Admittedly, one of the hard parts of picking out titles for this month was finding works that I was familiar enough with the game to judge fairly. Thankfully, that's not a problem with today's review. It's part of one of my favorite video game franchises, but can it stand proudly with the games that spawned it or is it guilty of adaptation failure?
PHOENIX WRIGHT: ACE ATTORNEY (Gyakuten Saiban), written by Kenji Kuroda & art by Kazuo Maekawa. First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2011.
Phoenix Wright is an up-and-coming defense attorney. With his assistant Maya Fey at his side, he's determined to bring justice to his clients, be it his perpetually unlucky in love pal Larry Butz or a wealthy family with a lot of secrets, a lot of spiders, and a potential murder.
It's trickier than you would think to write a good Ace Attorney story. Shu Takemi set a pretty high standard with the original trilogy of games, and coming up with stories that both fit in the canon and capture the game's particular style of humor and particular brand of plot twists is quite the feat. So I will give Kenji Kuroda the credit he deserves for pulling it off. There's only two stories in this first volume (well...technically one and a half) but they feel perfectly at home in the Ace Attorney universe. If anything, they might feel a little TOO close. I had to check more than once that these were in fact original stories and not adaptations of cases from the games that I had somehow forgotten. Maybe that was just because the first story hewed to the game formula so thoroughly. The second one fares much better, as it's more of an investigation that slowly shifts into a closed-room-style mystery. It's neat, if not a little silly at times, but that's normal for Phoenix Wright.
There's not much to say for what few regular cast members show up because the story relies on you already knowing them from the games. As such, very little time is spent on introductions and what little character shines through in them is mostly schtick. The original characters fare a little better out of sheer necessity, although none of them particularly stand out. I can live with that, though. The individual elements here aren't necessarily so remarkable, but they add up for a very satisfying whole that should please both fans and newcomers alike.
Maekawa's art doesn't stray much from the original games' designs save for the faces. This is most obvious on Phoenix and Maya. They've both been weirdly simplified that works well for big, goony reactions, but not so much for more neutral expressions. Otherwise, every other returning character looks fine. The new characters visually fit in fine, even if the less comically exaggerated ones tend to have the same face. The only other notable bit of visual flare is with Maekawa's use of screen effects. He's good at using just the right amount of screentone, speed lines, and other such effects to visually convey the drama of a confession or Phoenix's inevitable cry of "OBJECTION!" He obviously can't recreate things like the games' excellent and iconic music cues, so this is the next best thing.
Nothing but the usual translation notes and preview of the next volume. This was a common feature in the Del Ray days, so it's a little nostalgic to see it in a book made after Kodansha took over.
The Ace Attorney manga isn't an adaptation of the games, but instead a series of enjoyable side stories that fit reasonably well within that universe both in tone and in visuals that both fans and newcomers alike can enjoy.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available. All 5 have been published and are currently in print.