Back in 2008, when I was a fledgling Ace Attorney fan, the prospect of an anime adaptation was a dream of mine. It wasn’t just me, either—the fanbase has been clamouring for a legitimate adaptation of the wacky adventure series, and Takashi Miike’s frankly awful movie definitely wasn’t it. 15 years after the first release, we’ve finally got our adaptation, which just wrapped up its TV run in Japan. But was it everything we wanted?
Well, let’s just say I have a few objections.
For the unfamiliar, Ace Attorney follows defense attorney Phoenix Wright and his spirit medium partner Maya Fey. Together, they get mixed up in some truly absurd crimes, and find themselves having to defend eccentric clients against overwhelming odds. Cross-examining clowns, debunking a would-be Loch Ness Monster, investigating a tokusatsu show—all in a day’s work for this intrepid duo, along with Maya’s tiny cousin, Pearl. Along the way, they clash with pedigreed prosecutors Miles Edgeworth and Franziska von Karma.
Ace Attorney serves as a more or less straight adaptation of the first two games. While series creator Shu Takumi acting as a supervisor prevents things from going too off the rails, there’s a large problem with trying to adapt both titles in 26 episodes. See, these are long games, and always have been. Each case takes several hours, and all of them are tied together by clever, tight writing, coupled with a methodical pace that builds up to a fever pitch at the crescendo. What makes them work is that players have to work for each twist and revelation, slowly amassing evidence before it all combines to paint a complete picture.
There’s probably a good way to adapt this to a non-interactive medium, but much like Miike’s film, this really isn’t it. While Ace Attorney fares a good deal better than that offensively dull take on the series, it still suffers from the same problem. Much like any video game adaptation, this anime is missing that crucial element of interactivity. Without it, we’re simply watching Phoenix and Maya stumbling upon pieces of evidence, often by pure happenstance, and jumping straight into a case. It rarely feels earned, and with only three to four episodes to adapt certain cases, it often feels rushed and lacks the dynamic pace that defines the franchise.
However, in spite of this, Ace Attorney does manage to be worth watching for franchise fans. Because Takumi is overseeing the series, new bits of canon get added that expand upon characters in some pretty meaningful ways. On top of that, some cases get legitimately good adaptations, such as the infamous DL-6 Incident, and there are some pretty top-notch visual gags. The score, which is basically just music from the game, doesn’t hurt either, nor does the pitch-perfect cast.
That said, even franchise diehards like myself would be hard-pressed to defend this show’s biggest weak point: the animation. As somebody who’s been watching anime for pretty much his whole life, I can firmly assert that Ace Attorney has some of the most egregiously awful animation I’ve seen put on television. The second half of the series definitely improves upon this, and some episodes look better than others, but as a whole the show looks like absolute garbage. Characters change size, and sometimes have mysterious extra fingers. Most offensive to me is that its clear multiple teams were working on the show, because it randomly changes art styles at varying intervals. This jarring shift can even occur multiple times in the same scene, causing the whole package to lack a stylistic cohesion. Somehow, I almost prefer the 2D sprites and new 3D renders to this.
To be honest, I don’t hate Ace Attorney. As somebody who adores these games, I really did manage to find things I loved about it, and if they make more I’ll definitely be watching. Yet if I take me being a fan out of the equation, I must admit that it’s not a particularly great anime. Far from the worst out there, sure, and I wouldn’t say it’s even close. I’ll take this over Schoolgirls Start A Club and Act Like Children any day of the week. Even so, I have to say that this is a show for fans of the game, and most other people won’t find much to love here.