Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter

Synopsis:
Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter
When a friend of Ran's enters a prestigious karuta competition in Osaka, she brings along her father, Conan, and the Detective Boys to watch the show. Things soon take a turn for the dangerous, however, when a karuta champion is found murdered in his home and bomb threats begin turning up for various venues. Conan and Heiji set themselves against the clock as they try and solve the series of crimes. Who could have such a grudge against karuta? And when Kazuha fills in for an injured friend, is she painting a target on her back – one that Heiji and Conan can't save her from?
Review:

The twenty-first Detective Conan (Case Closed) film, Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter, brings viewers someplace they're more likely to be familiar with from an entirely different series: a karuta tournament. Having some familiarity with Chihayafuru may actually be a boon for viewers, not just because karuta is a central theme of this film, but also because The Crimson Love Letter doesn't take any time to actually explain karuta. While it's hard to fault them for that too much – the movie was made for Japanese audiences and is primarily a murder mystery – there are definitely some pieces that will get lost if you don't know the basics. I watched this with someone who didn't know anything about the game and ended up spending a fair amount of time explaining bits and pieces of it so that the entirety of the plot made sense to her.

When you come down it, though, really the most important thing to know is that karuta cards are printed with poems from Hyakunin Isshun, an anthology of great tanka by various authors, and that a lot of them are love poems. This almost immediately gives the title of the film a bit more context – tanka were often used in correspondence (particularly in the Heian era), so a love poem could easily be termed a love letter. Crimson, of course, can refer to the color of blood, although it forms two other visual cues in the movie as well: fire and the color of maple leaves in the fall. Maple leaves are a symbol that come up in many Heian tanka, and there are a series of karuta cards that use maple-themed poems, so the moment one of the competitors turns out to be named Momiji (a word for maple), the image of autumn leaves as crimson should come to mind. It's a very interesting color-based thread to trace through the movie, both in terms of the art and the symbolism, and following it can definitely lead you to some clues.

Because Detective Conan is, by and large, what's known as a fair play mystery (meaning it's possible to solve the crimes alongside the detectives), that connection between karuta, color, and the title is an important one. It is not, however, the only major puzzle piece that we get to follow – this franchise tends to be very good with keeping things fair play, and there's a nice mix of obvious and more obscure clues that we can find as Conan and Heiji work with the police – and independently, because there's always that one cop who has an issue trusting the high school kids for some reason – and they're sometimes clues that we have to pick up for ourselves, which makes the process more fun. Conan does have his gadgets, but those are mostly used to escape from burning buildings; Heiji's dirt bike gets a lot more use in the actual crime solving, mostly as occasionally ridiculous transportation. (It's nearly indestructible, which somehow feels more credulity-straining than Conan's radar glasses.) The mystery plot is genuinely interesting and takes a lot of twists along the way to solving it.

The karuta plot serves as both the frame that supports the film as a whole and the glue that holds together the mystery and the romantic subplot. Heiji and Kazuha form the basis of the latter, and while it has its moments (mostly towards the end), it's definitely not as good as the mystery. Mostly this is because Momiji is such an obviously artificial obstacle; even if she wasn't goading Kazuha into making ill-advised bets on the outcome of their match, her attachment to Heiji is so silly and flimsy that it's hard to take seriously in a story where people get their arms broken by shrapnel from an explosion and suffer from smoke inhalation. On the other hand, there's definitely something to watch for in Kazuha and Momiji's showdown that provides one of the major hints as to the root cause of the destruction taking place, so perhaps I'm selling that part of the story short.

The English dub for this film is provided by Bang Zoom rather than Funimation, which means that Wendee Lee is playing Conan, Cristina Vee is Ran, and Lucien Dodge is Heiji. Dodge in particular does an excellent job with delivery, but the whole cast is very strong. The dub also uses the original Japanese names for the characters (Ran not Rachel, etc.), which feels like a particularly good choice for this film since it is set around the uniquely Japanese game of karuta. No one does any accents like you sometimes see and hear for Osaka/Kyoto-based characters, although it is worth noting that Heiji's mother and Momiji do speak using a more extensive and formal vocabulary than the characters who are visiting the region.

Art for the film is a bit of a mixed bag, mostly because Gosho Aoyama's original character designs have some idiosyncrasies that don't always animate well, like the pointed snouty noses or the huge heads on some of the kids. (And Ran's hair cone, although at this stage of the game it's probably time for me to get over that.) But the use of maple leaves and color is striking (down to Momiji's special manicure), the cards are beautifully rendered, and there's a real sense of closeness and danger to scenes where characters are directly threatened by smoke and flames. The animation is also beautiful, with moments like Ran catching a fainting Kazuha standing out in their smoothness and fluidity. Music isn't particularly striking, but the ending theme is definitely pleasant.

The Crimson Love Letter is an all-around enjoyable film. The mystery is interesting and fair play, the characters' interactions are fun, and the whole thing is very nice to look at. While you'll get more out of it if you're familiar with the franchise (a bit of summary is provided for those who aren't, but it really isn't enough) and, to a lesser degree, karuta, this is a nice way to spend two hours figuring out a crime alongside one of anime's most enduring detectives.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B

+ Fair play mystery plot, Conan and Heiji are a fun team to watch. Beautiful use of color and animation.
Requires a bit of karuta knowledge to get all of the clues, Momiji/Kazuha rivalry is a little weak.

