Thursday 25 April 2019

Anime REVIEW: Ace Attorney Season 2

Ace Attorney Season 2
Ace Attorney is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

When compared to the numerous other video game anime adaptations that have come and gone over the years, Ace Attorney (or to those in Japan, Gyakuten Saiban) fared surprisingly well. Though at its best it was merely a "serviceable but not stand out" adaptation of the first two games in Capcom's beloved legal drama visual novel series, it didn't miss the mark like so many others have in the past. It also must have done fairly well because two years later and its back for a second season. Phoenix, Miles, Maya and the rest of the gang are all back for another 23 episodes from Cloverworks (who have now parted ways with A-1 Pictures), with this season dedicated to the third game in the Ace Attorney series – Trials and Tribulations.

Defence Attorney Phoenix Wright continues his dramatic law career, this time taking on a series of cases that link all the way back to his time as university student five years ago! After losing his memories right before a trial, Phoenix goes to identify the thief of the Kurain Village's sacred urn, uncover the culprit of a restaurant murder, partake in a retrial aboard a speeding train and become tangled in the murder of author Elise Deauxnim.

With Miles Edgeworth gone Phoenix faces a new opponent in rookie prosecutor Godot, but his friends and colleagues are on hand to help point him in the right direction. And in a lot of cases, that direction also points to beyond the grave.

Though Ace Attorney season 2 is primarily concerned with adapting material from Trials and Tribulations, it kicks off with an omitted case from the second game (Justice for All) as a means of getting reacquainted with the characters. In the grand scheme of the series it’s a fairly forgettable introduction, but serves its purpose adequately and more importantly allows the season to get its lowest point out of the way fairly early on. What follows is far more interesting. Whilst season two still has the multi-part case setup that the first season (as well as the games themselves) use, what sets it apart from the previous season are the plot threads that run throughout the various cases - all working towards to larger, overarching story. As a result all of a sudden Ace Attorney feels far more focused and like its actually working toward something, even if the format of the cases themselves remains largely the same.

With the story broken down into the multi-part cases the pacing is fairly relaxed and only really amps up at the end of each specific case, though the final arc of the season becomes particularly tense as the various threads begin to come together. Even so, with 23 episodes at its disposal the season still has time to take a few brief respites - including two stories completely original the the anime adaptation. As well as being one of the standout episodes in the season the first of these anime-original pieces is sure to go down well with existing Ace Attorney fans, telling the story of young Miles Edgeworth and the time he spent living with the Von Karmas. The second is a more throwaway tale that adds some more history to Pearl and Maya, but still fits quite comfortably into the season given their already heavy involvement in the overall story.

Since the season has a much bigger focus on an ongoing storyline, that also means that there seems to be a much bigger focus on the characters themselves. While there are still those wild one-off characters specific to certain case, the season is a lot more concerned with a core cast (made up of both new and pre-established characters) and themes than run through its various chapters. Light is shed on Phoenix's past and how he came to train as an attorney, and there's also a more expanded look at the Fey family and their mystical powers. Though he does reappear for a select few episodes, the loss of Miles Edgeworth is certainly felt. However in his place there's the visor-wearing, coffee-guzzling Godot, who makes for an excellent foil for Phoenix in his absence. Dick Gumshoe and Larry Butz are providing their usual comic relief antics, which may not be especially effective but doesn’t seem to make the characters any less loveable. The season’s biggest asset of course however is the introduction of Dahlia Hawthorne - a main antagonist whose presence runs though a number of Trials and Tribulations’ cases. Even without the added effect the ongoing narrative provides, giving Ace Attorney a villain that unlikeable is a triumph in itself and really helps to amp up the drama in that all-important final case.

To say that the animation has improved too might be overselling it a bit, but the wider variety of locations and backdrops definitely gives Ace Attorney season two the illusion of improvement. The courtroom scenery (albeit accurate to the games themselves) is still fairly lifeless, but it’s in these scenes that the character animation takes primary focus. In that regard Cloverworks are still doing a great job of animating all those over the top expressions and reactions people remember so fondly from the games. But with more of the action taking place outside of the courtroom this time around, the studio definitely gets a chance to show more of what it's capable of. From beaches and snow-capped mountain temples to glamorous night trains, Ace Attorney season two has a lot more to offer than just that bland golden courtroom.

Whereas the first season of Ace Attorney didn't really offer anything that would make it a worthy replacement (or even supplement) of the games, this second season has a lot more going for it. The focus on a single game makes the plotting feel considerably tighter, and the greater use of scenes outside of the courtroom break the monotony that a franchise like this can easily suffer from. The brief respites from the main cases are also very welcome, giving the anime an opportunity to stand out from its source material as well as give existing fans a reason to check out this adaptation. As far as video game adaptations go, you could do much worse than this.

No comments: