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.
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.
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.
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.