Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Official Casebook Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files (Del Rey)

phoenixwright-header.jpgCAPCOM’s famed video game attorney reaches the comic book page in this new anthology.




304 pgs B&W;  $14.95 (paperback)

(W / A: Various)


Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a video game in which the player takes the role of Phoenix Wright, an inexperienced but phenomenonally lucky defense attorney. It was released in Japan and the U.S. in 2005 and has proven popular enough to spawn a volume of Phoenix Wright manga written by fans. Since Official Casebook Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files is published by Del Rey, it doesn’t fit the self-publication requirement of doujinshi (works created and published by fans of commercial series), but the term does reflect the spirit of Official Casebook Vol. 1, a collection of short-story manga and four-panel strips written by 24 fans of the Phoenix Wright video game.

Click for a larger image.A huge attraction of an anthology like this is the chance to see how different fans interpret characters whose basic appearance has already been established, and how they choose to put a story together. Bearing in mind that some if not all of these folks are amateurs, they do pretty well on the whole, and use a nice variety of styles so there’s something to appeal to almost any taste. I tend to prefer art with a lot of detail and shading, so Yorozu’s "Turnabout? Food Fight" is one of my favorites. If you like large frames and expressive backgrounds, you may prefer "Turnabout Illusions" by Seventh Gear, and if you pine for airplanes and explosions bursting the frame, check out "Spirit Medium or Bust" by Kaoru Osada.

I’m not familiar with the video game, so the characters in the Phoenix Wright saga were new to me. It’s not hard to catch on to who’s who within a few stories, however, because the characters all fit within well-known types, and they’re pretty much static over the course of the volume.

From the promotional materials and descriptions of the game, I was expecting "Encyclopedia Brown" type stories, where the reader is supposed to figure out the key bit of information which solves the case. The sort of thing where the person posing as a farmer blows his cover after he mentions mating two mules (key information: mules are sterile), or someone claims to have made a cell phone call from a Times Square NYC subway (key information: cell phones don’t work on the underground portion of the subway). Kei Nisamura’s "Turnabout Inference" is in this mold, but many of the stories are more about presenting some background information about a character (why Phoenix became an attorney) or just using the characters in slice-of-life stories (high jinks involving the office kitten, a noodle-eating contest in the heat of summer).

There are several meta-type stories which are fun: these are the equivalent of breaking the fourth wall in theatre, where the characters reveal their awareness that they are characters in a comic strip. In one, Phoenix is berated by the other characters for not being sufficiently distinguished to be the lead in a comic. In another, Maya explains that she has to favor miso and noodles for the sake of her Japanese fans, although she really prefers burgers.

This collection may have more appeal to fans of the video game, and it’s an interesting example of fan art, but for the average reader of manga it’s not that appealing. The extras are kind of thin as well. On the plus side, I enjoyed the artist’s "signatures" in the back of the volume, in which each draws a frame and makes a personal statement directly to the reader.  On the minus side, there are only four pages of explanatory notes (10 notes total): I would have preferred more since learning about Japanese culture is one of the reasons I read manga in the first place.

Official Casebook Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files is rated T, for ages 13+. | Sarah Boslaugh


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