One of the most interesting things about Detective Conan, especially in contrast to most anime, is how it is essentially a half way point between a status quo, purely episodic series, and a plot driven one. Well, half way is probably an exaggeration, it’s more like 1/8 of the way towards being plot driven. But the point is, most anime and possibly even shows are either purely episodic with minimal to no long term continuity (barring maybe a single event to go to a new status quo with), or are consistently focused on building towards some ongoing storyline/s. But Detective Conan has always been kind of between those two. There have been changes in the status quo, but not ones to entirely disrupt the one started in the early couple of episodes/chapters of the series. There has been plot and character development, but the type that rarely moves quickly or is the focus of an episode/chapter. It is best to describe it as a status quo murder mystery series, that has tiny bits of plot slowly moving as a bonus to the status quo murder mystery series, that only becomes the focus at climactic points in the story. I once saw the speed of the plot development of the series compared to a glacier, which sounds about right.
Honestly, it’s a fantastic format for a long running series. You can simply enjoy it as a murder mystery series, have a bunch of cases with various characters and new suspects each time, and it’s enjoyable in that way. Anything else is just a really nice bonus, something to reward you for sticking with it and to show that Conan’s goal and other characters and things added to the series are going somewhere. They’re not just transparent attempts to keep the series going forever with no point or hope of some sort of conclusion. But because they drip feed the ongoing story, it means the series can go on for a long time without throwing too much plot at you that its confusing or risks becoming too repetitive or jumps the shark. And between that and the relationship subplots and bits of suspense and even action (mostly in the movies, granted), it has a bit of something for everyone while still being focused on being…what it is. A lot of series fail that as well, either being too much of one thing or trying to please everyone and ending up pleasing no one. It’s actually brilliant in that regard, like an all-time fantastic way to setup a series that goes on for this long.
But the series has just been going on for too long. At least that’s what it feels like, by this point. This is not some new revelation, of course. I think anyone really paying attention to Conan can put together that the series has relied a lot on ideas that have already been done, and often done better. I mean, obviously. It’s a series that’s been ongoing, by the same guy, for nearly 25 years. Even the best writers would find it hard to come up with fresh material at that point, without some drastic changes to what the series is.
Weirdly though, it isn’t Gosho’s cases I necessarily think suffer from this the most. Granted, he’s stretching to find new ways to kill people and it’s kinda silly and yet sometimes duller than it should be. And it’s impossible for me to believe that anyone could regularly watch or read this series and still care about these one off characters for these cases like they actually matter. There’s too many, and most of them are not memorable or distinct enough from anyone else in any other case. If you do, you’ll get invested in literally any character. But that’s arguably been a problem longer than anything else, and I think if everything else good about the series comes together, it surprisingly doesn’t matter too much that Gosho reuses X character in Y story. You can easily forgive that. But the problem comes when it doesn’t. Not just because it’s hard to create consistently compelling ways to kill someone, but because it’s sometimes hard to even care about some of the characters I actually care about.
As an aside, I wrote an essay a long time ago about the problems with Detective Conan, but it was with Ran specifically. I have to say, I think I might have to take it all back. I’m sorry, I didn’t fully think about what I was talking about, I think it might be controversial among some circles. Now of course, by that I mean, I have to take back when I implied I enjoyed Conan as a character more than Ran because of how their relationship was going (if for mostly unintentional reasons). Ran may be a boring character who’s supposed to just peacefully wait for her never returning boyfriend (with every attempt to not be that being less frequent or believable), but she doesn’t anger me. But after 10 years, I am so god damn sick of Edogawa Conan. This arrogant know-it-all, who can solve everything ever, knows everything ever, where nothing actually bad happens to him and consequences aren’t real. Like when people complain about Superman, this is basically the character I imagine they’re talking about. Always wins because they’re the best, arrogance with minimal to no repercussions, above us all, never changes. Like remember when Conan actually cared about what he might be doing to Ran by hiding in plain sight like he does? Yeah, guess that emotional core can be mostly ignored (except for a couple of AOs, of all things!). There’s just little to nothing likeable or enjoyable about him at all. Or what is there is hard to care about after all this time, at the very least. It’s really baffling compared to that one Shinichi story that took place in the past that characterized him as a kid so well, and is legit one of the best stories Gosho’s done this entire decade. So it’s like he can’t transfer that level of worthwhile, relatable characterization to Conan anymore, and it’s really a shame.
