Teen super-sleuth Jimmy Kudo (voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi) is on a case when he is poisoned with an experimental drug that turns him into a seven-year-old boy! Adopting a new identity as Conan Edogawa (Minami Takayama), combining the names of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Japanese crime fiction writer Rampo Edogawa, he uses a voice-altering gizmo built into his bow-tie to maintain dual identities. Posing as an innocent child Conan lives under the care of his high school sweetheart Rachel Moore (Wakana Yamazaki) - who has no idea who Conan really is - whilst using his genius to solve crimes. To the eternal annoyance of Rachel's dad: dim-witted police detective Richard Moore (Akira Kamiya). In the aftermath of a murder case Conan receives a mysterious phone call with a deadly challenge. Hidden around Tokyo are a series of explosive devices. He must locate and disable each one before innocent lives are lost. Locked in a race against time, Conan uses all his ingenuity to save lives but the stakes are raised when the mad bomber strikes close to home.
One of the big tent-pole anime franchises Famous Detective Conan - or Case Closed as it was re-titled in the United States - began as a manga in 1994, transferred to television in 1996 and sired a string of near-annual feature films that endure to this day. Its phenomenal success made creator Gosho Aoyama Japan's highest-paid manga artist. On close inspection its formula was not all that groundbreaking. Indeed 1996 marked the debut of an equally popular anime franchise: Young Kindaichi Files that also featured a young version of another popular super-sleuth, albeit not quite as youthful as Conan.
Along with the genius move of making the detective a child and thus a wish-fulfillment figure for countless smart, bookish, adventure-loving kids around the world, Aoyama cannily incorporated elements tried-and-tested in other hit manga. The combination of mystery plots with super-science hark back to stories by beloved anime/manga auteur Osamu Tezuka while Conan's arsenal of nifty, child-friendly gadgets (along with the trick bow-tie he also has super sneakers, a nifty blowdart watch and a jet-powered skateboard!) evoke the crazy tech deployed in the Doraemon franchise. On top of all that Aoyama threw in a wildly unorthodox star-crossed love story that, let's face it, is very Japanese. Indeed the frustrated romance between teen-trapped-in-a-kid's-body Conan and his long-suffering carer/would-be girlfriend Rachel, plays a significant role in the plot here. While skeptics find it bizarre and borderline paedophilic, it remains the emotional heart of the series and a big part of the story's appeal to fans. In fact it is almost a love triangle given the more age-appropriate (though not really, if you think about it) Amy (Yukiko Iwai), one of three little kids that make up Conan's Junior Detective League, also appears to have a crush on him.
The Time-Bombed Skyscraper was the first feature-length anime in the franchise and, though more audacious entries were yet to come, is a fine introduction for newcomers. On a technical level the animation is only a slight notch up in quality from an average television episode. The film's real invention lies not in its visuals but those ingenious puzzles Aoyama scatters throughout his twisty murder mysteries. Screenwriter Kazunari Kochi scrupulously details an intricate plot and deftly shifts between clever dialogue-driven scenes and solid suspense sequences. There is even a mystery within a mystery via flashbacks to an earlier case connected to the mad bomber. Along with drawing upon the work of classic mystery writers (Conan Doyle, Edogawa, Agatha Christie, etc.) Aoyama's plots also mix in elements from popular action films. In this instance: Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). Here too the villain forces the hero to disable explosives hidden around the city to distract from his primary goal. One scheme involves a train set to explode unless it maintains a certain speed in a direct allusion to Junya Sato's all-star disaster epic Bullet Train (1975) which was alleged to have influenced the Hollywood action film Speed (1994). However, Kochi and Aoyama put an ingenious new spin on this well-worn idea.
While the plot tries to distract viewers with red herrings the identity of the bomber is surprisingly obvious. The real pleasures of the film stem from Conan diffusing each of the fiendish challenges that build to a satisfying payoff. Even after the guilty culprit is unmasked the film ratchets up the tension with a race against time to foil their last dastardly scheme. Especially well-conceived is an addition to the finale, not present in the original manga, that neatly reinforces the central love story without having Conan compromise his true identity while also forcing him to temporarily relinquish logic for faith in his relationship with Rachel. It is an "aww" moment for sure, even if it does not make their romance any less weird.