Thursday, April 12, 2018

Don't Wanna Lie


 "There's always only one truth!"
"Detective Conan"

With a comic series with 94 volumes (and more in the making), and an animated television series just two episodes short of 900, Detective Conan has not only become one of the biggest mystery IPs in existence, it's also become a major part of Japanese popular culture of the last two decades. But there was a time early on when original creator Aoyama Goushou considered stopping with the series due to the hectic work schedule. By then the animated television series based on his comics had already started, but still, he was not sure whether he wanted to continue with Conan. What changed his mind however, was when it was decided that an animated theatrical release would be made of Detective Conan. This project gave him new wings, and in 1997, Detective Conan: The Time-Bombed Skyscraper was released, intended as the definitive theatrical adaptation of the series. By the time of the film's release however, Detective Conan had grown so popular that it was decided that the following year, another Conan film would be released. The annual Conan movies have remained a tradition up to this very day, and tomorrow, on April 13, 2018, Detective Conan: Zero The Enforcer will be released in Japanese theatres as the twenty-second Detective Conan movie.

While the Detective Conan movies are not strictly part of the comic storyline, I'd say the Detective Conan films can serve as an excellent introduction to the series, as they usually encompass all the major themes of the series (mystery, thriller, romantic comedy) in easily accessible bite-size productions. My very own introduction to Detective Conan was through the second film, The Fourteenth Target for example, and I had no trouble getting into the story using this movie as my springboard. What helps is that every single Detective Conan film starts with a short three minute introduction to the series' premise and the major recurring characters that'll play a role in the movie in question. Many Conan fans will know the introducing lines "My name's Kudou Shinichi, a high student school detective..." by heart. Each film can (more or less) stand on its own as an action-mystery movie, so there are actually quite some people who don't really watch or read Conan regularly, but watch the films each year. The films have a wide appeal and are viewed by a broad audience in Japan: I remember from my own visits to the theater that I've seen everyone here with Conan, from kids and their parents to high school couples to the middle-aged and elderly. The films are also each year broadcast on television (once the latest film is released in April, the one from the year before is broadcast) and are always watched by many.

But with twenty-two of them out (starting tomorrow), I thought this might be a good time to pick out a few of them. The four films I picked out for this post are not only some of the best of the series, serving as good mystery movies that also do the main series justice in terms of atmosphere: another condition for picking them is that I also deem them suitable as introductions to the series in general, so these are also the movies that don't lean to much on the action, or don't require too much knowledge of the series and characters in general for the pay-off. I hope that this list can help out someone who hasn't started on the series yet (or not on the movies). The movies are listed on release year.

1. Detective Conan: The Fourteenth Target (1998) is the second film of the series. A killer is targeting the people near to the Sleeping Detective Mouri Kogorou according to a certain pattern, and it's up to Conan to catch this murderer. The Fourteenth Target is one of the most classically-styled mystery films of the whole series, with a complete focus on the mystery plot (with only one big action scene in the film's excellent climax). While some might find the clues to the identity of the murderer a bit sparse, the film does feature one of the more unique motives for the murders and one can really enjoy The Fourteenth Target as standalone murder mystery. The underlying plot's also deeply connected to the main cast, making it a great introduction to the series in general, as the film's really good at quickly making all the character relations clear. And I'll repeat myself, but the whole climax scene, from the identification of the murderer all the way to the credits is fantastic.

If you liked The Fourteenth Target: for those who want to see more of the Sleeping Detective Kogorou when he's not a bumbling detective, but really trying his best, go watch 2005's Detective Conan: Strategy Above The Depths. This ninth Detective Conan film has a bit more action, but the story is similarly to The Fourteenth Target very focused on its core mystery plot (which explains why it's not that popular actually, as it misses a bit of the spectacle other movies have).

2. Detective Conan: Captured In Her Eyes (2000) is the fourth film, and starts with a short flashback of Shinichi and Ran in the amusement park, only hours before Shinichi was turned into a child and had to hide his true identity to everyone, including Ran, with his disguise as the kid Edogawa Conan. Back in the present, Ran's become witness to an attempted murder on police detective Satou, the latest victim in a series of attacks on cops. Ran's lost her memory due to the shock, and the murderer tries to get rid of her before she recovers her memory and remembers the face of the cop-killer. Captured In Her Eyes manages to fuse an okay whodunnit plot about the cop killer with a personal story of Ran having lost all her memories of her family and friends and the result is a story that's really captivating from start to end, as the mystery plot serves as a vehicle to explore the characters, but also vice versa. As a true theatrical adaptation of the series, Captured In Her Eyes is perhaps the pinnacle.

If you liked Captured In Her Eyes: the very first movie, Detective Conan: The Time-Bombed Skyscraper, has a more limited mystery plot, about a serial bomber who seems to hold a grudge against Shinichi, but ends up as a pretty character-focused story too. As the very first film, it's also very accessible as there's so little luggage and can serve as a great introduction to the series too.

