For over 25 years, Detective Conan has been entertaining us with mysteries full of twists and turns. With over a 1000 chapters published in 98 collected volumes, and over 20 theatrical anime feature films, it amazes me how the story of a high school prodigy detective stuck in a child’s body has lasted so long. As we anticipate the 1000th milestone with a remake of a classic episode, there seems to be no end in sight for this franchise.
Detective Conan (or Case Closed in America) has been a vastly popular franchise in Japan and other Eastern countries, resulting in high sales and cross promotion success, like the popular live action drama series, video games, and spinoff media among others. Despite its popularity, it hasn’t really gained attention in America as well as it should’ve. Perhaps we’re not as accustomed to seeing elaborate detective shows like this and are more used to shows like Scooby Doo. Or it may be because the style of mystery Detective Conan dabbles in doesn’t lend itself to much nuance or unexpected turns, like in other critically acclaimed detective series.
Regardless of the reasons, I’m kind of okay with that… because Detective Conan is my One Piece. It’s this long, personal narrative that keeps going, teasing you with hints of an ending that never arrives. It’s been my life’s work to see this anime through to the end. And with the anime approaching its 1000th episode, I think it’s a perfect time to reflect and recount the long history of this mystery franchise.
A Quick Synopsis
High school detective prodigy Kudo Shinichi is at the amusement park with his childhood friend, Ran Mouri, when he discovers some suspicious individuals doing an exchange behind a building. He’s knocked out and given an experimental drug to kill him. Instead, he discovers he’s reverted back to his childhood body.
Wanting to uncover more clues on the people that did this to him, he dons a pair of glasses and adopts the name ‘Conan Edogawa’ as an alias to protect the people he loves. With the help of Professor Agasa and a large cast of family and friends, Conan solves various cases that come his way, and gradually discovers the truth behind the mysterious Black Organization.
Gosho Aoyama: The Mastermind Behind the Mystery
The mastermind behind the manga series and subsequent anime adaptation is Gosho Aoyama. Even before Detective Conan was first published in Shogakukan’s January 1994 issue, Aoyama had previously worked on the samurai comedy manga Yaiba and Magic Kaito (of whom the main character, Phantom Thief, would sometimes appear in Conan). From 1994 onwards for the manga and 1996 for the anime, the series hasn’t looked back.
Among Aoyama’s influences are Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin, Agatha Christie, Akira Kurosawa films, and the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The latter is most clear and, like the great detective, Conan utilizes uncanny skills of observation, interrogation, and deduction to solve a case. In some instances, the anime pays homage to some Sherlockian lore, with examples being Conan Edogawa’s first name and the lore being a focal point of the sixth film The Phantom of Baker Street. The series was very much a product of its time, being conceived when the mystery genre was trending because of The Kindaichi Case Files manga series, which is still running to this day.
At its core, Detective Conan is a classical detective story with modern elements that places the central detective as an omniscient hero figure. Gosho Aoyama doesn’t skimp out on the complexity of each mystery he creates and the methods Conan uses to solve them. He dedicates a lot of his time and energy into research he uses for the series. Much like how Holmes relied on his older brother Mycroft for assistance, Aoyama received advice from his older brother, a scientist, for research on recurring gimmicks and tricks for cases.
Aoyama’s process is rigorous, and he really cares about his work. According to the book Gosho Aoyama 30th Anniversary Book (Gosho 30-Shunen Hon), which details some of his everyday work process, Aoyama spends his five-day work week drawing manga for 20 hours each day. He takes around three 15-minute breaks to eat and sleeps for about three hours. On busy days, he foregoes any naps and continues working, taking only two days from the weekend off. Within that time frame, he spends time creating storyboards and doing his own research while letting his assistants help him through the process.
Aoyama puts his all into developing his work, and it’s no wonder he’s had to take some extended breaks from the manga. While he has hinted about a potential ending in the past, that has yet to happen. This dedication to worldbuilding and creating unique, elaborate cases every week is one I admire and credit to introducing me to the franchise.
How I Got Into Detective Conan (aka Case Closed)
I remember watching the first episode on the Funimation channel while vacationing in the United States. I was at a family friend’s house, bored out of my mind with nothing to do but watch TV. Since I wasn’t too familiar with American channels, I didn’t know what to watch and stumbled upon the show by accident.
