The fact that an Ace Attorney anime series is finally here has me very very… Scared. Ever since I played and beat the first Ace Attorney game all those years ago, I was sure of one thing; this is a story and a franchise that is RIPE for an anime adaption. Its got mysteries, over-the-top and endearing characters, a very interesting and twisty plot, dramatic moments and above all, is just the sort of story that slowly builds up, chapter by chapter.
Now, while I’ve never exactly changed my tune with regards to Ace Attorney’s viability as an anime series, recent adaptions of similar anime-ready franchises like BlazBlue and even sure-fire quality sequels like Durarara!!x2, have given me pause. The reason for that is obvious, because despite whatever merits and potential these franchises had, their anime adaptions or continuations ended up being sorely disappointing. Blazblue in particular, was a franchise and an anime adaption that really fell hard on its face. It only had 1-cour, it rushed through its story, and there was no real sense of pacing, and setting the story aside, the animation itself was horribly lackluster.
The reason I bring those series up, is because they’ve always kind of shared the same space in my mind, as Ace Attorney. As we got those adaptions and suffered through them, I became more and more content with the idea that Ace Attorney was never really getting an anime series. Let sleeping dogs lie and all that, just seemed to ring true.
Of course, lo and behold, we have an Ace Attorney anime series in the Spring 2016 season, and things are looking to be pretty unknown at the moment. A-1 Pictures is handling the production duties, but given the variance in quality and their talent on a per project basis, its unclear whether this show will look and feel as great as some of their other work (i.e last season’s Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi). Then there’s the director, Ayumu Watanabe, who’s done some really good work (Mysterious Girlfriend X, Space Brothers). Now I don’t generally eye the staff of Anime series, as I’m sure anyone who’s read my general blogging stuff can attest to, but here, here I’m being extra cautious.
And here’s the thing, we know for a fact that this series is going to adapt the events of the first and the second games, which means that even though it doesn’t have a confirmed episode count yet, it’ll more than likely be 2 cours. So looking at all of that, it seems like Ace Attorney has more of a shot at being done right now than say BlazBlue ever had to begin with.
So… Having said all of that, how was the first episode of Ace Attorney? Well, there are things to like, some to get used to, and some to actively worry about. Lets start with the good news.
For one thing, this show at least looks pretty nice, from an art direction stand point. The characters look pretty darn close to what their concept art/character designs were in the game, and it feels like they did indeed come to life quite well on screen. The environments and general look of familiar sights and locations from the game look pretty darn spot on as well. Plus, there’s little touches throughout the episode, that really do highlight and respect the franchise’s history as a visual novel adventure game. The little things like the text boxes appearing with location information, or time, are a nice little nod to what Ace Attorney is.
The voice acting, for the most part, is pretty spot on, with one notable exception. The only character that didn’t quite work for me, was actually Naruhodo himself (Pheonix Wright for us western fans of the games). Naruhodo, voiced by Kaji Yuki (the seiyuu that western anime fans love to hate) feels a bit off. Its not that Yuki’s performance is particularly bad, its just that Yuki has a voice that feels a lot more younger than what I personally imagined Naruhodo to be like. The voice just doesn’t match up with the look, and build of the character, and while I understand the casting decision, i.e Naruhodo always has a bit of a boyish, childish charm to him, it feels like it went a bit too much towards the young boy route.
Everyone else though? Oh My God spot on. There’s something to be said about casting that just transcends language, because I obviously experienced this series in English. Granted, it was all text based, but still, nailing the essence of a character in the same way as its presented in a video game, is just amazing. Ayastato Chihiro was definitely spot on, as was more importantly, Yahari Massashi (western fans know him as Larry Blutz). The right voice, the right level of immaturity, Toru Nara just frigging killed it. And characters like the Judge (played by Hiura Ben) and Takefumi Auchi (Winston payne) were equally well done.
It is kind of tragic that the main character isn’t perfect, like most of the other characters we’ve seen thus far, but I think I’ll at least, get used to it as time goes on.
The other thing that’s worth talking about, since we’ve been talking about characters, is the names. If you’re one of those people who played the original games on their DSes, then you’ve probably played a heavily edited/localised version of this story. This anime? Its the first real opportunity to experience this world and these characters and this story in its original context and without any weird editing.
To that end, a lot of the humor and wit of the series definitely takes a more Japanese tone to it. Our main character for example, is named Naruhodo, which I can loosely translate to “Oh I see”. That’s a pretty funny and weird name for a character, as Naruhodo is something characters say after they generally understand some new concept or idea. Then there’s Yahari, Naruhodo’s best friend and the defendant in this episode. Again, Yahari is a word that most closely translates to “Indeed”, or the phrase “Indeed it was/is”. With names like that, the on the nose humor of this series really makes a lot of sense. I’m sure we’re bound to get some nice puns, some of which will really depend on how well you understand Japanese (And I’ll confess that I’m no expert in the language).
The little twist on words where Yahari is called Yappari by Chihiro at the end of the case, well, Crunchyroll translated it to “Yapping-san”, but I’m not entirely sure if I got the gist of what the actual joke was. That said, I’m eager to learn, and if anyone in the comments did get the twist, feel free to share.
So these are all mostly pluses, the characters look pretty darn close, for the most part they sound good, and the story definitely gives fans of the games a chance to experience them in a unabridged, unedited form. So what’s the bad news then?
Well, this first episode’s pacing, and the adaption/changes they made are what worried me the most. See the first major issue, at least to me, was the fact that the first case, the one where you’re introduced to Naruhodo and the courtroom, was kind of rushed through. The first case, despite being short, has enough meat in it, and enough twists to warrant maybe 1 and half to even 2 episodes. But, in order to fit everything into one episode, the story kinda cuts corners and skips a bunch of stuff.
