Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 23rd 2011
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva
Professor Layton has starred in some popular games, and now it's time to look back at one of his early adventures with “Number One Apprentice” Luke Triton. Janice, a young woman who went from being one of Professor Layton's students to becoming an opera singer, contacts Professor Layton over a matter of a friend who recently died but supposedly showed up again in the body of a little girl, claiming that she had effectively achieved immortality. When Layton and Luke use provided tickets to attend Janice's opera, they find themselves embroiled in a mystery where a masked man offers to give the Elixir of Eternal Life to the winner of a puzzle-solving contest, albeit one where the losers also lose their lives. As Layton, Luke, Janice, and the other guests eventually discover, though, this seemingly deadly game actually masks not one but two much more complicated schemes
The Professor Layton franchise is one of the best-selling Nintendo DS-exclusive game series, with a total of over 10 million copies of its five games sold. Though this prequel movie was clearly made specifically for fans of the game series, the concept and story are straightforward enough that being familiar with the games is actually not necessary for understanding and appreciating the movie. All that is required is knowing that puzzles are an integral part of the games and so can be expected to play a big role in its animated version, too.
That does, indeed, prove to be true. Early on attendees at an opera get involved in a series of riddle-like puzzles to whittle down the numbers who will advance to the second stage on an island. There a couple more puzzles come into play to reduce the numbers further. All of this probably suits the style of the games quite well, and a couple of the puzzles and their solutions are even rather clever. All manner of fantastic contraptions are involved along the way, including an opera house which turns out to actually be a modified cruise ship in disguise, an organ somewhat reminiscent of the elaborate pipe organs that were a fad in American pizza restaurants back in the '80s, and a massive, convoluted mecha in the movie's late scenes. The minion bad guys are, of course, a motley crew of masked individuals and, in classic fashion, the villain turns out to be a mad scientist-type rival of the protagonist (and he also has a mask). Professor Layton also pulls a classic MacGuyver move, albeit with an even more improbable level of improvisation. The movie also has an obligatory comic relief character: a Scotland Yard detective with a distinctly hairy chest who has to perform all manner of feats of physical prowess just to keep himself from being shark or wolf-bait – including losing his undershorts at one point. All of this is clean, family-friendly fun which should keep youngsters involved and adults from rolling their eyes too much.
But this movie does have a story beyond the contrived manner in which it fits in the puzzle-solving schemes, and when that story takes over in the late stages the movie elevates itself beyond being just a game-themed production. The business about supposed immortality and the discovery of an Atlantis-like lost kingdom runs a little deeper than one might expect, and the story about a father desperately trying to hold onto his dead daughter's spirit gets a surprisingly heartfelt resolution. On the downside, the actual plot, once revealed, makes the earlier business with the puzzles rather pointless, since it turns out that only one of the opera guests actually matters and there would certainly be far more direct and reliable means of getting that person where needed – especially since time is an issue. Practicality is always a secondary issue in stories like this, though.
P.A. Works, in cooperation with Oriental Light and Magic, produces a movie which retains the character and setting design styles used in the games, including Professor Layton's distinctive dot-eyed appearance and a proclivity for designs that are more caricature than anything else. The plentiful CG renderings look great but do not always integrate fully with the regular artistry. Animation, especially in CG aspects, is robust and fluid, allowing for a few dashing action sequences by Professor Layton and the Scotland Yard detective and some serious butt-kicking by one other character.
The rich and active orchestrated musical score skillfully plays up the comedic and adventurous elements but also hits exactly the right notes on serious scenes towards the end. It is on the money with its opera-flavored insert songs, too, which are sung by seiyuu/pop star Nana Mizuki (who also voices Janice in Japanese) in both dubs. Mizuki also sings the pretty end credits song “Eien no Utahime.”
The Japanese dub uses a mix of well-traveled regulars (Nana Mizuki, Fumiko Orisaka) and relative newcomers for a serviceable but unexciting Japanese rendition, one which retains the voice actors from the games in cases where characters carry over. The English dub does not do this in all cases, with some roles apparently carrying over from the UK English game dubs and others being recast for the movie. The result, however, is nothing less than outstanding. In terms of vocal performances, this is one of the best English dubs in recent years. The dialog adjustments are seamlessly smooth, characters that are supposed to be British sound properly British, and roles are flawlessly-cast and well-performed. The lip synching is not the smoothest, as the (uncredited) English ADR director clearly prioritized quality over accuracy, but that is a minor quibble.
This DVD-only release was apparently produced by Viz Media and is being distributed by Warner Brothers. Perhaps because of that, its release standards leave a lot to be desired. Playing the English dub with the subtitles on is impossible, as is changing the settings without going through the main menu. The closing credits are only translated in the Japanese language version (although key ones are listed on the back case cover), the closing song is not translated in either version, and English dub and disk production credits are, frustratingly, nowhere to be found. The disk does offer both 5.1 and 2.0 options for each language track but does not have any Extras or even trailers.
Taken as a stand-alone effort, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is an entertaining movie which is family-friendly in format and old-school in style but not so kid-oriented that it cannot be enjoyed by adults. Even if you're not a fan of the games, it is still tolerable for watching with the kids.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ English dub, musical score, should be a delight for fans of the games.
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