Michihiko Suwa is the producer of the TV anime and movie series Detective Conan (Meitantei Conan), also known as Case Closed based on the manga by Gosho Aoyama. In part one of MANGA.TOKYO’s interview with Suwa, we learn about the beginnings of the anime as well as how the anime staff are careful not to slip up when adapting Aoyama’s manga.
Interview with Michihiko Suwa
— Could you tell us how the plan for the anime adaptation of Detective Conan developed?
The first chapter of the original manga Detective Conan series, also known as Case Closed, was published in 1994 in Shonen Sunday. I guess it was a countermeasure against the rival manga magazine which had started a detective manga series The Kindaichi Case Files in 1992. I had a close connection with the editorial staff in Shonen Sunday, so I heard about a new detective manga before its publication. When I read the first chapter, I was instantly captured by its clever tricks. I kept reading it for 10 weeks and made up my mind to make an anime adaptation.
Protagonist Shinichi Kudo was a 17-year-old detective but ends up having the body of a first-grade child because of a drug he was forced to swallow. I thought this setting was ‘a big lie’, and that was why it would nicely fit for anime. While discussing the anime adaptation plan, I convinced the editorial staff that I would respect the original which had an unrealistic setting, but otherwise was serious and a realistic mystery-solving story.
At the time, Yomiuri Telecasting was airing the anime series Magic Knight Rayearth at 7:30 on Monday evening, but I wasn’t sure which TV block Detective Conan would be scheduled into. Although we didn’t know exactly when it would start airing, we began developing the plan aiming to air in January or February 1995.
We asked TMS Entertainment, then called Tokyo Movie Shinsha, to take care of the anime production, because they had brilliant staff members. They created Magic Knight Rayearth and I appreciated their effort to create such great visuals. We also made an offer to Kenji Kodama for the director’s role. We had worked together on City Hunter before, so I told him it wasn’t an action but a mystery anime. He replied that he actually preferred mystery to action, and rather enjoyed creating mystery episodes more than the action ones while directing the Lupin III series. For the script, we wanted someone who was specialized in live-action dramas, so we invited Kanji Kashiwabara, who had been working on scripts for many detective dramas. He pulled some strings and Kazunari Kouchi, Junichi Miyashita, and Yuichi Higurashi joined us. We also asked script writers for anime to join our production team. For music, we asked Katsuo Ono, who was responsible for the music in a popular detective drama series called Taiyo ni Hoero, because we wanted the music of the anime to be comparable to suspense dramas for adults. Our idea was to create new mystery anime which is different from the others, and could be enjoyed by both children and adults.
— What do you pay attention to when creating the anime?
We have some rules, like using the word ‘body’ instead of ‘corpse’, and have blood look ‘black’ not ‘red’. That’s because we wanted the anime to be a mystery-solving story from the first place. We avoid showing scenes of a knife stabbing somebody or a bullet hitting victims, as long as they aren’t related to the tricks of a mystery. It airs in the evening in Japan, so there might be viewers who are in the middle of their dinner. We take extra care not to offend anyone, especially people who aren’t anime fans. We used to use ‘murder case’ in its titles quite a lot at the beginning, but stopped using it two or three years later, because we want to show not the crime itself, but how Conan solves a mystery after the crime happens. Our priority lies in showing the genius mystery-solving skills of Shinichi Kudo under the name of Conan Edogawa.
While I believe Detective Conan is a superb mystery, the manga author Gosho Aoyama thinks of it as a comedy drama that focuses on its characters with an element of romantic comedy between Shinichi and Ran Mouri. I think that’s the strength of Detective Conan. It stands out from many other mystery stories. Furthermore, although we don’t know what type of characters will be popular, as everybody has their own tastes, our viewers can find their favorite among the varieties of characters in the anime. Aoyama creates many characters who have their individual charms, and we put them in the mystery solving stories. That’s why Detective Conan is different from any other mystery anime.
— Is there anything you didn’t expect because the series has become such a long-runner?
In the anime’s timeline, it has been less than a year since the roller coaster murder case. Many incidents have happened in Beika Town during that time. Only about 250 days have passed in the anime world, but we’ve made about 880 episodes. The town must be in a mess, since, mathematically speaking, there are three to four incidents happening in a day. [laugh] We must welcome the situation because a long-running series means the anime has dedicated fans. Aoyama once said that there has been only one Christmas and one Valentine’s Day in the anime. That demonstrates things in the anime are in safe hands. We’ve seen Conan’s birthday, but not Ran’s yet. I presume he already has his plan for her birthday, so we won’t imply anything about hers in the anime. We don’t want to change anything about its setting.
