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Extraterritorial Rights - Shelly de Killer
Ace Attorney is a tapestry of characters, whether human, animal or something more. Much like any structured story, each of these characters has an assigned role to play. Whether a shining protagonist, a flawed antihero, a comic relief sidekick, or a dastardly villain, each of the moving parts within this series’ storied past falls into a defined role at some point or another.
This is a necessity of good storytelling, as it evokes human emotions that we can relate to or identify with. Phoenix Wright is loyal and resilient and epitomises some of the admirable traits we aspire to imitate. Miles Edgeworth is flawed, yet displays a willingness to better himself and broaden his worldview. This resonates with our sense of humanity, as personal faults are an inevitability we come to grips with every day. Counter to this is somebody like Blaise Debeste, whose self-interest and callous disregard for others showcases some of the worst that humanity has to offer. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Blaise Debeste is not a nice person, or that Phoenix Wright is a good person.
Yet the hallmark of well-rounded personalities in fiction is to appear human. They aren’t real, yet you feel that they are so. Through all the Cyclops masks and robot shoulder pads, what makes a good AA character is to imbue them with a natural humanity. What makes a great AA character is when that humanity is masked beneath a deceptive exterior.
Shelly de Killer has perhaps the most deceptive exterior of all.
By and large a fan favourite, most of the praise I see for de Killer unfortunately tends to boil down to surface-level stuff, like “he is a spooky assassin; that's cool.” General criticism tends to be the equally vague “he is stupid; that's illogical.” While these are true, they are a result of the far more compelling strengths and deeper flaws that run through de Killer. His nature is what makes him such a great character, not his profession. His mistakes don’t make him a bad character, but instead expose his flaws and true nature. People are not always who they appear to be, after all. I’ll elaborate on this, but I wanted to mention his general reception upfront, as these seem to be common stances that fans and critics take.
I’m excited to do this writeup, as I sense de Killer is quite misunderstood by much of the fandom. He’s certainly not as suave as some think he is, but he’s not as nebulous as others say either. A genuinely good character is a pleasure to write about, so this will be a long writeup. If it’s too long, who cares; I greatly value his inclusion and thoroughly enjoyed writing about him. I hope it’s an equally enjoyable read.
With that said, I'd like to start pulling away the stitching of the honourable Shelly de Killer. After all, the most important thing when analysing a character is honour.
1. Concept or character?The first thing I'll address is a criticism commonly aimed at de Killer: that he isn’t much of a personality. Rather, that by being a contract killer, he is simply a concept; a tool for culprits to utilise. It’s a point I see stressed often. On one hand, I can see why people think that. If it weren’t for Matt Engarde or Simon Keyes, de Killer wouldn’t have been involved in the events of the two games.
On the other hand, I don’t. Yes, de Killer wouldn’t have had any involvement in the cases if he weren’t hired by any of the existing characters. But without him, there is no case in the first place. Matt Engarde was always going to hire somebody to kill Juan Corrida for him. I don’t think there was ever any question of Engarde doing the deed himself. He categorically states that he refused to “dirty his hands” in the murder of Juan Corrida. It would sully his “refreshing like a spring breeze” image. Therefore, it makes sense both narratively and characteristically for Engarde to hire an assassin.
Look at Simon Keyes. There is no way a circus performer was going to have the skills or resources to assassinate the “president” (in fact, Keyes’ actual murder of him was a chance encounter). Plus, it’s well within his personality to adopt the role of the puppet master, secretly pulling the strings in the darkness. So again, it doesn’t just make narrative and characteristic sense for him to hire an assassin, it necessitates it. There is every reason for de Killer to be involved, or else there wouldn’t have been a 2-4 or an I2-1 (or the subsequent events of I2).
Secondly, I’m not a fan of the idea that because a character is born out of necessity, they are now “lesser” than the characters around them. Yes, Shelly de Killer is a “murder weapon” of sorts, but he’s not just a faceless tool. This would imply that he possesses no depth or personality, or that he plays no active part in the development of the case. In reality, it’s the opposite.
By virtue of his contract, he has to break from the “silent assassin” role and goes rogue. He kidnaps Maya, takes her and Knightley hostage, hijacks Edgeworth’s investigations, “assists” him and Phoenix in order to pursue a shared goal, and he doggedly tries to exterminate Matt and Simon by any means possible. None of this is indicative of his typical assassin work, but instead a result of the exceptional circumstances he finds himself in.
While he exists as a “murder weapon” of sorts, he is also a distinct and clearly-defined person in the story. I'll be discussing the various elements of his own personality, the influence he holds over the story and the direct supporting role he plays in the events of 2-4 and AAI2. This will show that ultimately, there shouldn’t even be a “concept or character” argument, because in reality, he is neither. He is a hybrid of the two.
As for what type of character he is...
