Before there was Edogawa Conan, there was Kuroba Kaito—or as many know him, the enigmatic phantom thief Kaito Kid. However, his chance to really shine was cut short; the manga series Magic Kaito was put on hiatus after two collected volumes. But Kaito’s time would come, apparently it was just too soon for him to take the lead.
After Kaito Kid started making appearances in the now culturally iconic Detective Conan, Kaito received a boost in popularity. Which in turn allowed for new manga stories to be created, which in turn allowed for them to start making spin-off anime specials. And those were popular enough to warrant this new ongoing TV series: Magic Kaito 1412.
In many ways Magic Kaito could be seen as the blueprint for Gosho Aoyama’s later Detective Conan manga. They have similar beats in a lot of ways. In fact the skeletal structure of both series is remarkably similar when you strip away most of the cosmetic trappings. They are clearly the work of the same artist. But at the same time it is far too easy to just boil things down to their underpinnings where you see everything as a copy of everything else. That simplification forgets that phantom thief and detective genre have very different elements that just don’t work in other one’s storytelling style. You can’t just copy and paste the characters from Magic Kaito and make them the cast of Detective Conan without some major changes. The simple fact that Detective Conan has to adhere to a certain set of rules to feel fair makes it so that important modifications need to be in place for the mystery series to be satisfying.
On top of that the cast of Magic Kaito was eventually largely incorporated into world of Detective Conan so that they have fully integrated each other to the point where they have created a shared universe. Kuroba Kaito frequently shows up in Detective Conan as a recurring guest star. In fact at the time of the post the upcoming 19th Detective Conan movie, Sunflowers of Inferno, will prominently feature Magic Kaito as part of the plot. Gosho Aoyama has even gone as far as to have the histories of Detective Conan and Magic Kaito slowly become more intertwined to better express the joining of the two stories into a greater unified tale.
Gosho Aoyama obviously loves a good mystery, so it should come as no surprise that Kaito is unraveling a few throughout the Magic Kaito series. He starts by stumbling into the realization that his father was notorious phantom thief Kaito Kid. Then it becomes obvious that his father’s disappearance many years prior is not entirely clearcut. Leading to an organization bent on immortality looking for the Pandora Gem. Later on, there is the story of how Kaito’s mother fits into all of this.
Kaito decides to take up the mantel of his father and find this gem. The new Kaito Kid is an altruistic phantom thief. Kid only steals stones he believes might be the Pandora Gem. After he tests them and they prove to be simple gemstones, he returns the goods. Many of his stunts and theatrical heists end up catching other crooks who are targeting the same places as well.
No phantom thief story would be complete without a rival detective, or, in the case of Magic Kaito, multiple detectives. The ever-present one is police inspector Nakamori who is a very bumbling fellow (much like Kogoro in Detective Conan, though Kogoro has his moments at least!) whose daughter is Kaito’s childhood friend and love interest Aoko. Other guest detectives show up trying to take down Kid throughout the series, including a couple of appearance by Conan himself.
When you pull up the rug and get down to the brass tacks you can see lots of similarities between the two titles. They are both episodic series that have a metaplot that is specifically designed so that the number of chapters in the series can be any length the author needs it to be. Since both Conan and Kaito are chasing after an illusive MacGuffin they can easily be ended with a simple arc where the location of the prize is discovered. At that point the whole story could be wrapped up quite conclusively in under five chapters if that was absolutely needed. A really satisfying ending would take a little more time but a hard stop could occur at any time and it would not feel utterly jarring if the series was five volumes or one hundred.
Both series also have the protagonist dealing with a mysterious organization that contains agents with themed code names and a mysterious unseen leader. Both organizations also have a menacing lieutenant who acts terrifying face of their respective mafia since the leader stays in the shadows. Most importantly whenever a member of said criminal syndicate appears you know that big things are afoot in the main plotline.
Also Gosho Aoyama loves his Rumiko Takahashi styled relationships where the guy and the girl obviously have a thing for each other but refuse to admit it. Shinichi Kudo and Ran Mori fall into this mold before Shinichi got shrunk down to his Conan form. After that it becomes more complicated. Kaito Kuroba and Aoko Nakamori fit this archetype to a T and Heiji Hattori and Kazuha Toyama are also a similar couple in Detective Conan. It always involves strong-willed women who fall for aloof guys. Both sides clearly like each other but their pride gets in the way of their relationships developing. (That and various crime related complications.)
At the same time both series are hardly a copy-paste with the profession of the main character changed from a thief to a detective. Gosho Aoyama clearly took his time to see what might not have worked about Magic Kaito and make some changes to the initial formula to get a bigger audience appeal.
The first and most obvious change is the one mentioned before in going from phantom thief to genius detective. But that change is more than a simple cosmetic alteration. First and foremost it gives Conan more stories he can tell. While most of the time Conan deals with murders (S.S. Van Dine would be proud) he can tackle any number of crimes from foiling a robbery to stopping a kidnapping. At times the problem with Magic Kaito is trying to find ways to put a new twist on a heist story.
