I love, love, LOVE the Professor Layton games, at least the two that are localized and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment to be released state side near the end of November. The characters of Luke and Layton are instantly memorable plus the quirky towns, people, and puzzles combined with a European art style there is just a lot to enjoy and makes an easy transition into anime.
I would bet money that while playing the Professor Layton games a majority of people had the same thought pop into their heads. “This game is fun but boy I wish this was an anime.” And so OLM, Inc. and Level-5 used their special machine to break into dreams (and more specifically Narutaki’s dreams) and make this movie. The question is can a game with a few (albeit very well done) short animated cut scenes be strong enough to stand on its own as a full length movie.
The movie begins at the end of a case with Professor Layton foiling another dastardly caper. As Luke and Layton settle in after a hard days work they are reminded of an old case they worked on that started with a letter from a student of the professor named Jenis Quatlane. Jenis’ friend who died recently has come back to life as a small child. She believes that her friend’s resurrection and several other odd incidents in the area are all related to a mysterious theater. While Luke and Layton are attending an opera at the theater everyone in the audience in locked in a series of life of death trials to determine which one of them will receive the gift of immortality. Layton must discover how all these mysteries tie into the greater puzzle of the quest for eternity.
A major concern of mine going into this movie was not wanting to have plot points spoiled from further games that haven’t been released in the U.S. yet. I was doubly worried as I saw the film’s opening sequence with a short narration about the franchise and then the case we are thrown into took place very much in the present, though it was joyous to once again see Don Paolo. However, things take a turn when Layton and Luke listen to an old record as they are reminded of the famous young woman who sang it and a mysterious case involving her many years prior.
While the Professor Latyon games are fun puzzle games they also have strong characters that draw people into the series. The movie understands this and builds about these core characters. Layton and Luke have the same chemistry that they do in the game and felt spot on throughout the movie. I know that Remi Altava is from the 4th game which has not been localized so I can’t say how faithful her role here is to her character in the games. Remi was capable detective and martial artist which was good incentive for me to get the 4th game when it comes out. Jenis seems like a standard beautiful damsel in distress but I thought she had a great deal of depth when we get her full story. Inspector Grosky plays a good Zenigata style detective which is always comedy gold. The main villain was a bit more sinister than I was used to from a Professor Layton game but this is not a bad thing. The rest of the cast is colorful if not extremely memorable much like the NPCs from the game. They mainly exist for Layton and Luke to play off of as they solve puzzles.
We get a little introduction to who our main characters are, narrated by Luke as things start to get underway but it is thankfully not a long or boring exposition trying to catch you up. Professor Layton is a gentleman’s gentleman with an easy charm, this is immediately apparent in the games so thankfully it was transferred flawlessly into cinema. He is candid but quite tactful and obviously very intelligent and observant. Young Luke wants to be just like him, but he also adds his own intuition and thoughtful organization to the cases as well as his way with animals. The atmosphere brought about by the rest of the cast is similar but slightly different from the games. In the past, the character have had their quirks and oddities but in The Eternal Diva the people surrounding the events have a sense of desperation. The atmosphere can be more sinister as each person seeking eternal life has a every man for himself attitude.
There are two major questions when looking a movie like this. How good is it as an adaptation of the games and how good is it as a movie in general? Overall it is a faithful an adaptation of the Professor Layton games as an anime can get while still being entertaining. The heart of the series is Luke and Layton dynamic as they solve puzzles and mysteries. They integrate the puzzles into the story fairly well although unlike in the games I am not sure the audience as has as much ability to solve some of the puzzles. I was pleased that the puzzles never broke the flow of story which was vital to the movie. The overall mystery is solid and feels like something from a Professor Layton game. The movie itself entertained me just as an animated movie. It moved along nicely and it had a good mixture of comedy and suspense. The story makes a few unexpected twists and turns which was satisfying. The climax was slightly over the top but it involved elements that were relevant to my interests so I was fine with it. I very much enjoyed the movie and look forward to seeing the next movie in the series which has already been announced.
Unsurprisingly there were not hundreds of puzzles to be solved for Layton and Luke to get all the information they needed. The puzzles we are included in, besides the main mystery of course, vary in difficulty and interest. For example, the first two puzzles which take place on the ship are fairly simple and straightforward (at least I thought they were as I solved them) but they get a bit harder as things continue on. The overarching plot is populated with unexpected revelations and of course some much-needed drama. The secrets and history that are revealed are engaging and like the Professor Layton games a little bit haunting. This feeling comes across quite well in the film, it isn’t scary per se but it has an ominous feeling that develops quite early on. And finally, as I’ve come to expect with the Detective Conan movies, so too do we have a big splashy ending! As a random note, it was interesting to see how they integrated CG into the film for the buildings and ships, it isn’t quite jarring but it is quite noticeable.
This series has yet to be licensed in the U.S. but we are getting a copy of the region 2 release from our good friend from the land of saints and scholars, Philip from Eeeper’s Choice Podcast. I am super curious to see what the special features are. I am sure we will give you a little update in Ongoing Investigations when we receive that. Until then I hope that someone picks up this movie for U.S. release as well. This is a delightful family friendly movie, a wonderful adaptation of a charming video game series, and a franchise of movies that has potential for some legs in the U.S.
While it was clear from the get go that Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva was made for an all ages audience, they don’t allow that to steer the movie down an obvious or easy path. It very much had the feeling that I’ve come to expect from the series and gleaned a huge amount of enjoyment from the film. I would love to know if there were any special downloadable puzzles before the movie in Japan, I think that would have been a great way to spend the few minutes waiting for the movie to start.