2. Second-tier villains: an archetypeI want to discuss a common Ace Attorney archetype, the “Big Bad”, to give an idea of what de Killer is not. Speaking broadly here, but these villains generally display “Dark Lord” characteristics, a grand evil force in direct opposition to our heroes. On the whole, characters like Manfred von Karma, Dahlia and Ga’ran fall under this category. These are the chief villains of the series, not to be toppled until the final case of the game. The Big Bad, in their almighty evil, provides ample opportunity for “second-tier villains”: characters who commit villainous acts in service of a larger evil. These lesser creatures of evil slink around the world, providing interesting wrinkles in the narrative.
Examples of second-tier villains include Patricia Roland, a willingly immoral accomplice who pays for her opportunism, driven by a powerful enemy to act out of fear instead. Paul Atishon walks the tightrope between dynastic politician, pathetic coward and blackmail-savvy scumbag, all in service of a benefactor halfway across the world. Being an assassin, de Killer’s service is a literal one. He is hired by clients to commit their crimes and the game dictates that the one who hires him is the true culprit. Because of this, Shelly is perhaps the poster child for a second-tier villain in the AA canon. Rather than catching the assassin himself, both 2-4 and AAI2 are intended to be resolved by catching his client instead.
Thus, we get de Killer in this role of a second-tier villain. It’s a role he performs gracefully, I feel. The stiff regime of honour and duty that he adopts provides ample opportunities for comedy when he comes across an everyman.
Phoenix: And, uh, anything else?
Doe (de Killer): No, not especially. It is not appropriate for a lowly servant to speak of the master or his affairs.
Doe (de Killer): No, not especially. It is not appropriate for a lowly servant to speak of himself and his affairs.
Doe (de Killer): No, not especially. It is not appropriate for a lowly servant to speak of the family cat.
Doe (de Killer): I am no assassin. I'm just a simple ice cream salesman.These little comedic nuances are dynamite! Having these moments of clashing personalities can be interpreted in many ways. Is de Killer really that stiff of a man that he doesn’t know how to tone down his routine? Or is he fully aware of how he comes across and is simply toying with our heroes? The ambiguity here is a great moment and shows off some masterful shades of personality while saying very little.
Edgeworth: (C-Curses...! I don't know anything about ice cream!) Hm. So, um... What's the most important thing about making ice cream?
Doe (de Killer): The most important thing about making ice cream is honor.
On the topic of personality, let’s begin diving into that, because there's a lot going on under the surface.
3. “My name is… de Killer.”Horror is about as subjective as comedy, and it’s something that AA games don't delve into frequently (odd for a series about murders and serial killings). When it does, I find it lands very well. The reason for this is that it doesn’t go for over-the-top scares. It simply gives human characters a nightmarish edge. The image of smiling young Athena, covered in her mother’s blood, is very confronting for a kid's game. The details of the SL-9 incident, complete with portrait art of fresh-from-hell Joe Darke, are pretty grim.
Shelly de Killer, despite the goofy name, certainly has that aura of threat and terror to him. Whenever he appears as himself in 2-4, he's always bathed in red light. Instead of the usual “sprite fade-in”, he pops up with his theme music to give you a shock. With his creepy face and barely-restrained yet boundless capacity for violence, he’s a Gothic blend of slasher and biological horror.
By keeping the majority of his interaction off-screen, the games never fail to give me that sick thrill of discomfort whenever the curtain is drawn back and de Killer faces you in person. The whole sequence at Engarde Mansion is truly unpleasant. You have the innocence of Pearl and Shoe siphoned away by the arrival of de Killer. Then you have his vague, repetitive statements, constantly shooting down whatever topic Phoenix tries to talk to him about. He acts like a sketch of a human being, unsure of how to make proper conversation and just repeating phrases to put an end to the chat.
It’s made more tense with the dramatic irony. We know that Maya is a room away from Phoenix in that scene. As unpleasant as the conversation with John Doe is, it's a lot better than the thought of another uncomfortable de KilleMaya scene.
Speaking of, the scenes when you play as Maya are even more tense. There's that palpable feeling of suspense when exploring the mansion. Knowing that he’s going to appear at any point makes for some unbearable tension. This is strong character work and fantastic presence from an individual who is off-screen this entire time. To me, that’s the mark of a strong, well-written and fascinating personality.
Despite the nightmarishness of his presence, de Killer is prone to indulging in gallows humour, resulting in some pretty fun gags, like this exchange in 2-4. The game likes to play with his design by working his appearance into his objects. The two-way radio in 2-4 is my favourite example of a weird testimony; just watch it bop side-to-side, sweat and even kick its own ass! AAI2 brings it back with his ice cream cone that defies gravity. Since most interpretations of him sit between British and Transatlantic, it’s quite funny to imagine his poor attempt at a kidnapper’s impression over the radio.
He’s a lot of fun as a witness, too. This is a personal preference, but I'm not a fan of the overused “ugh” faces. I hate when the prosecutor raises a point that I’ve already come up with the answer to, but the game dictates that I can’t reach that conclusion yet, so my in-game avatar can only freak out and despair.
