Earlier this week, we received the privilege of a review screener for Guilty Crown. And, while I haven’t had the chance to watch the show in its entirety, I’ve taken a few hours to sit down with the show’s first six episodes. Tonight’s article isn’t quite a review, but rather general impressions and a “feel” for the show up to the sixth-episode marker. A standard review will be produced in the near future.
The series is set in the year 2039. Ten years prior to this, a biological catastrophe known as the Apocalypse Virus rocked the world and plunged Japan into chaos. The riots sparked by the attacks were so wild, so destructive that they gained infamy in the public eye as the “Lost Christmas.” Unable to contain the outbreak in their borders, Japan turned to the UN, who commissioned the GHQ to aid the situation. They were able to contain the outbreak, though it was done at the expense of the nation’s freedom.
In the present day, high schooler Shu Ouma is seen as somewhat of an outcast. He’s unable to really relate with his peers, and instead gets by in life by mimicking their behaviors to form “quasi-friendships.” It’s through these pseudo-relationships that Ouma was led to join the visual design club. One day, Ouma finds a wounded girl named Inori Yuzuriha in his club’s workshop. The girl, a member of popular idol group EGOIST, is quickly taken by GHQ soldiers. One event leads to another, and Shu finds himself intertwined with Gai, the charismatic leader of terrorist group Funeral Parlor. His assignment: to safeguard a mysterious vial.
As one could expect, Shu fails pretty spectacularly at this, and ends up receiving its contents. The Void Genom, a powerful bio-weapon, allows Shu to weaponize the very psyches of those around him. With it, Shu is left with a choice: he can join the charismatic terrorist cell and rebel against the GHQ’s regime, or try his best to cast everything aside and return to his quiet quasi-life.
While the show shows some promise at this point, the plot is hampered by a number of issues. Subtlety is all but a fevered dream of a madman in Guilty Crown, as the world is painted as little more than absolute blacks and whites. The show’s idea of “subtle symbolism” amounts to little more than bashing the viewer over the head with blunt plot points. Major developments can be seen from miles away, and attempts at surprise tend to fall flat. The series seems to revel in the fact that the plot is growing into a convoluted mess, even though the underlying message at this point is “Government bad, freedom fighters good!”
Despite the clumsy plot, the series manages to do a fantastic job selling its characters. Well, most of them, at least. Shu and Inori are essentially write-offs at this point, with Shu being a borderline sociopath aching for a real connection, and Inori being a more daring Rei Ayanami. Instead, it’s the secondary cast that really seems to steal the show. Characters like Funeral Parlor commander Gai, hyperactive hacker Tsugumi, and charismatic classmate Yahiro are fascinating figures that invite the viewer into their worlds. They’re intriguing, mysterious, and their stories seem to have real impact on the world at large. In contrast, the government GHQ’s members seem to be little more than stereotypes at this point. They’re transparently “bad”, and show little regard for humanity at large. They’re pompous, arrogant, and cruel to the point that they’ll execute people for entertainment.
Visually, the show stuns. The character designs are simply gorgeous, and animation is solid throughout. Backgrounds and scenery are gorgeous and incorporate the finest elements of the world, from picturesque horizons to striking skylines. The true icing on the cake, though, comes about when stuff hits the fan, and the gloves are thrown down. The show’s fight choreography is amazing, as characters dart, dodge, and trade blows in a brutal dance. Battle scenes are exhilarating to watch, and the use of Voids proves to be both creative, and an incredible way to introduce unpredictable elements into the mix.
At this early point, it’s still a bit irresponsible to pass judgment on Guilty Crown. However, initial impressions paint it as a flashy action show that’s held back by a desire to be a bit too smart for comfort. The series shows great promise, though, and it will be interesting to see how things shape up when the final credits roll.