Monday 10 October 2016

Anime REVIEW: Ace Attorney

Ace Attorney

The phrase “video game anime adaptation” is enough to strike fear into anyone’s hearts. Although the list of great anime series based on visual novels is vast, video games in general haven’t been as lucky. While there are the odd gems like Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie and Professor Layton: The Eternal Diva, attempts like Tekken and Blazblue: Alter Memory are more than enough to muddy the waters. 2016 finally saw Capcom’s popular Ace Attorney franchise make it’s leap to animated form, something long overdue for the legal exploits of Phoenix Wright (or Naruhodō Ryūichi in the original Japanese version), Miles Edgeworth (Mitusrugi Reiji) and co. Going by the full title of Gyakuten Saiban: Sono “Shinjitsu” Igirari (Turnabout Trial: I Object to that Truth!) , this 24-episode series covers the first two Ace Attorney games and was animated by A-1 Pictures.

Phoenix Wright

Phoenix Wright is a rookie defense lawyer, fighting in his first case under the tutelage of his mentor Mia Fey. When Mia is mysteriously killed and her younger sister Maya is charged with her murder, Phoenix is left to put all his skills to the test as he goes up against his childhood friend and renowned prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. Teaming up with Maya – a spirit medium in training, they form the Wright & Co. Law Offices and act as the defense in a number of high profile murder cases. Things take a turn when Edgeworth himself is charged with murder, as Phoenix soon finds himself up against not only the merciless prosecutor Manfred von Karma, but also his daughter Franziska.

Welcome to the world of Ace Attorney, the last place you’d want to find yourself charged with a crime. Here you’re guilty until proven innocent, the judge is largely clueless and convictions for serious crimes have a turnaround of about three days. Basically the legal system here sucks, and your only chance of getting found innocent is to have a lawyer who’s also able to take the role of investigator and can take several leaps of logic to prove your innocence – someone just like Phoenix Wright. Whether you choose to take it as a parody or just pure nonsense, it’s important to not put too much thought into just how warped the show’s sense of justice is since it’s just as over the top as the characters that practice it.

Miles Edgeworth
You can just smell the tension

As mentioned previously the anime covers the first two games in the series, covering a total of seven cases in total. While in general the series remains slavishly faithful to the events as they happen in-game, during its second half it does begin to up the pace a bit in an attempt to make things flow a bit better. Some brief respite also comes just before this, as episode 13 recounts Phoenix and Miles’ childhood in events previously alluded to. This episode also comes directly between the changeover the second game, so acts nicely as a brief interlude before a reintroduction to the characters and a slightly changed status quo.

As an anime Ace Attorney still has a strong mystery-solving quality to it, but it’s undeniable that this has been dampened somewhat by the removal of player interactivity. With less time to think about how all of the pieces fit together it becomes less about figuring things out for yourself and more about watching the characters rush through the evidence at implausible levels – thus removing any tension even when trials span multiple episodes. Of course, the mysteries themselves aren’t that hard to wrap your head around to begin with – and it’s only really where you have to physically untangle them on the games that the difficulty lies. Usually the culprit is either immediately obvious or can be worked about a good episode before anyone else.

Maya Fey
My favourite food is ramen burgers ramen burgers 

The satisfaction instead comes from watching a great bunch of characters going head to head in a battle of wits. With the action primarily taking place in the courtroom the show’s success pretty much hinges on the dialogue, and although a well-timed “OBJECTION!” is more than enough to get the blood flowing it does have a little more going for it than that. Whether you view it as courtroom drama rivalry or (in the case of some fans) something more, you can’t deny the atmosphere when Wright and Edgeworth take to the opposite sides of the courtroom. The von Karma’s bring their own feel to the proceedings as well, but ultimately it always comes down to these two childhood friends and the show knows it. What the characters can bring out emotionally makes up for their relatively small development, as the majority of the cast contribute through their quirkiness than anything particularly meaningful.

The animation is equally a mixed bag. In the past A-1 Pictures have brought us visual delights such as Black Butler, AnoHana, The Idolm@ster and more, but it never really feels like they’re bringing their A-game to Ace Attorney. The studio has undoubtedly done a great job at bringing the games to life, painstakingly recreating the crime scenes as well as faithfully animating the courtroom animations and character reactions/facial expressions. However in the games the courtroom is limited to tiny handheld screen, and when expanded to television size the problems begin to arise. The wide shots of the courtroom are barren and lifeless, the jury and public often filled in by obtrusive CGI models. With about 75% of the content taking place in this single room, it’s often left to the characters to provide anything particularly dynamic or visually appealing.

April May
"And I would have got away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

Ace Attorney doesn’t really offer much to entice anyone who’s already played the games, but for newcomers it’s a decent way to enjoy the first two games without having to lift a finger. Although the loss of an interactive element takes away some of the franchise’s charm, the wonderful characters that populate gaming’s worst legal system are just as lively as ever. However the most important thing to take away from all of this is that, while flawed, Ace Attorney was largely a passable adaptation. And with a bit more polish here and there, there is certainly room for more.

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