iSugio

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Professor Layton, true English gentleman and the world’s greatest amateur super sleuth, embarks on his most daring adventure yet when he receives a letter from his old student, the famous opera diva Janice Quatlane. She is to perform at the legendary Crown Petone Opera House and invites him to attend as her special guest. Meanwhile, a spate of disappearances hits London. Two young schoolgirls are the latest victims, and the Professor suspects it’s related to the mysterious occurrences at the theatre. The Professor and his loyal assistant Luke travel to the Opera House to solve their toughest puzzle yet, the mystery of Eternal Life.

While many videogame to anime film adaptations usually deteriorate into an endless barrage of tediousness that do little to complement the strengths of the very games they are derived from, a select few make it through the fold to showcase that such a proposal can be successfully accomplished. Films such as Final Fantasy VII Advent Children (2005) and Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1996) are fine examples of adaptations done relatively well, bringing adequate justice to their video game counterparts by expanding upon the worlds and characters established within the source material. But for every decent videogame to anime film adaptation released, there are considerably more films that don’t necessarily complement their source material, therein bringing about a feeling of cynicism by some viewers concerning their impending release. Based on the bestselling Nintendo DS game, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is a film that has much to live up to, mainly for the simple fact that it is one of those titles whose source material is quite popular amongst video game fans—a base group where cynicism is fervently expressed.

For starters, Eternal Diva is a film that doesn’t necessarily require a viewer to be familiar with the game series to enjoy its inception as a film. While many other films do require a viewer to comprehend the background and history of the game’s plot and characters to completely understand its own working as a film, Eternal Diva establishes itself as a very standalone experience despite some references to past games. While there are certainly characters and minor plot continuities from the game series present in the film, they are rather subdued and kept to a stringent minimum in order to focus primarily on the main, original narrative the film offers. One fine example of this is that within the first few moments of the film, we are introduced to the main cast of characters as if it was the first time, which offers a crucial step towards involving those viewers unfamiliar with the universe of Professor Layton. This notion further extends to the overall narrative itself, which is constructed in a matter that doesn’t alienate newcomers to Professor Layton’s expansive universe. With film’s focal point being on the Legend of Ambrosia—a myth based on authentic Greek mythology—the film also surrounds itself with real world mythos and does a sizable job of nicely implementing elements of it throughout the film. The film delegates an original tale that is structured in a way to accommodate both fans of the game series and newcomers alike, a move that reinforces the standalone nature of the film.

For those who are pertinent fans of the game series though, Eternal Diva works out extremely well in providing a considerable focus on all the elements that have warranted the popularity of the Professor Layton game series. The film brings about the sense of mystery and intrigue offered through the games, all the while inserting a diverse range of skillful puzzles and riddles to pique the solving abilities of viewers. While this approach is simply reminiscing on aspects the game series showcases, it removes the viewer from being able to actively participate and influence the outcome of the film’s puzzles and riddles. We are essentially treated to numerous rather energetic visual sequences that showcase Professor Layton’s attempting to resolve a particular puzzle through the consolidation of clues, only to see him come to a solution with considerable ease. This approach that the film takes does indeed fall in line with the game series, but also somewhat removes the urgency felt by active participants of the games to solve these puzzles through their own accord. While this approach doesn’t hurt the film overall, it does seem rather odd to see Professor Layton and his crew make it through dangerous situation with significant aplomb. Which brings me to my next point, which is the very nature of the film itself residing in the universe of Professor Layton as a game series. With Eternal Diva being a film taking place between two games—Professor Layton and the Last Specter and Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box—the desperate nature of some of the film’s more adventurous moments is given very little urgency considering that we as viewers know that none of the main characters will perish in any way since this is essentially a prequel. This somewhat dilutes the strength of the film, with its dire moments not truly being as alarming as we may think.

Besides some of these flaws, Eternal Diva works out exceptionally well as an ode to the visual and musical style established by the Professor Layton game series. With animation work being done by P.A. Works—whose résumé includes Canaan (2009), Angel Beats (2010), and even partially animating several of the Professor Layton Nintendo DS games—the visual quality of the film is well done and truly elaborates upon the look of the games. It’s this distinct visual style that offers a unique feature to the film, in turn making it one of the more aesthetically pleasing video game to anime film adaptations. The film also uses a considerable amount of CGI for some of its more harrowing moments—a decision that could’ve drastically undercut the visual quality of the film but fortunately doesn’t. With its usage remaining strictly within the realm of the mechanical, it doesn’t distract or seem unwarranted, as most other films often do. Paralleling that of the visual nature of the film is also the music, which was produced by Tomohito Nishiura and Tsuneyoshi Saito. As with P.A. Works having contributed to the game series in the field of animation, Nishiura and Saito produced the music for several of the Professor Layton game titles as well, which again reinforces the collaborative efforts shared between the game series and film. With the film heavily focused on the element of music, the soundtrack to Eternal Diva is filled to the brimmed with classical compositions that should appease viewers, particularly those who are fans of the game due to its comparable style.

As a standalone film, Eternal Diva works on many levels, but primarily is successful because it bridges the gap between newcomers and longtime enthusiasts. Supporters of the game series will find plenty here to enjoy—whether it’s the abundance of characters, beautifully composed musical pieces, its clever plot, and even several references to past titles—while those viewers who aren’t familiar with the game can still enjoy all the elements mentioned. While flaws certainly exist with the film—it’s rather convoluted towards the end—it still remains an enjoyable endeavor into the world of Professor Layton and his puzzle-solving crew. With Professor Layton essentially being the Japanese equivalent to Sherlock Holmes, even those who dislike or are unknowing to aspects of anime could find some pleasure with the film. While not the greatest anime film, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is one of the better video game to anime film adaptations thus far, and with director Masakazu Hashimoto suggesting possible sequels in the future, the film provides an adequate example of a concept with a healthy foundation in which to build upon.

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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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