Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Good Medium is Rare

 "Nothing is impossible," declared The Thinking Machine with equal emphasis. He always spoke petulantly. "The mind is master of all things. When science fully recognizes that fact a great advance will have been made."
"The Problem of Cell 13"

I've reviewed a couple theater mystery productions now, but still haven't seen one live....

Divine Dragon Village is a small community in the mountains on the verge of extinction because of its rapidly greying population, but also because it might be literally wiped away from the map because of talks of a dam being built nearby, which would lead to the flooding of the village. The one thing that keeps it alive now is a small filming studio, where the popular live-action series Psychic Academy Sigma is being filmed. Prosecutor Mitsurugi Reiji, police detective Itonokogiri and the energetic thief-in-training Mikumo are invited there by Mitsurugi's friend Yahari, who works at the studio as an assistant-director. The discovery of the body of the director puts a hold to the filming, but an initial investigation quickly leads to a suspect. Actor Asukai, who plays the lead Psychic Teacher admits he's the murderer, but there is one, enormous problem to this conclusion. The body of the director was found in the morning at the studio, but they have proof she was killed last night at the shrine high up in the mountains where the village treasure, the Dragon's Scale, is kept. However, the only path that leads up to the shrine was blocked last night due to a landslide following a heavy rainfall, so how was the body moved from the shrine down to the studio if the road was blocked? Asukai claims he used his psychic powers of teleportation to move the body, but Mitsurugi refuses to accept this supernatural explanation and tries to figure out how the body was "teleported" down the mountain in the stage play Gyakuten Kenji -  Gyakuten no Teleportation ("Turnabout Prosecutor - Turnabout Teleportation", 2016).

Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney is a comedic mystery adventure game series starring a defense attorney defying unsurmountable odds in crazy trials that started in 2001. A spin-off game Gyakuten Kenji ("Turnabout Prosecutor") was released in 2009, starring the popular character of prosecutor Mitsurugi Reiji (known in the localized games as Miles Edgeworth), who'd investigate crimes himself on the scene to find his suspects. The spin-off was followed by a sequel in 2011, a manga series, and even a musical version performed by the all-female troupe Takarazuka. Gyakuten no Teleportation is a stage play (not a musical), performed by the same troupe that brought the two stage plays Gyakuten no Spotlight (2014) and Saraba, Gyakuten (2015) based on the main Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney series.

The story of Gyakuten no Teleportation is based on an unused plot idea originally conceived for the second game, though it is difficult to say how much of it has been changed for Gyakuten no Teleportation. Anyway, it does feature an interesting mystery plot, as we are soon introduced to the suspect who gladly confesses to the crime, but who could not have done what he says he has done: teleporting a dead body from a mountain down to the studio in the village. What follows is a plot that mainly revolves around looking around at the crime scene and finding clues. This is similar to the games the play is based off, so that is something for the fans, but the story can feel a bit slow at times, as there are few plot developments until the finale, with most of the time being spent on exposition on locations/character backgrounds, making it feel like the main problem of teleportation is being pushed aside for something that could've been presented in a more direct, concise manner. The mystery of the teleportation trick is a bit crude, but adequately clewed, though there is a missed chance of presenting a truly great clue to the audience: I was convinced that they'd reveal a certain clue in the finale, as it appeared everything was pointing towards that, only to find out they totally ignored a chance to come up with a memorable clue. There is a great piece of misdirection going on though, one which worked perfectly with the medium of the story.

Of the three stage plays, I think the first made best use of its medium as it was a stage play about a murder happening during a stage play, and while this one is somewhat similar in idea (a murder that happens in a studio with actors), I thought this play was less... ambitious? The things they do with the props and other theatrical "tricks" are similar throughout the three stage plays, but whereas it was exciting and new in the first play, it's just not as original anymore when you see it performed for the third time with nothing new. There are also some points about the plot that don't seem to synergize well with the medium: the way the locations are connected is for example fairly important to the plot, but on stage you only see discrete sets without really showing how the previous set is connected to the other in geographical terms.

The live-action film and the Takarazuka musicals were made to appeal to a wider audience, but the stage plays have always been more directly aimed at existing fans of the franchise, so generally, the acting is usually a lot closer to the original games, with many of the quirks and motions of the actors being lifted straight out of the game. This works for these fan-oriented productions, though even as a fan of Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney, I never disliked the more serious, darker tone the live-action film had, even though I always hear people complaining how it was not EXACTLY like the original games. People who do want their live-action productions to be very, very much like the games, they need to seek out these stage plays, because these productions are very clearly made to appeal to that audience. There is also more interaction with the actors and the audience (talking about their favorite characters), and there is ad-libbing going on too, so these stage plays have more at-home feeling.

Gyakuten Kenji -  Gyakuten no Teleportation is a good mystery stage play though, that manages to combine a faithful adaptation of the source characters and atmosphere to a decent mystery plot that the audience can also solve themselves. If you have never seen any of these, you're in for a treat, though in terms of production, this play is not very different from the previous ones, so it might feel a bit underwhelming.

Original Japanese title(s): 『逆転検事 逆転のテレポーテーション』


  1. Hello Ho Ling.
    Just wanted to know whether you have seen the anime version of ace attorney.If you have,why haven't you reviewed it?I couldn't find any posts on it.Similarly there were no reviews on Case files of Young Kindaichi Returns Anime Series.Never got to know what was your opinion on that series.Coming back to Ace Attorney,how much popular is the series in Japan compared to Conan & Kindaichi?Recently I just finished watching the anime series.Of all the cases only 2 cases were brilliant.Turnabout Goodbyes ( in which Mitsurugi was suspect ) & Reunion & Turnabout ( the case where murder happens during spirit summoning ).Rest were average.Which was your favourite case in the series?And by the way,since you have finished reviewing the kindaichi returns manga series,and I have read your posts concerning it,there was no mention of the revelation of Takato's father.What happened to that storyline?Did the writer keep that unresolved or were there subtle clues given to work out the identity for yourself.Recently i heard there was a new series on Kindaichi who is 37 years old.Will the Takato backstory continue in that?

    1. I have seen the Ace Attorney anime, but yeah, haven't written a review of it. I don't actually write reviews about everything I consume, only when I feel like it. As for Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R, I have reviews of I think almost all stories featured in that series, either of the original comics or of the drama adaptations, so I didn't feel like writing something special about that series either. And yeah, they kinda let that plotline about Takatoo's father float. I haven't read the new series yet, which is indeed about an older Hajime.

      Conan and Kindaichi are far, FAR bigger than Ace Attorney will ever be. Don't forget that they are both much older and bigger franchises, with more adaptations, multiple live-action series, multiple theatrical releases, merchandise, everything. Heck, Conan and Kindaichi Shounen even have more games than there are in the main Ace Attorney game series!