Equally, I dislike premature freak outs. I don't like it when witnesses go and lose their mind the moment they get called out on a mistake. I enjoy the chase and the build-up to a breakdown. Not just the final defeat, but when they finally drop the facade and show their real face to the court. This is because I earned it. I had to work for it. Whether it’s the first case or the last, I want to work for the victory. This is precisely why de Killer is such a good witness. He gives you nothing. Despite him being guilty as sin, he gives you nothing for so, so long and even when you trip him up in an unavoidable lie, the shock barely registers on his face.
Having de Killer remain cool and emotionless, the only reaction coming from his key object, is like a dare. To me, it says he's someone used to living under pressure. “Is that all you’ve got? You’ll need to do better than that to catch me out.” Even Edgeworth remarks on his intimidating confidence. In I2-1, he’s a refreshing change from your standard first-case witness fare. He's no pushover. de Killer doesn’t just refuse to concede. He actually points out a flaw in your own investigation. He leads you away from him for a complete interrogation of Nicole Swift instead. There are final case culprits who can’t even manage that.
Like all witnesses, it's required that he make mistakes at some point. That's OK, because the sheer amount of work and effort you have to put in is worth it. Let's take a look at the 2-4 trial. To summarise, it takes:
- A full testimony of pressing his conceited little mission statement, just to get the name of his client
- Stopping the judge from giving a premature not guilty verdict
- Vaguely dodging his threats to end the cross-examination and kill Maya
- Endlessly pressing an entire second testimony
Now what? You’ve destroyed his testimony, but a little too well. How are you supposed to stall him now that you’ve decisively proven his testimony is all a lie?
Then he hits back, almost instantly. Weaving an entirely new testimony, a false story of how he contacted Adrian indirectly, his mistakes pop up more often. The lies become clearer. Mistakes are good, though. If he was just a godlike character, it would take the interest out of him. Seeing this man who appears to be that way makes me want to discover if he has an Achilles’ heel. And he does. People are not always who they appear to be, after all.
4. “As a de Killer, I always finish what I set out to do.”The 3rd heir in the de Killer line, Shelly appears to the world as a calm, methodical assassin, carrying out his business with precision and professionalism. Assassins in fiction are always going to be sensationalised to a degree, whether it’s the suave, suit-wearing Agent 47, or the cult-like ancestry of Assassin’s Creed (interestingly, de Killer exhibits both these traits). The writers have shown through de Killer and Dogen that they prefer their assassins to appear put-together.
This is why he works so well. de Killer’s passive nature only stands to make him appear more sinister and threatening. Just listen to the smooth yet discomfiting jazz of his theme. Nearly every single one of these chords are dissonant, the music evoking the clash between de Killer's calm nature and his violent actions. Make no mistake: the polite, calm exterior of morality that de Killer exhibits to the world is, like his face, stitched together to hide the true nature underneath. It is a lie.
In reality, Shelly de Killer is a murderous psychopath. Like most contract killers, both fictional and real, he displays traits of moderate to severe psychopathy. He clearly has no feelings of guilt about killing his targets. It extends deeper than that, however.
4.1 He has no empathy
de Killer is shown to have the emotional detachment required to act coldly without fear. Being a hired gun, one with his own investigative team dedicated to catching him, it’s clear that he’s racked up a significant number of hits in his time. Secondly, after the public revelation of his treacherous client in AAI2, he immediately shows up to take his revenge.
4.2 He follows set subjective moral guidelines
The “honourable assassin” tag is one of the most notable things about de Killer. Descending from a line of assassins, he seems to replicate their way of doing business. He leaves calling cards at the scene to assure his client he has completed the job. He also refrains from needlessly killing, despite his expertise.
de Killer: I did not kill him. It is not my principle to kill needlessly. I am also grateful to Rooke, a worthy adversary who was connected to me by fate. Thanks to that man, I did not kill a target who had no value to be killed.
Phoenix: I heard you injured three officers in your attempt to get this back.Most importantly, he lives within the self-imposed rules of his contract. One of these rules is the trust he values between himself and his client to ensure high-quality clientele.
de Killer: That was most regrettable. However, it was an order from my client. I was told to protect that video tape.
de Killer: To an assassin, nothing is more important than the trust between a client and himself.
de Killer: My client deliberately gave me a false target. ...It was a betrayal most foul. I am now searching for my client. In all likelihood... ...it is the same person you are looking for.These rules seem silly to us. Is he just saying that so the game doesn’t have to give away the culprit yet? Perhaps. Why include this scene at all, then? It seems like it exists just to confirm de Killer’s involvement in the mastermind’s plan. He insists that to publicly disclose his client’s identity “would create a problem of trust” with his other clients. Basically, he’s saying “rules are rules”, even though the only person holding him to those rules is himself. This scene, and the strange clause of trust that de Killer lives by, indicates that he blindly follows his own rules, to his own detriment and vulnerability.
Edgeworth: (Is he saying that his client murdered the president?) Just who is this person you are referring to...?
de Killer: I, myself, am not allowed to say. It would be a violation of the rules. I cannot disclose the identity of my clients. For to do so would create a problem of trust with my other clients. This is precisely why I am personally searching for them myself.
