13 CommentsAnimasterpiece Theatre / By Shinmaru /

Animasterpiece Theatre – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Hello, everyone, and welcome, welcome, welcome! to a new posting series on The Cart Driver! The worlds of anime and manga do not always stay in the realm of TV and the page; occasionally, they make their way to the silver screen — sometimes to good results, and sometimes to crap results. In this project, I will take a look at the myriad adaptations of anime and manga to live action movies (and, no, I’m not just limiting myself to Japanese productions here). If I feel like it, I might also check out live action dramas, but because that’s a far greater time commitment, don’t expect one of those to pop up any time soon.

“But Shinmaru,” I can hear you saying, “Isn’t Ace Attorney a video game rather than a manga or anime?” Yes, reader invented for the purposes of explaining why I am going with a video game adaptation for my first post, you make a good point. However, in my mind, the Ace Attorney series is basically anime, and this movie is FUCKING AWESOME, so there. I will bend my own rules whenever and wherever I please! (P.S. I am aware of many live action movies; otherwise, I would never do a project like this. However, suggestions are welcome — you never know if I have missed something here or there.)

Onto the movie!

When I first heard about the Ace Attorney movie many moons ago, I was quick to note that Takashi Miike was attached as director — yes, he of Audition and Ichi the Killer fame (along with many other excellent movies). I didn’t think Miike would turn Ace Attorney into a gory bloodbath; after all, that’s not the only type of movie Miike makes by a longshot, and while Ace Attorney can be violent on occasion, a bunch of it would really run counter to the feel of the series. Nonetheless, I was curious as to the approach Miike would take. How would he interpret the admittedly bizarre world of this video game series?

The answer is that he takes the inherent absurdity of this universe and runs with it.

First a primer for those unfamiliar with the series: The story follows a young attorney, Phoenix Wright, who can be quite bumbling and silly but also has a strong sense of justice and a keen eye for observation when it’s needed most. He works under attorney Mia Fey, whose family was involved in a scandal 15 years prior. The movie goes over the four cases of the original Ace Attorney game, although it’s the second case and especially the fourth case that get the bulk of the time. Miike’s movie does a decent job overall of giving what details are needed to make the plot work, changing a few things and discarding everything else, but I imagine it would still be a bit confusing/far-fetched for those who haven’t played the games since the cases are so convoluted.

Getting into the craft of the movie, I found the style a bit interesting. What I noticed immediately upon beginning the movie is the color palette — it’s much more muted than expected, a sharp contrast to the video games, which are bright, colorful and cartoonish. It’s almost as if Miike takes the palette from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and transplants it ontoAce Attorney. It seems ill-fitting, but this choice works splendidly because it lends a more down-to-earth, objective point of view to this clearly mad world. It’s a serious courtroom drama played out in a child’s imagination. Everything is played totally straight — the weird anime hairstyles are recreated near-perfectly, the bizarre clothing is all there, and the flamboyance of the court battles is preserved, crazy gestures and all. One detail I also love is that we actually get to see the court audience, and the weirdos who populate the benches are probably stranger than the main cast. (Hilariously, the court sells tickets to view trials like a baseball game — I don’t know if Japanese courts have the same financial troubles as American courts, but perhaps there’s some commentary there?)

The trials are a great sight, too. They’re about as crazy and goofy as one would expect from the games. Probably the biggest addition to the story is the invention of an electronic system to display evidence collected by the court to be used in each trial. In true anime fashion, the holograms are tossed, whipped and smacked at prosecutors and defense attorneys alike as each tries to get the upper hand on the other. I suppose including the big cartoon bubbles for “OBJECTION!” and “HOLD IT!” and the like would have been a tad too ridiculous. Then again, the movie does treat the victory celebration at the end of each case as a literal event, complete with confetti raining down from the ceiling, so perhaps it wasn’t silliness that scared Miike away from that. (Speaking of, there are some amusing payoffs to that stuff near the beginning and end of the movie that had me guffawing.)

I think that while the movie tries to be accessible to newcomers, it ultimately knows that it will be best appreciated by those who have played the games, which is why it includes winks and nods like the bizarre celebrations and bits of fan service. For instance, the Blue Badger police mascot is incorporated in a way that has to be inexplicable to newbies (and pays off in a tremendously weird moment that had me laughing). There’s also a great after credits sequence that plays off a trial in another game (I won’t mention specifics to keep an element of surprise) that is perhaps the silliest part in a movie filled to the brim with silliness. As a big fan of the games, I enjoyed seeing the filmmakers take these quite silly things and have lots of fun with them, particularly the flashback to Phoenix Wright’s childhood that is simultaneously hilarious and totally adorable.

