A quick announcement…


cat_statue_japanHi, everyone! If you’re particularly observant you might have noticed that I haven’t posted for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to take a break for a slightly longer period of time than usual. Without boring you to death, I’ll be doing research for a diploma which will be keeping me busy right through until August.

Don’t worry, I’m not stopping blogging per se, but I will be posting on an ‘as and when’ basis rather than weekly. I do have a few films and DVDs to review, and will be making a trip to the famous Japan-inspired cat cafe in London next month, so don’t go away just yet!

Image source: obeythekitty

 

By SengokuSophie Posted in Other

Date for your diary: Tokaido Road at the Cheltenham Music Festival!


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Those of you who love your traditional Japanese music and performing arts might want to make a trip to the Cheltenham Music Festival this July. Tokaido Road, a new multi-media opera based on the Japanese artist Hiroshige’s iconic 53 Stations of the Tokaido, will premier at the festival on Sunday 6 July before touring seven other high profile venues in the UK.
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Okeanos, a UK Western-Japanese music ensemble, is behind this intriguing new performance. Visual art, mime, dance, music and poetry will be combined with traditional Japanese instruments, such as the koto and shamisen, with western ones.
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The premier event will open with a taste of traditional Japanese music, before composer Nicola LeFanu and librettist Nancy Gaffield discuss how this distinctive soundworld influenced the creation of this new multimedia opera, Tokaido Road.

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Taking its name from the series of vivid woodblock prints by Japanese artist Hiroshige, the opera brings Hiro – the figure present in every picture – to life. Journeying from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto against a backdrop of old and new images, Hiro tells of his encounters – humorous, amorous, tragic – through mime, dance, speech and song.

Tokaido Road looks like it will be a real treat, and as a regular to the Cheltenham festivals I really recommend you make a whole weekend out of it if you can! The tickets go on sale on 24 March, and you can buy them on the festival website.

Image credits: Greg Trezise, Cheltenham Festivals

WIN Hakuouki seasons 1, 2 and 3!


It’s my birthday this week and you know what that means – competition time! This one’s the best one yet and comes courtesy of the fantastic guys at MVM Entertainment, who’ve licensed one of my all-time favourite anime series, ‘Hakuoki’.

Up for grabs is not only the first season, but the second (‘Hakuoki Hekketsuroku’) and third (‘Hakuoki Reimeiroku’) as well! That’s almost the entire series, excluding the OVA, which you will also be able to buy in the near future. Read on for the review and details of how to enter…

Chizuru Yukimura has come to Kyoto looking for her father, a doctor who has gone missing. While there, she witnesses a fight between an Oni and the Shinsengumi. Taking her into custody, the Shinsengumi debates on what to do with Chizuru, when they discover that she is the daughter of the doctor for whom they are also looking. The Shinsengumi then take Chizuru along on their search after the missing doctor, from adventure to adventure.

The ‘Hakuoki’ anime series is loosely based on the history of the Shinsengumi, the ‘secret police’ of the late Tokugawa Shogunate and their struggle against the changing times as western culture permeates Japan. In terms of dates, characters and battles, its fairly accurate, which is good news for history fans. The whole demon thing obviously isn’t accurate but, compared to how ridiculous and over the top other ‘historical action’ series can be (*cough cough* Sengoku Basara) you can’t poke too many holes in it.

In case in wasn’t incredibly accurate by all the beautiful bishounen men on the DVD cover, ‘Hakuoki’ also sits comfortably in the romance category. The TV series is based on a Japanese dating sim video game, ‘Hakuoki ~ Shinsengumi Kitan ~ Demon of the Fleeting Blossom’. Samurai, romance, history? I’m sold!

The good news is this series isn’t just easy on the eye, although I’d definitely say this is one for the girls. It’s got action, great fight scenes, a decent historical backdrop, a fantastic soundtrack and beautiful art. The seasons develop well and each stand out on their own; where the first season sets the scene, the second gets a lot darker and ‘Game of Thrones’-esque, and the third is in fact a prequel to the first series. There are hours of viewing material in each of the DVDs and each episode brings you something new and different, so there’s no lull or time to get bored in between episodes. Out of the lot, season two is by far my personal favourite.