4.3 He views himself as morally superior
Despite his grubby profession, there are times when de Killer takes the moral high ground. One such time is his decision to honour Sirhan Dogen’s plea to spare Simon's life in the climax of AAI2. This clash of titans (spectacular artwork aside) offers a great character beat between the two assassins.
Dogen: His is the first life I have ever saved... I will not allow it to be taken away so easily.This rare moment of de Killer being caught off-guard is great. Not only does it add a touch of humanity to his omniscience; it also shows Shelly, for the first time, questioning his own morals. At first, he scoffs at Dogen. Then, he pauses, clearly considering the meaning of the words. Seeing a “colleague” humbly make a plea to do the one thing Shelly has never done seems to rattle him for a brief moment. Furthermore, I love that he covers up the moment with a “well, it was going to be an inconvenience to fight you anyway.” Attempting to disguise his submission as a rational conclusion he came to himself shows how uncomfortable he is with unfavourable situations. It’s humanising, it’s disarming and best of all, it establishes the untold lore that the assassins of Ace Attorney have crossed paths before. Give me that story, Capcom!
de Killer: You saved a life...? The assassin, Sirhan Dogen?
Dogen: Keh heh heh. Ironic, is it not? That I, the one who has taken countless lives, am making a plea for this young one's life. He saved my life, just as I have saved his. Before I knew it, I grew quite fond of the lad. You may laugh at me as much as you wish. However... I must ask that you spare the life of the boy. From one assassin to another... Please make this allowance.
de Killer: ........ ...I understand. If you are willing to go that far...
Dogen: You have my thanks. I am in your debt.
de Killer: ......No need for thanks. I simply felt there would be no merit in a fight to the death with you. That is all. And with that, I must take my leave.
4.4 He is a narcissist; vain and egocentric
There are many times when Shelly exposes his narcissistic side. The calling card he leaves at crime scenes shows three things: 1, it clears his clients of any police scrutiny. 2, he gets to mark his kill like territory. 3, he taunts the authorities who have failed to catch him. Take a look at that scene in I2-1 when de Killer tries to lure his target out into the open. When the President gives no response, de Killer realises that he has been misinformed about his target and that he has no reason to linger. So he flees, leaving his card on the way out. Even though he's not made a kill.
Not only is Shelly signalling to Miles that the case isn’t fully solved, he’s taunting the police once again. “You had me right in front of you and you still couldn’t catch me”, it says. He loves this game of cat and mouse. Why else would he choose to step in front of the authorities decked out in his signature shell logo? “If too many people knew my face, it would be quite troublesome,” he claims at one point. His actions in I2-1 suggest otherwise.
Sure, de Killer may have the resources to alter his appearance at will. The stitches running down his face (and apparently his entire body), suggest he has surgically done so in the past, perhaps when his cover has gotten too hot. Despite this, it's clear he has no qualms about teasing the police, no matter the danger he places himself in by doing so.
This is a common complaint from critics of Shelly. His actions seem illogical or counterintuitive. But to me, that is exactly the point. This is not a logical man. Do not take his calm, emotionless exterior at face value. He tells us himself: “people are not always who they appear to be.” Why should he be any different from the “people” he speaks of? Matt Engarde was a deceitful bastard who posed as a vapid dudebro. Simon Keyes was a grand mastermind who posed as a wimpy circus performer. Shelly de Killer, in reality, is an egotistical, high-functioning psychopath posing as a calm, collected gentleman.
He's the 3rd in a line of assassins dating back a century. He's been trained to be the most efficient, adept killer possible. He's been raised to believe - and clearly states that he believes - he is in control. He's had pursuers hot on his tail for God knows how long, yet they are simply unable to capture him. Why would he have even the slightest concern that he could be caught? In his years of work, he claims to have only sustained a handful of injuries. He's as complacent as a person can be and he has every reason to be that way. Throwing himself into the path of the police with the confidence that a quick getaway is always possible is the mark of his vain, maybe insane, personality.
Here are some choice quotes in 2-4 showcasing the range of de Killer’s pride and vanity.
de Killer: Please keep in mind you do not have much space to maneuver with me. As a De Killer, I always finish what I set out to do.
Judge: Hmm, Mr. de Killer seems to be a very clever man. I'd almost say he seems to be mocking us.
de Killer: I don't think you understand your place, Mr. Attorney. I said this is something I must first state. Do you know what the word "first" means?
Judge: You... Who gave you the right to be so high and mighty...!?
de Killer: To the gentleman who spoke just now... Excuse me, but would you care to die?
Phoenix: We understand, so please tell us the name of your client!!All of these traits, moments and events paint a clear picture to me of a high-functioning psychopath who has made murder into a profitable profession. This is most clear during his scene in I2-5. “My client deliberately gave me a false target. It was a betrayal most foul,” says de Killer, clutching his smoking ice cream cone with hot, simmering fury. Kay asks what he's going to do. And with a serenely calm expression, Shelly de Killer responds:
de Killer: I'm afraid I cannot do that. I still have a few things to say before I do.