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Production Info:
Chief Director:
Kenji Kodama
Yasuichiro Yamamoto
Director:
Kenji Kodama
Kōjin Ochi
Masato Sato
Kobun Shizuno
Yasuichiro Yamamoto
Script:
Yuuichi Higurashi
Yasushi Hirano
Shūichi Hirokawa
Chika Ichimaru
Toshiki Inoue
Shigenori Kageyama
Aki Kajiwara
Fumiharu Kamanaka
Takaomi Kanasaki
Yū Kaneko
Yutaka Kaneko
Hiroshi Kashiwabara
Kanji Kashiwabara
Kenji Kodama
Kazunari Kouchi
Hiroshi Kurimoto
Yoshihisa Matsumoto
Johei Matsuura
Junichi Miyashita
Takeshi Mochizuki
Yasutoshi Murakawa
Hideaki Oba
Hirohito Ochi
Nobuo Ogizawa
Takeo Ohno
Toshimichi Okawa
Takahiro Ōkura
Umesaburo Sagawa
Umezaburō Sagawa
Masaaki Sakurai
Michiyo Sakurai
Takeharu Sakurai
Toshiyuki Tabe
Seiki Taichū
Masaki Tsuji
Michiko Tsumura
Yasuichiro Yamamoto
Teruse Yatsu
Screenplay: Takahiro Ōkura
Storyboard:
Katsumi Endō
Shūichi Hirokawa
Yasuyuki Honda
Chika Ichimaru
Shigenori Kageyama
Fumiharu Kamanaka
Hajime Kamegaki
Takaomi Kanasaki
Kenji Kodama
Hiroshi Kurimoto
Natsuhiko Kyogoku
Yoshihisa Matsumoto
Johei Matsuura
Hiroshi Matsuzono
Yasumi Mikamoto
Shigeru Morikawa
Kazuo Nogami
Hideaki Oba
Hirohito Ochi
Rokou Ogiwara
Umesaburo Sagawa
Michiyo Sakurai
Masato Sato
Kobun Shizuno
Seiki Taichū
Hirotoshi Takaya
Hatsuki Tsuji
Yasuichiro Yamamoto
Teruse Yatsu
Episode Director:
Matsuo Asami
Takeshi Furuta
Nana Harada
Mashu Itō
Fumiharu Kamanaka
Hajime Kamegaki
Kenji Kodama
Eiichi Kuboyama
Hiroshi Kurimoto
Koichiro Kuroda
Satoshi Kuwabara
Natsuhiko Kyogoku
Johei Matsuura
Kou Matsuzono
Aisu Mugino
Yoshitaka Nagaoka
Kazuo Nogami
Hideaki Oba
Hirohito Ochi
Rokou Ogiwara
Masato Sato
Toshiya Shinohara
Yoshio Suzuki
Hiroaki Takagi
Hirotoshi Takaya
Mari Tominaga
Minoru Tozawa
Yasuichiro Yamamoto
Masakazu Yamazaki
Shigeru Yamazaki
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
Akira Yoshimura
Unit Director:
Atsushi Nigorikawa
Keisuke Shinohara
Kobun Shizuno
Yoshihiro Sugai
Music:
Ken Miyazawa
Katsuo Ono
Original creator: Gosho Aoyama
Character Design:
Nobuyuki Iwai
Seiji Muta
Masatomo Sudō
Mari Tominaga
Junko Yamanaka
Art Director:
Takayoshi Fukushima
Junichi Higashi
Tetsuo Imaizumi
Tsutomu Ishigaki
Yasutada Kato
Hiroyuki Mitsumoto
Takamasa Nakakuki
Masaru Satō
Yukihiro Shibutani
Shinichi Tanimura
Art:
Hironori Hiragōri
Shūichirō Hirayama
Hisashi Niwa
Chief Animation Director: Masatomo Sudō
Animation Director:
Atsushi Aono
Katsunori Enokimoto
Minefumi Harada
Masashi Hasegawa
Masanori Hashimoto
Takashi Hirabayashi
Chiemi Hironaka
Hiroyuki Horiuchi
Takashi Hyoudo
Kiyotaka Iida
Masahiko Itojima
Nobuyuki Iwai
Yuko Iwasa
Tomomi Kamiya
Akio Kawamura
Aki Kumata
Rei Masunaga
Kana Miyai
Hideyuki Motohashi
Hiromi Muranaka
Asako Nishida
Michiyuki Nōjō
Hiroyuki Notake
Haruo Ogawara
Miwa Oshima
Ken'ichi Ōtomo
Keiko Sasaki
Yoshiharu Shimizu
Masatomo Sudō
Yusuke Suzuki
Nariyuki Takahashi
Hirotoshi Takatani
Hirotoshi Takaya
Moriyasu Taniguchi
Yumenosuke Tokuda
Ryuji Tsuzuku
Michitaka Yamamoto
Junko Yamanaka
Masakazu Yamazaki
Art design:
Nobutaka Ike
Hiroyuki Mitsumoto
Sound Director:
Motoi Izawa
Katsuyoshi Kobayashi
Yasuo Uragami
Yasuyuki Uragami
Keiko Urakami
Co-Director: Kobun Shizuno
Director of Photography:
Hironobu Horikoshi
Jin Nishiyama
Takashi Nomura
Takahisa Ogawa
Executive producer:
Shin'ya Koishikawa
Masakazu Kubo
Yoshio Nakayama
Keiji Ota
Yoshiharu Suzuki
Shinichiro Tsuzuki
Producer:
Keiichi Ishiyama
Shūhō Kondō
Michihiko Suwa
Kazuhiko Yagiuchi
Isato Yonekura
Masahito Yoshioka

Full encyclopedia details about
Case Closed (TV)
Meitantei Conan Kara Kurenai no Love Letter (movie 21)

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