How to enter

Simply like MVM Entertainment on Facebook then leave a comment below this blog post telling us you’ve done so! Get your entries in by 7pm Friday 28 March. So, get liking, sharing and watching!

A massive thanks to MVM Entertainment for providing an amazing prize. You can check out their other fantastic titles here!

‘Another’: anime review


another_animeSince I started studying for a Diploma last month, my anime-watching time has been somewhat reduced and I’ve been a lot more selective in my viewing habits. This was why I chose to watch ‘Another’, a recent release from MVM Entertainment, among all the other great shows available to buy at the moment.

‘Another’ is an unpredictable and, at times, heart-stopping paranormal horror story crammed into just 12 episodes. Right from the first episode, I was hooked and blitzed through the whole series in just two nights. The balance between concise story-telling and not throwing the entire plot in front of the audience in the first 20 minutes, a trap that a lot of short anime series fall into, is almost perfect.

When Kouichi Sasakibara transfers to his new school, he can sense something frightening in the atmosphere of his new class, a secret none of them will talk about. At the center is the beautiful girl Mei Misaki. Kouichi is immediately drawn to her mysterious aura, but then he begins to realize that no one else in the class is aware of her presence.

The less I elaborate on the plot, the better. This really isn’t just because I can’t be bothered to write a long review but because it takes a few episodes to fully comprehend what’s going on in the school and who all the characters are. All I will say is nothing is as it seems and the ending is impactful yet leaves the right amount of mystery, although I did see one or two of the plot twists coming. It is in fact based on a Japanese novel of the same name by Yukito Ayatsuji and, from what my internet research has told me, sticks very close to the plot, so that might also be a read too!

SceneI’m a big fan of the psychological horror anime series which have a good balance of gratuitious blood, hysterical school girls and comedy, like ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’ and ‘Mirai Nikki’, so if you’ve enjoyed either of those shows ‘Another’ will be right up your alley. This show also wins extra points for some very creative deaths and, even if you can end up reading the comments in Youtube and spoil yourself (not recommended!), you’ll spend a lot of your time half-hiding behind a cushion.

The animation and soundtrack also add to the eerie ghost story effect, as does the mysterious character design for Mei herself. The only thing I didn’t like about the show was actually the way it was all wrapped up – I’m all for leaving some mystery but I was actually just confused, and a little bit annoyed. For this reason, ‘Another’ gets an impressive 9/10.

‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’: Japan blogger special book review


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When I heard that fellow Japan blogger Fran Pickering, of Sequins and Cherry Blossoms, had written a novel (a murder mystery set in Japan, no less) I knew I had to read it.

When Tokyo-based Londoner Josie finds a body under the cherry blossom, she sets out to track down the killer.
But she finds that everyone has a secret and no one can be trusted as the questions pile up. What is sinister Ms Kato up to? Who is the strange man who waited for the victim and does glamorous actress Tammy know more than she should? And who could get through the locked door?
Josie must shatter the smooth surface of Japanese life to solve the puzzle and stop the fan club killer striking again.
An entertaining murder mystery that takes you backstage at Japan’s spectacular Takarazuka Revue, as British amateur sleuth Josie tries to expose a murderer, save a priceless treasure and sort out her tangled love life.

Before I delve into my thoughts on Fran’s book, we should take a look at the author herself. Fran is a proud (south) Londoner who has lived and worked in Japan, which has clearly inspired the fantastic regular content her blog. If it wasn’t obvious from the blurb of ‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’, one of her favourite things about Japan is the Takarazuka Revue, the world famous Japanese all-female musical performance group.

My favourite thing about this book was the little details and observations that the main character, Josie, makes throughout her investigation. There’s clearly an autobiographical element to the story that only someone who has spent time in Japan can successfully convey, whether that’s the elderly gentleman sat on the bench, the trinkets in a Japanese family’s home, or the sights and sounds of a festival. This allows the reader to see things through Josie’s eyes, as a foreigner living in Japan who has time to notice the little things, rather than as a bright-eyed tourist who is just passing through, which you don’t always get in novels set in Japan that are written by westerners.

The murder itself is, you’ll be glad to know, juicy. There are plenty of suspects and surprises along the way, so it won’t disappoint fans of the classic ‘whodunnit’ genre. I whizzed through the book in just two days, which is always a sign of a good story!

