Author: Kenji Kuroda
Manga-ka: Kazuo Maekawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: May 2011
Synopsis: “Mystery and intrigue, crime and punishment, uncovering the truth—all in a day’s work for the ace defense attorney Phoenix Wright and his beautiful assistant Maya Fey. Based on the hit game series, Ace Attorney brings new adventures to the games’ colorful cast. Can Nick successfully swing the gavel of justice or will he be crushed by the weight of incriminating evidence?”
Finding manga based on a pre-established work that can cater well to newcomers and existing fans alike is not an easy feat. It’s no surprise really – (in this case) the games already exist to cultivate fans after all; other mediums are more a way to feed said-fans more of what they want and make some money while doing it. All the same, this Phoenix Wright manga does a great job easing in new readers. It helps a lot that it doesn’t throw in every big-name character in the first go. The fact that the majority of the characters here in the first volume are entirely forgettable, despite being mainstay personalities, actually works a lot in its favour too.
At the start of the book there are some short little bios for each character giving readers a quick brush-up on the who’s-who. Once you start reading, however, you realize you don’t really need it. The two main characters are Phoenix Wright, an up-and-coming defense lawyer, (who to my surprise has the nickname, Nick?) and his assistant Maya Fey. Other characters include a bumbling friend who gets himself arrested, a balding prosecutor, an easily swayed judge and a detective who apparently sucks at his job. That’s about them in a nutshell, descriptions evident from the first moment you see them on page.
I was surprised how this manga didn’t come off especially quirk-heavy. Phoenix Wright does his trademarked OBJECTION! when he deduces something clever during a trial but it’s the only really stand-out thing from the source material. Phoenix Wright himself is a pretty average guy, there’s nothing really exceptional or even that interesting about him aside from a penchant for pointing. Maya Fey errs on the side of annoying right now with little role past always wanting food and touching things she probably shouldn’t with never-ending cheeriness.
What the story ended up being more about was the mysteries at hand – go figure! I honestly expected something more about characters-doing-amusing-things and less story-centric, despite the ‘plot’ of the games. This first volume has two different murder cases that need to be solved. The first involves a man found stabbed in a sauna and the other a man literally scared to death by spiders. With a limited cast of characters, the culprit of the first story was obvious from the get-go but it was still fun watching the characters talk and flashback their way through to the answer. Journey over destination – suspense was low but entertainment-value was decent. The deductions were a little far-fetched yet they tied up all the loose ends, which is always nice in an episodic mystery collection.
Kondansha Comics did a nice no-frills release with solid adaptation and lettering, so I had no qualm there, but the artwork left something to be desired. It’s clean and consistent but also stiff and rather lifeless. Phoenix Wright looks like he’s posing for a character bio half the time and not in any especially eye-catching pose either (just smile like you know what’s going on!). There are some pretty amusing character designs at least, ranging from weird hair-dos to people drawn with just really odd proportions – granted it’s the kind of amusing that may not be intentional, mind you.
When I bought this first volume of Phoenix Wright, I did so wanting a ‘canon’ look at the characters and story after years of inadvertently finding myself surrounded by the fandom. I went in assuming I’d miss a lot of in-jokes and skim past scenes that would only make sense to those who played the games. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that while not an especially riveting read, the Ace Attorney still put on a pretty fun show that I not only followed without any problem but look forward to visiting again in volume two.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures