“Because someone has to look out for the people who have no one on their side.” –Phoenix Wright, Turnabout Sisters
My first glimpse of the franchise was around 2004 or so, when I flipped through a game magazine to find a game for my Game Boy Advance (RIP). A certain title in Japanese game section caught my eye; Gyakuten Saiban 3, apparently a visual novel game themed around murder mystery and court simulation, with a bunch of screenshots depicting what looks like to be a quirky and fun cast. It’s the kind of thing that’d be right up my alley. Since I can’t read Japanese and that kind of title had little to no chance being translated to English at the time, I eventually forgot about it… until a few years later, when certain line of games called the Ace Attorney became a surprise hit for the Nintendo DS. It’s the localized port of the GBA games I saw back then, and thus I eventually secured myself a DS, played the original trilogy of the series, loved it, and to this point had replayed the games (more like ‘relieved the story’, actually) up to four or five times.
I know a bunch of people who are also a big fan of this, and we’re in complete jubilation when the announcement of anime adaptation comes out. It also inspired me to share my thoughts, both about the series in general and the upcoming anime, through this rather dopey, unabashedly heart-on-sleeve, write-up. Consider it a preview of sort. Enjoy!
So, is this series any good?
No it’s garbage
WELL DUH, I WOULDN’T BOTHER WITH ALL THIS IF IT’S NOT. Come on son, step up your game.
Jeez, okay. What it’s all about?
For one, while these are technically ‘games’, nobody is buying this for the gameplay. Its for the writing and characters, and in that regard there’s nothing else quite like Ace Attorney.
You see things from the perspective of main character Naruhodo Ryuuichi (‘Phoenix Wright’ in the English version), a greenhorn homicide lawyer who fights in the court of justice to defend his (usually hapless and wrongly accused) client and find the real culprit in the process. If you’re familiar with Erle Stanley Gardner’s classic Perry Mason series, it shares the same basic premise and features a lot of the same elements: a seemingly hopeless situation for the defendant side, exhilarating plot twists, and lots of verbal showdown, trial shenanigans, frame job, and lies and deception. Only, Ace Attorney is filtered through Shu Takumi’s wonderfully zany sensibility and larger than life characters.
The story is divided in cases/story arcs, but there’s also an overarching plot and tangible character development throughout. Each case starts out like your typical procedural game/show, with Naruhodo (yes, the series really love its puns) investigating the crime scene, interviewing witnesses, and basically trying to gain as much leverage as possible for his client. But, it’s the court segment where the series really shine, housing exhilarating battle of wits as Naruhodo squares off against the prosecutor (mainly elegant dandy and closet fan of children cartoon show, Reiji Mitsurugi/Miles Edgeworth), cross-examines lying and/or plain unreliable witnesses, punch holes on their faulty testimony, and discover the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
….Is that all? This whole ‘thinking up questions and answering them by myself’ thing may not be a good idea after all…
Anyway, the series shouldn’t ever be considered as any semblance of a realistic legal process, but it still takes its themes and characters seriously. It addresses the inherently clashing ideals between a defense attorney and a prosecutor, the difficulty in forging a professional path while still clinging to your philosophy, and subject matter dealing with losses, trauma, and human bond. It has poignant interpersonal relationships, with the partnership of Naruhodo and spirit medium Mayoi Ayasato (Mia Fey) serving as the series’ emotional glue.
Also, this happened:
That looks really dumb, albeit in a kind of wonderful way. Surely it’s tonally all over the place in practice?
And that’s the beauty of Takumi’s writing and direction; there’s very few better than him at maintaining tonal equilibrium between all the disparate elements. He absolutely knows when and how to pull dramatic reveal, insert silly gags, or tug at your heartstrings. The series’ excellent audio presentation, courtesy of Masakazu Sugimori, also elevate the material and transition between different mood in seamlessly.
Besides his work on the Ace Attorney franchise, Takumi also created a stand-alone game for the DS, Ghost Trick. And as much as I love AA and its colorful cast of characters, Ghost Trick in my humble opinion is as flawless as a video game narrative could be. It’s the kind of work that’s worth buying yourself and your loved ones a DS and a copy of the game each, that’s how good it is.
Alright, obvious fanboyism aside… how do you think the adaptation would fare, realistically speaking?
Damn, I still want to gush about Takumi and the games…
I’ve actually seen Takashi Miike’s live film adaptation, and while it’s not exactly horrible… it also lacks the charm and zest of the series. It basically feels like seeing great cosplayers mechanically re-enacting the first game’s major narrative beats (although it must be noted that it does a great job compressing the material).