And there’s been a lot of issues with a lot more characters as well. It’s usually not as bad, but some of these romantic stories do need something to happen to them other than the police ones. It’s almost impressive how making it a love triangle that will almost certainly not change Heiji and Kazuha getting together at all is still more interesting than what they were doing the past few years (read: nothing). And Kid’s just been hurt by a lack of truly compelling stories, in particular. The hints of a real focus on Magic Kaito again and the bi…decade MK chapter releases are a neverending tease. The actual Kid cases have simply become less interesting and less varied, and Kid has almost vanished (moar liek teleported, hur hur) in recent years despite being a top tier popular character, which says a lot. But so have Satou and Takagi focused stories, which is a clear mistake. There can’t be a real person on Earth who wants another one of those terrible Chiba love story cases over more of Satou and Takagi. I refuse to believe it. I reject the very idea. There are dozens of one-off characters from ages ago with more interest I have to believe (I mean that is basically how we got Sera :V).
So by this point, you might think this is simply a problem of one person. You’re already entirely wrong. Gosho Aoyama is not as good writer as he was 15 years ago, that I’m sure of. But, I’m not necessarily sure anyone in his position could be. Despite already being a successful mangaka well before Detective Conan, he has consistently been writing Detective Conan since 1994. This is literally all but 4 years of my entire life. With all the pressures and demands of being a top mangaka with a weekly shonen schedule, for nearly 25 years, it was inevitable that the series would eventually struggle to keep up being at the same high quality. I’d be hard pressed to find one series running for even close to that long that didn’t have some decline in quality. I’m pretty sure post-beloved era Simpsons has lasted much longer than pre at this point. This is arguably even more true when you’ve seen so much of what a series has offered already, and thus can’t be surprised as easily without it being a surprise only because it’s a bad idea you shouldn’t see done in a good series. So, if anything, I have a weird amount of respect for Gosho even when the quality isn’t there like I want it to be. Because I’m consistently amazed I still enjoy the series as much as I do and that it took this long to decline (like Death Note was past its peak in the 2nd half, and that’s a 12 volume manga. 12 volumes in, Haibara wasn’t in Conan yet). I’ve also always assumed that the fact that it is a murder mystery series only adds to the time and effort needed. I could be wrong, but I feel like the time and effort needed to create a believable, compelling murder mystery on top of everything else is above the average action manga or the like.
But as I said, the manga isn’t even my biggest problem. I don’t even read it regularly, and outside of the early days when certain manga based cases were still unsubbed, basically never before the anime adapted them. I have been watching Detective Conan for over a decade now, but in that decade, I’ve never enjoyed the series in any year LESS than I have this year. Probably by a good margin. And that’s specifically because of the anime. The main reason why is abundantly clear. Gosho Aoyama has been unable to provide many chapters to be adapted to anime, so the vast majority of the series lately has been anime originals. And to the surprise of no one who pays attention to “filler episodes” in anime, they’ve not lived up to the mangaka’s stories.
I mean, I’m not really saying anything new here. Filler has been loathed by the anime community as long as I can remember, and Detective Conan is not much different. Probably not as hated because the gaps weren’t too long before a new manga based episode appeared and you had to get a ways into the series for there to feel like much plot development has even happened. But they were still not anything fans seem to really care about or look forward to in any way. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen fans consistently praise anime originals, barring the early episodes or discussions about specific good anime originals, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people just avoid them and/or dislike them.
If you bother to watch them all, at least for my tastes, it really drags down the series. Not because they’re bad, but because there’s not nearly enough worth caring about. It’s just a competent but boring slog to get through so many of them. Detective Conan is already focused on a neverending series of murder mysteries, all having to be completed in a 1-3 episode span. And 3 episodes is somewhat rare, so with 40 episodes a year, that’s a lot of stories in the long run. Most series don’t have that many new episodes that often, last I checked anyway. So similar to Gosho Aoyama, this is a lot of work for the series that never ends or even takes substantial breaks. Again, it must be very difficult to make it consistently good or interesting, no matter how talented or not the people making it are.
