Game adaptations seem to be a bit of a tricky subject for most anime studios for some reason. There are numerous examples of a perfectly good game being turned into mediocre show for no other reason than to cash in on the game's popularity. Part of the problem stems from the mistaken belief that fans of a particular game will spend their hard earned cash on a sub par representation of it, and while there are people who will buy the anime adaptation, the resulting income barely justifies the cost of making the show in the first place.
Not all adaptations are bad though. While many adopt a rather simplistic method using the existing storyline and characters (and nothing more than that to be honest), there are a few that take a more revisionist approach and attempt to reconcile various elements of the game's storyline (tightening up the plot, adding new themes and improving existing characters amongst other things - Tears to Tiara is a good example of the revisionist approach at work).
On the other side of the coin there are anime adaptations that simply use the game's existing characters and the world in which they live to create a totally new story. Titles like Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike have proven how this method can enhance the game in a way a straightforward adaptation cannot, however this method also has its own inherent issues (for example ensuring the plot actually works within the framework of the game's world).
Layton Kyouju to Eien no Uta Hime (Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva), falls into the latter category of adaptations, and while it may look like a show aimed at kids and fans of the games, there's surprisingly more depth to it than one might expect.
The story begins with Professor of Archaeology and puzzle enthusiast Hershel Layton and his self styled "number one apprentice" Luke investigating the theft of Big Ben (to those of you who don't know, Big Ben is actually the nickname of the bell, although most people use it for the tower). Following the successful completion of this investigation the pair continue with their normal affairs until Layton receives a letter from an old acquaintance, the opera singer Jenis Quatlane.
And so another adventure begins.
One of the things that stands out right from the start is the acknowledgement that not all viewers may be familiar with the games. The opening five minutes offer a concise introduction to the characters and the world in both a visual and descriptive sense. By necessity only the important facts are imparted, however there is enough information given during the first few scenes to allow all but the most pedantic viewers to enjoy the movie.
Given that this is ostensibly a movie for children, the story proper is well formed and proceeds at a nice pace, but there is an inherent predictability about certain characters and events. The plot is somewhat simplistic for the most part, however there are flashes of ingenuity that can keep the viewer guessing - no matter their age. What is probably the most surprising aspect of The Eternal Diva though, is that it's actually a rather interesting movie to watch.
The movie incorporates several aspects of the game's mechanics into itself in a rather interesting manner. Given that this is based on the world of Professor Layton there are the obvious puzzles to solve, but in addition to this there are scattered references linking the movie to the games in some very subtle ways. One example of this is the numerical notation for the first puzzle Layton and Luke have to solve a short way into the story, as the font is exactly the same as that used for the puzzles in the games. This attention to detail may cater specifically to those who have played the games, but the immersive quality it allows may also be tangible to those who've never heard of Professor Layton.
In terms of visuals The Eternal Diva is everything fans of the game would want to see. Layton and Luke appear exactly as they do in the games, while the rest of the characters have been designed to look as individual as possible. Everyone in the movie has a different look and feel, right down to their clothing, and one can only applaud the effort that has gone into their design. Granted they are on the simplistic side, but the sheer number of individual characteristics on show really does set this movie apart from many others. This attention to detail also applies to the scenery, which is as quaint and expressive as fans could wish for, and while the usage of CG does stand out a little from the backgrounds, the discrepancy is very minor, and not enough to upset the balance of the scenes.
The movie also features some very good animation, much of which is very fluid and well choreographed, however there are certain character actions and movements which are a bit on the ludicrous side. That said, this is a kids movie, and the stranger aspects of the animation may appeal to the movie's target audience more than it would to someone older.
Besides, I liked the fact that I got to watch Layton fight whilst holding onto his hat.
The Eternal Diva is a little bit unusual when it comes to the acting as the lead roles of Layton and Luke are played by Oizumi Yo and Horikita Maki, who also voice the characters in all three of the games. The rest of the cast is made up of some rather well known names, including Mizuki Nana as Jenis Quatlane and Orikasa Fumiko as Melina Whistler, and the experience they all bring to the movie really is telling.
There are a wealth of effects on display here too, each very clear and well synchronised, but one of the stars of the show is actually the music. As the title suggests music plays a key role in The Eternal Diva, and the movie makes great use of the pieces on offer. In addition to this the vocal tracks are just as absorbing as the instrumental ones, all of which add an air of authenticity to proceedings.
One small gripe though, is that a movie is nowhere near enough time to develop characters in any meaningful way, and The Eternal Diva is no exception to this. One of the aspects of the anime that may not sit too well with some people is the fact that both Layton and Luke are only fully appreciable if one has played at least the first game, hence the reason for the 5 minute introduction. The problem though, is that even if one has played The Curious Village and Pandora's Box (the only two games released before The Eternal Diva), there is still something lacking. The movie doesn't really try to develop Layton or Luke in any way, and while I do like them as characters, the truth is that they are very one dimensional from start to finish. Granted there is some decent characterisation at work in the film, but unfortunately it's not enough to carry the characters forward, and it's more like they're simply going through the motions of having an adventure rather than actually ... having an adventure.
This "shallowness" is also present in near enough every other character with a speaking role, and while it doesn't really detract from one's overall enjoyment of the movie, it also makes it more difficult to take it seriously. Unfortunately it seems to be a legacy from the movie's video-game origins, and one can only hope that future productions attempt to test the characters instead of simply letting them out for a run in the yard.
Be that as it may, in all honesty I rather enjoyed The Eternal Diva, but then again, I rather enjoyed the games as well. The movie isn't overly complex or taxing in any way, and there are some nice concepts introduced that make the story into something more like a strange cross between Sherlock Holmes, Tomb Raider and The A-Team (you'll understand why when you watch the movie), all wrapped up in some very proper manners and dry British wit.
Granted this is movie is very obviously catering to kids and fans of the games, but there's enough going on to keep most people happy. The Eternal Diva isn't so much an adaptation as an extra chapter in the story of Professor Layton, and because of this it has an appeal that many straight forward conversions just can't seem to match.
That said, I do have to wonder how many more games the franchise will sell as one could also view this as nothing more than a glorified advert.