3. Detective Conan: Countdown to Heaven (2001) is the fifth movie, and the very first that featured the so-called Black Organization from the series: the mysterious criminal gang that developed the drug that turned Shinichi into the child detective Conan. Members of the Black Organization have been hanging around the newly built Twin Tower Buildings in West Tama City. A murder inside a suite room of the Twin Tower Buildings is followed by another murder during the opening reception of the Towers, followed by a series of explosions. While most people manage to escape the burning towers, Conan and his friends get stuck in one of them, and they are forced to find a way out while also figuring out who the serial murderer is. Countdown to Heaven has a bigger focus on explosions than previous films, something subsequent movies will use even more, but the core mystery plot is actually... really good. The motive behind the murders is brilliantly clued and once that's done, you're left with a fantastic action movie. That last scene, where they manage to escape the exploding tower? Amazing stuff here.

If you liked Countdown to Heaven: there are a few other films that feature the Black Organization or some of the other police organizations that fight the Black Organization. The thirteenth movie, Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser (2009), has a rather uninspired mystery plot, but has an exciting finale and be seen fairly well as a standalone movie. That can't be said of the seventeenth movie, Detective Conan: Dimensional Sniper (2014), nor the twentieth Detective Conan: The Darkest Nightmare (2016). The latter in particular is a grand spectacle action movie that really relies on knowledge of the series to be fun, otherwise it's just a parade of "Who's that? Why are they fighting?". The Dimensional Sniper is an entertaining action-flick with a minor mystery plot, but it ties in to the background of a popular character in the original comics and you really need that background knowledge to get the most out of the film (especially from the last three seconds before the credits roll. It's a brilliant reveal, but you're not going to get it if The Dimensional Sniper is your introduction to the series).

4. Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter (2017) was released last year as the twenty-first movie and has Conan working with Hattori Heiji, a high school student detective from Osaka who's one of the few who knows Conan's real identity. This time the duo are working on a murder on a karuta player (a competitive card sport), as well as a bombing of a television studio where they were busy filming a programme about karuta. The result is an excellent film with a good, robust mystery plot, but also elements of the romantic comedy movie and even sports movies. The Crimson Love Letter manages to mix all this into an accessible action-mystery movies that's easily the best Conan movie of the last decade.

If you liked The Crimson Love Letter: the seventh film, Detective Conan: Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (2003) is very similar to The Crimson Love Letter: also a big role for Hattori and also an excellent movie on its own that works as grand scale action-mystery film with comedic elements. Crossroad in the Ancient Capital is often considered one of the best, if not the best Conan film of all time, and it's an opinion I don't really object too. The reason I decided to nominate The Crimson Love Letter as my fourth was more because I didn't want to choose early movies exclusively. I'd say The Crimson Love Letter is the more modern movie, with more flashier action, while Crossroad in the Ancient Capital is more subdued, closer to the original comic. The fourteenth movie, Detective Conan: The Lost Ship in the Sky (2010), similarly embraces the romantic comedy roots of the series, and is about a blimp that is hijacked by a terrorist group in possession of a dangerous virus. The movie featured the phantom thief KID in his funniest appearance in the movies yet. While the focus lies on the action and the comedy, the underlying mystery plot is actually quite well-clued, something I only noticed when I watched the movie for the second time.

I hope this list has shown a bit of what's available among the many Detective Conan films, and I hope I have piqued the interests of those who haven't started on Detective Conan or its films yet. As said, Detective Conan: Zero The Enforcer will be out tomorrow in Japan, but I'll probably watch it when the home-video release comes out, which's usually somewhere between half October to early December. So it's likely my next post on the topic of the Conan movies will take until then!


  1. I haven't watched much of the recent Conan movies lately, but back in my younger days, I do recall liking Phantom of the Baker Street quite a bit....simply because it had a very different tone for the movies up until that point. It wasn't until I got more acquainted and familiar with mystery fiction terminology when I finally realize that it was a very "social school" (please correct me if my interpretation is wrong, but it kind of felt that way to me) type of movie. Normally, I don't like detective stories where the sole focus is on Social School completely, but somehow for what that theme did for a Conan movie, I will always remember it for being very different and unique.

    1. The Phantom of Baker Street has a pretty big fanbase actually. I think it was the first movie which wasn't written by a regular Conan writer, but by a completely different writer (the author and screenplay writer NOZAWA Hisashi), and you can really feel it's different.

  2. Captured In Her Eyes used to be my favourite (well Kogoro bias makes #2 and #9 up there as well and #3 was great... But oh well) but that last years movie the Crimson Love Letter was just too good. Heavily doubt 22 will come close for me but if Kogoro gets some scenes that's always going to be great to follow.

    1. I'm expecting something like The Darkest Nightmare from Zero the Enforcer. It wasn't really a "Conan film", but still highly enjoyable as an action flick.