Title: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney
Author: Kenji Kuroda, with art by Kazuo Maekawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Volume: Volumes 1 and 2 (ongoing), $10.99 each
Vintage: 2007 by Kodansha Ltd., June 2011 and August 2011 by Kodansha Comics
Genre: Mystery, detective, video game, comedy
Phoenix Wright – everyone’s favorite lawyer who doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in those he is chosen to represent. Maya Fey – the cheerful younger sister of Phoenix’s late mentor, who works as his assistant and occasionally channels dead spirits. Miles Edgeworth – Phoenix’s former classmate and friend, now his rival, a prosecutor of the highest pedigree. The gangs all here, with some scattered appearances from Larry Butz, Dick Gumshoe, the Judge, and even Wendy Oldbag. This manga series is based on a popular series of lawyer simulation games from Japan, commonly referred to as the Ace Attorney series. In America, the series is comprised of three Phoenix Wright games, one Apollo Justice game, and one Miles Edgeworth game, all for the Nintendo DS system. In the games, you play as Phoenix Wright (or Apollo or Miles, depending on the game) as he investigates complex cases and defends his clients, trying to obtain a seemingly impossible Not Guilty verdict for each one. After the loss of his mentor, Mia Fey, early on, Phoenix teams up with Maya for the remainder of the series, and it is this duo we follow in the manga. The first case is “Turnabout With the Wind,” and has Phoenix defending the always in trouble Larry Butz. This time Larry has been accused of killing the ex-boyfriend of his current girlfriend, Belle. Winston Payne is the prosecutor, just as he is always the first prosecutor in the games. Larry has gotten himself in deep this time, but as always, things are not what they appear, and Phoenix must use all of his senses to uncover the sound of truth. Up next is “Turnabout Gallows,” which has Phoenix first called to defend a man, Robin Wolfe, accused of directly causing the suicide of one of his employees via mental trauma. While visiting his client, Phoenix is pulled into a new mystery when Robin himself turns up dead. The ashes of a secluded building, home to Robin’s reclusive brother, Bobby, who is shut away and kept out of sight in the building, which he kept filled with pet spiders from floor to ceiling, hold the clues to the true murderer. This case continues into volume 2, as Phoenix defends Bobby from the attacks by prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. Phoenix has to turn this complicated case literally upside down to beat Edgeworth’s cunning maneuvers. “Turnabout Showtime” wraps up the volume (and concludes itself). When Phoenix and Maya go to Sparkle Land theme park, they get far more than they paid for when a murder occurs before their very eyes during a mascot stage show. As the Sparkle Land actors perform, one of them drops dead right onstage. With a difficult to remove costume, a zipper that had been glued shut, and no evidence of an attack from outside the costume, the case becomes a “locked room” investigation, as the gang must figure out how the actor was killed from within his own costume. Phoenix has to turn everything around to elicit a confession from the true murderer.
The main problem for this series is that it won’t have a lot of appeal outside of fans of the game series. It’s not entertaining or engaging enough to attract readers who are new to the franchise. In fact, it’s hardly engaging enough for hard core fans. The manga is clearly trying to capture the feel of the video game, but since it’s not interactive, doesn’t come with a kick ass soundtrack, and, well, isn’t a video game, it loses a lot of what makes the franchise so beloved. It plods along and makes several attempts to entertain the reader, but it isn’t very successful. I would recommend the series most to Miles Edgeworth fans, because you can never have enough Edgeworth, and he has some delightful panels scattered throughout the volumes. What’s really missing here is the lack of an underlying mystery. Those who have played the games know that each version has had a mystery that ties many of the cases together, like the mystery of the Gramarye family in Apollo Justice, and the Hawthorne twins in Trials and Tribulations. There’s no evidence of anything like that in the manga, which makes it just a simple series of unconnected cases (so far, at least; there’s only been three cases across these two volumes). The cases themselves are fine, characterized by the regular absurdity of circumstances found in the games, but missing the tension and excitement felt while playing the games. The art is decent; there are some inconsistencies, but it’s close to the look of the games, and you can’t ask for much more than that. For people looking for a good mystery series to get into…well, you may want to look at Case Closed instead, where the cases are better formed. This series is filled with some rather silly fare, and many inside jokes that only those who have played the games would catch. However, for fans of the games, I would really recommend the Case Files manga that were published by Del Rey. It’s a two-volume collection of doujin (fan or amateur comics) put together by a large group of artists who are fans of the games, and while it’s very hit or miss, it’s also pretty entertaining and provides a good deal of service for long time fans. This series is largely a disappointment. It does cater to fans here and there, which is great, but even as a huge fan of the game series, I found myself growing bored reading the manga. I don’t really see it getting enormously better, but I’m willing to give it one more volume to make me love it.