When you think of great anime detectives, Detective Conan is probably the first one to come to mind. And when you think of great anime criminals, you probably think of Lupin III. So it’s no surprise that Lupin and Conan are starring in Lupin III VS Detective Conan: The Movie which opened last weekend in Japan.
As both series are filled with crazy gadgets and feature equally over-the-top crimes, these two series are a great match in tone and scope. There are shootouts, car chases, super soccer balls, and motored skateboards all over the place. It is a movie filled to bursting with the antics you would expect from a crossover between Lupin and Conan.
But the best parts of the film come in the form of interactions between the characters of the two different series—especially Jigen and Conan, where Jigen is forced to play the role of Conan's father. The interactions between Ai Haibara and Fujiko talking about their respective lives of crime are also a real treat.
Instead of picking either the Lupin art style or the Conan art style—or a merging of the two styles into something in between—Lupin III VS Detective Conan instead presents the characters in their original respective art styles. For the most part, the art styles of the two shows don't clash too badly in wide shots. But whenever characters from each series share a closeup, the differences are quite distracting.
This is not only due to things like eye shape and hair style, but also due to the fact that the Lupin characters have stronger shading and much thicker character outlines. It’s annoying to be pulled into the movie and then ever so often get knocked out of it because you can't help but think it doesn't look right.
A little background: I have seen a lot of Lupin III—though admittedly not all of it. As for Conan, I have only seen the first 30 or so episodes and have only rarely caught the more recent episodes (though I really loved the live-action specials). So while I was rather up to date on everything Lupin, my Conan knowledge was rather lacking—and as more and more ancillary characters showed up for their 10 seconds of action, it really began to show.
But on the Lupin side, I had almost the opposite problem. It felt like they were running down a checklist of “things that must be in a Lupin movie”: Lupin has to be hit with Fujiko's vagina boxing glove trap, Goemon has to reluctantly cut something, Fujiko has to cross, double-cross, and triple-cross all in the same scene, etc. While none of these parts are bad, per se, in a movie where the runtime is split between two full casts of characters, these cliché bits take time that could have been better spent on interactions between the crossover characters.
While this is the first feature film crossover between Lupin and Conan, the casts have actually crossed over before in the TV special Lupin III VS Detective Conan back in 2009. For the vast majority of the movie, the events of the special are not really important—other than the fact that Lupin and Conan have crossed paths before and that the Lupin gang knows Conan's secret.
Then, suddenly, in the last ten minutes of the film, it becomes imperative that you have seen the special. The movie tries to quickly abridge the events of the special, but this mid-climax attempt largely fails. In other words, you must watch the TV special before the film or risk the ending going right over your head.
Usually, Lupin and Conan stories have good mysteries and often it is hard to discover the true culprit until right before the big reveal. This is not the case in Lupin III VS Detective Conan. It’s quite clear from nearly the first scene who the bad guys are as well as what the prize is that they are striving for.
From that point on, the story is mainly interested in smaller mysteries that really have little to do with the overall plot. That's not to say that there aren't any twists and turns—the ending has a big (though still predictable) one. But if you are expecting a classic “Conan knocks out Detective Mouri and solves the case” scene, prepare for disappointment.
While this film may be called Lupin III VS Detective Conan, a more fitting title would be “Lupin III and Detective Conan Half-Heartedly Team-Up to Take Out a Mutual Bad Guy.” Of course, this is far from the only movie, Japanese or otherwise, that uses the term “versus” in this fashion.
However, in most cases, these “versus” stories are about two heroes fighting each other because of some villain’s trick. Once they figure out who the villain really is, they team up and win. In this case, this format doesn't work as well because Lupin III is a villain—a thief who regularly kidnaps and kills people in his adventures. Sure he is a good person in general, but there is no reason to not have a true versus story between the two. There is no need for a mutual bad guy or a team up; and truly pitting the two against each other would definitely make for a better film than this one.
In the end, Lupin III VS Detective Conan: The Movie is neither a great Lupin movie nor a great Conan movie. The film spends far too much of its time just going through the motions of what you'd expect to see in Lupin and in Conan when it could be focusing on the crossover nature of the film. But more than that, the film's lackluster mystery does little more than keep the film moving.
If you are a fan of both series, you'll probably find this movie worth a watch just to see the characters interact. But if you are a fan of only one or the other—or a non-fan looking for a place to start with either series—then this film will likely disappoint.
Lupin III VS Detective Conan: The Movie was released in Japanese theaters on December 7, 2013. There is currently no word on an international release.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.