If you’ve never played the Professor Layton video games, there are two things you should know. First, you’re missing out on a wonderful series that mixes brain-tickling puzzles with brilliant visuals, dazzling music, and engaging, mysterious plotlines. The games hold a rare crossover appeal that makes them tantalizing to both gamers and non-gamers alike. Second, even if you don’t care one iota about video games and have no interest in ever checking out the Professor Layton series, you can still watch and enjoy The Eternal Diva.
Adapting one entertainment medium to another can be a troubling affair, and movies inspired by video games have a long history of mediocrity. However, in the case of The Eternal Diva, creating a film based on a video game series has resulted in nothing but success. If anything, the Professor Layton series, which has always featured a substantial number of high-quality anime clips created specifically for the games, is a natural fit for a full-fledged animated movie release because very little has to be translated from the game format. That is, given that the games already play out similarly to movies in many respects, The Eternal Diva simply expands upon the cinematic aspects already present in the series.
The Eternal Diva was created in close conjunction with Level-5, the high-profile Japanese game development studio behind the Professor Layton series, and its quality and tone are both up to par with the rest of the series. A slight word of warning, however: Convoluted and far-fetched plots are a trademark of the Professor Layton games, and that tradition alive and well in The Eternal Diva. That’s not to suggest the story isn’t a good one, but rather it has many fantastical elements that might be too confusing for younger viewers to take in. But for those that stay on board, they’ll find a wonderful film that plays out like something of a melding of Sherlock Holmes and Lupin III.
The plot focuses on a group of the world’s brightest minds who are invited to watch an opera, baited with the possibility of gaining eternal life after the performance. When the opera ends, the attendees find themselves forced into playing a game in which they must solve a series of tricky puzzles in order to survive. The last person remaining will be gifted the ability to live forever. Naturally, Professor Layton happens to be one of the attendees, and his sharp wit helps him stay one step ahead of everyone else, while his gentlemanly ways ensure he does so with class. Layton also has his young apprentice Luke in tow, and Luke proves to be just as clever with puzzle-solving as his master. As with any good mystery story, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, and since nothing is as it seems, the fun comes from trying to guess what will happen next.
Even if audiences find the storyline too bewildering, chances are they’ll stick around to enjoy The Eternal Diva’s wonderful visual and audio direction. The world of Professor Layton is one in which I would love to live. There are no electronic gadgets or fancy modern buildings, with mechanical devices and Victorian-style towns being the order of the day instead. The film’s soundtrack adds an air of nostalgia with a touch of ambiguity, giving a slightly familiar yet still bewildering atmosphere to the whole experience. It’s like walking through a land you have a vague recollection of visiting, but can’t quite place when and where you had been there. Since I am accustomed to the American localizations of the Professor Layton video games, I chose to watch The Eternal Diva in English, and I was surprised to find I enjoyed the English voices even more than the original Japanese cast. The only problem with the presentation comes in the usage of computer graphics for many of the background objects. They look cheaply done and don’t blend well with the otherwise outstanding animation.
Hopefully The Eternal Diva won’t be the last we see of Professor Layton in anime format. When considering the numerous characters and scenarios presented in the games, there is definitely room for many more adventures of Layton and Luke. Furthermore, since the visual and audio design of The Eternal Diva is uncharacteristic of most anime releases, the film has the potential to draw in audiences that would usually not bother with Japanese animation, thus warranting the creation of sequels. But even if The Eternal Diva represents Layton’s only foray into feature films, at least it’s a solid outing, and it is recommended viewing for anyone that is interested in a mystery story that is refreshingly off the beaten track.
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva
directed by Masakazu Hashimoto
90 minutes, Number of Discs: 1, Single disc/DVD
Related to: Professor Layton video games