Then there’s the actors. The look and acting of everyone is basically spot on. Hiroki Narimiya in particular is a dead-on Phoenix Wright. Wouldn’t change a thing about his performance — he’s a great underdog. Ryo Ishibashi is also excellent as feared prosecutor Manfred von Karma. He’s cold as ice to the very end. Everyone else is fine, too: Takumi Saito is a cool, logical Edgeworth; Mirei Kiritani is a cute, spunky Maya; Akiyoshi Nakao is a big goofball as Larry Butz; and so on. The main problem is there just isn’t enough time for the whole cast to shine. Phoenix is the hero, von Karma is the villain and everyone else fills in their roles. It’s a bit disappointing that Edgeworth and Maya get relatively little to do considering they’re such important figures in the story. Not that they don’t have their moments, but the big compromise is to center everything on Phoenix. (Although the movie does add a bit to the story of one of the culprits that is quite effective.)

The other main problem is the movie’s length. It’s 134 minutes that flies by quickly until the movie reaches the investigation portion of the case. This is important in the games because it’s where the player has the opportunity to piece the case together in his or her mind before seeing how everything plays out in court. However, without that direct participation, the investigation isn’t particularly interesting. Miike cuts it down as much as he can, because clearly all the most entertaining stuff takes place in the courtroom, but that doesn’t stop the investigation from dragging the movie.

That said, this is basically the ideal live action vision of Ace Attorney. I’m not particularly sure why it was made into live action rather than animation, but bless Miike for translating the absurdity of this universe in a way that is true to the spirit of the games. It treats the silliness of the games in a way that has the viewer laughing with the movie rather than at it, which shows in the genuine care the filmmakers take to recreate this madness. Again, I don’t think that it’s the best thing to watch for newcomers (although it’s undeniably entertaining), but if you like the games, then it’s a must see.

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  1. Scamp
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I kinda love that HOLD IT, OBJECTION, and TAKE THAT are now tags on this blog.

    For other people: I specifically told Shinmaru that the only way he’d be allow to do this post series was if he watched Dragonball Evolution. So don’t worry, that’s coming too :D

    • XXL
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      “Dragonball Evolution”

      No. Nooooooo no no no no no no no.

      On the other hand, I suppose you’ll be doing the Death Note and Detroit Metal City live actions too, given they’re on the generic Top 30 anime list?

      • Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes, although it might be a while before I get to the Death Note movies because I have seen them both already and didn’t particularly enjoy them.

  2. XXL
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    All right… let’s get this out of the way before other people do it…

    *slams palms on table, points finger at Shinmaru*


    All right. I will admit that I squealed when I saw that you were reviewing the Ace Attorney movie, because I love Ace Attorney, but then I remembered that I hate the movie.

    Even though I’m a huge fan of the original series. Yes.

    The silliness of the movie is amazing. The hairstyles, Edgeworth’s smugness, the confetti raining down after each successful trial and the cleaning ladies cleaning everything up and throwing confetti in Nick’s face, the fricking BLUE BADGER… all of that, I laughed my lungs out at. Nonetheless, I think the movie, taken as a whole, is absolutely horrible, and I don’t understand why fans of the series love it so much.

    First of all, Maya is atrocious. She’s supposed to be cute, funny, quirky, and absolutely ridiculous, and instead what do we get? This frigid model bitch who obviously thinks she’s just there to pout and look pretty. THAT’S NOT THE MAYA I KNOW AND I WILL MURDER ANYBODY WHO CLAIMS OTHERWISE.

    The other thing is Manfred von Karma. The main antagonist who made the first AA game as great as it is, Manfred von Karma. My favorite prosecutor save for Godot. Completely. Fucking. Ruined. The actor just wasn’t even remotely hammy enough. In fact, the entire movie wasn’t hammy enough for my tastes. The court cases actually felt draggy. Even with the hilarious evidence hologram throwing. The judge is flat and completely without personality, instead of being the hilarious little thing he is in the games despite having only two fricking different expressions for his sprite.

    The only good actors in this thing were Larry Butz and Nick. Edgey-poo was way too straight (hah), Gumshoe was a total non-entity, and Mia is totally bland and boring instead and horribly portrayed. She’s a cool badass mentor with an actual personality, not this… empty husk of a woman that she is in the movie who’s just there to look dramatic at the appropriate plot points. Ugh.

    I appreciate the fanservice, I really, really do. I love seeing all the costumes and locations and events from the game portrayed by real people, and I still find it hilarious that they actually filmed Nick cross-examining that frickin’ parrot, but fanservice alone doesn’t excuse the sheer boringness of the rest of the movie!


    Now excuse me while I go listen to the Blue Badger theme song again…

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Haha, I totally thought everyone would take on this comment format. Guess you scared them off!

      I don’t necessarily disagree with many of your complaints; in fact, I share several of them. Satchii below shares my sentiments on the main culprits: there just isn’t enough time for characters like Edgeworth, Maya and Gumshoe to develop. That’s not necessarily on the actors — I thought they were fine when given decent material and time. The part where Maya shouts into Lotta’s microphone, for example, is funny and in line with Maya’s character. There just aren’t enough moments like that. In the Judge’s case, I assume the creators wanted more of a straight man character than the lovable goofball in the games. Again, probably a case of not having enough time to have several characters shine.