I really enjoyed ‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’ and am very happy to be sharing the achievements of a fellow Japan blogger with you all. If you aren’t already, you should definitely subscribe to her blog! ‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’ is available in both paperback or for your Kindle, so get your copy today!

London premier of A New World: intimate music from Final Fantasy


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How did you spend your Valentine’s weekend? Romantic dinner out, or sitting in front of the TV eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? I managed to miss out on both of these things and was instead seduced by beautiful music from the ever-popular ‘Final Fantasy’ series, arguably one of Japan’s biggest exports.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to get tickets to the 25th anniversary of the ‘Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds’ concert at the Royal Albert Hall. So, when an email popped up in my inbox saying that the premier concert of ‘A New World: intimate music from Final Fantasy’ would return to London in 2014, I was on stand-by to snap up two tickets!

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The first thing that struck me on entering London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) St Luke’s, compared to the Royal Albert Hall where ‘Distant Worlds’ was held last year, was how much smaller the venue was. The orchestra itself was no larger than 12 people, very much in keeping with the ‘intimate’ feeling. Conductor Arnie Roth explained that ‘A New World’ marked a new direction in the way of Final Fantasy orchestral performances; smaller audience, smaller orchestra, but no less impressive.

Surprisingly, unlike the 2012 ‘Distant Worlds’ concert, there were no programmes for sale. Even more surprisingly, the audience did not even get to see a song list in advance. I was initially a little disappointed by this, but it just meant that we were constantly surprised by the announcement of which song was coming up next.

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Programme:

Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)

Eruyt Village (Final Fantasy XII)

Fight with Seymour (Final Fantasy X)

A New World (Final Fantasy V)

The Red Wings (Final Fantasy IV)

Eliya, the Maiden of Water (Final Fantasy III)

Town (Final Fantasy I)

Chocobo theme medley

Those who Fight (Final Fantasy VII)

Dark World (Final Fantasy VI)

Moogle theme (Final Fantasy IX)

Troya (Final Fantasy IV)

Decisive Battle (Final Fantasy VI)

Gustaberg (Final Fantasy XI)

Blinded by the Light (Final Fantasy XIII)

The Promise (Final Fantasy XIII)

Rebel Army theme (Final Fantasy II)

To Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)

Encore: Force Your Way (Final Fantasy VIII)

My favourite song of the night was undoubtedly ‘Fight with Seymour’, which was performed by a string quartet. Some songs, like ‘Eliya’ and ‘Those Who Fight’, were performed as solos. Every song was different and most of the songs were less mainstream ‘Final Fantasy’ songs, which was great news for connoisseurs of the series.

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All in all, this was a fantastic night, not that we expected any less! ‘Final Fantasy’ music really is my muse; I have the soundtracks on repeat when I’m writing my book (which very appropriately is a YA fantasy). I’ll definitely be buying the soundtrack as soon as it’s out.

Even better news for fans who missed this concert, Arnie Roth and Nobuo Uematsu announced that the ‘Final Fantasy’ concert will be returning to London before the end of this year! We have no more information than that for now, but watch this space!

Why the Tokyo Underground beats London Underground


As London narrowly misses entering week two of the tube strike, and the rest of Britain complains about how London-centric the news is, it seemed appropriate to blog about why Japan beats Britain in every aspect of the Underground transport system! Granted, ours is 150 years old and the first to be built in the world, so other countries have had ample opportunity to improve upon it, but Tokyo takes things to another level of efficiency and awesomeness. Having visited Tokyo twice, I can attest to how superior its Underground system is.

So, whether you love or hate the tube strike, or it doesn’t affect you at all, let’s take a moment to appreciate how fantastic Japan’s tube system is!

Always on time!

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A two minute delay will get you a lot of rolling eyes in London, but in Tokyo it will get you a series of very sincere apologies from the staff and, believe it or not, might even hit the headlines. The Japanese are famous for their efficiency for a reason. Get on it, London!

