The Ace Attorney Movie is wild, bonkers and mostly okay.

The Ace Attorney Movie is wild, bonkers and mostly okay.

Hello. I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today I pu- OBJECTION!!!

The Ace Attorney series of video games are probably among the most consistently fun franchise I have experienced. Even the biggest names usually have a stinker at some point but Ace Attorney has kept knocking out quality courtroom battles for 20 years, with little sign of stopping. Of course, when a franchise grows, so do spinoffs in different media and this one is no different; with anime adaptions, manga adaptions and yes, a movie. And that movie is my focus today. A series known for both being grounded in some sort of reality but also being a complete caricature of the legal system, the idea of seeing the characters and stories from this bonkers series acted out by real people is enticing. Not the sort of ‘This will be great enticing’ but the sort of ‘This will be insane’ sort of enticement.

Going into an adaption of a video game, you have to expect a lot of changes from the source material. You’re going from a medium that can tell 15-20 hour-long interactive stories, to one that has to tell a short engaging 2-hour tale. The question is how have they managed it here? I’ll attempt to answer this, and more, as I review Gyakuten Saiban (The Ace Attorney Movie).

Synopsis

Releasing in 2012, the Ace Attorney movie attempts to follow the plot of the first game in the long-running video game series. Naruhodo Ryuuichi (Phoenix Wright) is a newbie lawyer who is thrown in at the deep end during his first murder trial, attempting to prevent his friend from being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. His boss, Ayasato Chihiro (Mia Fey) saves the day but she is then murdered whilst investigating a case relating to the disappearance of her mother. Naruhodo then has to save Chiihiro’s sister Mayoi (Maya Fey) from being convicted of this crime and succeeds against his old friend and rival Mitsurugi Reiji (Miles Edgeworth).

This synopsis might seem all over the place but it is literally the first 15 minutes of the movie.

Following this preamble, we move onto the main case and main focus of the movie. Mitsurugi Reiji is accused of murder and it is up to Naruhodo to save his friend and also free Mitsurugi from a weight that is pushing down on him by proving him innocent; beating the unbeaten prosecutor Karuma Go (Manfred Von Karma), who is Mitsurugi’s mentor, in the process.

Right. I hope that makes sense. I could easily write an in-depth spoiler-heavy synopsis of every game in the series but writing one for this 2-hour feature proved to be much more difficult. The reason for this will likely come soon as we prepare to ask two big questions about this film.

What have they done with the story?

Let’s get this out of the way straight away. This movie feels terribly rushed in terms of story pacing. The first 20 minutes of the movie provide great fan service, sure. And yes, they do set up the relationships and personalities of Mitsurugi and Naruhodo fairly competently. But… it lacks focus. Jumping from Naruhodo’s first case as a lawyer, to saving his boss’s sister to the start of the main case where Narudhodo defends Mitsurugi in only 38 minutes. These two cases in the games last about 3-4 hours so trying to condense all the important little details and charm into such a short period is unrealistic, unlikely and surprising that they ever attempted such a thing. Your introduction to Mayoi, a key reason that so many players love the games, is the biggest loss here, as she is demoted from assistant to recurring bit character and losing much of what made her special in the process. There is no time for a slow build into the main plot as a movie can only be so long. Cuts had to be made. And they most certainly were early on. Once it finds its feet, however, the main focus of the move (i.e. the Mitsurugi Murder trial) fares much better and is given a little more room to breath without feeling poorly paced; coming into its own as the plot proceeds.

In the transition from the games, many of the main points brought up in the opening cases have made the transition over smoothly; if not perfectly. The murder weapons, murder victims and all the twists and turns remain mostly the same. The character of Konaka Masaru (Redd White) has had a drastic change and some of the details around the murder of Chihiro have been changed for the sake of brevity, none of these changes really impacted my enjoyment. On the contrary, I actually enjoyed discovering things that had been changed from the original source material and could appreciate most of them to some degree. Another big change that the movie implements is regarding the massive boost in technology that the courtroom scenes get in the movie.

The idea to implement sci-fi style courtroom gimmicks is an idea I can really get behind. It actually does happen in the games later on, specifically Ace Attorney 5. Beyond this, they actually act as a little bit of action and anime-style flair that the long, protracted dialogue dumps often need to remain engaging.

Overall, I feel the story is competent if not exceptional. I can’t help but feel that attempting to adapt the entire first game was always going to be a recipe for disaster and the fact that it isn’t a complete failure, is something to celebrate. However, that doesn’t mean I love what they’ve done. Sure, compromises had to be made. Sure, I watched this movie with a newcomer to the series and he had none of these complaints. Sure, I might just be bitter that there haven’t been any sequels that can improve on this original work. But, my theory is, I just don’t enjoy the plot as much because I have played the games. There is still plenty to enjoy here, but it just isn’t as good as I wanted it to be, and I’m just going to have to sit with that one.

