Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Takarazuka Kagekidan vs Gyakuten Saiban

In a previous post I talked about the alliance between video gaming company Capcom and theater group Takarazuka Kagekidan that has resulted in a smash-hit new franchise of musicals. Namely, when Capcom tapped the Kagekidan to produce an authorized dramatization / musical version of its popular Gyakuten Saiban or Ace Attorney games, they got massive ticket sales and enough popularity to guarantee that there will be sequels to the first musical.

After finally obtaining my copy of the musical's DVD, I immediately went off to watch it - and I've already seen it at least twice, one of the repeat viewings being for the purpose of taking illustrative screenshots. So here's the review.

I realize that I'm a strange choice for reviewing this show because of the following factors:
- I have never played any of the original games. I don't even own a hand-held gaming console.
- I have been trying to learn what I can about Gyakuten Saiban from the Internet: Wikipedia, TVTropes, YouTube, etc.
- I am a massive fan of the styles of musical theater that the Takarazuka Kagekidan specializes in.
- I also happen to like the actress playing Phoenix Wright.

Anyway, on to the review. Links and other information about the musical play were taken from the Takarazuka Wikipedia's page on Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

逆転裁判 −蘇る真実− (Gyakuten Saiban −Yomigaeru Shinjitsu−)
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney ~Truth Resurrected~
A musical adaptation staged by Cosmos Troupe (Soragumi) of the Takarazuka Kagekidan
Based on the Capcom video games
Adapted for the stage by Suzuki Kei

Ranju Tomu as Phoenix Wright
Nanaho Hikaru as Miles Edgeworth
Miwa Asahi as Leona Clyde
Harukaze Misato as Dick Gumshoe
Houshou Dai as Larry Butz
Sumireno Rei as Maya Fey

The graphic is a composite of six screenshots taken from the DVD. First row: the "title screen"; a screenshot highlighting the appearance of Phoenix Wright figures in the title character's office. (The figures are, from left to right, Franziska von Karma, Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix Wright, Maya Fey, Mia Fey, and Godot.) Second row: "introducing" Phoenix and Miles. Third row: "introducing" Leona (a play-only character); the climax of the play, when Phoenix pins the crime on its actual perpetrator, complete with "Objection!" pose.

The very first object or item of note starts when the play does: the game music is used extensively throughout the musical, to the point that it actually becomes the underpinnings of the score. This is highlighted in the main theme of the musical, the song "Yomigaeru Shinjitsu" (also the subtitle of the play).

As Phoenix Wright, otokoyaku Ranju Tomu delivers a fine performance - comedic, musical, full of verve. She has an amazing variety of facial expressions and gestures and deploys them to bring her character to life. Both her singing and dancing help to push the play along, but it is really her acting that leads off the performance, and she does a fine job.

Opposing Phoenix in the courtroom is Miles Edgeworth, played by otokoyaku Nanaho Hikaru with a cool, icy demeanor. I think her expressions were likewise nicely suited to the role: she looks down her nose at her opponent for the most part, and she looks wonderful when the "turnabouts" happen, as they inevitably do.

Takarazuka prefers to put on plays with love stories, so for this adaptation, the original character of Leona Clyde, played by musumeyaku Miwa Asahi, takes the part of Phoenix's love interest. She begins the play as a suspect accused of murder. Leona is actually a rather complex character and her actress understands that, making for a fine contrast between the accused in the present day and the girl in love in the flashbacks.

In order to keep the play feeling like the game, multimedia touches such as the pop-ups of items presented as evidence, the in-game sound effects that play in appropriate situations in the musical, and even the effective use of the sets are deployed. A special mention goes to the props, in particular the figures in the screenshot above and the use of a coffee mug depicting the character Godot.

I know that while the games were targeted at a young male market (the usual consumers of video games), the Gyakuten Saiban games received such a surprising and welcome response from women in Japan and likewise around the world, turning THEM into avid gamers as well. It's no wonder that Capcom decided to capitalize on this unexpected windfall by putting together the games that became popular with women with the theater company in which all the performers are women and the audience is predominantly female.

I did want to wonder, though, how do the male gamers feel about Phoenix Wright: games, musical adaptation, and upcoming musical sequel alike. (The sequel is rumored to feature the antagonist Franziska von Karma.)

This show actually makes a great introduction to the Takarazuka Kagekidan: it's based on a very popular fandom, the actresses bring the characters to believable life, and the musical aspects are integrated very nicely into the plot as a whole. I rate it as highly recommended for people who've played the original games, fans of the Revue itself, and everyone else in between.


agony said...

wow you're hardcore. I'm a fan of Ace Attorney but I couldn't bear to buy the dvd.

I can tell you that a good number of those male fans turn their nose down on the musical and generally being a nuisance, grumbling about why a musical is made instead of an anime etc etc. Makes me want to bitch slap all of them. After all, Japan is the main market of the games so is it any surprise that Capcom wishes to tap into the huge possible female market (with big spending power) of Takarazuka?

PJ Punla said...

@ agony

After all, Japan is the main market of the games so is it any surprise that Capcom wishes to tap into the huge possible female market (with big spending power) of Takarazuka?

Correct, and nicely said.

The point is that PW appeals greatly to *both* genders. Boys like the games, but PW has made gamers out of the Japanese girls too. I think it's a win-win arrangement for both Capcom and Takarazuka, now that the franchise has established itself as a real hit.