You know exactly where the doors will be

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With the exception of the Jubilee Line, which is the most futuristic of the London Underground routes with its sliding doors, there’s no telling whether you’ll be standing right in front of, just to the side or nowhere near the next set of doors. Lining up for the tube is impossible at rush hour because the doors stop where they stop, and then you have the good old fashioned London scrum and ‘accidental’ elbowing of queue jumpers. In Tokyo, there are numbered boxes painted on a number of the platforms and, when the tube rolls up, the doors line up perfectly with them! I can’t attest to whether this system works all the time at rush hour in Tokyo, but it certainly did all the time I was there.

Super clean

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No matter which line you get on, the tube looks like it rolled straight out of the factory. I spent five minutes walking up and down my first ever Tokyo tube in sheer awe at the shiny white cleanliness: no banana peels, no spilt coffee, not even a crumpled up newspaper!

Soothing music on your commute

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I kid you not, I heard a lot of bird song when I was walking around the Tokyo Underground. The idea is that the lovely ‘tweet tweet’ lifts your soul as your trudging through the underground darkness, and I’m sure there are plenty of people living in Tokyo who don’t pay attention to it after a while, but it’s a lot better than London’s: ‘The northern line is temporarily suspended due to flooding/signal failure/tube strike/the line’s been suspiciously working too well for a few days/something more creative like concrete completely obliterating our signal equipment’.

The tube is a song!

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Someone we encountered on the Tokyo Underground once told me that, every time the tube stops at a station, it plays a little tune. It’s not your standard ‘ding ding ding’, but an actual song. If you ride the whole line from one end to the other, the train will effectively play a song each time the doors open. I think we should replicate this over here, preferably with a Beatles or Queen song.

Awesome bike storage

Tokyo is such a crowded place that even finding a place to park your bicycle can be a daunting task. But leave it to the Japanese to find a genius solution to this growing space problem. The ECO-Cycle Park is an automated bicycle storage system buried 11 meters under the city streets that can hold up to 200 bikes.

Take that, Boris bikes!

Cute information signs

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Seriously, how can you not abide by the rules with a poster like that? Don’t be ‘that’ person who blasts Rihanna down the tube, please! London really needs its share of these.

Girls only!

Women passengers get on a women-only train car in Tokyo.

There are women-only carriages in Japan, set up to combat a growing number of male perverts (known as ‘chikan’) who use the rush hour as an opportunity to… well, you know. Fortunately, I’ve not witnessed any actual groping on the London Underground yet, but there have been no shortage of very weird guys chatting up girls and guys pretending to fall asleep on women next to them. I remember one guy walking past a line of girls in a carriage and touching each of them with his foot before getting off. No one said anything (this is the London Underground, after all) but it was incredibly weird. I’m all for some girls only carriages to operate at night time especially. I think another weird guy may also have proposed to me on the tube and followed me out at my stop once but, the less I remember about that, the better.

Vending machines 

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Seriously, London, even we can roll out this one! On a lot of the platforms in Tokyo, and even just walking in between them, there are vending machines for not only water but also hot and iced coffee and Pocari Sweat. The daily commute can frustrate even the most patient of people and lugging a big suitcase around can really tire you out, so why we don’t have this one I really don’t know.

As far as the London tube strikes are concerned, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson in how important the Underground network is in supporting millions of people getting to and from work and, of course, exploring the city and having fun. Our system may be far from perfect and really needs a bit of Japan-ification but, don’t forget, we did do it first, so everyone else has had time to improve on it.

Image credits: mywisewife, thehindu, list25, betterymagazineTokyofashioncollage, thegridto, sushi-suzuki

Treats from the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme


Last week I was lucky enough to catch two films at the beginning of the annual Japan Foundation UK touring film programme, now in its eleventh year. The theme this year is ‘youth’ and there are 11 films on in total, each one looking at a slightly different aspect of Japan’s youth culture.

The two films I went to see were ‘Colourful’, a beautifully-done anime about a sinful spirit who is given a chance of redemption when he is placed in the body of a school boy, and ‘Otakus in Love’, a laugh out loud, insane tale about two social misfits trying to make their way in the world. If I had more time and money, I would have seen more films on the schedule, but you’ll have to make do with an overview of these two films this year!

As the name suggests, this film festival is travelling around England until 27 March, so there’s still time to catch some screenings depending on where you live and how far you’re willing to travel. You can check out the schedule on the Japan Foundation website, so get planning!

