While some video game film adaptations are great this one needed to take a few steps back from its source material.
Ace Attorney (逆転裁判 Gyakuten Saiban, “Turnabout Trial”) is the story of defense attorney Pheonix Wright’s journey from being an apprentice to becoming a master of the courtroom. Overcoming challenges few, if any, attorneys would face in the courtroom, Pheonix stutters on the stand and his usual clients are charged with small misdemeanors. If this was Major League Baseball, Pheonix would be a backbencher sitting in the dugout, but like all rookies his time to shine finally appears.
Pheonix is thrown for a loop when Mia Fey, his boss and mentor, is mysteriously killed while investigating a case. What’s worse is that the accused killer looks to him for help and if things weren’t complicated enough, the main suspect is Mia’s sister, Maya, who came to visit her in the big city. A certain trial called the “DL-6 Case” is suddenly reopened and it seems to be the true culprit in her death. In this new world where crime is so rampant a new, streamlined system of justice had to be create, will Pheonix be able to exonerate Maya and find out the mystery of “DL-6”?
Through its twists and turns, Ace Attorney is a story with intrigue and mystery, comical characters and interesting settings, and an adaptation with some amazing nods to the Capcom video game it is based on, but does it take things a little too far. Players of the video game might be familiar with the story written in the paragraph above because it’s the same – almost – as the video game. If you check out the trailer of the film you can see how closely it ties into the games:
When legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike took the helm on the project, fans were on Edge-worth (sorry for the puns) about how he would treat the adaptation of the video game. Would it be a live action film true to every pixel of Capcom’s courtroom masterpiece? Or would it be a melodramatic rethinking of the franchise? Either way, fans were excited to see the characters coming to the big screen, but I don’t think many would have suspected he would stick so closely to the video game’s vision.
Miike is known for his over-the-top film making directing movies like Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer, and Gozu. His visual style – minus his usual preference for extreme violence – and direction are all present in the film, but due to it being a strict adaptation of Capcom’s courtroom creation his flair is limited. The usual silliness of the game – with characters acting deranged on the stand – feels out of place in this live action setting. This is a case of too much being taken from the game at face value without a lot of thought going into creating something unique for the real world.
For children of the 90’s you might remember the film adaptation of the Super Mario Bros. that was released in 1993. To say the least, it was awful, but viewers have to admit it did something different compared to its source material. It’s total rejection of the Mario Bros. is what made it memorable, and also kind of creepy. It was similar enough to be considered part of the franchise, but different enough to exist on its own without infringing on the strictly video game aspects of the series.
Takashi Miike’s Ace Attorney does the exact opposite of most video game adaptations and sticks closely to its source material, but it’s done to a fault. Imagine a character from a popular anime or manga like Naruto, Luffy, or Goku. Manga characters act and gesticulate in ways that enable the writer to illustrate their moods, feelings, and actions. For instance, if Goku said something obviously stupid the rest of the cast might fall over. It’s a manga thing, but Ace Attorney incorporates these tropes heavily.
While most viewers or fans of the video game series might enjoy this nod to the source material in the actual film it comes off as wacky. Imagine having a manga or anime character as a best friend. It would get a little frustrating after a while if he or she was constantly falling over, yelling, running around, and being dramatic caricature. While Ace Attorney keeps remains stoically entrenched in the source material, a step back would have prevented alienating those who aren’t fans of the series.
The film focuses heavily on the mystery of the “DL-6” case and that prevents the film from totally alienating the audience who might be unfamiliar with the game series. It keeps you on your toes and as someone who hasn’t played the games in year, I found myself enjoying trying to unravel the mystery of the case while watching Pheonix rising to fame.
Overall, Takashi Miike’s adaptation of Ace Attorney is enjoyable. With characters like Pheonix Wright, Mia and Maya Fey, and a whole cast of supporting personalities, the film does an amazing job of incorporating the favourite traits and tropes of the series. Some might say that the mark of a good video game adaptation is its adherence to the source material. Other might say, the mark of good video game adaptation is incorporating the real world into the game.
It’s an Objection! that would have made the film a lot more appealing to viewers video gamers or not.