On paper, an anime version should be able to channel the original series’ flair better, but yeah, it’d also lost that interactive fulfillment you’ve got from the games. What makes the a lot of the sequence really tick is how you’re given agency to guide Phoenix into the correct deduction and action, which builds up into a very satisfying sense of achievement when the case is solved. Here, you’re just watching and reacting, and it wouldn’t feel the same.
On the bright side, we’re also spared from inane gameplay mechanics like ‘go to place A to find item B to show person C’. The base plotting and characters should still be strong enough for the show to, at the very least, be a reasonable facsimile of the real thing. I’m feeling pretty optimistic!
I take it you haven’t seen the preview, then.
Oh. Oh… man, I have so many thoughts now.
I know, right? That anim—
Good, I’m glad you like it. Now, I shall direct your attention to the distressingly cheap animation and how it’s probably indicative of the production value as a whole.
I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Okay, in all seriousness, it is at least a bit concerning. It’s never a good sign when you don’t look appreciably better than the game you’re adapting from, which came out in freaking 2004. That said, if there’s one anime series of which animation should be the least important part of it, this is it. Art style is the more important side of Ace Attorney’s visual, and I do like the slightly revamped character design.
It’s still not clear yet whether the anime is going to cover the trilogy or just the first game in the series, but it’s going to be a tightrope balancing act either way for the show’s director (Ayumu Watanabe) and narrative composer (Atsuhiro Tomioka). I actually wouldn’t want slavish faithfulness to the structure and pacing of the source material, which wouldn’t work at all in the medium of anime series. If it comes to that, it should be fine to bypass some unnecessary cases/arcs to give more breathing space for the most important ones. Reasonable compression is okay in my book, the most important thing is that they capture the spirit of the series as envisioned by Takumi (who serve as an adviser and would have certain degree of control, at least).
Further, audio is an aspect that I’d worry way more for this adaptation over the visual. Kaoru Wada would have some big shoes to fill in this regard; the original effects and soundtrack are very influential and iconic element of the Ace Attorney experience. Voice-acting is going to be very important as well, even moreso than usual; what’s funny in text wouldn’t be necessarily so in verbal form, thus a lot would rely on the delivery. The current starlets of the industry, Kaji Yuki and Aoi Yuuki, will spearhead the cast, and while Kaji apparently has his share of detractors (the guy’s kind of like the Justin Bieber of V.A. fandom, I gathered), I’m confident these two will do fine.
(I’ll be curious how the VAs for Butz and Oldbag would hold up, too…)
Considering all those factors, wouldn’t it be prudent to recommend newcomers to just play the games rather than taking their chance with the anime?
Nah. Obviously I’d wholeheartedly recommend the games (the original trilogy is now available for iOS, by the way) for those with the interest and time, but I think that the anime deserves to be considered and judged on its own merit. Even I , as a fan, would want to see something new and good that I wouldn’t get by just replaying the games. Someone suggested to me that we could get to see more SoL character development scenes like Nick Naruhodo and Maya Mayoi hanging out in burger ramen joint, and it’s something I could get behind.
Outside of the budget animation and its stigma as video game/visual novel adaptation, I genuinely think there are more than enough things that should appeal to prospective anime viewers.
-It’s a legal suspense with a cast mostly comprising of actual working adults. As far as I know, there’s no anime quite like that before
-It’s got great humor and visual gags
-The murder mystery is genuinely compelling and well-constructed
-Don’t worry if you’re one of those snobs who couldn’t care less about the who/how/whyddunit, the character drama is also strong
-It’s got a big heart. A big damn beating heart. Here, have a shiba inu:
There’s no guarantee that all those elements would translate well! Heck, that dog may not even appear! Either way, it’s probably not going to gain much traction for non-fans considering how stacked the upcoming spring season is.
Not so fast, Debbie…
Well… that last bit is probably true, though. Couldn’t see many people (outside of the series fans and murder mystery fans, and there’s probably already a lot of overlapping between those two circles) tune in to the end, not with the kind of season the next one’s shaping to be. One thing that I can see could work in its favor is that it should have a fast start; assuming they don’t unnecessarily extend the introduction case and/or add a filler, the plot should already kick into high gear by the second episode. In any case, I’d be there for the entire ride to nitpick it to death relieve the experience and enjoy the fanservice (*in the real sense of the word).
It certainly would be nice if I could eventually see fresh perspective from a newcomer, to see them speculate on the mystery and grow to love the characters just like we did back then. Fingers crossed; it’s a series that’s all about overturning the odds, after all.
(gif and screenshot rips courtesy of the great fansite & amp;information database Court Records)