With five main games and four meaty spin-offs, the only thing surprising about Ace Attorney getting an anime is that it took this long to happen. Too bad it's not exactly the prettiest one out there. Episode one follows the first case of our hero Phoenix Wright as he defends his best friend, Larry, from a murder charge where he is the sole suspect. For the most part, it's beat for beat the same as the tutorial case in the first Ace Attorney game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
That said, there are numerous cuts. All the "tutorial" questions made to teach the player how to play the game are missing and our first introduction to Larry is in the courtroom instead of in the lobby. But these cuts do little more than streamline the story. The only large cut is that Payne, the prosecutor, no longer bluntly states that the victim slept around for her modelling career and just used Larry as one of many "sugar daddies".
Besides the cuts are several little additions to the story. More time is spent on establishing Larry's character, namely, his terrible personality. There are also many flashbacks to Phoenix's elementary school origin story, though not enough to tell the full story of what made him turn to a career in law. The episode is also bookended by cute little scenes of Phoenix riding his bicycle at the start of the episode and running back to the courthouse to get it at the end.
The other new elements in the anime serve to better flesh out the visual narrative. As there is no way to look at all the evidence at your pleasure as you would be able to in the game, important clues are highlighted visually. If a picture can be used as a clue instead of a document, it is. If not, things like dates and times pop visually out from the documents Phoenix has. This is a great technique that lets the viewer get a better handle on what is important to solve the mystery at hand.
The unfortunate downside to the anime is obvious at first glance. The animation quality is a step down from the majority of anime produced these days. There is often little in the way of movement by the characters, and despite this, the characters remain relatively undetailed. Characters at any kind of distance from the camera look even worse with faces that tend to look little like those of the characters close up. And the fact that the gallery of the courtroom is full of CG animated characters while the main characters are not is likewise blatantly obvious.
But, as bad as it often looks, the climax of the episode looks great — and is eminently gif-able — so at least there is that.
One thing I absolutely love about the anime so far is that it captures the over-the-top nature of the Ace Attorney world so well. Witnesses melt down, changing in both way of talking and physical appearance, and objections have a physical force, enough to even knock people over. And when a case is won, confetti literally drops down from above. It's ludicrously fantastic.
As an introduction to Ace Attorney, this is a pretty solid episode. The trimming down of the case and visual highlighting of the clues makes the mystery easy to follow and even give you the chance to solve the case before the characters do, which is a vital part of many mystery shows.
Now, if only it lived up to the visual quality of the promo anime for Ace Attorney 6.
Ace Attorney airs on NTV in Japan and can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.