But a key difference is that the series is so restricted by being an adaptation of Detective Conan. The series is already more grounded and normal compared to a lot of anime out there. If it wasn’t for a few elements, like certain gadgets or rarely relevant plot elements, it could take place in our world! So a lot of creativity writers of like…a series focused on magical powers and creatures would be able to use, cannot be used. Obviously, that would be completely absurd! But then the series always has to be about some sort of case, usually a murder mystery. But then on top of that, it often seemingly has to follow certain cliches about Conan specifically. Cases with 3 suspects, or 1 suspect who is clearly the killer. Conan solving the case, and often by impersonating someone else’s voice. Also, certain traits about various characters, of course. But then you realize how little they either can or will do with the characters, because you can’t make any worthwhile change or development for them. A lot of the times, you can’t even do something particularly interesting or new with them apparently. And with literally one exception, you can’t make a story longer than two episodes, that’s only for the Gosho cases.
This is exactly why I made that thread two years ago. In 2016, which also didn’t have the most Gosho cases adapted, I really thought the anime team was putting together some good episodes. Nothing on the level of Gosho’s best work, but episodes I was genuinely glad to have watched. Episodes that were well made, had some worthwhile stories that either effectively used the characters we care about or introduced an actually interesting one-off character, for example. They didn’t feel like complete filler, they felt like good character focused stories to put in the series, even if they weren’t amazing. There were even a couple of episodes that actually did something interesting with the fact that Conan used to be a teenager and live a different life. It was really all I ask for. And even the AO cases that weren’t THAT good were still often better than the average quality of AOs we get. That might sound super praise worthy but after year after year of mediocrity, I felt it really made a difference.
Detective Conan in 2018 is kinda why I made that thread. No one cares except me, I realize. But after 2016 was over, AOs went right back to being a relatively boring waste of time. I really do think that’s a shame. Filler does not need to be bad. You can still write good stories just because it isn’t a story made in the source material. I mean, yeah, the AOs don’t matter, but neither do the actual cases Gosho wrote, by that logic. The stuff involving recurring characters sometimes matter, but most of the time, nothing about the cases themselves are ever relevant once they’re done. I mean, it became my favorite anime despite skipping a decent chunk of manga-based stories when I first got into it. And if you’re a long time fan of Conan, I’d like to believe you actually like the individual stories rather than the rarely advanced plotlines. So if an AO is good…it’s good. But right now, they’re not good or interesting enough for how much of the series they’ve been lately. I think maybe 3/4 of the anime this year has been AOs. That’s 30 episodes in just one year, so if a majority of them aren’t particularly entertaining, it’s hard to not see that as a huge disappointment.
I don’t think it used to be that way either. I distinctly remember pretty much all of the first year or so of filler episodes. Almost all of them are at least a bit interesting, some of them actually very entertaining. Kogoro was almost assassinated once IIRC. What a crazy story that was in hindsight…
But anyway, I’ve spent some time thinking of how to improve the anime and there are three main ideas that come to mind. The first one being to simply air less episodes. I mean, the simplest answer, if there’s less episodes there’s less filler and more time spent on the filler there is. Presumably it would also give the animators more time to work on these episodes as well. But I really, really doubt that will actually happen. None of these complaints matter to most of its fans in Japan since Conan is consistently one of the most popular series there. In fact, the one time I heard about ratings going down was because of them airing less episodes for about two years, so it would be counter productive to ratings. It’s clearly never happening.
The second idea would be to make the cases longer. The one time they put out a 3 part case a few years ago, it ended up being great. So it makes me wonder why they don’t do it more often. In theory at least, it makes sense as you would have more time to focus on a smaller amount of murder mysteries and thus could do a better job with them. Maybe you could even make a story arc with original characters, like a legit filler arc. I dunno, maybe they’ve just been unable to make something that works for longer than two episodes. But I would appreciate the effort.
But the last idea is maybe the most controversial one, and the main one I’ve really been wanting out of the series in a way. That is, they could make episodes that aren’t really about cases. I could be wrong on this, but I believe every single episode of Detective Conan has some focus on some sort of case. I almost want to say there’s a couple of plot episodes that actually have zero focus on typical cases, at most focusing on the mystery of the current plot arc. But otherwise, I think there’s always been some sort of case or episodic mystery. So I wonder if there might be some real value in once in a while doing something else.
