Series Review – Ace Attorney

As promised, even though I didn’t end up doing episodic posts on the series, I have finished Ace Attorney and done a review. I’ll chalk this whole thing up as a failure owing to inexperience. I hope I’ve already got a bit better in figuring out what to write about.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the idea that fans of original source material (a book, game etc.) tend to never be especially happy when their source material gets a screen adaptation as there’s changes made to the source material. I know that in the past I’ve been very much of the opinion that all changes were bad, although I have softened up a bit over the years when it comes to realising that what works well in a book may not work well in a film or series and sometimes a few changes are necessary in order to make an adaption work well in the medium. If you ever wanted proof that having a faithful adaptation of the source material may not really do the source material justice, you need to look no further than the Ace Attorney anime.

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The Ace Attorney anime covers cases from the first two Phoenix Wright games. I’ve actually never played the early Phoenix Wright games, but I have played Dual Destinies and did have a general awareness going into the series about the Phoenix Wright world. We get to see Phoenix start out as a rookie lawyer, and defend a number of different clients in the kind of charmingly ridiculous cases which the Phoenix Wright franchise is famous for.

If you can deal with the absurdity of the world (things like defendants only getting off if an alternative culprit is found, and the defence attorney having to conduct their own investigations instead of having the information provided by the court/police), the stories of the cases are quite interesting. I enjoyed watching the twists and ‘turnabouts’, and getting to see all the larger than life characters. I definitely wanted to keep watching to see what strange facts would come to light and how Phoenix would uphold the cause of justice.

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So what made this series so lacking? The biggest thing for me was the visuals. I’m definitely a story oriented person and so while I can appreciate good animation, I don’t think that it’s totally necessary in general. However, Ace Attorney just felt very lack-lustre. For a series which is very over the top, especially when it comes to character reactions, it would have been good to see this over the top motion conveyed. Instead we had some very basic character designs and fairly wooden movement, together with some 3DCG backgrounds which didn’t blend very well with the foreground. I will say that in the second half of the series, this improved a bit, but it still wasn’t amazing.

The sound also wasn’t anything outstanding. The use of game soundtrack when appropriate was nice, but it didn’t feel very creative, and the other soundtrack and the opening and ending themes didn’t stand out in any way either. I love orchestral soundtrack, and I think some orchestration of Phoenix Wright game soundtrack would have been exciting and dynamic. I’d happily settle for orchestral soundtrack in all my anime though.

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Looking at other information, it seems as though the pacing of the series was a bit awkward in comparison to the games, but as a viewer who was not familiar with the games, I didn’t at any point find the cases confusing or rushed. I realise that there wasn’t a lot of investigation shown in the series, but I didn’t think that especially mattered, as it was the courtroom drama which drove the story forward, and a lot of Phoenix Wright seems to hinge around shuffling through a pile of evidence to find the right part to present at the right moment which I feel wouldn’t have felt appropriate in the anime. The story felt complete and interesting to watch as it was.

I think that there is a real difficulty in adapting a game to an anime. Any adaptation certainly isn’t going to make everyone happy, but I think that there’s certain factors which will make a story work well in a particular medium. Game protagonists often don’t have a huge amount of personality, and this works well in game because our actions shape their imagined personalities. This can however lead to a protagonist who feels a bit dull on the screen. While Phoenix doesn’t totally fall into this trap, he still isn’t the most interesting character. It’s the same with fitting the story into the duration of a series. If there’s much more gameplay than there is series length (like with Ace Attorney), what do you decide to cut? What’s truly necessary to keep in? How can you keep the spirit of the source material whilst still creating an entertaining work? Especially considering that with a game, each player can have a unique experience while following the same story, perhaps adaptations of games into anime are things which we think we want but which will regularly disappoint as there’s no way to encompass everyone’s experience in the one series. The Ace Attorney anime, while seemingly fairly accurate as regards content, certainly seemed to be lacking in the personality of the game.

Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend this series to others. While I wouldn’t say that the series was terrible, it was just very much lacking in charm and personality. If you’re like me and not familiar with the story of Phoenix Wright, it may be worth a watch, I did have fun viewing it, but there are so many better series out there, and there’s always the option of playing the games. It has made me seriously consider playing the games myself, so I suppose my whole experience has been a net positive.

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8 thoughts on “Series Review – Ace Attorney

  1. I tried an episode of this (even though I had no familiarity with the games) and was just bored. While it may appeal to some people I just couldn’t find myself caring about anyone or anything in the episode so moved on.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see the concept of Phoenix Wright itself being a hard sell, it’s really quite stupid if you stop to think about it too hard. Seeing the world showcased in this series with lacking visuals certainly didn’t do it any favours. I’m one of those people who has a lot of trouble with the idea of dropping series (maybe I’ll eventually reach breaking point and feel okay with not finishing a show after watching more than a couple of episodes and finding out it’s not for me), and that was definitely a factor in me finishing it. I do think that it got better in terms of both cases and visuals as the series progressed, but it wasn’t outstanding at any point.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe this is why the series got zero votes in my “what should I watch” poll 😛

    The WordPress community helped me dodge a bullet there, but thanks for elaborating on what the issues are. I think there’s simply too big an expectation based on the popularity of the games.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That could possibly have been the reason! I think that it’s impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations when it comes to adapting something so wildly popular, but I also think that a better effort could have been made. I wouldn’t consider Phoenix Wright to be unwatchable, but looking at the other options on your poll, I think that there’s quite a few better options that were selected.

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  3. I have very little experience with the games. I still dropped this upon two episodes. The characters were generic and the situations were presented in a way where the viewer already knew who the culprit was (through the first two episodes). For a mystery, it really doesn’t feel like a mystery. Only an explanation of things that seemingly don’t add up that takes up half the episode’s length. Shounen writing at its finest.

    You’re right, through: it definitely makes people want to play the original games.

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    • Some shows in the mystery genre can make knowing the culprit in advance work (Columbo comes to mind), but it definitely takes a certain something which this series lacked. To do this well, you have to make the process of deduction or finding sufficient evidence by the protagonist compelling or amusing instead of being able to rely on the unknown to draw the viewer in. It’s not easy!

      I can definitely see why you would have dropped this after a couple of episodes. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting to see the perspective from someone who doesn’t play the game, since I was wondering if my own experience with the games clouded my take on the show. In the end, I guess this is a bad product no matter how you slice it, although a significant part of it is just the game’s mechanic not being a good fit with the episodic anime format.

    Definitely play the games if you’re interested. May lost some luster since you’re already spoiled by the show, but the characters and writing are fun enough to re-visit several times (*AFAIK the early games are now typically sold as trilogy bundle, and the show doesn’t cover the third game, which is also the best one).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m actually that weird kind of person who is more interested in playing the games now I have some idea what happens (I’ve been like this with games before).

      The story itself certainly seemed to have some charm, but the production just really didn’t do it justice. I could see a glimpse of what I think made the early games of Ace Attorney franchise so lovable, but it didn’t translate especially well to the screen (and the poor visuals and sound didn’t really help).

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

      Like

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