Phoenix: (Aaargh! That egomaniacal...)
de Killer: It's not good for your health to be so aggravated. You won't live very long if you let everything bother you…
“Of course… they shall be rewarded with a punishment most befitting of a traitor.”4.5 He acts out of pleasure
Due to his nature, de Killer brings something previously unseen to the world of Ace Attorney: a pure, primal desire to kill. All other killers we see in the games kill with motive, emotional or otherwise. Fear. Rage. Desperation. Even serial killer Joe Darke only murdered witnesses to his crimes. Not de Killer. He sees murder as a pleasure and an economy, one that he can make bank out of.
He's apparently above the trivial incidents of restaurant poisonings and locked-room mysteries. He's seemingly beyond the petty trifles of motives and emotions. Yet he can’t help but get swept up in these twisted crimes and cases; and make no mistake, a case is made markedly more intriguing when de Killer becomes involved.
But why does he get involved in the first place?
Simple: Shelly de Killer is not good at his job.
5. (Un)professional assassinLet me clarify: de Killer is good at killing. There is no doubt about that. Characters describe his work as “the best.” No, where he fails at his job is his most prominent flaw, disguised as professionalism: the personal relationship he establishes with his clients.
The “bond of trust”, as he describes it, is the most important thing to him in his line of work. Insisting on meeting them in person, de Killer prides himself on his direct line of contact with clients. For a secrecy-dependent profession, this is surely unusual. The conventions of contract killing seem to dictate an anonymous correspondence between client and killer. His trust is his Achilles’ heel and his biggest flaw. Mia notices it, Engarde notices it, and they use it to manipulate him to their advantage.
In fact, the more we see Shelly de Killer’s odd work ethic, the less powerful he appears. Not only can he be a clumsy witness, despite his good show, but he can also be outsmarted by his clients. The pesky trust clause he lives by has shown to be his undoing in both his appearances, humbling and humanising him. Then we have the final straw, the climax of de Killer vs Dogen. The man who has mercilessly mowed down police officers to sneak back into his hideout, the one who willingly steps into highly secure police investigations actually backs down from his vow of revenge when he feels disadvantaged.
By the end of AAI2, Shelly de Killer has never been less powerful. He’s not this omnipotent presence anymore. He's flawed and messy, with ideologies that consistently result in him making things personal. He is not good at his job. His client relations make him emotional and vulnerable. He is an unprofessional professional, something entirely different from what he presents himself as.
6. “...People are not always who they appear to be.”It deserves emphasis and clarity, so here’s how I feel: de Killer’s “moral code” and sense of honour isn't some cool trait that deepens his personality. It’s all bullshit. It is pure vanity that disguises who he really is. There’s a reason this man is stitched together from head to toe. Who he presents himself to be is nothing like the man underneath. “People are not always who they appear to be.”
Shelly de Killer is not some dutiful, honourable contract killer. He's a petty, prideful, vanity-driven man who has bought so far into the mysticism of the de Killer creed that he wraps it all up in neat, tidy stitching. The only ambiguity is whether de Killer is aware of his flawed nature or not, and that is what makes him such a hugely compelling character. Going after two treacherous clients in a year is far more likely to scare off prospective clients than to reassure them of your trust, yet de Killer does it anyway. So why does he do this?
Considering how often de Killer muses about how professional and clinical he is when going about his work, it's extremely ironic to see how emotional and primal he becomes when his “rules” are broken. If he were truly indifferent about his work, would it not be smarter to simply blacklist Engarde and Keyes, or give them up to the authorities, at worst? A response such as this seems like a far more logical, proportionate one. It's a clear warning to his potential clients: betray our contract and I will give you up. Instead, he goes “cross me and I will hunt you down until I kill you myself." His actual responses are so wildly out of proportion, it’s quite astonishing.
But this is the way that he is. This is why de Killer goes after his clients as he does. Not because of honour or his contract terms. Despite what he tells others, he does it out of ego, not honour. As I said earlier, all the previous killers in Ace Attorney seem to have had emotional reasons or motives for killing. In reality, de Killer is no different from the rest of them. Despite the dispassionate way in which he works, he’s shown on multiple occasions that he is more than susceptible to human flaws like emotion and error.
He prattles on and on about honour and his “moral code” as an assassin, yet in both of his AAI2 appearances, he puts himself in frankly insane levels of danger to achieve his own ends. Why on earth did he walk in on a team of law officials while sporting his signature emblem all over his outfit? Why in the world did he willingly walk into a tent full of police and law officials just to kill a treacherous client? These decisions defy logic and go completely against the calm, methodical assassin we are told that de Killer is.
So why does he go so far against what he’s portrayed as? Simple. The one who portrays de Killer in this way is not the game. It's de Killer. Phoenix has even noticed and commented on his streak of egomaniacal behaviour. Shelly is the unreliable narrator of his own story. He believes in his own flawed “code” to the point that he truly attempts to portray himself as something Other. This is a man who swears not to give up a client out of a non-disclosure guarantee even after a betrayal, yet has no qualms about killing him the second the client's identity is made publicly known. He trivialises his profession with petty acts of revenge disguised as honour and virtue. His actions are shown to be deliberately and repeatedly inconsistent with his self-portrayal. He is not the man we are told he is, because people are not always what they appear to be.
