“It doesn’t matter who, every person deserves a proper defense and a fair trial. Isn’t that the basis of our judicial system?”
Let me preface this review by saying this: Ace Attorney is one of my most beloved video game franchises of all-time. It’s got a wide array of interesting and complex cases, deep and compelling narrative, and instantly memorable characters. So, when I heard the franchise was going to receive an anime adaptation in 2016, I was overwhelmingly excited and was already declaring it to be a potential Anime of the Year. To say my expectations were a bit…high would be the understatement of the century. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, I cannot say it lived up to my expectations, as what we received was a rushed adaptation that is a shadow of what makes its source material so great.
The story of Gyakuten Saiban follows the stories of the first two games in the franchise, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney and PWAA: Justice for All. We follow a young defense attorney named Phoenix Wright, or Ryuuichi Naruhodou in the Japanese versions, as he undertakes his first trials and learns what it means to be a defense attorney. Along the way, he meets a cast of colorful characters with deep backstories that are explored as he goes. The overarching story of the first game follows an incident set 15 years before the game called DL-6, an incident in which prosecutor Miles Edgeworth’s, a childhood friend of Phoenix, father was killed. The second game takes more of a look at what it means to be an attorney and to fight for the truth. While I personally feel they’re two of the weaker games in the franchise, they’re still fantastic in their own right and have a lot to tell.
The anime adaptation…well, it’s just that, an adaptation. The story follows very closely to the games, but several things are changed from the game. The progression of cases is altered, some characters’ roles within the cases are drastically altered or even cut entirely, and several developments within the case feel forced and don’t have a natural flow to them. Some important pieces of evidence are cut or changed in several cases and it overall makes for a much weaker experience. I could go much more in-depth about the topic and how the removed elements alter the story, but that’s another topic for another day.
While there is a very wide cast of characters within the Ace Attorney franchise, there are two characters in particular who remain relevant throughout every game: Phoenix Wright, his childhood friend and rival prosecutor Miles Edgeworth
Phoenix begins the series as a rookie without much knowledge of how trials work and still very inexperienced in law, but he grows throughout the series and becomes more confident in himself, earning a reputation amongst the court system as someone who can turn the darkest situation into a win for his side, which leads to the “Turnabout” moniker used in each case title.
Miles Edgeworth, or Reiji Mitsurugi, is a widely-renowned and feared prosecutor, known for doing whatever it takes to get a win. Rumors abound of his side forging evidence and pressuring witnesses not to testify on crucial matters, which earned himself the nickname of “Demon Prosecutor”. As the story progresses, you learn Edgeworth had originally wanted to become a defense attorney, but the death of his father and the handling of the case had made him want to become a prosecutor. Scarred by the memory of his father’s death, he seeks to put down criminals and teach them his brand of justice.
As I’ve stated before, Ace Attorney has a wide cast of side characters that are each colorful and eclectic in their own way. While I do feel the story’s adaptation was a bit rushed, the characters were done a bit better, though there were still problems with their portrayal. Each character managed to maintain the core parts of their personality and were entertaining in their own right. However, some characters were, for a lack of better terms, neutered in their role within the anime and some were outright removed, which was a real shame as the removed characters still brought a unique element to the games.
Animation and Sound
The animation was…alright, for the most part. Gyakuten Saiban was animated by A-1 Pictures, a studio that has gained a reputation for their “quality” animation in the past, and they were unable to escape the reputation here. While the show as a whole looked okay, save for some particular offenders such as the end of the final episode, it lacked a lot of the flash and flair of the game series. Many of the character’s expressions and actions were mimicked from the game’s animations, and yet they didn’t feel like they carried the same level of emotion as their game counterpart.
The soundtrack was, much like the animation, alright. It wasn’t bad and it definitely did have some quality tracks, like the main theme to the show’s triumphant undeniably Ace Attorney feel. Several tracks within the show were orchestral re-arranges of popular tracks within the game, such as the first Objection theme in this scene and the Cornered theme featured here, but these were few and far between. The games have such memorable OSTs with some amazing tracks and it was a shame to only hear a handful of them adapted within the anime. The sound direction was alright, but there were several instances of tracks being used at times that didn’t really feel right (such as the DL6 re-arrange being used within the Turnabout Big Top case, a case which has no connection to DL6). The show featured two OPs and two EDs and out of the four, the only one that really stood out to me was Jinsei wa Subarashii, the OP for the second half of the show. It’s the only theme from the season that really felt like it captured the triumphant feel of the Ace Attorney games and was actually one of the better OPs from the past season.
This is my biggest point of contention with Gyakuten Saiban as an anime. As stated before, I adore the Ace Attorney franchise and it’s one of my all-time favorites. Naturally, I am inclined to say I did enjoy the anime. I loved seeing some of my favorite characters brought to life through a medium I adore, and I had this unexplainable excitement for each new episode, despite my critical feelings about the show. However, there was also the part of me that didn’t enjoy the show, the part of me that kept noticing changes and removals from the game. My position as a fan of the source material weighed heavily on my enjoyment of the show and I could never feel like I was really truly enjoying the show.
Gyakuten Saiban: Sono Shinjitsu “Igi Ari” is a glaring case of missed potential. With one of my favorite franchises in video games and the many positives I’ve previously stated about the franchise, it had potential to be a fantastic anime and it could have been in the running for my Anime of the Year. Sadly, a bevy of odd direction choices, removed characters and scenes, and an overall weaker final product just left me wanting to re-play the games. It was an experience I definitely don’t regret, but if it’s between re-watching the anime or re-playing the games, I would easily choose the latter.
Story: 6/10, It’s the story of the first two games with missing scenes, characters, and rushed execution
Characters: 7/10, it’s still Ace Attorney at its heart and it comes with a cast of lovable and memorable character, albeit watered down from their game counterparts.
Animation: 5/10, average across the board without any real flashy moments and some noticeable drops in quality at some points.
Sound: 7/10, it was alright but didn’t really capture the mood or feel of Ace Attorney, needed more re-arranges of game tracks or stronger original tracks.
Enjoyment: 8/10, I definitely did enjoy Gyakuten Saiban despite its flaws, which were many, but it just left me wanting more than I got from it.
Taku Recommends: Play the games. If you’ve beaten the games, re-play them and maybe watch Episode 13, which is anime-original.