Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Official Casebook: Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files

The Phoenix Wright Files: Vol 1
The Phoenix Wright Files: Vol 1 Cover
Author Various
Publisher Del Rey Books
Length 300 pages
Buy from Amazon

Many video game series get their own novelizations now, they range from mindless junk to interesting filler in between games, but for the devoted fan of a series they can be a nice escape to revisit their favorite world. With the influx of manga reaching our shores, we've also received a small sampling of the popular Japanese style comic. I always like to think that the more content the better, at least that indicates that someone who makes decisions cares, or at least thinks they can make more money on the franchise.

Enter the Ace Attorney series, probably more well known as the Phoenix Wright vehicle, though he's become less and less the focus as the games tumble by. I've played all five games in the series, but North America received the great Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective last month instead of the newest Miles Edgeworth game which was released February 3rd in Japan. It may be until later this year until we see that localized.

But we do have official Phoenix Wright manga to tide us over until then! I received Official Casebook Vol. 1 for Christmas and read it over the past week or so. While thicker than most mangas, it is still a quick read. Here's my short review of The Phoenix Wright Files.

For the observant reader, it might be readily obvious that this isn't your normal video game adapted manga. There's no author or artist listed on the cover, and the artwork is just the Trials and Tribulations game cover ripped off. A quick look inside the table of contents reveals that this is actually a collection of apparently celebrity artists that are fans of the game providing 20 page short stories. This might be an official book endorsed by Capcom, but they had little to do with it besides lending a bunch of people the Phoenix Wright IP.

This was a bit jarring to me as I started reading (I skipped the table of contents as to not spoil myself on any chapter titles) as the manga style changed very early on. I was actually a bit happy at first as the first artist, Tamako Yamauchi's style was just so excessively big eyed the characters just vaguely resembled their digital counterparts (though it was a nice story about Phoenix's childhood). As the art switched to Kei Nisemura's piece and Phoenix looked like Goku from Dragon Ball Z, I checked out the contents to see what was up.

Now, it's not the end of the world to involve 23 different artists to present their portrayal of Phoenix, Maya, Edgeworth, and the gang, but it would have been much better to have a real story penned by someone at Capcom. Since the stories are so short, most of the artists wrote about totally bizarre things unrelated to the games' stories like (two!) tales about Maya wanting to keep a cat at the law office, eating contests, and Phoenix getting a makeover to look like the Steel Samurai. There's also a rather large number of chapters featuring Maya or Pearl channeling the enormously busty attorney, Mia (not that I'm complaining here).

Phoenix Wright Files ace Attorney Casebook 1 Japanese CoverIt at least appears though that the artists are familiar with the games and did their homework. Tons of characters are in the comics including Phoenix Wright, Mia, Maya, Pearl, Miles Edgeworth, Franziska Von Karma, Dick Gumshoe, Larry Butz, Wendy Oldbag, Godot, and the Judge. The settings seem less familiar, with a lot less time spent in the courtroom (with almost zero finger pointing and yelling that is so proudly on display in the games) and more in wacky situations that could be anywhere.

The Japanese to English translation also holds many of the chapters back from becoming interesting. There are entire stories centering around some obscure piece of Japanese culture that if this were an Ace Attorney video game, would have been localized into something that not only makes sense, but is clever. Some of the chapters have four-panel comics separating them and these truly did not register with me at all. I can only believe there were some funny kanji puns or something that executed a punchline, but most of the time it just read like a straight translation with zero payoff.

The wide range of stories does keep the pace of the book at a very high pace. One could easily plow through this 300 page manga in one or two sittings, but it's just totally forgettable at the end. Very few stories stand out in terms of action or plotting, and even fewer have any right of being within 100 feet of the Ace Attorney canon. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Official Casebook: Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files (phew) is for fans of the series only, but don't bother if you want any kind of character development let alone a story that resembles our beloved games at all.

Authors: Tamako Yamauchi, Kei Nisemura, Seventh Gear, Wataru Yamasaki, Tsubaki Mikage, Kaname Uchimura, Naruzo, Yuya Kurogami, Natsu Otono, Kaoru Osada, DAIGO, Masao Aona, Yorozu, Tamako Yamauchi, Tomo, Kikuchiyo Anko, Watru Yamasaki, Tsukapon, Rin Hashiba, Shinosuke, Kikuchiyo Anko, Aira Kano, and Kiyono Shimanda

Translation: Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Lettered by: H. Jones