Image source: 東宝MOVIEチャンネル on YouTube

Originally debuting as a manga series back in 1994, Detective Conan—also known in the West as Case Closed—has evolved into a long-running TV anime series with yearly anime movies for the past two decades. The latest addition, Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter, takes the age-reduced sleuth into the world of competitive karuta.

Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter is the 21st full-length Detective Conan anime movie. The story takes place in the Kansai region of Japan and jumps between Kyoto and Osaka. In the movie, Conan and his friends are visiting Osaka for an interview recording with the top of the Satsukikai—a leading organization in the competitive karuta world—at the Nichiuri TV station.

While preparing for the interview, a bomb threat is called in, forcing an evacuation of the TV station building. The bomb explodes and Conan, his Kansai region detective counterpart, Heiji, and Heiji’s childhood friend, Kazuha Toyama, barely escape with their lives. While the local police force investigate the bombing incident, the mystery deepens when it is revealed that a top karuta player of the Satsukikai who was absent from the interview has been discovered murdered in his home…

While I am familiar with the Detective Conan series as a concept, The Crimson Love Letter is actually the first time I’ve actually sat down and seen a Detective Conan movie from start to finish in one go. Other movies or TV episodes I’ve seen in bits and pieces, and although I’m aware of the overarching plot and the characters, I consider myself a relative newbie to the series. Fortunately, the movie does a good job of getting the viewer up to speed in the basic points they’ll need to know in order to get into the story. Even with barebones knowledge, I was able to immediately understand what was going on and who the major players were.

Image source: 東宝MOVIEチャンネル on YouTube

While most mystery stories will have one or two major puzzles at their core that need to be solved in order to find out whodunit, The Crimson Love Letter is a rare, straightforward case. Like all good mystery stories, the viewer is also a participant in trying to figure out who the culprit is, but there really is no major trick at play in the movie that is used to gain a false alibi or divert suspicion. It’s mostly a question of how much information the characters and the viewer have at any given time. Through the course of the movie, you’ve given all the pieces to the puzzle, just not in the right order and in such a way that the full picture can’t be seen until the story deems it so.

Normally this might feel cheap or frustrating—like the mystery is purposefully hiding vital information to make itself impossible to solve—but the mystery of The Crimson Love Letter is more of a character-driven one than a plot-driven one. This makes the question of who did it less important than why it was done. Even when I had my suspicions of who committed what, I was always missing the key to the case: The motive. This left me captivated with the story until the very end.

Detective Conan is a largely episodic mystery series, which makes it the perfect format for self-contained stories like The Crimson Love Letter. The movie has no major impact on the anime franchise at large, but still serves as an exploration into the lives of characters—in this case, Heiji, Kazuha, and the movie’s original characters.

Much like every movie special, The Crimson Love Letter has its own original characters. The primary one is the character of Momiji Ooka, a top-level karuta player with a past connection to Heiji. Momiji’s character is both complex and fascinating to watch. Her interactions with Heiji and Kazuha are a constant source of entertainment. She’s the best kind of one-shot character in that, by the end of the movie, I wanted her to be permanently added to the cast.

Image source: 東宝MOVIEチャンネル on YouTube

One of the major plot points in the movie is competitive karuta. From the announcement of the movie, I couldn’t help getting the feeling that the movie was trying to ride on the recent popularity of the competitive karuta scene—mostly thanks to the Chihayafuru series. While the story does revolve around competitive karuta, it didn’t feel intrinsically tied to it, giving a faint hint of contrivance to it all. The movie could just have well centered on professional shogi or go or some other traditional Japanese competitive game or sport. Although, as a fan of Chihayafuru, I certainly appreciated the focus on the topic.

However, while the movie does a good job of getting a beginner like myself up to speed on the world of Detective Conan, it isn’t as generous with teaching about competitive karuta. Throughout the movie, terms and jargon will come up without any explanation as to what they mean or what their significance is. For example, the character of Momiji is described as a next potential “Queen.” The term “Queen” is thrown around several times through the movie in reference to characters and I was waiting for the movie to explain that “Queen” is the title given to the top-ranking female karuta player, but it never was.

In fact, even the basic rules for competitive karuta aren’t really explained. It seems a little strange that, despite the story centering around the competitive karuta world, very little is given in terms of specifics to familiarize viewers to it. The movie almost feels geared more towards Chihayafuru fans than Detective Conan fans.

All in all, Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter is a very enjoyable self-contained movie with a humorous payoff. Whatever the mystery may lack in terms of complex trickery, it more than made up for in a compelling and captivating story. Unfortunately, while in-depth knowledge of competitive karuta may not be absolutely necessary to follow the plot, certain elements are likely to be somewhat cryptic otherwise. It might be a good idea to watch the Chihayafuru series or movies beforehand to fully enjoy this movie.

The First Chihayafuru Movie Starts Weak, But Ends Strong

The Second Chihayafuru Movie Is the Best Kind of Sequel

Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter was released in Japanese theaters on April 15, 2017. There is currently no word on an international release.

Image source: 劇場版名探偵コナン【公式】 on Twitter

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