‘Colourful’, directed by Keiichi Hara, 2010

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A dejected spirit is given a second chance at life when he is placed in the body of 14-year-old boy Makoto, who has been experiencing a difficult time at home and at school. In a word, this film was charming. I’ve seen my fair share of anime films and ‘Colourful’ got the balance of realism and surrealism just right. The animation itself is somewhat rustic and a lot less ‘polished and shiny’ than your average anime film, for luck of a better phrase, which means that the characters and setting itself felt more realistic and believable.

‘Colourful’ explores the lives and minds of early teens in contemporary Japan, seen through the eyes of the nameless spirit who tries to readjust to life as Makoto. The pressure on Makoto to do well in exams and choose a high school, versus his being bottom in the class and strong feeling of not belonging in the world, is one that is rather familiar in Japan, where academic excellence is everything. Despite this, the spirit inhabiting Makoto wonders why he tried to kill himself when he has a family who loves him. The reason for Makoto’s suicide and the identity of the spirit that has been given a second chance are revealed during the film, and will more than likely stun you.

Luckily, the director was at the screening and took some questions at the end! I didn’t get mine in, and one guy spend five minutes rambling about which bits of the film he didn’t like and didn’t even end with a question, but that is the only complaint I can make. It was fantastic to see the director had come to the UK especially for the festival.

I was very moved by this film and heard a number of people in the audience sniffing, which is always a sign of a good film. ‘Colourful’ sadly isn’t available to buy here, and it really should be, so I highly recommend making a special trip to go and see it at the festival if you can.

‘Otakus in Love’, directed by Suzuki Matsuo, 2004

filmImg1.ddee0a5e920ebdd057eb746d8697b422While ‘Colourful’ might have you tearing up, ‘Otakus in Love’ will more than likely have you doubling over with laughter. This film is in its own category of ‘crazy insane Japanese cinema’.

Two social misfits – ‘rock’ manga artist Mon and cosplay-obsessed Koino – collide in this quirky love-drama, set in the vibrant world of Japanese contemporary pop culture including manga fandom and cosplay conventions. Look out for a number of high-profile cameos, including directors Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto, who appear on screen!

Fans of cosplay, manga and video games will love this film for obvious reasons, but this isn’t just a ‘silly film about two geeks who get up to lots of shenanigans’. Mon and Koino are at odds with the straight-laced world around them, where getting a job and meeting a nice young man/woman are the pillars of social success, and the two are effectively immature adults. Mon sees himself as a ‘rock’ manga artist but no one gets his art, because it’s literally rocks, and Koino obsession with drawing fan manga and making cosplay is putting her dangerously in the red. You probably know some people like that!

I can’t say much more about this film without giving away the good bits, but this is another gem of a film. It’s wacky and ridiculous, but this genre is an important part of contemporary Japanese cinema (yes, really). It’s also not available to buy in the UK, so get yourself over to a screening!

A huge thank you to the Japan Foundation for putting on a fantastic programme, and I look forward to next year!

Below are the trailers for the two films, without subtitles, so enjoy!

The Evolution of MCM – video time!


Back in October 2013 I went to MCM Comic Con in London on a Sunday. I took a lot of footage from the masquerade, popped it on my laptop and had some fun editing it… then pretty much forgot to finish it. OK, so I knew I had to finish it and kept meaning to go back to it but work, book writing and life itself were jostling to get in my way. I have a schedule to last me until April, you’ll be glad to know!

Anyway, ta-da! Here’s your video!

I’ve been going to MCM events on and off since I was 17 and my first ‘expo’ pretty much initiated me into official Japanese geekdom. While my love for Japanese things has thankfully expanded beyond anime and video games, this is pretty much where it all started. Over time, MCM Expo became MCM Comic Con and I was never really sure why. How did MCM begin? Why did the name change? I put these questions to the helpful guys at the MCM team and hope you nerds will learn something new about “that weird event with all the people in costumes”, as my mum calls it.

When was the first MCM? How many attendees were there? Who were the original organising team behind it?

The first MCM was announced in 2001 and held May 2002. It was attended by 16,000 people. The original founding partners were Paul Miley and Bryan Cooney.

When did MCM start to get really big and popular?

MCM was always a popular show but the major growth start in May 2005 with the addition of new areas, including Anime, Manga, Cosplay and Video Games.

