Case Closed: The Darkest Nightmare is a landmark entry in one of Japan's favorite detective franchises -- the 20th Detective Conan film. First released in 2016, the movie was an instant box office hit and until the next film in the series came along (Case Closed: The Crimson Love Letter) it was the highest-grossing in its history. After four years of waiting, the film is finally available now across various digital platforms with an English dub courtesy of Bang Zoom! Entertainment.
Knowing that the pint-sized sleuth's oldest adversary, the Black Organization, are involved -- their third appearance in the feature-length spinoffs -- explains some of The Darkest Nightmare's appeal; however, even viewers who might not have any context for the nefarious group's history with Conan can still get a kick out of its espionage hijinks.
Like other Detective Conan films, The Darkest Nightmare begins with a cold open before reminding viewers of Conan's backstory and detailing some of the story's principal players, and it's by far one of the series' best. The high-speed chase followed by a shoot-out on a bridge is ripped right out of a stellar Jame Bond setpiece, culminating in a piercing scream from the mysterious woman involved as she rescues herself from a would-be watery grave. It's a fantastic hook, right off the bat.
This woman, known as Curaçao, bumps into Conan, the famed boy detective, his less-able kiddy crew, the Detective Boys, and Ai Haibara, another shrinking victim like Conan, at the floating fairground she washed up in the next day. With no memories and only a pair of "odd eyes" and a strange, multi-colored collection of slides to identify her, Conan and the group vow to help her regain her identity. Conan swiftly ropes in his close friend and love interest, Ran Mori, her hapless father, Kogoro Mori of the Tokyo police, and Dr. Agasa -- one of the few people who knows Conan's true identity -- to assist on the case. Little does he know that Curaçao has direct ties to the Black Organization, the criminal group responsible for turning him into the child-like form he's stuck in.
What follows is something of a Girl Born Yesterday story mashed-up with a typical spy thriller. While this isn't particularly original, where The Darkest Nightmare excels is by not being afraid to lean into both these elements as much as possible: Curaçao is suitably mysterious as a deadly but beautiful woman who, through amnesia, regains some lost humanity -- if only briefly. The thriller aspect, meanwhile, delivers in spades: from half-hidden figures meeting in empty warehouses to a particularly well-animated fight between competing agents on top of a Ferris wheel; both of whom naturally set aside their differences and work with Conan to stop the real bad guys. The animation, produced by TMS/V1, is excellent throughout, in fact, with gorgeous attention to detail paid to the film's color palette in particular -- a significant feature of the plot.
As its title demands of it, The Darkest Nightmare also delivers on coloring the Black Organization in the deepest shade of evil that a family-oriented feature could allow. Come the finale, the carnage is almost too grand to be taken entirely seriously. Then again, we are dealing with a world in which people can be shrunk by poison, and "Vodka" is a totally serious codename.
Where the film falls down, unfortunately, is through some of its vocal performances. Though the English dub cast mostly does an impeccable job, the voices for the trio of Detective Boys do get grating quite quickly. Voicing children is always a tricky task without casting actual children for the roles, and while it doesn't spoil the movie, some adult viewers might be glad when the third act rolls around and the kids are largely relegated to being silent hostages.
Full of thrills and unexpectedly dark turns, though it's one of the latest in a long line of Detective Conan movies, Case Closed: The Darkest Nightmare is a great litmus test for anyone looking to make an inroad into the franchise.
Case Closed: The Darkest Nightmare is available now to buy from iTunes, Google Play, the Microsoft Store and YouTube.