Retro Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Volumes 1-5)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a much loved video game series developed by Capcom. Likely because of the game’s massive popularity, the official manga was also brought stateside. The manga is also given the title of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney but provides the famous defense attorney with a slew of brand new cases to solve, instead of just retreading events from the games. But does it stack up to the hilarious and ingenious trappings the series is so well known for?

Content

As it turns out, the manga is almost as fun as the games and definitely a faithful interpretation of the license. A multitude of cases spill over five volumes and each is complex, creative, and sometimes humorous. Just like the games from which it is based, cases start out ever so slightly simple but quickly ratchet up their level of weirdness.

Cases never feel rushed, although they obviously feel quicker than the game. This is likely due to the fact that the games rely heavily on player input and deduction. In the manga, you simply have the characters fretting over things until they spontaneously discern the truth. That’s the only way the story can be handled here, but reading it does make you want to pick up one of the games promptly afterwards.

Despite this fact, the manga still manages to ring true to its game-based origins. At times, you even see aspects of the game mentioned in it, such as the “Psyche-Lock” feature from Justice for All. The court proceedings are also broken up into chunks for examination just as the games play out. Overall, existing fans will probably get the most out of the manga volumes, although a few might be turned onto the games through them.

Characters

The Phoenix Wright series is known for its fantastically quirky characters. If the manga adaptation was unable to capture these emotive personalities then it would be an utter failure. Thankfully, the cast of Phoenix Wright, Maya Fey, Dick Gumshoe, Miles Edgeworth, and everyone else sounds just the way they should. Each has the bombastic personality fans expect.

Phoenix and Maya prove the perfect leads due to their goofy nature. The two may be working together but come across as great friends. Despite inadvertently becoming entangled in murder after murder, they’re still able to focus on the simpler things in life such as ramen, cute cats, and wind chimes. It’s likely those that have never experienced the Ace Attorney world before will be really drawn in by such likable characters. Of course, the rest of the cast is interesting as well.

Fans of the games will absolutely adore the manga due to how many characters it brings in from the series. You’ve got the obvious names but also characters such as Franziska Von Karma, Wendy Oldbag, and even Winston Payne playing a part in these new stories. It’s not a completely recycled cast though as some new faces also appear to get mixed up in crimes.

Adaptation

Adapting a manga from Japanese to English is always a difficult task, but this series is more so thanks to an existing property which has many diehard fans. Even though these volumes were published by Kodansha Comics in the West, they still bear the stamp of Capcom’s supervision. Any fan reading these will likely feel that it could have practically been the game editor who handled it!

Translators Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley deserve some serious credit for being able to remain so true to the games. They did their best to get each character’s style down and they did so stunningly. The same is true for the jokes, which are goofy as can be. It isn’t a perfect copy of the game scripts, but is still pretty close.

One of the most recognizable aspects of humor in the Ace Attorney games is that each character has an interesting, and usually pun-filled, name. This is one aspect where the translation and localization didn’t seem to hold up. At the end of each volume there are notes on why names were chosen and what they initially were. As fun as it was to read these bits it didn’t change the fact that the names just were not as ridiculous. Still, that’s one small gripe overall.

Visuals

Another big part of getting the world of Phoenix Wright down is having the characters look accurate to their gaming counterparts. Artist Kazuo Maekawa definitely pulled this off. From the moment you first see Wright’s spiky hairdo rendered with perfect form you know that the rest of the characters will look right as well.

Just as with the games, characters also all look very distinct. They’re not cast of characters you’d see in any other series. Distinctive hairdos aside, each also has their own specific style of dress to help them stand out further. Of course, the murders are also drawn quite well. In comparison to the usual pleasant nature of everything else it can even come across as quite jarring to see a bloodied corpse on the next page.

Closing Comments:

Reading Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney may not be the ideal way to get your Ace Attorney fix, but it’s pretty close. There also haven’t been any new games in the series available in North America for a while. If you need something to read while waiting for Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney then this five volume manga is certainly worth a look. Previous non-fans might also find the manga serves as a great introduction to the games!

Publisher: Kodansha Comics