I do have one final story complaint. However, I will not share it now. My reason? This complaint is tied inextricably to one of the characters and how they have been adapted over. So, to find out what this is, we must ask this next question.

Are the characters the same silly goofs they were in the games?

Yes, for the most part.

On the whole, the characters make the transition to the big screen remarkably well, especially considering my reservations and disappointments regarding the story. I want to quickly go through each of the main characters and comment on the performances that brought them to life.

Naruhodo Ryuichi: The main character, Phoenix Wright is a newbie lawyer and, despite this being the main part of this character in the first game, he really doesn’t seem overly green here. On the contrary, he seems fairly competent and despite his boss bailing him out during his first case, he quickly becomes somebody reliable and much more grounded than his video game counterpart.

Yes, I am saying this despite the character still cross-examining a parrot during the movie, I am a fraud.

Nariyama Hiroki does a good job of bringing this cartoon caricature of a lawyer to a more realistic setting but the character was changed quite a lot in the process. That moves us onto…

Mitsurugi Reiji: Saitoh Takumi nails this role. This is the Miles Edgeworth/ Reiji from the games that I remember. Slightly pompous, initially unlikable but has a hidden heart of gold that exposes itself the longer you get to know him.

I’m not sure I’ll ever trust a man wearing a cravat but, besides that, good job. Honestly, very little to say except, kudos. You done good.

However, I can’t say that about the final of the big three characters. That’s right. The promised story complaint is finally coming home to roost.

Ayasato Mayoi: Wow, does this movie butcher this character’s, well, character. In the game’s Maya Fey/Mayoi was the whimsical, goofy yin to Phoenix’s yang. She was charming, funny and a genuine joy to interact with. In the movie, she is a shell of this character. Mayoi is practically just a hanger-on, with almost every scene she is in possible without her presence. Yes, the story does relate to and involve her family, but this iteration of Mayoi is far less likeable than the iteration of the game. The upset, grieving regarding her sister’s passing never fades; with the moody atmosphere surrounding her not fitting with the pre-conceptions I already have of this character. I can forgive and understand most artistic choices. However, this one, and just this one, is something I cannot abide and it irks me how much potential comedy was wasted by nuking her character. The ending-credits sequence is the worst offender, as it expects us to feel something as Mayoi departs to go training but instead, leaves me confused. You can’t steal an emotional moment from the end of the first game if you don’t do the legwork in building the character relationships up first. There is no chemistry between Naruhodo and Mayoi in this movie and this invalidates much of what I love about the early titles. A real disappointment and this has left me confused, when the anime and manga managed to nail this. Weird.

I mentioned comedy above and, fortunately, there is some in the movie and that often falls to the side characters:

Side Characters: Yahari Masashi (Larry Butz) has far too big of a role in this movie. They should have introduced him in the first ten minutes, got his case out of the way, and not mentioned him again. But no. The movie decided to make this character the comic relief. The heightened focus on Yahari adds often un-funny, childish gags into the mix, whilst simultaneously stripping Mayoi of what made her special to begin with. And, whilst the actor does a competent job of bringing this fool to life, this foolish fool has too big of a role to be enjoyable for a 2 hour movie.

Other side characters fare better, with the Judge, Itonokogiri Keisuke (Detective Gumshoe) and Karuma Go (Prosectuor Von Karma) all being very strong and very accurate adaptions of their video game characters. Itonokogiri has a much lesser role in the movie compared to the games, but, considering the media, this does make sense and he does still have his moments. Karuma Go’s actor, Ishibashi Ryo actually puts in an impressive performance and it is his image that comes up in my head when I think about this movie. In particular, the scene in which he freaks out after something sinister comes to light, is classic and is brought to life in a way even better than I could have imagined.

I want to make clear that my problems here aren’t really with the acting. I found each actor extremely believable and was surprised at the quality of the acting, even Mayoi’s actress, and the high production values in general were a treat. My problem is the directorial choices regarding Mayoi and Yahari, and how this impacted me as a long term fan.

Gyakuten Saiban (2012) is a solid movie. For newcomers, it does a good job of introducing you to the bonkers Ace Attorney world. For old fans, there are snippets of fanservice there and for others, this may be enough. But for me, I was left a little disappointed. Not upset nor betrayed, just left wanting a little more. This movie is a good way to kill a few hours but it could have been just a little more.

I’m Benjamin Wagner and I endorse this message.

6.5/10- A good movie that just isn’t what I wanted it to be.

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