Production Studio: Production I.G
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More Info: Anime News Network
Since the days of Metropolis and Bubblegum Crisis, people have had a love affair with the concept of a dystopian future. People adore the thought that a world could exist where people try to cling to society, and build up from a truly dire situation. If handled properly, these titles can spark the imaginations of even the most jaded viewer. If handled poorly, though, the title will fall apart, with the impact of a soggy sponge hitting a mattress. Then, of course, there’s Guilty Crown, a show that finds so many ways to stumble with the formula that there isn’t even a proper way to describe its levels of failure.
Guilty Crown is set in the aftermath of a tragic disaster. Ten years prior, the outbreak of a deadly alien virus caused chaos through Japan. To avoid total collapse from the riots that erupted, Japan gave up its freedom in exchange for security. The provisional government, the GHQ, became a dictatorship, oppressing the population with an impunity that persists through the present day. Shu Ouma, an average high school student in this reality with a few deep-rooted problems. On the surface, Shu seems normal enough. He’s decent student, a member of the visual design club, and a fan of idol group Egoist. Beneath his pleasant, if antisocial front, Shu feels that he doesn’t fit into the high school hierarchy. Instead, he simply survives in the school yard jungles by keeping his head low, and forming quasi-friendship with those around him.
Shu’s peaceful days are quickly brought to an end one day, when he finds Inori Yuzuriha, lead vocalist for Egoist and Shu’s eternal dream girl, hiding in the visual design club’s meeting room. Shu doesn’t have enough time to fangirl all over Inori, as she’s soon captured by soldiers from the country’s provisional government. Shu doesn’t have time to despair, though. His fate is soon intertwined with Gai, the charismatic leader of the terrorist group Funeral Parlor. His first assignment is a tall order: Shu must find a way to save Inori while protecting a mysterious vial. While Shu was able to get the girl, the vial shatters in a fire fight, causing him to be infected with a rare bio-weapon known as the Void Genom. The Void Genom allows its host to weaponize the very psyches of those around him. And with it, Shu is able to reach into the hearts of his friends (well, quasi-friends) and pull out tools that range from swords to magical cameras. With that one mistake, Shu is trapped in a world he never wanted. The government is bearing down on Shu and Funeral Parlor, and the fate of the nation rests on the shoulders of the young man.
Guilty Crown is an incredible example of a missed opportunity. The show starts strong, with a fast-paced, well-written tale of freedom fighters, corrupt governments, and crazy-cool science fiction. It’s not an original concept, but it works within the context of the series. After the first few episodes, though, things quickly go to hell. Extraneous junk, from boring sub-plots, to plot threads that go absolutely nowhere are dropped into the narrative. Changes in tone, pacing, and even show type are clumsily introduced with little warning. Bits and pieces of popular genres, from slice of life comedy, to classroom romance are heaped on top of the core narrative to form an unbearable shit sundae of a show.
It’s particularly frustrating to see the show go off the rails so quickly, since there are moments when the show is quite enjoyable. These are rare moments when the writing is sharp, the pacing is perfect, and the layers of mind-numbing dreck seem to fall away. The fun is often short-lived, though, as these sections are quickly identified as the exception to the rule, and fail to really “mesh” with the rest of the show. Though, to be frank, it often feels as if there were several writers working independently, in the hope that four or five independent projects could fit together as a workable show.
The feeling of incompleteness brought about the plot is only made worse when one looks at Guilty Crown’s leads. Shu and Inori are boring, shallow characters, who seem utterly incapable of developing beyond their archetype. All attempts to develop the two feel utterly forced. Shu is especially painful to watch, as he’s pitched as a sociopath from the outset. He’s pitched as a person who cannot understand human emotions, and gets through life via friendships of convenience. He uses people to no end, and is prone to hilariously over-the-top mood swings. He’s the type of person who doesn’t just get sad over tragic events. Rather, he becomes sadness itself! His instability grows to be so overbearing that a viewer wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that the remainder of the series will be little more than Shu, crying and masturbating in the shower at some point. Inori, on the other hand, is a glorified doll. She’s the token “Rei Ayanami” archetype, who lives to serve Shu or Gai, whoever happens to be more convenient at the time. There are inklings of a soul behind her blank eyes, but she can’t find a way to grow beyond her existence as an emotionless robot.
In comparison, the supporting cast seem like they were written by Shakespeare. Characters like Gai or paraplegic pilot Ayase are charming, likeable figures. They’re lively, and they’re able to actually connect with the viewer. And, unlike the leads, these characters actually invite the viewer to learn more themselves. The show’s antagonists fail to rise about the level of cartoonish evildoers. They’re the big, bad G-Men whose one-track ambitions embody their very existence. Within the confines of the world, though, these characters work, though it would have been appreciated to see more attempts to grow the villains into stronger figures.
The fact that Guilty Crown’s substance is so egregiously rotten is a disappointment, especially since the show’s quite attractive. The character designs are gorgeous, with bold use of colors and a generally clean aesthetic. The backgrounds are vivid, well-drawn backdrops brimming with personality. The show’s landscapes, from ruined city centers to bustling schools, have a wonderful, lively feeling to them that do wonders in creating an identity. Action scenes are impeccably choreographed, and every fight seems like a brutal ballet. Every attack feels like it’s been masterfully placed, and the delicious explosions that follow are incredibly satisfying.
Musical accompaniments are decadent, with numerous vocal themes mixing into a blend of somber piano melodies and shredding upbeat tunes. Unfortunately, while they do a fantastic job of setting the mood, many of these pieces fall just shy of being memorable. In contrast, the show’s first opener, My Dearest by supercell, is a gorgeous song that will stick with many viewers even after the final credits roll.
To say Guilty Crown is a disappointment is being kind. While it is a gorgeous show at a glance, one doesn’t need to look far to see the cracks in the foundation. Guilty Crown is a clumsy, poorly written mess that has but fleeting moments of greatness. Those who are willing to overlook the poor writing for a few hours of visual escapism will be pleased. Those looking for a series that can maintain a coherent plot and satisfy on more than a superficial level would be best served looking elsewhere.