#1 Cutting the chaff
My opinion on the Ace Attorney video games is perhaps a controversial one. I rather enjoyed the first game, but grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of innovation throughout the original trilogy; my dislike for its puzzles and investigation sequences grew worse with every entry.
The anime offers a strong alternative. You get to experience the enjoyable plot of the game series without having to pixel hunt around cluttered screens, fiddle with terrible menus, or wrestle through obtuse puzzles. Now the story is paced to be actually a story instead of constantly coming to a stop while the player struggles to figure out how to progress. And all the time this saves is used for content that is actually more enjoyable, such as extra scenes and even entire episodes about Phoenix, Edgeworth, and Larry when they were kids.
If this is your first experience with Ace Attorney, then the plot of the games is technically better. The anime cuts out some minor characters and rearranges events to cut down on the runtime. However, returning fans will find that the anime is a great way to re-experience the Ace Attorney series.
#2 The definitive legal drama
Ace Attorney is a legal drama centering around Phoenix Wright, a rookie attorney whose career is hurried along when his boss is murdered and he inherits their law firm. Phoenix then has to take on a series of murder cases, all of which are so doomed to fail that no other lawyer would take them on.
Phoenix believes firmly in the innocence of his clients, however. His determination to achieve true justice sees him take to the court floor and battle legendary prosecutors, including his childhood friend turned rival Edgeworth. Phoenix also has to do the legwork himself and find evidence, confront suspects, and put his life at risk to solve some of these cases. All while the prosecutors will happily trip him up or even meddle with the evidence.
Emotions ramp up high and many of the storylines end up being deeply intriguing, such as a crime involving a group of circus performers that leads Phoenix to discover a grim accident that happened months prior. Actual lawyers might object to some of the proceedings, but to a layman like me, it’s exciting to watch unfold.
#3 Absurdity in the courtroom
While Phoenix deals with some serious crimes, the anime doesn’t always take itself too seriously. Several storylines get bizarre or even comical, with the aforementioned circus storyline being a good example. In fact, the eccentric characters Phoenix ends up meeting are a major selling point.
The anime does cut back on the actual magical influences and completely removes Phoenix’ own magical amulet, which I found to be an improvement. The cases are still silly and will have scenes like Phoenix calling a parrot to the witness stand, but they are still grounded enough to be entertaining and never go too far. That circus arc is, again, a good example; sure, you got a clown with terrible puns on the witness stand, but man does that storyline tug at the heartstrings once Phoenix begins to unravel the mystery.
It creates a good variety in tone. Ace Attorney is never too serious or too goofy, it has a bit of both and carefully balances them.
#4 Creative animation
The art and animation of Ace Attorney fall a little short of the actual video games. The stellar sprite art and small, impactful animations don’t translate well to an anime where characters and things need to move constantly. Early episodes suffer notably and characters often appear off-model. This improves a lot later down the line.
What it does have is creative animation that wasn’t possible or merely implied in the original games. Arguments and the famous objections often send forth gusts of wind that knock lawyers and defendants from their stands, showing the impact or lack thereof that the argument has on the case. Explanations are also frequently handled in novel ways, like having a re-enactment of the events play out as Phoenix lays out theories, complete with costumes. It makes it difficult to go back to the original games where you get static text boxes and simple sound-effects instead.
#5 Cute nods to the game series
Of course, the anime is also keen on including fun references to the original games. Characters often recreate famous poses, the sound-effects and music are both there, and it even has the fun text-boxes to introduce characters and track the current date.
We also get to visit many of the iconic locations and, while it does cut out a lot of content fans might be nostalgic for, it does also faithfully recreate the best scenes and jokes from the games. It’s always a pleasant surprise when you spot another reference to the games and some of the details they included were a surprise.