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[Review] Fresh Blood and New Frontiers in ‘Detective Conan: Zero’s Executioner’

Another year, another Detective Conan movie. At least, that’s what I would’ve said a couple of years ago – but these last few theatrical entries in the long-running franchise have been a little bit different, and Zero’s Executioner is no exception.

 

The twenty-second film in the franchise finds its footing following a large explosion that destroys the ‘Edge of Ocean’ facility, where the Tokyo Summit was supposed to occur in a week. Edogawa Conan and Ai Haibara catch sight of Toru Amuro in footage of the explosion, forcing Conan to suspect the “triple-faced” private eye’s involvement. However, the hapless Mouri Kogoro’s fingerprints were discovered at the scene of the crime, along with other incriminating evidence, leaving the police with no other choice but to arrest him. Thus starts a race against time to prove Mouri’s innocence, uncover the true culprit, and decipher the true nature of Amuro’s involvement.

This review contains heavy spoilers for the movie and the Detective Conan series as a whole.

Usually, it’d be fair to say that the Detective Conan movies are very much disconnected from the actual canon of the story. Because of this, many fans don’t actually consider them as canon nor pay much attention to them – that was, until a couple of years ago. The twentieth movie, Detective Conan: Darkest Nightmare, was one of the first movies in the franchise to be heavily related to developments in the manga, revolving around a mystery related to the mysterious Black Organisation and featuring all of the then-revealed members. Detective Conan: Zero’s Executioner follows up on this trend two years later with its own canon-heavy plot, revolving around the conflict between Conan and Amuro – the latter of whom was revealed to be Bourbon, a key player in the Black Organisation, in 2012.

It’s because of this that it’s very hard to recommend this film as an entry into the franchise like I would’ve for the last movie, Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter. The film’s close connection to the evolving plot of the series would leave anyone not up to date confused at best, and perhaps even angry that they would have later plot developments indirectly spoiled for them. Such a direction is a risky one for studio TMS Entertainment and director Yuzuru Tachikawa to take, as Detective Conan movies have often been used as a way to get new fans into the series, with their focus on spectacle and set-pieces rather than the slow-paced, methodical mystery-solving of the main series. Therefore, it’s clear from this that the film was very much made with the fans in mind – something that I’m grateful for, and not just because I’m a fan.

One of many good consequences of making this film for the fans, and less for the casual audience, is that they were able to let Conan and Amuro’s chemistry shine, a duo that has only recently emerged in relation to developments in the plot of the series. Conan has had many great cooperators in the past, such as the much-loved Heiji Hattori, but the relationship he has with Amuro is wholly different from anything we’ve seen before – both of them distrust each other and are constantly second-guessing each other’s motivation and actions. It’s far from a happy marriage, but that’s what precisely makes it so interesting.

Furthermore, it was smart to not include any other Black Organisation members other than Amuro, as well as not to reveal the identity of Rum – another high-ranking member rumored to be a member of the police force – as this would take away from Amuro’s aforementioned excellent dynamic with Conan. Frankly, before seeing the movie, I was really surprised at how popular Amuro is over here in Japan, but after seeing him appear in the movie, I finally understood – he’s one of the best elements of the series right now, and is shaking up the twenty-year-old plot in new and exciting ways.

Even more exciting is the way that including Amuro in this film has altered the style of mystery storytelling that the series has always relied on in the past. As anyone who has read the manga will know, Amuro is actually a high-ranking member of the Black Organisation as Bourbon – making him one of Conan’s main enemies. Yet, Amuro doesn’t know Conan’s true identity as Shinichi Kudo, nor that Conan knows that he is Bourbon. Because we already know that Amuro is an antagonist, it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that he is behind the events of the film in some shape or form – thus making the film less of a straight-forward mystery then it is a thriller, as Conan tries to uncover Amuro’s true role in the events, all the while trying to avoid drawing attention to himself and revealing his own connection to the Black Organisation as a victim of APTX 4869.

Of course, mystery does feature in the film, as Conan still needs to figure out the true culprit behind the explosion at the Edge of Ocean facility as well as who framed Morui, but that’s less of a focus this time around. That’s not to say that previous films haven’t also downplayed the mystery elements of the series, but that was in favor of setpieces and spectacle, most likely in an attempt to draw in new fans. As a result, because the formula of the series had been altered somewhat, I found myself immediately drawn into Detective Conan: Zero’s Executioner and the web of conspiracies surrounding Amuro’s involvement, which surprised me given how forgettable previous movies have been. There’s not many film series that can still engross you in their twenty-second entry, and I feel like I have to give Detective Conan some credit for that.

Ultimately as a fan of the series, the twenty-second film of the franchise both entertained me with its tense plot and excellent character dynamics and also excites me as to where the franchise might be going in the future. Toru Amuro is one of the best things to happen to the series in a long time, and even a post-credits reveal that Kaitou Kid will be returning in the next film wasn’t enough to get me off the Amuro hype train. It’s definitely one for the fans, but then again, there are almost twenty other Conan films perfect as an entry point – so what’s the harm?

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