At the same time Conan is a little straight jacketed by the detective genre. In order for the mysteries to seem fair you have to keep the supernatural and super science out of the cases they look into. The metaplot stories can have super science elements but actual cases would be ruined if “a wizard did it.” On the other hand Magic Kaito can have whatever plot elements the author thinks would be fun. Kaito Kuroba often uses technology that borders on magical to pull off some of his thefts and on top of that there are actual spell casting mages in the world of Magic Kaito. As long as the author does not just constantly whip out some silly piece of technology every time he writes himself into a corner the phantom thief genre can be a lot more loosey–goosey.
Also you can’t ignore one of the most famous parts of Detective Conan that sets it part. Conan being shrunk into the body of an elementary school student is a major twist that really made Detective Conan stand out. While Shinichi Kudo has the training and experience of a young adult he has the body of a small child. That added layer of complications makes feel different from series that just have the standard teenage detective like Kindaichi Case Files or The Hardy Boys. Shinichi has to find ways to solve crimes, keep his relationships in tact, and find a cure to his condition despite being a child. A teenage phantom thief is positively mundane in comparison.
When discussing just how the stories of Kaito Kid fit into the world of Detective Conan, the elephant in the room is that in Magic Kaito . . . MAGIC IS REAL. There is a long-standing rivalry between witches/sorcerers/etc. and magicians in the world of Magic Kaito. (Granted, I’m not sure why this has continued for hundreds of years since it is pretty clear the winner is PEOPLE WHO CAN DO REAL MAGIC. But whatever.) However, Kaito Kid falls into the magician category, he does illusion, not real magic, but his super-science gadgetry is even more extreme than the kind in Detective Conan.
In the world of Detective Conan, there are super-science shenanigans, but everything is supposed to have at least a plausible explanation. So the world that Mr. Aoyama created before Detective Conan throws a hitch in the Conan logic. Though from what I have seen, the real magic portion of Magic Kaito is from the earlier chapters and seems to be almost completely pushed to the side in the later episodes. This might be a conscious effort to bring it more into the Detective Conan fold.
Also Magic Kaito is not nearly as serious as Detective Conan. No, wait, don’t laugh! I know Conan is hardly a hard-boiled series, but Magic Kaito is even sillier. It plays fast and loose with its own rules and has a tendency to be goofy. Even Kaito himself seems a lot less mature and cool than the Kaito Kid of the Detective Conan franchise. Once you see Kaito without the get-up, he is a goofball. It has a Peter Parker/Spider-Man vibe, the real Kaito and his alter ego are very different and nearly unrecognizable.
Ever since Kaito Kuroba was first added to the Detective Conan he has become more integrated into the series. Toichi Kuroba seems to have taught Toichi Kuroba and Sharon Vineyard. He also had a Zenigata and Lupin relationship with Yusaku Kudo. Toichi Kuroba seems to have developed an even more cordial relationship with Conan even going as far as using his close resemblance to Shinichi to help keep up the charade that the young detective has not been turned into an elementary school student.
Since so much of the cast are member of the Japanese police force the integrated stories allow all the detectives and their consultants to work on cases together. They might not always get along but Kogoro Mori and Juzo Megure might work on a case with Saguru Hakuba or Ginzo Nakamori if their jurisdictions overlap.
There is even a popular fan theory that proposes the villains in both shows are just different branches of the same group under one sinister mastermind. It is possible that the organization in Magic Kaito is just a splinter group of the Black Organization whose whole purpose is just to find the Pandora Gem.
The Magic Kaito TV series starts from the beginning and re-does the stories from the TV specials, so you can just jump on with this new TV series without a worry. This is a fun time, charming phantom thief series whether you’re a Detective Conan watcher or not.
I am really curious to see how, if at all, they may tie in threads for the upcoming movie into this TV series. We’ve seen Conan a couple of times now in just 13 episodes.
This situation reminds of both Hayate the Combat Butler and Type-Moon. (You were wondering how I was going to work one of those into this.) All of these series have worked in lesser known works of the artists written into their more popular series. It took awhile but Kenjiro Hata slowly but surely worked in characters from his canceled Heroes of the Sea Lifesavers and God’s Rocket Punch! manga into Hayate the Combat Butler. At the same time the greater Nasuverse has taken items, characters, and ideas from other parts of Kinoko Nasu’s writing and put them into games like Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night. It is only natural for an author to want to revive a character who they loved but audiences might not have been into at the time. As long as that character does not upset the general themes or balance of the popular series it can give a good idea a fertile terrain to grown within when they might have found their initial time or place of origin rather barren.
With some wise edits and modifications the Kaito Kid finally found his audience. The mere fact that he has become such a popular character in the Detective Conan universe is proof of that. He went from a character in a canceled series to one of the most popular characters in Detective Conan.