Here’s a mystery worthy of the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot: what is it about Japanese detective manga series Detective Conan that has made it one of the longest-running manga series of all time?

Created by Gosho Aoyama, the series has been serialised in Shogakukan’s Weekly Shonen Sunday comics magazine since 1994, 23 years ago. A whopping 92 collected volumes of Detective Conan have been released in Japan to date, and over 140 million copies of the manga have been sold worldwide (it is known as Case Closed in Western countries).

In South-East Asia, publishers Shogakukan Asia have released 14 standalone volumes compiling the best story arcs from the series.

Hugely popular in Japan, the manga spawned an anime series, a live-action TV drama, video games, and an impressive 21 animated feature films. In fact, there has been one Detective Conan movie released each year since 1997, with the latest being Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter, which opens in Malaysian cinemas on June 22.

That should teach you not to follow anymore sinister-looking men in black, Shinichi.

Besides the first movie, all of the Detective Conan movies were top 10 box office hits in Japan for the year it was released in, and The Crimson Love Letter has grossed ¥5.39bil (RM207mil) to date, making it the second highest grossing film in the franchise.

The “Detective Conan” in the title is actually Shinichi Kudo, a 16-year-old secondary school student who is considered a detective prodigy, capable of solving tough cases even the police are unable to crack.

However, after running afoul of two mysterious men in black, he is force-fed an experimental poison – Apotoxin (APTX) 4869 – that is supposed to kill its victims without leaving any traces. However, the poison had a different effect on Shinichi: instead of killing him, it caused him to regress in age to a six-year-old!

Although he is trapped in the body of a child, Shinichi’s mind remains intact. On the advice of his neighbour and family friend, Prof Hiroshi Agasa, he decides to hide his identity by wearing a pair of glasses and taking the name “Conan Edogawa” – derived from the names of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Japanese detective fiction writer Rampo Edogawa.

Subsequently, he goes to live with his childhood friend Ran Mouri and her private detective father, Kogoro Mouri. Conan then starts using Kogoro’s detective agency both as a means to track down the men in black (who are part of a sinister crime syndicate called the Black Organisation) to get back his original body, and also to solve cases (a running gag in the series involves Conan knocking out Kogoro and using a voice-changing bow-tie invented by Agasa to impersonate him and solve the cases). The more cases he solves, the more famous Kogoro becomes as a detective, and soon, he starts getting cases that puts Conan back on the trail of the Black Organisation.

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There have been several theories about just why Detective Conan is so popular. Some point to the fact that the mysteries and stories, while far-fetched at times, are actually pretty compelling. Others point to the lead character being in the form of a child, which appeals to a younger audience.

The main reason Detective Conan is such a hit is probably also the reason why Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and crime procedural TV shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and so on are so popular – everyone loves a good murder mystery.

Personally, I feel that Detective Conan’s greatest appeal is that no matter how outlandish the murders get, there is always a certain sense of plausibility at play. (Come to think of it, many of Conan’s cases actually seem pretty logical compared to some of the ones on CSI or even on BBC’s Sherlock series.)

The methods Conan uses to solve the cases are also part of the charm – being a kid gives him certain advantages and disadvantages, and it’s always fun to see just how he gets around all the obstacles while trying to get to the bottom of things.

To hide his identity, Shinichi takes the name Conan Edogawa – derived from the names of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Japanese detective fiction writer Rampo Edogawa.

Oh, and let’s not forget all the Inspector Gadget-like devices Prof Agasa invents to help Conan – besides his voice-changing bowtie, his glasses also allow him to track suspects and eavesdrop on others, his super sneakers multiply his kicking force (Shinichi is pretty good at football, apparently) and he also has a wrist watch that doubles as a stun gun, which he uses to knock Kogoro out in order to impersonate him.

The various supporting characters also add colour to the series – besides Prof Agasa and Kogoro, there’s Ran, whose romantic connection with Shinichi tends to complicate things for Conan sometimes; and the “Detective Boys”, a group of kids Conan befriends, who help him out on cases occasionally.

Then there’s Shuichi Akai, one of the most popular recurring characters, who is an FBI agent who once infiltrated the ranks of the Black Organisation. Akai has an intellect and deduction skills that rival Conan’s, the two eventually team up to take down the Black Organisation. The character is so popular that he even has his own collected volume books – Detective Conan Shuichi Akai Special Collection #1 and #2 are stories that focus on Conan’s cooperation with Akai.

Whatever it is that makes Detective Conan so popular, the fact remains that it is still going strong after 23 years. And at the rate it is going, with the popularity of its movies, it will probably be a while until we see this particular case closed.


Solve the mystery of Detective Conan (and win passes to a free movie!)

The local publisher of Detective Conan is giving Star2.com readers the chance to win passes to an exclusive fan preview of the upcoming Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter movie on June 19, as well as a movie poster autographed by series creator Gosho Aoyama.

To win, simply answer these two questions:

1) How many volumes of Detective Conan are there in total?

2) When will The Crimson Love Letter be released in Malaysia?

Then, complete this sentence using 20 words or fewer in the most creative way: “I think Detective Conan is so popular because…”

E-mail your entries to jerine@apdkl.com. The closing date for entries is June 13.

There will also be Detective Conan mascot meet-and-greet sessions on the following dates and locations in the Klang Valley:

> June 17, 2pm, at MPH Mid Valley Megamall;

> June 18, 11am, at Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC.