‘Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine’ movie review: A mystery franchise that finds comfort in the familiar

The latest film, with its outlandish action and uncompromising animation budget, hits all the notes the franchise has mastered over decades

Updated - August 26, 2023 08:28 pm IST

Published - August 24, 2023 03:25 pm IST

A still from ‘Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine’

A still from ‘Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine’ | Photo Credit: PVRINOX Pictures/YouTube

The Detective Conan franchise is only streamed in India on Bilibili, a Chinese streaming site whose app is not available in India officially. It is telecast on a pay TV channel for kids, reducing its potential viewership. And yet, Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine, the 26th standalone film in the series, is getting a fairly wide theatrical release in India, months after its release in Japan, as is typical for anime films. That isn’t much of a surprise — the underwater murder mystery hits all the series’ typical notes, apparent from the title character’s Sherlockian inspiration: crime, investigation, false leads, and finally, the resolution.

All the characters’ evolution and backstories since the show started airing over a decade ago on Indian television have been so threadbare that the exposition to catch everyone up on years of progress is fairly simple for those even vaguely familiar with the franchise.

Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine (Japanese with English subtitles)
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Voice cast: Minami Takayama, Megumi Hayashibara, Wakana Yamazaki, Rikiya Koyama, and more
Runtime: 111 minutes
Storyline: An underwater Interpol surveillance facility in Japan is endangered by an organised crime syndicate, as Ai Haibara, a scientist transformed into a child, is abducted by her would-be assassins.

Those seeking to revisit Conan from all those years ago will therefore likely not miss a beat. To recap the premise from 1994: a high school detective snooping on a shady transaction in an amusement park gets drugged and shrunk down to a child, and stays that way while avoiding and unraveling the Black Organization, the shady outfit that poisoned him in the first place (not knowing he survived), while attending elementary school under the titular Edogawa Conan alias, staying with his girlfriend and her bumbling detective father, and solving crimes on the side. A constant companion is Ai Haibara, a former scientist for the Black Organization who was also shrunk down, and of whose survival the crime group is also unaware.

Black Iron Submarine adds to the pantheon of anime films that have to manifest high stakes without advancing the plot of the core series substantially. A fair bit of fanservice — and almost monumental advances in the franchise — must therefore be pulled back from the threshold, and they are. But the plot has never been the point, even if the world-building is undermined over the long run.

Detective Conan as a franchise revels in leveraging classic detective tropes to pull off self-contained murder investigations, spread all over Japan and the world (but somehow largely involving the same Tokyo police officers). The modernity in the mystery in Black Iron Submarine is in the huge underwater Interpol data centre, bringing together live surveillance camera feeds from all over the world in one place. The privacy implications of this are not entirely unpacked, but an advanced facial recognition system endangers both Conan and Haibara, even as outside attackers from the Black Organization infiltrate the facility for their own ends.

A separate backstory film, Detective Conan Ai Haibara’s Story: Jet-Black Mystery Train, was released for just a day in India earlier this month, and that film may be a better primer for the series’ developments over the last decade and even represented a better detective story, repurposed as it was from the main show’s episodes. But the competent handling of the franchise by its creator and longtime mangaka Gosho Aoyama makes the latest entry, with its outlandish action and uncompromising animation budget, all the more captivating.

As always with Conan, though, attentive and probing viewers are rewarded, and the less focused may find themselves at best tolerated by the climax. A notepad may not be necessary, but this franchise demands nonetheless that you take it seriously, as Japanese viewers have ardently done all these years. Its decades-long run with rarely wavering ratings success and relevance in its home country shows that there is still a market for the predictable but competent detective flick.

Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine releases in theatres in India this Friday

A previous version of this article stated that Detective Conan isn’t streamed in India.
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