Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's Show Time!

"The show must go on" 

Yep, another review of a mystery story performed on the stage!

Defense attorney Naruhodou Ryuuichi and his assistant Mayoi managed to get tickets for a stage play of Mayoi’s favorite superhero show: Tonosaman. But during the climax of the show, a giant paper lantern prop comes crashing down, severely injuring the actor Dan Yuuya, who played the antagonist in the play, the Crow Tengu. It is suspected that the actor who played Tonosaman, Niboshi Saburou, engineered this ‘accident’ on purpose. He was the one who was supposed to give the cue to the stage hand to lower the lantern,  and the cops think he gave the cue when Dan was standing beneath the lantern on purpose in an attempt to kill him. Naruhodou and Mayoi, who have saved Niboshi once before in a trial, want to save him again and start investigating the theater and the actors in the 2014 stage play Gyakuten Saiban – Gyakuten no Spotlight (“Turnabout Trial - Turnabout Spotlight”).

I have seriously reviewed almost all forms of the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) franchise on this blog now. From the original games, from the manga and the film to the novel, from the musicals to the ‘normal’ stage play now. I’d have done the drama CDs and the anime too if they weren’t that errr, not interesting.

But anyway, this time a stage play of the successful videogame series about a defense attorney solving crimes in court. I have discussed the musicals by the Takarazuka Revue before, but Gyakuten no Spotlight is a ‘normal’ theater play, which is pretty interesting. The film, even if it also features actors, is obviously very different from these productions which are performed in real-time in front of an audience, but Gyakuten no Spotlight is also quite different from the Takarazuka Revue musicals, because this stage play is done in a much smaller theater, and the actors are all much closer to the audience. You can really see the actors react to the audience and vice-versa, which is not much the case with the Takarazuka Revue musicals, which are set in a surreal world on its own. In fact, Gyakuten no Spotlight has a pretty funny opening, where Naruhodou and Mayoi sit down together with the real audience, because they too are there to watch the Tonosaman stage play. It gives this mystery play a very homely feel, which something you seldom experience with mystery fiction.

Gyakuten no Spotlight is a completely original story, even if it shares some parallels with stories from the games. It’s a fairly meta-conscious mystery story, as it’s a stage play about an attempted murder that happened during a stage play, and this is done very well: they explain a lot about how things go backstage and how a play like that is performed and all of that also is strongly connected to the actual mystery plot and the gimmicks which were used to pull the attempt of. Overall, it’s a fairly simple mystery story if you look closely at the details and the way the hints are spread out isn’t particularly inspiring, but it certainly gets the thing done. The ‘problem’ is of course that this is a real-time play. In the games they can present a piece of evidence early on, allow you look at it for four hours, and just about the time you have forgotten about it, you get to use it. This doesn’t work in a stage play and so it asks for a different type of laying hints around, but there were times here where the hints were just presented in a clumsily way (like one minute before they used it), or were just too simply.

Like in the games, the play is roughly decided in two phases (times two): one phase where Naruhodou and Mayoi investigate in the theater looking for clues, while the climaxes are to be found in the trial scenes, where all mysteries are solved and the true culprit is revealed. I think the audience has more than a fair chance to solve the case themselves, and personally I’d preferred it too be just a bit more complex, just a bit more shocking, but all well.

I did like the feeling of the stage play. Like I said earlier, things are a lot more interactive here, with the audience and the actors reacting to each other, and it gives a very different kind of vibe off compared to the film (which is of course edited and a ‘past’ performance, as compared to the real-time performance of the stage play). Gyakuten no Spotlight is fun to watch, and as it’s two hours long , that is also definitely something that is necessary, but certainly not something that is easy to achieve. I did have the feeling that sometimes some scenes felt a bit ‘dragging’, which is of course the other side of the same coin: everything is being done real time, so there is no editing or quick cuts to other scenes and stuff. They did do neat stuff you could only do in theater though, like a clever way do present the scenes set in the detention center, or a hilarious way to show ‘video footage’ of the Tonosaman play. One thing I thought weird was that some scenes seemed really unnecessary for the story (for example, the ones with the girl who is infatuated with the prosecutor Mitsurugi). It was like they were there only to prolong the story and to give everyone a role in the play.

In the Takarazuka Revue musical adaptations, the actors would do very convincing recreations of animations from the games. This isn’t done in this stage play, which is a missed chance, though I do understand why. This stage play is fairly natural and everything happens in a dynamic way, but game animations would look very strange in that world. Recreating the game animations worked in the Takarazuka Revue musicals, because they are set in an artificial world. By the way, they do use music from the games in Gyakuten no Spotlight, and there are some nice rearrangements there.

Gyakuten Saiban - Gyakuten no Spotlight is overall an entertaining, and original adaptation of the Ace Attorney series though, which manages to offer a new experience not seen in other adaptations. And I think that original mystery plays are not that common anymore nowadays, so that I think this might also be interesting for people who like mystery fiction in general, and not just people who like the Ace Attorney series, as you seldom see something like this.

Original Japanese title(s): 『逆転裁判 逆転のスポットライト』

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