Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is quite a powerhouse franchise in Japan. There have been no less than six games (selling millions of copies in Japan alone) and even a feature film. But back in 2009, Capcom and the Takarazuka Revue took the series into another medium with a musical based on this game series.
The show ran for one month to sold-out crowds. At the time it was nearly impossible to get a ticket (believe me, I tried) but luckily, like all Takarazuka Revue musicals, there is a DVD available at their store that captures the whole production — a DVD which we at Kotaku East have just acquired. So let’s take a look at Phoenix Wright: Truth Resurrected, a musical that is not only based on a beloved game, but actually improves upon it.
To those familiar with the games, Truth Resurrected follows the basic plot of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney‘s final chapter “Rise From the Ashes”, but with a few details changed. On the eve of the presidential election, a New York senator is murdered. The suspect in the case is Leona Clyde, the legal aide to the governor of New York — and Phoenix’s former lover. Moreover, she has already confessed to the crime, but Phoenix does not believe the love of his life could ever have committed murder. So despite their relationship having ended abruptly and with no explanation years before, Phoenix sets off to become her lawyer, whether she wants him or not.
In the original story, Leona (there called Lana Skye) has no personal connection with Phoenix. By making her Phoenix’s ex (and lost love), instead of a never-before-mentioned DA, the story gains a powerful emotional element. Moreover, his personal stake in the case makes her cold and unfeeling demeanor toward him and the case in general all the more poignant — especially after the several flashback scenes showing them happy and in love.
The romantic subplot is not the only difference in the story, however, and many small changes can be found throughout. Phoenix owns his own law firm and Maya is his assistant, but neither Mia nor her murder is ever mentioned. Edgeworth and Phoenix have never faced each other in court before, which means everything involving the death of Edgeworth’s father is remains unresolved. However, while the changes are obvious to fans of the series, they affect the overall narrative very little and serve to streamline the story for newcomers to the series.
Before talking about the how the characters are presented or the musical score itself, it’s important to acknowledge the elephant in the room: The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female acting troupe. While this is no doubt what the troupe is best known for, the beauty of their talent is that it’s hardly noticeable. For example, from the moment Tomu Ranju’s Phoenix walks on stage, “he” is in every way a man, from the pitch of his voice down to the very way in which he carries himself. This gender transformation is especially telling in the chorus members. Many of them have no lines at all, but costumes aside, it’s quite easy to tell which are male characters and which are female just by the way in which they move.
Of course, imitating masculine traits is only the beginning. In Truth Resurrected, the actors perform their characters’ gestures perfectly as well. This means the musical is full of desk pounding, paper tapping and most importantly, loud, pointing objections. And with the costumes being taken straight out of the game, they truly are the mirror image of their in-game sprites.
The personalities of the characters in Truth Resurrected are much closer to that of the game than this year’s feature film. Gumshoe is goofy and borderline incompetent, Maya is one with her inner child, Lotta is a loudmouthed handful and the Judge is constantly confused.
If anything, Edgeworth is played with far more subtlety in this musical than in the games or movie. While cold towards Phoenix in the courtroom, his actions prove he is not as stoic as he pretends to be. He cares enough about his childhood friend to visit him when the case is going badly and asks Phoenix if he’s just taken this case to win back Leona. When Phoenix denies it and refuses to give up on the case, Edgeworth gives Phoenix free reign in the police evidence room just to let his friend follow up on his current lead — even though Edgeworth himself believes it’s nothing but a waste of time.
The biggest change from game to musical, however, is Phoenix. In Truth Resurrected he is portrayed as calm and intelligent, but also incredibly passionate. Any kind of bumbling in his personality is absent. He is the straight man to Maya, Lotta, Gumshoe, the Judge and Larry — just about everyone except Edgeworth.
Phoenix’s character here is built around the idea that people don’t change. If there’s good inside you, you’ll always be good; it’s the reason why he is able to believe in both his clients and friends. This is all the more telling when contrasted with Edgeworth — the embodiment of the idea that anyone is capable of anything, so it’s better to rely on yourself. All their interactions are a clash of these two ideals — though Edgeworth is able to concede a bit by the end. While he is not willing to trust people in general, he is willing to put his faith in Phoenix.
Now it’s time to address the second elephant in the room: the fact that this is a musical. First off, Truth Resurrected is not an opera, so the majority of the show is spoken, not sung. The musical numbers in Truth Resurrected are largely reserved for character development pieces (eg Edgeworth’s “One Rule”) or love ballads (eg Leona and Phoenix’s flashbacks). While these songs are not ripped directly from the games’ soundtracks, they often share a core musical theme with a song from the game. As for the quality of the vocal pieces, all of them get the job done, but only the opening song (and subsequent reprise) is all that memorable. Five days after watching the musical, I am still humming it. The background music, on the other hand, is taken wholesale from the games and has been updated into fully orchestrated scores that really let you know this is Ace Attorney.
When taken all together, the music, acting, and visual design fuse together to create an adaptation that is very true to the spirit of its video game predecessor. It just looks and feels like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Best of all, the changes in this adaptation were all for the better. Its hard New York setting and impending presidential election make for an excellent, high-stakes backdrop; and Leona and Phoenix’s tragic love story makes for a much more personal tale than its video game counterpart could hope to achieve. If you have the means, Phoenix Wright: Truth Resurrected is a must watch for any fan of Ace Attorney as well as a great starting point for anyone who has yet to be introduced to the series. And if you are intrigued by the Takarazuka Revue, check out its history (in English) at their official website.