Why did MCM Expo become MCM Comic Con?

The original title was London Expo which did not express what the show was about, it adapted to London MCM Expo, MCM Movie Comic Media, this evolved from 2009 to Incorporate Comic Con in its title as the final transition to a brand identity the fits the modern popular culture show that MCM has become.

Who have been some of your top guests over the years?

Danny DeVito, Bill Paxton, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Ben Barnes, Warwick Davis.

What would you say have been the biggest changes in MCM?

The expansion of the MCM Brand as MCM Comic Con and new regional shows.

What next for MCM? 

MCM will be developing new shows and growing its position as the UK’s Comic Con

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Next week – I’ll be reporting back on what I saw at the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme!

Ode to an OBJECTION!


There are two series I’m currently addicted to: Game of Thrones and Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban in Japanese). As only one of these series is Japanese, and I’m very overdue in writing a review, I’m going to tell you what’s so fantastic about the latest instalment of the Ace Attorney video game series – Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies.

I’m going to assume you’ve played or at least heard of the other Ace Attorney video games (for the Nintendo DS) but I’ll quickly recap for everyone’s sake. I could say that the series is about lawyers but this sounds almost boring and doesn’t really do it justice, so instead I’ll tell you that you play a lawyer who has to solve the most ridiculous kinds of crimes, investigates crime scenes, can see the secrets hidden away in people’s hearts and finds the truth! If you like series with that ‘oooo!’ factor, like Sherlock or The Killing, this series is fantastic and has infinite replay value. It uses the Nintendo DS touch screen better than most games and is one of the best ‘click and point’ series out there.

Let’s quickly recap the complete DS series so far, which will take us nicely to our latest game which came out in October 2013. Yes, I know this review is late!

2001: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney makes its way to the GameBoy Advance (GBA) in Japan. You play the role of Phoenix Wright, a rookie lawyer who shouts ‘Objection!’ a lot.

2002: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All is released for the GBA.

2004: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations is released on the GBA, thus completing the Phoenix Wright trilogy.

2005: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is adapted for the Nintendo DS and gets an English translation.

2006/7: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All is adapted for the Nintendo DS and gets an English translation.

2007: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations  is adapted for the Nintendo DS and gets an English translation.

2007/8: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is released in both Japan and the west, and follows the story of Phoenix Wright’s successor, Apollo Justice

2009/10: Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, which follows the adventures of Phoenix Wright’s rival, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth

2011: Gyakuten Kenji 2, the sequel to Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, is released in Japan but Capcom does not translate it. Fans like Sophie are very sad…

2012: A spin-off game Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is released in Japan. Capcom finally confirms it will get an English translation in 2014.

October 2013: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is released simultaneously in Japanese and English for the Nintendo 3DS as a downloadable game.

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OK, so why was that timeline important? 1) It shows how far back this video game series dates in Japan. 2) It’s a subtle way of telling you to go and play all the other games if you haven’t already. 3) It demonstrates how long fans waited for a new Ace Attorney game, which came out on the 3DS. With that out of the way, we can now look at whether this game stands up to its predecessors and whether it translates well for the 3DS.

The answer to both of these questions is ‘yes’. This is my favourite ever Nintendo video game series and, in my mind, it blows the more well-known ones like ‘Pokemon’ right out of the water. Dual Destinies revived the series and gave fans something new to talk about and, even better, despite being a “sequel” can be appreciated by people who haven’t played any of the games before because it has its own story and lots of new characters.

It’s hard to go into the plot without giving much away, although I will say that it’s very suspenseful and there are mysteries abound. There are four cases in the main story, plus a bonus one at the end where you have to defend an orca whale in court (yes, you read that right), and each case is its own mini story. There’s always a murder, an investigation, finding and presenting of evidence, cross-examination of witnesses and the quest for that ‘not guilty verdict’. You do find out what links all of the cases but I’ll let you do that yourselves. All I will say is that it will keep you up playing until 3am in the morning and literally make you scream with shock as much as that latest BBC Sherlock episode did. 

