Sunday 3 April 2016

First Impressions: Ace Attorney

Ace Attorney

How exactly there's been five years since the release of the first Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban) game and only now the hugely popular franchise from Capcom is getting an anime adaptation I don't know, but most fans will probably agree that it's better late than never. Yes, 2016 is the year Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, Maya Fey and co. finally make the jump to an animated series, courtesy of A-1 Pictures. In Japan, the series goes by the full title of Gyakuten Saiban: Sono "Shinjitsu", Igiari!, with the tagline roughly translating as Turnabout Trial: I Object to That "Truth"! As you'd expect from a game hugely popular on both sides of the pond, the series is currently being simulcast via Crunchyroll - along with two subtitle tracks that include both the original Japanese and the Western localisations of the character names. How considerate.

Following the events of the first Ace Attorney game, this first episode sees the newly qualified Phoenix Wright (Naruhodō Ryūichi) take on his first case when his childhood friend Larry Butz (Yahari Masashi) is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend. It's up to Phoenix, along with the help of his mentor Mia Fey (Ayasato Chihiro) to work out who is the real killer and bring them to justice.

Visual novels aside, video game adaptations don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to anime adaptations - look no further than 2013's Blazblue Alter Memory if you want to see just how bad they can get. However on the surface Ace Attorney has always been a franchise that seemed like it could pull off a pretty decent anime series. Ignoring the obvious anime-like nature of the games, it's filled with great characters and the over-the-top courtroom drama seemed like it could translate very well to a full-length series. Unfortunately this episode dampened those hopes somewhat, providing a serviceable adaptation of the first game but at the same time lacking any real charm and suspense.

What the episode does get right it does very well, such as using lines from the game itself and adopting many of the memorable character animations. However the episode faults from being such a slavish adaptation of the game, as the unfolding drama falls flat with the interactive element taken away. The joy in Ace Attorney is analysing the evidence set before you turning the tide of the case, and while that is somewhat possible here it just isn't the same. It feels boring in comparison, and the condensed nature of the episode (covering a whole case in 20 minutes) doesn't allow for a whole lot of leeway. Those who've never played a single Ace Attorney game aren't going to feel attached to these characters whatsoever by the time the credits roll, and that is a bit of a problem. After all, why would existing fans of the franchise feel the need to watch this when they've already played through a superior version?

From this first episode alone it does seem like Ace Attorney will at least be a faithful adaptation, but whether that means it'll also be a good one is yet to be determined. It'll undoubtedly have its moments, but if it continues to be this rigid of an adaptation it runs the risk of alienating existing fans and newcomers alike. If it can at least come out of this as a passable series to be recommended rather than simply forgotten about, I think it'll have done pretty nicely.

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