And this ties into problems I have with the franchise as a whole. Yes, at the end of the day it is a murder mystery series. Murder mysteries are and should be the focus, that is without any doubt. But when it is truly unending like this and when it airs 40 episodes, at 20 minutes each (taking away the Opening and Ending), every year, and when so much of it feels like a pointless repeat of a better story you’ve seen in the same series, I think something else beyond cases would be for the best. I’m not asking for it to become absurd or contradict everything we know (though pulling something like OVA 1 could be amazing), but taking a slice of life sort of look at the characters or putting them in situations that are pretty different could do a lot for the series.
When they were still putting out the movie tie-in OVAs, the only ones I remember being great were the ones for Movies 14 and 15. And that’s because they were more light comedy episodes about some of the characters instead of relying much on mysteries or anything like that. We like the characters so just them doing…whatever they were doing was more than good enough. It was a real breath of fresh air out of the series. Same with OVA 2, where the mystery is inconsequential. But it had all these characters we like interacting, and that’s basically all you need. They’re good characters and that alone should be enough sometimes.
This also ties into the movies. I maintain that I truly believe Movie 20 was really good. At least for what it was. Because this series inevitably attracts murder mystery fans specifically, I have no doubt a sudden change to ridiculous action didn’t sit well with some fans. And for a lot of the later DC movies, I would actually agree to some extent. But there’s one huge difference that puts it above a lot of the others. Most of the Detective Conan movies still try to be Detective Conan movies. They still have to have some significant focus on some sort of case, usually a murder mystery, and than they just put action and explosions around it. It’s just not that great, that often. Also, it’s sometimes kinda forced and obligatory and we all know nothing that happens matters, because it’s not canon. Stop pretending Conan’s gonna die, no one believes you! James Bond will die before Conan does.
But Movie 20 was earnestly a type of action suspense movie with Detective Conan characters, rather than a Detective Conan movie with action. It also made it clear early on how ridiculous it was going to get, so it set up expectations perfectly for what the movie was doing. These two things made all the difference for me, because it was what I was looking for. It was still the Detective Conan characters, but they weren’t on some sort of mobius strip, doomed to repeat the same stories for all eternity. And obviously there were limitations to it, but that also worked out because this action movie doesn’t have to be canon. It’s like a weird what-if story in a sense, but with stuff you can add to canon if you wish. Also quite frankly, it was both a more exciting climax for the Bourbon arc, and had a scene that did more to get me excited for Rum than anything the normal series has. It was a good change of pace. The fact that it was absurd and dumb are not really negatives to me in this context because it was absurd and dumb in the fun type of ways. Even if I didn’t like it, I think I’d appreciate it for being different at least. Like we don’t need more of the same Detective Conan than we already get, we have more than enough. They’re gonna make Detective Conan movies like the ones they’ve been making, so I’d much prefer going all in on being dumb rather than some half-assed kinda murder mystery kinda action plot that doesn’t do either particularly well (though movie 18 is admittedly probably closer to what we should get).
I almost forgot Magic Kaito! Remember when they put out specials based off the Magic Kaito manga on occasion, and they actually changed a few things to focus on a new character for the series? Spider was such a cool edition, doubly so in the context of Magic Kaito being in sort of the same universe as Conan. But even on its own, that’s a fun villain character and he added something to the series and to potentially Hakuba as a character as well. And in general, it was a pretty solid adaptation and it was nice to see these stories finally adapted (even if I wish they did more of the wacky early chapters). But then they adapted it again literally a couple of years later. It was often the same stories except adapted slightly worse. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time, why did that exist? Why was it made? For what possible reason? What a waste of time that was...
Granted, none of what I say matters. In Japan, Conan it is still an incredibly successful series, and it can put out the same thing forever and the audience that actually watches it will continue to watch it. Most of them probably don’t care about any of this and just want their…murder mystery comfort food. I just assume it’s like Japan’s equivalent to all the crime dramas we have over here. Which is interesting to me since I certainly know people who will constantly watch them and fall for the same emotional scenes from one-off characters over and over. And I absolutely hate every single one of those shows I’ve seen. But I at least get it to some degree. However, at the end of the day, I want more out of Conan. It can be so compelling and it doesn’t have to be coasting on samey 5 or 6/10 episodes.
This was a long essay, and thank you to anyone who read the whole thing. Ironically, there are things in this essay that just recently I’ve seen the anime contradict or at least seem to notice. Bits of self-awareness or changes for a case that were appreciated. Stuff like that does give me hope. I still like the anime when it’s actually compelling. I just want it to be like that more often.