aceattorney5Dual Destinies is set in the ‘dark age of the law’, filled with false charges and fabricated evidence, and stars Phoenix Wright as the main protagonist, along with Apollo Justice and a new partner, Athena Cykes. There are five cases in this game (one of which you have to download separately for £3.99 on the Nintendo store, but I promise it’s worth it) and the player rotates around the roles of our three main characters. Phoenix and Apollo are familiar faces for fans but Athena is the odd one out. Who is this weird ginger 18 year old pretending to be a lawyer? How can you even be a lawyer at 18? It doesn’t matter because Athena is fantastic and sassy, and pulls some of the best faces in the game. Apollo is much improved from the last game he was in; imagine the whole Doctor Who regeneration thing and not being happy about David Tennant becoming Matt Smith. It’s pretty much like that, although we get more time to know and love Apollo aka ‘Polly’. Phoenix Wright is the god of lawyer-ing. My only complaint about the game is probably that I wanted to play as him more. Apollo and Athena make a great duo but Phoenix Wright is Phoenix Wright.

There are some familiar faces in the series although most of them are brand new, which is why this game will be enjoyed by old and new fans alike. The main prosecutor, aka your villain, in this game is Simon Blackquill, a convicted murder who looks rather like a samurai and is scary as hell. It’s the dark age of the law, so that apparently validates murderers prosecuting other murderers. In the previous games, we’ve had a fantastic collection of prosecutors from Miles Edgeworth to coffee-swilling Godot to rock star Klavier Gavin, so there’s a lot of competition for that ‘top prosecutor’ spot, so how does Simon hold up? Extremely well, according to the fans’ consensus. I’ll always have a special soft spot for fellow posh tea-drinker Edgeworth, but Simon’s fantastic in his own right. With prosecutors come detectives, and this is where we meet our other main recurring character, Bobby Fulbright, a flashy, scatter-brained proprietor of justice! Fans of the series will be sad that good old Detective Dick Gumshoe isn’t in town any more but we must move on with the times, and Bobby fills his shoes well. Oh, good news, ‘the judge’ is still around and as silly as ever.

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Dual Destinies uses the elements we know and love from the series; the cross-examinations, Phoenix’s Psyche Lock ability which allows him to see when people are guarding secrets and Apollo’s bracelet which allows him to detect a witness’ slightest movements which indicate they’re lying. New to this game is Athena’s Mood Matrix ability, which allows her to read people’s emotions and draw their true testimonies from their subconsciousness. It’s all quite Inception-y but my actual lawyer friends tell me law is not quite so glamorous.

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As a 3DS game, there’s a lot more for players to explore. Crime scenes can be examined in panoramic view and the anime cut scenes are well worth turning the 3D effect on for. There is a downside to the whole ‘examination’ method, though, which is that you can no longer click on pointless evidence! I played this game mostly in 2D because 3D does terrible things to my eyes but it is worth flipping on the 3D effect every so often.

I’m a big fan of film and video game soundtracks and Dual Destinies has an amazing OST. A lot of the previous tunes have been modernised, giving the game that hint of nostalgia, and there are lots of new songs too. Top marks go to Simon Blackquill’s theme for that smooth clarinet and the latest remix of the ‘Pursuit’ theme, which I listen to on repeat.

I only just learned today that Capcom announced that the Dual Destinies team, including director Takeshi Yamazaki, was working “full force” on the next Ace Attorney game, but did not mention if it would be a main series title, a third Investigations game, or a new spin-off. It was also revealed that Shu Takumi was working on a new game that would be announced in 2014, but they did not reveal whether or not it was related to Ace Attorney. Let’s hope it is!

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One final thing to mention about this game before I wrap up this very long review is the amazing translation team at Capcom, who deserve gold medals for their work. This is the first game in the series that has proper dialogue in its cut scenes and, overall, it’s very good, even by the standards of someone who watches too much Japanese films in their original language. There are plenty of pop culture references in there, including Sailor Moon, Fifty Shades of Grey and Shark-nado, and you really got the sense that they enjoyed messing around with the game as much as the fans enjoyed playing it.

Needless to say, Dual Destinies is absolutely fantastic and the ending literally had me reeling. It was a perfect instalment to a long-running video game series for loyal fans but that doesn’t mean it’s simply flogging a dead horse and relying on old gags. There are lots of new characters, features and things to do so I can only give this game a well-earned 10/10!

Image credits: nintendojoystiq, brokencartidge, gamegringame-saga