There’s a real back and forth between Naruhodo and Takefumi, in that one’s the newbie rookie and the other’s known as the “Rookie killer”. There’s a real sense of arrogance and pride to Takefumi and its in this first encounter with Naruhodo, that he gets cut down to size. Unfortunately, we never get that whole plot point in the actual episode, as Takefumi doesn’t come off nearly as annoying as he is. The judge himself, for example. probably the most hilarious character in how easily he’s influenced, doesn’t show his particular traits either.
Then there’s Yahari himself. In the game, Yahari actually gets cross examined by Naruhodo and yields some interesting information. He also plays rather beautifully into Takefumi’s hands, and refuses to speak the truth, until Naruhodo kind of forces it out of him through his cross examination. Then there’s the actual slow and steady breakdown of Yamano Hoshio, the villain in this story. Again, that part’s definitely in there, it just loses its impact and power because of how quickly the episode breezes through it.
There’s a real sense of danger and losing the case, multiple times, as the player finds a contradiction and then inches a step closer towards revealing Hoshio’s lies. Here, we get that, but it ends up feeling a lot dumber than it actually is, because of how quick and simplified the solution is. And the biggest problem I had, was from the fact that Naruhodo didn’t walk us through the events of the actual murder himself in the trial, but rather we get this “Full story” section after he’s already proven and won the case.
Again, these issues all stem from the fact that the content of this first story was shortened and crammed into one episode. And I think, for viewers that aren’t familiar with the games, this will leave a bad first impression. Opening strong is incredibly important, no matter what medium you’re in, and Ace Attorney, as a game was a game that had a particularly memorable and powerful introduction/opening level.
That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tinge of excitement and thrill from when Naruhodo finally uttered the words: “Igiyari!” which us western fans know to be “OBJECTION!”. That part, might feel weird to fans of the games who’ve always heard the English incarnation, but having seen trailers and gameplay videos of the japanese version, it all felt rather great to me. Extra points for the show doing three different angled shots of Naruhodo as he delivered the fabled point and object moment.
Plus the followup afterwards, was pretty darn nice too, combined with a more muted version of the “turnabout” music that we’re all familiar with. I guess this episode just kind of sought to adapt the essence of the first case, and in that, it kind of succeeded, while abandoning the nuance and the general subtleties of the characters and the story itself.
The end result of these adaption decisions, and deciding to gloss over a pretty important part of the story, is that the episode itself kind of becomes little more than “decent” or “okay”. Its a decent attempt at bringing the Ace Attorney magic onto the screen, but some of it definitely gets lost in translation. That’s what worries me, is the fact that this series may very well try to skirt by and not take its time with every little nuance and twist that each case provides. Honestly, if this story were being done right, then we’d have to have 2-cours to just tell the story of the first game, let alone the second.
I’m not entirely sure whether this first episode was just kind of thrown away or considered unimportant, but I have seen bigger and better series like Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood do the same.
Another thing that I’d like to touch on, is of course, the animation. For the most part, it looked pretty darn good, but it was in the OP itself, where I generally found some rather sloppy work. The segments of Naruhodo running in that grassy plain, with the buildings in the background was pretty bad. The OPs in anime series are generally where the height of the animation is, sometimes its better than the overall animation of the series on a per episode basis. So its worrying, but then the episode did do pretty decently when the actual story was being presented.
The final thing worth noting, is actually a kind of question. I almost wonder why the music from the games wasn’t taken verbatim. I say that, because a lot of the power in the decisive moments of the games, result from some really powerful musical tracks playing and amping up the excitement. The music definitely doesn’t feel as loud or intense as it did in the games, and that muted nature feels like a kind of misstep too.
I realize that a lot of what this post was and is, is comparing this adaption to the games. That is kind of what my blogging of this series is going to be. I love the Ace Attorney video games, and I’ve played them to death, beaten even the ones that didn’t quite make it to western shores (Miles Edgeworth 2). For me, and a lot of fans, Ace Attorney is going to be both a trip down memory lane, and also a re-exploration of this franchise’s story within its more culturally accurate context.
To that end, the first episode of this series wasn’t great, but it wasn’t particularly horrible either. The true test for Ace Attorney is going to be how it follows up this first episode. Will it build on the potential that it presented us this week, and slowly churn out the bad? I certainly hope so. More than anything I really hope that the anime production staff nail the pacing and just take their time with this story. I’m hopeful, if only because we have Ayumu Watanabe at the helm, and he’s generally done stellar adaptions that I’m aware of.
So yes, I’ll blogging this series week for week. Its the only series that I knew I’d be covering, regardless of whether it was any good or not. For fans of the games, I’m curious about what you thought. For new comers, I’m doubly so interested in what your impressions of this franchise and this opening episode were. Let me know in the comments!
The first “real” case begins, and the stakes are pretty darn high. Yep, The whole Chihiro situation happens about the same in the games as well, and its quite a shocker following the rather positive first case itself. But we do get to meet Mayoi Ayasato (Maya) next week, so that’s awesome. To that note, see you all next week!
Tags: ace attorney, ace attorney anime, ace attorney anime review, ace attorney anime screencaps, ace attorney anime screenshots, ace attorney episode 1, ace attorney episode 1 review, ace attorney episode blog, ace attorney episode recap, ace attorney premiere, ace attorney review, ayasato, chihiro, hoshio yamano, judge, masashi yahari, naruhodo ryuichi, pheonix wright, pheonix wright anime, screenshots
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