Lupin the 3rd and Detective Conan are a Match Made in Heaven

The Movie Poster for Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan.

The Movie Poster for Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan.

Lupin the 3rd is good at doing a number of things.  Most notable are robbing priceless items and failing to dive into bed with a beautiful woman.  Thankfully, he has enough sense to overcome the latter proclivity when Ai Haibara is the occupant of said bed.

In 2009 the Nippon Television Network aired a Lupin the Third vs. Detective Conan TV special to celebrate the network’s 55th and its affiliates’ 50th anniversaries.  As with many so-called “verses” franchises found in films, the special had no clear victor.  It did, however, leave open the possibility of Lupin and Conan crossing paths again.  Thanks to the immense popularity of this TV special, the Nippon Television Network began production of a full-length feature film that came to fruition in December 2013 as LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE (ルパン三世 VS 名探偵コナン THE MOVIE Rupan Sansei Vasasu Meitantei Konan THE MOVIE).  Nippon Television Network owns the broadcast license for both franchises, and its production team did a wonderful job of preserving and blending the unique comedy, music, and drama of each series, creating a good atmosphere throughout the film.  The artwork does feel like a mismatch at times, although this is partially due to the different styling of Monkey Punch, creator of Lupin the 3rd, and Gosho Aoyama, creator of Detective Conan.  Additionally, there are a few plot points and jokes that require a viewer to have seen the TV special.  But, both these points are very minor.  Instead, it’s the story that suffers the most, not because the writing is bad, but because the franchises are so diametrically opposed to each other as to be almost entirely incompatible together.

With major franchise crossovers, I’m sure it can be difficult to retain what makes each successful.  Marvel and DC comics are both incredibly good at this considering their respective business models revolve around large crossover events with their characters.  However, in Japan, it’s very rare for manga writers, let alone two rival publishing companies, to share an event with each other.  I feel this is because the writing styles and artwork vary so drastically between authors it’s difficult to find points of compromise between them.  Then, when an anime is the subject of a crossover, the differences in music, sound effects, and other touches add another layer of difficulty to production.  Even within a franchise, it’s uncommon for different series within the franchise to crossover. But it has happened.

The subject of this article, LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE, is one of those rare occasions in Japanese media where the crossover works quite well.  Lupin the 3rd and Detective Conan are so vastly different from each other in terms of storytelling techniques, supporting cast, and comedy one would think finding a good balance between the two franchises would be difficult.  However, the writing team found a good balance, especially with the comedy and music.  Lupin, from what I’ve seen of it, plays with a lot of self-aware humor, as opposed to Conan that falls back on situational comedy.  By craftily melding the two together, much of the film is self-aware situational humor, mostly falling on Conan’s supporting cast.  This kept the film flowing at a nice pace and provided good breaks from the more serious—if it can be called serious—plot.

The background music is also one of the minor details many of us overlook when watching a series or film.  Of course, it’s just there to add mood to the events playing out on screen, but then again considering how the Lupin and Conan series use different styles of music, one would assume we’d be more conscious of the background music in LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE.  As with the humor, the music direction is done well, and uses the music styling of both franchises effectively, making, at least me, forget it’s even there.  The most notable difference is the theme songs played during the opening and the ending credit roll.  When considering both a bit more closely, each opens with a trumpet solo, then moves to a heavy-on-saxophone jazz melody.  What would have made the film’s theme much more in tune with the background music would have been a medley of the themes for both series.  Still, the way the respective themes were used was quite effective.

The different art styles of Monkey Punch (right) and Gosho Aoyama (left).

The different art styles of Monkey Punch (right) and Gosho Aoyama (left).

The two very minor issues I had with the film were the mismatch in the artwork and the need to be familiar with the TV special that aired in 2009.  The art styles of Monkey Punch and Gosho Aoyama are so radically different it becomes difficult to not be aware of it.  I had the same problem with the 2009 special.  Over the course of the special and LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE, the awkward feeling slowly disappeared for me, but it’s sill patently obvious the art team didn’t want to compromise on either style.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen a happy medium between the rounded style of Monkey Punch and the angular style of Gosho Aoyama­—earlier in his career his art was much more rounded—but alas someone on the production team wanted to make sure the audience could tell the two franchises apart, not that we can’t do that by the characters’ speech patterns, mannerisms, and personalities.

The loose connection to the TV special was also something that could have been worked in a bit better.  I don’t dislike the film having that connection—some of the jokes were brought back after all—but having a crucial piece of the plot depend on the special and including flashbacks to the special were both a bit too much.  Making references to jokes or locations the characters are at is fine, but once those references to the special become too involved in the independent story of the film, it’s difficult not to say, “Ah, so they’re connecting it back to the special” and so conclude the film is just an extended TV special with a larger budget and in theaters.  Again, this is a minor issue and it only comes up a few times, mostly in the second half of the film.

Where LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE actually suffers is the storytelling.  This is where I felt the production team could have done a better job in finding a good balance between the two series.  Seeing as Lupin the 3rd is about a burglar who gets caught up in a larger plot, it’s expected the audience will have a good idea of who the villain is right from the onset.  Detective Conan is the polar opposite of this.  As a crime-solving mystery, the point of the story is to figure out who the villain is via the clues he or she left behind.  The film fails in trying to find a medium for both these aspects to shine through and it ultimately falls back on the Lupin the 3rd method of storytelling.  While I enjoy that method, it utterly kills the appeal of a Detective Conan story.

The film was an opportunity for the writing team to get extremely creative by placing Lupin and his crew at odds with a shadowy villain, similar to the writing style in Detective Conan, and having Conan and surrounding characters chasing after Lupin.  Then they could have had both characters begin to work together to unravel a diabolic plot, which is an approach that would have been rewarding for the audience.  But this is only the second time the characters have come across each other, and who knows what other interesting stories may come to fruition.

LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE is surprisingly a good film for all ages to enjoy.  The showing I went to had a good mix of children and parents, adults, and teens, and all the groups seemingly had a good time.  The film does have its issues, but as with many verses films, it’s hard to strike a good balance.  I would like to see more Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan films made as there are so few crossover verses films—James Rolfe of the independent film company Cinemassacre stated it best when he said there are too few verses films—and I don’t doubt that if this film brings in enough revenue Nippon Television Network will consider making more.  It’s kind of joked about after the credit roll, but only time will tell.  Even if another one isn’t made, this is one for fans of all ages to enjoy.

Work Info
LUPIN THE 3rd VS DETECTIVE CONAN THE MOVIE (ルパン三世 VS 名探偵コナン THE MOVIE Rupan Sansei Vasasu Meitantei Konan THE MOVIE)
Under: Toho
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