At the beginning of the series, we didn’t have smartphones therefore the characters were using flip phones. We didn’t expect such technological advancements at that time. Conan likes new things, so he tries them without hesitation. If he had been in possession of a smartphone 20 years ago, some mysteries might been solved easily with it. Perhaps we are living in a difficult time for mystery stories.
In the manga, Conan and Ai Haibara make a remark about something which is seemingly unrelated at the end of each case. Later, it turns out to be something really significant in another episode. Aoyama’s use of such foreshadowing is increasing recently, so the current director, Yashuichiro Yamamoto, is careful about not to miss any minor details in the manga.
In short, there is a main storyline in the manga, which is like a big river flowing throughout the story, and the anime original parts we create are like floating leaves on the river. We know we shouldn’t obstruct the flow. Detective Conan has the major plot of Conan pursuing the Black Organization. Only Aoyama can deal with the plot, therefore we take extra care to include every single detail in the anime, as it might be related to the plot. I think we’ve done a good job in this regard so far.
— Detective Conan is showing overseas now.
We are extremely glad about that. It has been doing well, especially in Asia and South-East Asia where it’s nearing the No.1 place in anime genre. It used to be shown in the US under the title of Case Closed, but it struggled because we are not allowed to show someone getting shot in anime there. They are showing lots of violence in live-action drama, though. We have fans in some parts of Europe.
I hope people abroad can directly know what Japanese anime want to deliver by watching anime. For that reason, I’m pleased anime can overcome boundaries and rules between countries. I’d love more people to watch this anime.
— Have you heard comments from fans abroad?
I’ve found many comments in English and other languages on Twitter. I’m delighted to know there are people who are watching Detective Conan abroad. Recently, more voice actors have traveled overseas to attend anime events. When Rikiya Koyama, who plays Kogoro Mouri, went to Taiwan, many people gathered to meet him. I like that fans abroad have fun with the characters of the anime. I’m glad that they enjoy the stories of the Detective Boys, love stories in the police force, and the romantic comedy between Heiji Hattori and Kazuha Toyama, despite the fact that they have different cultures. They’ll say things like “I like Heiji”, “I like Kid.” I’d like the fans abroad to enjoy what their favorite characters do, and hope to hear what they think of the anime more in future.
— It’s a pity that Conan can’t go abroad because he doesn’t have his passport.
He can’t use an antidote casually, can he? I’ll follow how Aoyama deals with it. [laugh]
— What is an interesting point about the anime adaptation of Detective Conan
At the end of the 18th theatrical movie Detective Conan: Dimensional Sniper, Subaru Okiya reveals his true identity as Shuichi Akai. Anime can use voice to express identity, but manga can’t. Even Aoyama admitted the power of anime. Readers keep reading the original manga because it’s brilliant, however we create anime with images and sound. I’m proud of what we’ve done to bring 2-dimensional manga to 3-dimensional anime with movement and sound in an effective way. I think the original manga is a first-class sponge cake and what we do is to decorate it with cream and fruit. Just like decoration makes the sponge cake tastier, anime enhances the source material to make it more attractive to a wider audience. Obviously, the original manga has an astonishing amount of circulation, however anime has the power to attract even elderly people who happen to be in front of TV with its sound and visuals. For that sense, I feel the anime series appeals to a much wider audience.
— You said that anime-original stories are like leaves floating on a river. What do you think about their own charms?
Creating anime-original stories (stories that are not based on chapters of the manga) means a declaration of war against Aoyama for me. My goal for creating original stories is to hear him say “I enjoyed watching it.” I begin making a story by imagining what will happen if Conan and Ran travel together, or get involved in an incident while walking around the town with the Detective Boys. Then, I consider how I use characters effectively and build a story.
I must say that we have partly contributed the 22-year history of the anime series, because, although between 60-75% of the anime series is based on the original manga, the rest is anime-original. I become ecstatic when Aoyama says he enjoyed the anime-original stories.
That’s it for Part 1! Your questions to Suwa will be asked in the next article, so watch this space!
Interview with Detective Conan Producer Michihiko Suwa Part 2
Suwa was born in 1959 in Aichi prefecture, and studied engineering at Osaka University. He is an executive producer at the Programming Department Animation division in Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation.
After joining Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation in 1983, he worked as an assistant director for the midnight variety show ‘11PM’, and later prompted to a director. He was transferred to the Programming Department in Tokyo Branch Office in 1986. Since his first producing work Robotan, he has been planning and producing numerous anime works including Detective Conan, Yawara!, Magic Knight Rayearth, The Kindaichi Case Files, Inuyasha, Black Jack, Kekkaishi, and Ultimate Otaku Teacher
(C) Gosho Aoyama / Shogakukan/YTV/TMS 1996