In reality, Shelly de Killer is just as vengeful and petty as any of the other villains in the series. Where he differs is his stoic defiance of that fact, preferring instead to adopt a facade of gentlemanly honour. Is he really above the messy crimes our heroes constantly find themselves entangled in? No, but he attempts to present himself as such and to me, that is the heart of the character.
These incidents he gets himself involved in show that he has the capacity to not only be manipulated, but caught out. Speaking of which...
7. The one that got awayIn a series that focuses on bringing culprits to justice under the law, Shelly de Killer seems to regard himself as above the law. He seems to think incredibly highly of himself, and so does the series. As of yet, Shelly is the only killer in the series still at large. We’ve mowed down prosecution gods, a police chief, a demon-thot, a queen, even the man’s own clients; yet the man himself remains the one elusive killer.
Despite the adult narrative the writers imbue into it, Ace Attorney is still a children’s game at its heart. As it stands, no matter how complex or (shudder) sympathetic our killers are, every case strives to give us that primal, “fist pump” moment when we finally catch the culprit for good.
Shelly de Killer gives us no such moment.
Not only does he deny us of that moment, he outright slinks away unscathed. There’s a moment in the credits of Justice for All when we get de Killer’s last words delivered via his radio. Seeing him is a reminder of the fact that the real killer was never brought to justice. Sure, we get to see the very satisfying breakdown of slick shithead Matt Engarde, but there’s still that itch, that one loose thread. In a game that is literally titled “Justice for All”, the person who deserved to be brought to justice the most... isn’t.
And then he shows up in AAI2. “Here we go,” I thought. I went in expecting we would get the chance to take him down for good. I love a good sprawling narrative, but just give me the simple pleasure of burying this guy once and for all. And then... we just don’t. Yet again, de Killer gets away. But he doesn’t get away with it. Unfortunately for de Killer, Simon’s machinations mess up his assassination attempt and put him in yet another vulnerable position.
I have no clue if the writers ever plan to bring back de Killer. I doubt they know either, even if they share my enjoyment of his inclusion in a game. It was half a joke, but I once suggested that if they needed, Ace Attorney can always rely on Shelly de Killer as a final villain if the story ever comes to an end. Makes sense to me. He's a character who’s been with us since the early days of the series. He managed to outsmart both protagonists. I'm quite sure his true face has been hidden all this time. Why not rely on him for a satisfying final takedown?
To this end, fans have even speculated, theorising that de Killer may have been the Phantom or the sniper in the conclusion of Dual Destinies. I doubt that is what the writers had intended, but the ambiguity is there for any future exploits they may need. Of course, this kind of speculation is mostly meaningless when rating the man as he is right now. Still, I think it’s at least fair to count the sound possibilities of a character as a point in their favour. A personality that generates this much speculation must be one of great interest. Even if this doesn’t come to pass, it’s OK if de Killer is never brought back again and if he’s never caught. I’ve come to terms with the notion that we aren’t going to catch every killer in the series. And why should we? After all, de Killer has always been a second-tier villain. He was never the main villain to break down, not even in 2-4. Besides, how do you begin to bring a character to justice when he operates exclusively outside the law? Even Sirhan Dogen displayed traces of empathy and compassion. He eventually paid the price by being caught. Despite showing us traces of his humanity, de Killer himself has never seemed to acknowledge the fact. It seems that he would need to begin viewing the flaws in his ideology if we are ever to see him brought to justice for good.
Shelly de Killer never fails to add interesting wrinkles to the narrative of the story, and I think that to finally catch him would take a lot of the mysticism out of the in-game universe. This would be to the series’ detriment, I feel. Despite the simple pleasures we get from catching a killer, the sign of a stronger narrative is that there’s always something out there, unfinished. Something dangerous. Something worth chasing.
ConclusionI understand this is a lengthy post about a seemingly minor character, but I think it’s crucial to properly explore what de Killer brings to the series. To write him off as simply solid or merely fascinating at a surface-level would be to miss out on the unique otherworldliness that he brings to the series. Again, make no mistake, any case is decidedly more interesting when Shelly de Killer is involved. It means that there is a client, a puppet master in the shadows. It also means that this puppet master has found a way to manipulate the man who makes it his mission to punish traitors. He can always be relied upon to lend an instant shot of tension, conspiracy and good old revenge to a case.
He is always “on” as a character. When he’s lurking off-screen, you can feel the tension and suspense of him hiding nearby. When he finally steps out to speak to you, it’s a decidedly creepy interaction. When he’s not busy being a murderous boogeyman, he can be charismatic, playful and downright humourous. I’ve never felt that there was a moment when de Killer is lacking in presence. His personality is expressed marvellously, whether on screen or off, and there are few characters who can do this as effectively as he does.
Not a single moment is wasted with de Killer. Less is more and his brief appearances do wonders for his mystique. I can’t think of a single line of his dialogue that isn’t vital exposition, or reveals more to us about his personality. He is - quite literally - all killer, no filler. Despite the blank facade he may present to the world, de Killer is a character with personality, flaws, depth and star quality in spades.
