iSugio

Ace Attorney – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Set sometime in the near future, Attorney Phoenix Wright goes up against childhood friend and now top prosector Miles Edgeworth over the guilt or innocence of client Maya Fey. The legal system allows for only 3 days of trial before the judge makes a decision. Intense pressure mounts on both sides, as both men must use their power of persuasion and presentation to sway the judge. After the trial, Attorney Phoenix Wright learns that Miles Edgeworth himself has been arrested for murder. Phoenix Wright decides to defend his longtime friend and learns that his opponent is none other than Von Karma. Von Karma is a legendary prosecutor who has never lost a court case in over 40 years of work! Meanwhile, a 15-year-old mystery is about to be solved by Attorney Phoenix Wright.

The utter diversity of director of Miike Takashi has certainly shown in the last several years within his films. Moving away from the bizarrely twisted nature of his early works, which usually centered on the yakuza or horror genre—often times effectively mixing both—his current streak of producing more mainstream films has been meant with great success. But considering that this is Takashi we are discussing here, the idea of being “mainstream” still elicits a notable peculiarity within his films. Yatterman (2009), Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City (2010), and Ninja Kids!!! (2011) have each show impeccable variety with their presentations and narratives, whereas other films of his such as 13 Assassins (2010) and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011) have focused more on being reflective period pieces albeit still retaining elements of the sensational. It should come at no surprise then that Takashi should tackle one of the most popular Nintendo titles in the last decade with his latest work Ace Attorney, a film filled to the brim with referential humor and an unmissable quirkiness that only a director such as Takashi could display.

First and foremost, it should be said that Ace Attorney is a film made completely for fans of the game series. If you have any familiarity with the series, this should suffice, but if you are a knowledgeable fan, Ace Attorney will certainly provide a more pleasurable experience for the initiated than not. With a cast of characters that are seemingly lifted straight from the source material, Ace Attorney is one of the best looking video game-to-live-action adaptations out there. Each character is so vividly detailed, showcasing all of the personal eccentricities of their video game counterparts as well. Whether this is seen in Hiroki Narimiya’s excellent portrayal of Phoenix Wright himself, with the slicked back hairstyle and intense gestures, to Takumi Saito’s Miles Edgeworth, with his calculated stares and pompous attitude, the look and feel of the characters are simply a pleasure to view. This focus is very reminiscent of many of Takashi’s previous works wherein outrageous but memorable characters dominated the screen with a fervent presence, establishing his films more around the mannerisms of his characters rather than the narrative itself.

This tradition carries through in Ace Attorney as well, presenting the characters within the film as faithful reflections of their video game counterparts. With this in mind, the very nature of Ace Attorney is extremely exaggerated at best, offering characters that reside far outside the norm of what one may perceive within a film centered on the legal system. There is also an abundance of holographic imagery used to help the attorneys prove their point within a case, which again is not something you see everyday in a courtroom drama. This approach is definitely a positive for viewers—or fans—who don’t mind the exterior appearance of the film’s characters conflicting with that of the serious nature of its courtroom theatrics, but this presentation may persuade some viewers to view the film as primarily for young adults given its quirky nature. This couldn’t be far from the truth, but it is a reality considering that this is a film based on a video game, which to some individuals automatically dissuade them from enjoying or even wanting to watch such a film. This isn’t exactly an unconventional approach to viewing films based on video games—the track record for such films haven’t been as successful as one would hope—but Ace Attorney remains incredibly faithful to its source material, almost to the point of being absurd, which again is viewed more as a positive than a negative.

As for the narrative of the film, this is where Ace Attorney falters somewhat in its execution. While the film does a superb job in translating the distinctiveness of the game’s characters, the storyline within the film presents two court cases that break up the flow of the film to a certain degree. With the first case being centered on Wright attempting to solve the death of his mentor, the film provides a healthy exposition on Wright himself and his past. This would’ve worked out as an excellent story point in which to follow through and conclude upon within a single film, but the film offers an additional case for Wright to solve that involves defending Edgeworth against the accusation of being a murderer that stretches the film beyond what is welcomed. One could’ve easily seen the film focusing entirely on one case over the other and still be reasonably satisfying to watch, but with two cases displayed within the film, it produces a story that is to some extent jumbled as to what direction it wants to go. With Ace Attorney being a little over two hours in length, having a more concise narrative would have been more considerable towards the portrayal of the Ace Attorney universe as a whole, providing us with a focal point in which to better understand Wright and his quest for justice.

But Ace Attorney is a film that will sure to please fans of the game series, as well as be enjoyable to those unfamiliar but willing to have an open mind towards the mixture of the eccentric with the strenuous nature of a courtroom drama. If the film was considerably shorter in length, it would’ve been a more welcoming introduction to the universe of the game series itself, but the film still does an overall fantastic job of developing it characters. Considering this, the film’s greatest strength is its characters, both in their appearance and mannerisms, with Hiroki Narimiya presenting a Phoenix Wright that is a humorous and cunning as his video game counterpart. In fact, all the characters within the film are greatly reflective upon their video game characters, which is an approach that practically anyone can appreciate given what the film is based upon. Takashi certainly understands the source material, which is always great to see when adapting popular culture into film. In the end though, Ace Attorney is a film that is a pleasure to watch mainly because it remains faithful to its source material, enveloping the viewer into a world only once visualized through a tiny, video game screen, which not too many other films other than this have done quite as successfully.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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Comments

  • paraparajmo

    did you watch this dubbed? because it is interesting that you are using the english version names.

  • Miguel Douglas

    Hi JMo. To answer your question, I didn’t watch the film dubbed, but it had English subtitles that used the English names. Also, I was actually contemplating using the Japanese names for the sake of the review but decided not to due to a majority of the readership knowing the English names over the Japanese names, so I felt using the English names was better in this case. Did you happen to see the film as well?

  • Gameday J

    Yessir , this film is a great game film adaption. It really needs to be known worldwide plus we need more of it ! Im sure there are tons of fans that dont even know of its existence sadly… It was indeed a surprising release i believe it was a bit long as well but these cases in the games are like hour(s) long so me myself id let that slide. Everything else was done with justice if do say so myself , as well as this review. No objections here !

  • http://www.isugoi.com/ Miguel Douglas

    No objections here as well! The film does a great job for being based on a video game series, wish we could say the same about other films. I liked how they kept the characters looking like their video game counterparts!