Why Japan fell in love with ‘Detective Conan’

Il is small, only strong from the meninges and therefore has nothing to do with Conan the Barbarian, even less with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, this Detective Conan is one of the big stars of manga and Japanese animation: 250 million copies sold worldwide in 2021, one hundred volumes published since 1994, a TV series of 1,000 episodes, video games and even a saga of 25 features -films, including the latest, Detective Conan: Bride of Shibuyahas been visible in French theaters since May 18.

Round glasses à la Harry Potter, big mischievous eyes, the hero of this ultra-spectacular animated feature film is a young vigilante, an adult prisoner of a child’s body: Detective Conan, whose favorite line is “I shrunk, but not my IQ. In this new investigation which takes place during Halloween, our fine sleuth will try with his friends to save both the district of Shibuya from a terrorist bomber and the investigator Tôru Amuro, trapped by an explosive collar which encloses his neck and risk of exploding at any moment…Released in mid-April in Japan, Bride of Shibuya won without surprise at the top of the box office, both the saga Detective Conan is a social phenomenon that multiplies records in the land of the Rising Sun.

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At the origin of this popularity which has lasted for nearly thirty years: Gōshō Aoyama, a mangaka passionate about detective novels, mad about Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc and Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle. In 1994, he invented Shinichi Kudo, a brilliant detective in his spare time, a 17-year-old high school student, handsome, rich and talented. During an investigation, he is taken prisoner, but rather than kill him, the evil Organization of the men in black makes him absorb a mysterious drug which transforms him into… a seven-year-old boy. He then takes the pseudonym of Conan Edogawa (Conan, for Conan Doyle, and Edogawa, for Edogawa Ranpo, one of the fathers of the Japanese detective novel) and will constantly fight against the Organization to find his adult body, by solving real detective puzzles in each episode.

A manga about the unspoken in Japan

From the beginning, Gōshō Aoyama’s technique to hook the reader is unstoppable: in each manga, over approximately 180 pages, he writes two investigations and the beginning of a third, in order to maintain the suspense intact and make you want to read the following. Teacher at Kobe University, author of the book The Detective Conan Enigma, Pierre-William Fregonese deciphers the singularity of the hero of the saga: “Polar is a major genre in Japan, like science fiction. Before Conan, there were only two sub-genres of thrillers in manga: the burglar manga with Lupine III and that of hitman with Golgo 13 Where Crying Freeman. But no riddle thriller…”

Moreover, the dual nature of the character – both child and teenager – arouses the enthusiasm of schoolchildren and high school students alike: both can identify with this detective in short pants. The rhythm is very dynamic, with plots more complex than each other, perfect murders, suspense and a virtuoso exploitation of geography as in The Bride of Shibuya where the topography of this famous Tokyo district plays a key role. In addition, both manga and films also have a psychological dimension: “In most investigations, when Conan confuses the assassin in front of an assembly, he reveals to him elements that he did not know about his victim’s life”, confides Pierre-William Fregonese. “This dimension also gives Detective Conan the particularity of being a manga about the unspoken in Japan. »

Like the Marvel films, Conan is part of a transmedia narration. The stories are declined in mangas, films, TV series… And it’s a hit!PIerre-William Fregonese, author of the book The enigma Detective Conan, a matter of styles (ed. PIX N LOVE)

Mounted on a frenetic rhythm, The Bride of Shibuya is in line with the manga under its exterior of a huge action blockbuster: the investigation with drawers multiplies the false leads, the pursuits and the moments of anthology, in particular when the garlands attached to the heart of Shibuya are transformed in weapons of mass destruction. The screenplay was chiselled by Takahiro Okura, an author of detective novels, who had already written films 21 and 23. Another peculiarity of the franchise: the main characters change from one opus to another and this time it’s a certain Amuro, ultra-popular in Japan, who shares the top billing with Conan.

“It’s huge for the fans, like when Doctor Strange appears in the last Spiderman at Marvel”, enthuses Pierre-William Fregonese. “Like the Marvel films, Conan is part of a transmedia narration. The stories are declined in mangas, films, spin-offs, TV series: a real shared universe Detective Conan. And it hits! Conan Volume 100 was released in April and is the fifth manga sale after One Piece and Jujutsu Kaisen. There is also the spin-off on Amuro, which is a hit on Netflix. And the film is now a triumph. For a series of thirty years, it’s just crazy! Detective Conan cannibalizes the Japanese imagination. » Hope that Bride of Shibuya do the same with French spectators, both fans and neophytes, because it is not necessary to know the original work by heart to be carried away by this adorable detective… small, therefore, but strong of brains.

Detective Conan: Bride of Shibuyaby Susumu Mitsunaka, currently in theaters.

To read : The Detective Conan Enigma by Pierre-William Fregonese (Pix’n Love Editions)