This Phoenix isn’t rising from the ashes.
Everyone who enjoys anime or video games has a series in their life that has stayed with them throughout the years. Something that, even though it was experienced during youth or adolescence, still holds itself close to your heart. For me, that series is “Ace Attorney.” I make no secret of the fact that I am completely enthralled by the “Ace Attorney” franchise, and that even today, though I’ve played through each game several times, I can still pick up an old cartridge from the original trilogy and get lost in it’s mysteries for hours on end. It is a series with no equal, from it’s intense, emotional courtroom sequences to it’s thrilling soundtrack that is so real and alive it’s been made into orchestra renditions several times over. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I had to see that this anime adaptation is little more than a lazy attempt to drag a few extra dollars out of the “Ace Attorney” franchise.
To those not familiar with “Ace Attorney”, it’s a pretty simple setup that most anyone can enjoy. Phoenix Wright is an amateur attorney in a court system geared to favor the prosecution in nearly every case. With the acquittal rate in this system so low, Phoenix, who is already somewhat bumbling and inexperienced, is a natural underdog to every case he’s in. On his own, with the help of his sass-filled assistant Maya Fey, he acts as both attorney and investigator, as he gives it all to crack each and every case he’s given and save his clients from being wrongfully convicted.
It’s like “Sherlock Holmes” meets anime, with a protagonist that’s a good bit more approachable. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much, but the games win major points for the complexity of it’s mysteries that are driven by a cast of interesting and lovable characters. Potentially dry courtroom sequences are enlivened with a brilliant and intense soundtrack and the shouts of the trademark “Objection!” that signals a change in fortune. A game that’s this “Anime” looks like an easy fit for an anime series, but surprisingly, this show doesn’t even come close to enjoyable.
The story isn’t the issue, because, barring a couple of filler episodes, the story is exactly the same from the third game of the series, focusing on a new, mysterious prosecutor, “Godot”, and the shattered past surrounding him. It’s a unique situation, then, that the failings of this series lie entirely within it’s execution, not the story behind it. While the original games take bland courtrooms and make them intense battlegrounds, the anime goes the opposite way. Those who expect battles of wits will be disappointed to see that the direction of each episode makes the courtroom unbearably boring. Most of the dialogue is just exposition of what happened in the case, delivered by voice acting that undercuts the emotionality of the writing. What’s worse is that the visuals of the courtroom are so plain it’s almost comical. From the art design to direction of the shots, the anime is clearly designed for efficiency, not artistry. Characters are stiff and off-model, and the show goes to great lengths to keep the cast as still as possible, fish-lipping their lines to just “Get the plot over with.”
When it comes to sound design, the show is, strangely enough, nearly silent. There’s a lack of music that leaves many of the courtroom sequences feeling rather barren, lacking the themes and anthems that have marked such great moments in the series. It’s completely bizarre, since there are so many brilliant renditions of the soundtrack from the games that could easily be imported into the anime to give it the kind of oomph that it needs. Without the soaring melodies of the original soundtrack, there’s just something missing. A vital element; the blood that gives the story it’s fire and energy.
All of this leads to one conclusion, that this show is a huge waste of potential. And what’s particularly curious is that this show is really for no one. To someone who hasn’t played the games yet, this anime is something of an abridged version. The only way to get the real experience of this story is by playing through the games, which, since they’ve been ported to mobile phones and the Nintendo Switch, are more accessible than ever. But for fans of the series, who already know the story, this is just a worse version of something they already enjoyed. It doesn’t even try to match the games in terms of quality.
It’s sad to see a series so beloved get such a weak adaptation into the world of anime. I can’t say I’m surprised, since it seems that a lot of video games fail to make the jump from game to anime intact, but it doesn’t change the fact that there really is nothing about this show worth experiencing. It’s existence is a bizarre consequence of franchising, where the anime adaptation exists because “It must be made”, regardless of whether or not it “Should be made.” Designed to be efficient and cheap, season two of Ace Attorney is nothing more than a way to waste time; filler for the season, and another simulcast that Funimation can notch on it’s belt.