Review – Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Black Iron Submarine Conan

I am fairly new to the Detective Conan series. It’s always been vaguely on my radar, but I’ve never really taken the time to get into it, since there are over 1000 episodes, a couple dozen movies, and over a hundred volumes of manga to read. Still, when I saw that Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine was playing at my local cinema, I knew that it was time to get started. How many other opportunities would I have to watch an anime movie on the big screen?

My journey with the series actually started a few weeks earlier at the same cinema, with The Story of Ai Haibara: Black Iron Mystery Train, a compilation movie that took a bunch of episodes from a specific mini-arc in the anime and squished them together with some new scenes to make a movie. It’s designed to give a bit of background for Black Iron Submarine, introducing some of the key characters and their backstories and giving a sense for how these stories play out. I’m thankful I started with that one first, because I’d have been utterly lost otherwise.

For those unfamiliar with Detective Conan, or Case Closed as it’s called in the US officially, the basic premise is that there was a 17-year-old genius detective, Shinichi Kudo, who was given a pill that was supposed to kill him, but actually shrunk him to the size of a 7-year-old. In order to hide the fact that he survived, he took on the name Conan Edogawa, and started living with a terrible, washed out detective, helping the detective solve crimes.

Black Iron Submarine also features Ai Haibara, who was also once a fully grown person and actually developed the pill that shrunk Conan when she was a researcher by the name of Shiho Miyano. Ai is intelligent and headstrong, just like Conan, so they have a bit of a thing where they act as foils to each other, as they’re both in very similar situations with very similar skills. It’s very cute.

Ai Habara is the more compelling of the two protagonists, but she doesn't get much of a chance to shine.<p>Toho Company</p>
Ai Habara is the more compelling of the two protagonists, but she doesn't get much of a chance to shine.

Toho Company

Both Conan and Ai are (or rather, were) wanted by a criminal gang called the Black Organization, so it would be pretty bad if the Organization figured out they were both still alive. But surprise:that’s pretty much exactly what happens in Black Iron Submarine.

On a trip to a fancy seaside locale, it’s revealed that Interpol has a secret underwater facility that allows it to tap into just about every CCTV and surveillance camera in Japan. It’s also hooked up to an advanced facial recognition system that uses fancy AI to project what a person would look like in the future or in the past, so a kidnapping victim who went missing as a child would show up on the system as an adult today, for example. You can see where this is going, right?

Basically, the system captures Ai, and as such a key member of the Black Organization, Pinga, knows that Shiho is somehow still alive. He kidnaps her, brings her onto a submarine, and tries to force her to reveal her secrets. Conan, naturally, can’t let that happen, so he stages a rescue attempt, filled with high-tech gadgetry, massive thrills, and many explosions.

As a very brief aside, every Black Organization member uses a codename based on alcohol — Sherry, Gin, Bourbon, that kind of thing. Pinga is one of those codenames, and is based on a popular Brazilian liquor. “Pinger” is also very common slang for a specific illicit drug in Australia, which is where I live, which made it very funny whenever somebody said “Pinga” in the movie. But I digress, this is supposed to be a review, so let’s review.

I actually really enjoyed the storytelling in Black Iron Submarine. It’s a fairly simple setup, but that’s a good thing, as it allows the writers to really flex their muscles in the journey instead. Things get pretty complex, as you’d kind of expect from a mystery series, and that simple set up very quickly gets out of the way so the actual story can be told.

I do have one major problem with Black Iron Submarine though: it tries too hard to be a mystery movie, when it clearly wants to be an action movie. There is a murder mystery during the movie, but it very much takes a backseat to the bigger story of Conan going to great depths (ha) to save Ai from the Black Organization. Because of that, the murder mystery aspect of the film is kind of dull, not really contributing to the plot in any significant way, taking up valuable screen time that could be dedicated to something more interesting.

I’m told from people far more knowledgeable than me that this isn’t particularly uncommon in Detective Conan movies, there’s often more action than mystery, but it strikes me as a bit of tonal whiplash that really didn’t need to be there. If you want to make an action movie, make an action movie! I’m sure people won’t care, they still get to see their favorite characters acting out some really fantastic stories. If you want to make a murder mystery movie instead, then focus on that as the core premise, rather than awkwardly shoehorning it in as an after-thought to try and meet expectations that just aren’t there.

And look, I get it, it’s a Detective Conan movie, you gotta have Conan doing some detecting, right? But he still does plenty of that in the non-mystery parts, piecing together all the aspects of his rescue attempt in real time as things go wrong, adapting and reacting to every little thing. If the inconsequential murder mystery wasn’t there, you wouldn’t walk away from the film thinking “wow, Conan didn’t really do much clever stuff in that movie,” because he absolutely did.

That aside, it’s a great story that’s mostly told well. There’s a little bit of a sense that timing and character placement was thrown to the wind at times, with the timeline of events being fairly muddy at certain points throughout the film, but those moments are easy to overlook in the heat of the moment. Does it matter that Conan is on a secret underwater police facility miles offshore in one moment and then back on land in another scene that takes place shortly after? Not really! There’s a car chase, an underwater explosion, a girl to save.

Another thing that gets somewhat confusing at times is character allegiance, though I will gladly admit that’s likely due to my unfamiliarity with the series and not necessarily a problem with the film. It feels like just about every character in the Black Organization, bar some of the bigger names, is a double or even a triple agent, and trying to keep up with where each person’s allegiance lies is exhausting.

If you’re new to Detective Conan, Black Iron Submarine is probably a bad place to get started. It’s not really representative of the series as a whole, with a much bigger focus on action and drama than detective mysteries, and it could very well leave a bad taste in your mouth.

That said, if you’re willing to accept that you don’t know – or need to know – everything, there is a fun little spy thriller here. If you have your heart set on watching Black Iron Submarine before anything else Conan, at least do yourself a favor and watch Black Iron Mystery Train first. I promise it will make your experience significantly better.