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How the classic mystery series Columbo influenced Ace Attorney

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Detective Gumshoe is like if Columbo actually was a lousy detective.

This fall marks the 20th anniversary of Capcom’s Phoenix Wright series, and I have a substantial amount of feelings about the series. The first game was translated to English in 2005 for the Nintendo DS and prompted me to shout “ objection!” enough times that my parents wondered if I was interested in becoming an attorney. Since then, I’ve played most of the games in the series, including The Great Ace Attorney, to completion.

During quarantine, I picked up the 1970s crime thriller series Columbo, starring the legendary Peter Falk, because of its exciting take on the whodunnit formula. Columbo popularized the inverted mystery, which shows the murder from the beginning, and follows Columbo as he tries to corner the right suspect. Marathoning the formula-driven show got me thinking about some of the early cases in the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

Could this series from the ’70s tell us more about how mystery stories arrived in Japan? What made Columbo different than Japan’s own mystery storytelling culture? Was there more to this relationship between Columbo and Ace Attorney besides Dick Gumshoe? The short answer: there’s a connection, and it makes my obsession with both make a lot more sense.

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