Do not get the impression from this to be that I’m just saving a fan favourite. I am saving somebody who I believe to be one of the most interesting personalities in the series. For all of the unique qualities he brings to the series, de Killer is, without question, worthy of as high a spot as possible in the rankdown. Critics may say that “de Killer doesn’t make sense” or “de Killer is bad at his job” a lot, but what can I tell you? That’s exactly the point of him!
If de Killer was actually good at his job, he would not leave his cards. He’d have sent Engarde away on a trip and then just killed Juan Corrida in his own home. But he’s not good at his job and that’s why he is such a strong character. He lets whimsy, vanity and pride slip in, affecting his ability to be the objective presence he tries to be. He wants to be impartial, but his intentions are betrayed by the ugliness of his true self.
There is plenty of fascinating content to unpack about de Killer. I love discovering the messy flaws beneath his seemingly inscrutable personality. His inclusion introduces an exciting concept: an assassin, simply the epitome of an antagonist in a series geared towards solving murders. Most of all, I love that he’s able to function as more than simply a character or a concept.
Shelly de Killer brings something new into the Ace Attorney universe: he is both a conceptual force of nature and a supporting character, at once omniscient and an active participant in the unfolding drama. He is the only killer in the entire series who has yet to be put behind bars. Both his appearances have had a hand in the most compelling developments for the series’ two protagonists: for Phoenix, his inner conflict about defending the indefensible and for Miles, the inciting incident for his decision to stray from the prosecutor’s path. He’s become the series’ white whale - our heroes are never quite able to catch him and any attempt to do so would likely lead to ruin. The world of Ace Attorney would be markedly less interesting without de Killer out there, on the fringe of the drama.
Franziska von Karma said it best: “Shelly de Killer is no ordinary man.”
A Terrible Review / Synopsis of Most Wanted: Chapter 1
I actually do remember what happens here! You pick a character and it dies. On account of having picked the girl thinking I was picking a sprite the first time, I’m going with the guy. PB out here making this look real real by letting me name the guy too. But I know what’s coming. I know.
I order him a Fluffy Pink Rainbow Surprise. He might as well die happy, right? I also told Theresa Holland the famous corpse that I was unemployed. Blaze of glory. When the option to kiss her came up, I let the timer run out, out of curiosity. Poor guy choked. Now he’s going to die sad.
Here comes the redneck looking MF that kills me. Or him, my character, who charges at him to save some tabloid TMZ kind of guy named Gavin Routh from being shot and gets shot in the stomach. The redneck is giving a speech about how heroes don’t win and then kills Routh a la BLAM.
It’s still a bit jarring to have something so ugly happen so early on in a book. Somber. Grim. I was half-hoping I remembered wrong, and that my guy just ended up being a witness to the murder. Alas. Earwax.
Ah man! I thought the chapter was over. But we’re cutting over to Reyes and his party with the stars! PB definitely put a lot more energy into the older books (not that that was in doubt. If released today, I have no doubt that this party would’ve been the start of a new chapter. Damn I miss the quality.
So anyway. Here I am. Playing against Ryan Summers. I don’t look at my cards. I’m a badt bidtch. I psyche him out. I get defective points. I checked the Choices Wiki. You get points either way. I also sneaked a peak at the next option by accident. Okay. The next two. But. Accident. I swear!
Oh. Dave seems like a bit of a douche bag. Hobnobbing with all these celebrities. In their little Hollywood pockets. Actually, he kind of looks like Damien Nazario if Damien was a d*ck.
“hAvInG a PaRtNeR jUsT gEtS iN tHe WaY” - classic emotional range of a teaspoon (to quote Hermione) from our guy Reyes here. Foreshadowing the arrival of our badt bidtch Sam.
Anyway, Reyes is just out here flirting with this celeb girl, Alyssa. You can see she doesn’t mind f*ckboys at all because if she did, she’d have bounced. Actually, turns out home girl wanted Reyes to spend major crimes money looking into her alleged stalker. Reyes, who wants to jump her bones, agrees - under the pretence that she’ll be a valuable witness. Smooth. You can see he’s the kind of guy who shaves his balls.
While Alyssa strips in front of her room window to lure out the creepy stalker guy, Reyes does his best not ogle her but fails. He makes up for it by sneaking up on the creep taking pictures of Alyssa. Why she changes in front of her windows god only knows. The creep breaks his camera. Turns out, the creep is Donnie. And he knows Reyes. Reyes insists he stop taking pictures of Alyssa and Donnie tells him to take a long walk off a short cliff. Reyes bribes Donnie with secret police info - exclusive access to a criminal trial if he leaves Alyssa alone. Donnie agrees. Anything to protect the rich and famous 1%, huh, Reyes? He tried and fails to make Donnie, who just wants to feed his family, feel bad for being a paparazzo. Shame.
Alyssa repays Reyes by giving a tip about a drug called Blur. He’s semi satisfied. Alyssa senses this and makes out with him. Our boy is getting super hot - then his phone vibrates. He can’t not check his phone. Work is more important than a hot piece of ass, Alyssa, you should’ve known that when you invited this emotionally unavailable cop Chad upstairs.
