. Conan and Rachel are invited by Rachel’s friend Sabrina to a getaway with friends at her family’s mountain villa; on their way onto the property Rachel and Conan are confronted by a cloaked figure whose face is wrapped completely in bandages (this kind of bandaged-face figure would appear again in the bonus episode below). Sabrina and her friends insist it’s probably a local playing some kind of prank… but it isn’t long before a body is found chopped up in the woods, and everyone finds themselves running from the bandaged figure — who has managed to get his hands on an axe.
Key scene/image: The discovery of a woman’s severed foot in the forest, with a purple high heel still attached.
[See also: MYSTERIOUS MASKED MURDER — Season 4, Episodes 1 & 2]
MASSACRE NIGHT (Season 4, Episode 8 & 9)
Geez, I just love this title. Once again, Rachel, Sabrina and Conan are invited to a mountain villa getaway — but this time the invite is coming from Rachel and Sabrina’s (and therefore Jimmy/Conan’s) third grade teacher. (I don’t know, maybe people in Japan are just closer to their third grade teachers.) Anyway, not too long after arriving, a mysterious journalist tells them of a massacre that occurred a few years before, swearing that similar events will play out that very night. Wouldn’t you know it? The journalist was right!
Key scene/image: A pretty classic horror trope, a figure in black is seen strangling a teenage girl with a length of rope.
[See also: THE MIST GOBLIN MURDER — Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2]
BONUS: CASE CLOSED Feature Film CAPTURED IN HER EYES
A good next step would be to check out one of the handful of CASE CLOSED movies that have been distributed by Funimation in the US. My recommendation would be the fourth film in the series, CAPTURED IN HER EYES. The plot concerns a murderer who is targeting police officials and detectives. Rachel witnesses one of the crimes — the murder of a female detective — and things immediately take a turn for the Argento-esque at this point.
First of all, the murder she witnesses is brutal and fetishized in its approach to the violence, with a slow-motion shooting that plays out excruciatingly like a similar scene in Argento’s OPERA. Also very Dario-like is the moment Rachel witnesses the murder, whereupon she suffers a trauma so intense she can’t recall the details — leaving her the likely next victim for a killer she can’t see coming.