I was instantly hooked because I’d never seen a detective anime before. I was captivated by a scene in which Conan was making his deduction with a voice changer to mimic the unconscious Mouri Kogoro. After heading home, I binged around 100 episodes and all the movies over the rest of the summer break. Even during the school year, I continued watching the series while everyone was talking about Naruto.
When I look back at how much time I’ve invested into a long-running series like this, it makes me feel older than I am. Having seen a good share of episodes, I think it’s a perfect time to talk about the typical episode structure.
The Detective’s Formula
A Detective Conan episode begins with introducing Conan and his companions, who’re usually Ran and Mouri or Professor Agasa and Conan’s school pals. The supporting character changes on a case-by-case basis, and they’re all involved with the case. A crime usually happens during random circumstances, encounters, or planned activities or trips. Trouble seems to follow them everywhere because someone is usually killed to start off a story.
In addition to his high intellect, Conan has access to a variety of gadgets developed by Professor Agasa to help him solve cases. His go-to gear for solving cases are his voice changing red bowtie, location tracking sunglasses, and the stun gun wristwatch. If he needs to get somewhere quick, he makes use of a solar powered skateboard. He and the rest of the Detective Boys also have small badges that work as walkie talkies to communicate with each other. He also uses extendable suspenders to help him climb structures, and a belt that produces an inflatable soccer ball. To stop suspects attempting to harm him or his friends, his sneakers have a built in dial that boosts his ability to kick the ball to knock the suspect out.
Episode arcs last for around two or three episodes. In bigger story arcs, a larger cast of characters is involved, with the central figure always being Conan, working with police officers and detectives as support. Sometimes Phantom Thief Kid makes an appearance, and other prodigy detectives like Shinichi’s Osakan rival Hattori Heiji.
When a crime has been committed, we’re introduced to the victims and suspects involved in the case. Conan investigates an average of three suspects, though sometimes it’s four people, or even just one person in some cases. To make his deduction and hide his identity, he usually knocks out Mouri or Ran’s friend Sonoko with a stun gun from his watch and uses a bowtie to mimic their voice. After presenting the evidence, the perpetrator breaks down crying, revealing their motives for the crime they’ve committed. Afterwards, Conan and friends continue their day like normal before their next adventure.
After each episode, the program highlights a certain item or person that will serve as an important hint for the next case. I really like this idea because the show invites viewers to be part of the mystery and try to solve the case themselves. I’ve been smart enough sometimes to figure out who the suspects are beforehand, but most times I’m stumped.
Detective Conan’s Legacy
And now we’re here. 25 years and multiple seasons have led to the historic 1000th episode. The franchise has definitely left its mark on Japanese pop culture, appearing in crossovers, crime awareness promotions, and on the pamphlets of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Not to mention the incredible financial success of the anime, the manga, and the merchandise.
Probably the biggest and most recent marker of Detective Conan’s legacy came courtesy of American talk show host Conan O’Brien. In one of his segments, he jokingly accused the titular character of ripping him off and acknowledged their similarities, with both having the same first name and being men stuck in a child’s body. It’s an apt description, because you do notice the uncanny resemblance between them.
It was all in good fun, but O’Brien’s show took this running joke further when he engaged with the mayor of Hokuei in Tottori prefecture, Akio Matsumoto. The location is nicknamed ‘Conan Town’ and is best known as Gosho Aoyama’s hometown. The two figures exchanged pleasantries over video, with Conan demanding to be mayor and offering three trillion yen. It all culminated in Conan O’Brien traveling to the town and filming a whole segment about it. They made peace by serving 1000 hamburgers to people and exchanging honorary sashes.
Hokuei itself takes pride in the fact that Aoyama was raised there, and has taken great efforts to celebrate the iconic franchise. There are bronze statues of Shinichi, Conan, and Ran around town and a dedicated museum exhibiting his work. When we’re at a better time, it’s definitely worth a trip to tour the area and visit these landmarks.
A Final Message: There Is Always Only One Truth!
Whether it’s ‘One Truth Prevails’ in the English dub or ‘There is Always One One Truth’, as translated from the Japanese version, Conan will always have the final word in a mystery-solving deduction.
I don’t know when Detective Conan will reach its end, but I’m certain that if it does, the anime world will lose a significant player in its global popularity. All things have to come to an end at some point, and I can’t wait to see how Conan defeats the Black Organization. Here’s to a thousand more mysteries for the pint-sized detective.