He’s got wind of a Murder. MY MURDER. He finds Theresa, with whom I was flirting before I died. She tells him what a hero I am. And then his attention is diverted by young blood Officer McKenzie. Is she a bad guy? I don’t recall. Anyway, he’s not very interested in my unemployed ass who I now learned crashed the party. He’s much more interested in Routh. Surprised? Don’t be. We’ve established that Reyes is Mr 1% Is Right.
Officer McKenzie is nervous. So I tell her a story about how I was nervous once upon a time. This gives me 10 points and makes her like me. All because Reyes wasn’t a total tosser. Nice.
Otis comes running up to Reyes, demanding to know where he’s been. Who tf Otis think he is tho? This is Reyes. He’s been making out with Choices’ Zendaya. Duh. Anyway Otis this mf looks like he’s on drugs. Oh okay. So he’s the mogul that threw the party. That’s who tf he is. He’s panicking tho and Reyes tries to comfort him by telling him that he knows seeing a dead body for the first time is hard. Otis is like lol bitch wtf I don’t care about dead people, my property value is going down, I’m the 1% son, I evade taxes by setting companies in Ireland, IRS who? Reyes is finally annoyed by this rich bitch and he’s like you suck Otis you better help me. Otis says there’s no footage and Reyes is like eh okay I believe you.
HOLY SHIT THIS CHAPTER DOES NOT END!
Reyes decides that Otis is useless and goes upstairs with Officer Pin-Up (that’s Otis’ words not mine) to investigate. Dance music is playing but no one is there - no one except my dead body muahahaha. Reyes gently closes my eyes and tells me that he will catch the redneck. It doesn’t help because I am dead and cannot hear him.
Oops. I wasn’t paying attention and got an answer wrong. I’d replay the chapter but it’s so effing long jayyyyz.
They realise that the redneck shot me at close range. McKenzie calls it cruel. Reyes tries to explain why a killer would shoot someone from close range, in what is a warm moment between him and McKenzie. But someone finishes his sentence and steals his thunder. That someone is Samantha Massey! Thunder stealer of note.
Sam is a Deputy US Marshal from Texas. Reyes is like wtf this is LA go ride a bull or something. Sam is like well actually I’m tracking down a contact killer called Tull. She outlines everything they know about the case because she knows Tull. She walks around like owns the place. And Reyes is like wtf wtf wtf hold your bronco! Sam wants to round up the witnesses and Reyes is like no way will you touch my 1% tHeY aRe SpEcIaL. Sam is like so what. I like her. She’s not a d*ck. I don’t know why I put the asterisk in.
So Sam is a rockstar. She’s all like listen fuck boy I know you don’t respect coz I am not a man by any definition but I don’t care. She’s all like I have a job to do and I don’t have time to tiptoe around because you’re busy trying to impress bougie bitches like Alyssa. He tries to get her to bugger off by making eyes at her and hoping her panties drop. They don’t. He is shocked. She tells him she’s not going to get pushed around by some suit. He retorts by saying that it’s not any suit - it’s Armani. Have you vomited yet? I have.
Sam sees CCTV. Reyes is embarrassed because his druggie bestie Otis lied to him. Sam has showed him up. Yassss kwayn!
I let Sam question Otis. Coz I hate Reyes. That’s all there is to it. Sam bangs on the door and cuffs Otis. IT IS GOLDEN. He is freaking out. She’s arresting him for obstruction of justice, she says. Reyes is peeing his pants. Otis caves. Shows us the CCTV. He has a camera in the bathroom. CREEPER. I like to imagine him jerking off to a woman who inexplicably poops while peeing. And that he becomes traumatised.
Sigh this chapter really doesn’t end!
We watch the tapes and see some indie art director threaten Routh. We fast forward and see killing as it happens. Reyes calls me brave and I feel special. We see the killer and Sam confirms that it’s Tull. We basically learn that this guy is the psychopath of your nightmares, ie he’s not hot. Even BOLAS MC wouldn’t go there.
Anyway. Sam and Reyes argue about who gets the case. Sam makes excellent points that essentially amount to telling Reyes that his nose is too far up celebrities’ butts. Sam says Tull is a contract killer, so we need to find out who paid him. She points to the indie director. Reyes is like LOL GORL DO YOU EVEN KNOW. Man he sets her straight like everyone wanted Routh dead. He’s like Perez Hilton. Google that Gen Z.
Captain Dana Beckham walks in like some kind BAMF, while Sam and Reyes are bickering like they are toddlers. Like two bratty little f*cktards. She shut that shit down. Pronounced them partners. They are very displeased.
But at least the chapter finally ended.
Ngl tired now.
TL;DR: someone died in LA. A dckhead fckboy LA detective and a wild Wild West Texan queen Marshall both want investigate the crime. They’re forced to be partners but they hate each other. Well Marshal hates detective, detective can’t comprehend that anyone exists outside of his ego and celeb induced boners. Ah well.