  3. Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Wait, this is out? So much for working on my Gundam post today. This is instantly about four levels higher on my priority list.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      Yes, although the copy I found had sort of shit subtitles.

      • Posted November 15, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        I managed to find some decent subtitles timed to the raw and then just muxed them on. That’s what I’m watching now.

  4. luffyluffy
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    The movie was terrible and I’m not even sure how. I wasn’t even that HYPE for it, it just felt really… empty and sorta like it was a shell of was.

    Like, was there any reason to fuck around with Edgeworth’s backstory like that? Like??? It sorta felt like it tried to tackle on a bit toooooo much.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      To be honest, since I already know the plot, I didn’t care that they tinkered with it. I was more interested in seeing how they interpreted things rather than what was interpreted. That’s how I look at every adaptation I watch now, anyway (if I’m familiar with what’s being adapted, that is), since it’s basically impossible to take everything from one medium into another.

  5. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I don’t think they could’ve made a better Ace Attorney movie. The biggest realistic changes I thought could be made while watching the movie were to give the judge a bit more personality and to make Redd White look more FABULOUS. I agree with pretty much everything Shinmaru said about it. I hold the same seemingly controversial opinion about it that I held about the Speed Racer movie – it was everything I wanted an Ace Attorney movie to be.

    Now don’t get me wrong – the movie isn’t the most accessible film for newcomers to the series, and a number of the characters do get changed for the worse from the games. But let’s take a step back here and look at why that might be.

    On the one hand, there’s the style of the film. Everything is still silly, but in a much more understated way. It’s not the bright, colorful, super-zany world of the game, and to fit that, the characters were given a more serious or down-to-earth edge. I cannot honestly see this movie having worked in any other style – if it had gone the full cartoony route like Speed Racer, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much. This new cinematic tone was essential for the transition to the live-action format – to preserve the pure style of the game would almost require and anime adaptation, which I think would have worked better in TV form rather than movie form. If this had been such an anime adaptation, I would have loved to see, say, Von Karma hammed up to the extreme by Wakamoto or some equivalent, but I think the cold, jaded performance we got worked well for the type of movie that this was, and made him a good opponent for the energetic Nick.

    The other issue is length. The Ace Attorney games are LONG. This movie only really even covered about a case and a half, and really, how long did that last case alone take to beat in the game? Here is again where I could understand an anime series, but for a 2-hour-15-minute movie, which is a relatively long movie as-is, how much of that massive amount of content can you realistically expect them to squeeze in? They even cut out almost all the investigation and it still ended up being a long movie. Not only does this explain to an extent the movie’s slight lack of accessibility, but it is also here where I think the major characters like Edgeworth and Maya suffered. The bulk of the establishment of their characters in the game occurred during cases 2 and 3, which were sped through and skipped, respectively, because the movie barely had time for case 4 as it was. We never got to see either of them in action – Edgeworth because we sped through the cases where he actually prosecuted, and Maya because we skipped all the investigation. If the movie had covered these cases/scenes as well, case 4 would have been even more rushed and the movie as a whole would have suffered, rather than just the lesser main characters (who still played a part, albeit a slightly altered one, in the film). It was a compromise that had to be made – this was always going to be Nick’s movie anyway, so the choice to focus on the most important case – case 4 – makes sense. While they were never going to be as good of characters as they were in the game, I think they filled their roles in the movie as well as they could have. Every way I can think of to have improved them would require making the movie longer, which I don’t see as a worthwhile tradeoff.

    While we may have missed out on some things like Maya’s insatiable hunger for cheeseburgers, there were enough fun carryovers from the game that did make it in that I was satisfied with the representation. We got the Blue Badger being awesome, we got the confetti, we got the hair, the outfits, the poses, the ridiculous hologram displays, and most importantly, we got a good Nick. Larry was also excellently portrayed, both from a movie-only perspective and from a game-carry-over perspective, which is likely due to both his rather simple, self-contained personality (in contrast to constantly developing characters like Maya and Edgey) and the fact that his big appearances in the game happened to coincide well with what made it into the movie. I also rather liked Gumshoe. I never expected him to have a big role in the movie, so I wasn’t too bummed that we didn’t see all that much of him, but what we saw I really liked. The actor got Gumshoe’s particular brand of man-moe down to a tee and every time he did appear I was pleased.

    In all, I thought the movie was a lot of fun and did a good job capturing what makes the Ace Attorney series tick. It made the compromises it needed to in order to make the story best fit its style and run-length, and left the rest very well intact. It preserved the heart and soul of the Ace Attorney series, which is really the most important thing I can ask for out of any adaptation.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

      You are a scholar and a gentleman.

  6. Bell
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    The subs are out?? omg. I would watch this for the hair alone.

    And yeah, Hiroki Narimiya is usually pretty great. He more often plays supporting roles, so it’s great to see him as the title character here.

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