Review: Guilty Crown

Better bring a pair of well-worn shoes…

Guilty Crown cover

A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment

A very popular show with an all-star cast, character designs, animation, director, writers, and music. In spite of the hype train, how high does Guilty Crown really stack up?

Well here’s the story. In the near future Japan has been infected by the Apocalypse Virus and in response, the UN formed the GHQ to contain the nation. Shu Ouma is an ordinary boy who met the mysterious singer Inori Yuzuriha who is part of the rebellious Funeral Parlor. In the middle of battle, Shu gets exposed to the Void Genome and gains the power to give physical form to people’s hearts. Now equipped with the King’s Power, Shu’s journey begins. Oh and giant robots are involved too.

Inori with cat's cradle

On the first outset the story resembles Code Geass a lot but there are greater weaknesses within. We have numerous strings of themes flying all over, and it’s sad because any one of them would have been really solid. On one hand we have the king motif and the themes of how a king should be. On another hand we have the Geass themes of Japan’s independence and national pride and Geass motifs of  crazy school shenanigans(tm). Lots of calls from Neon Genesis Evangelion are present and ties to the tragedy of Opedipus. Jealousy, repressed memories, being human, the power of friendship, and even incest are strong images in the narrative. Then we have themes of human progression and evolution courtesy of the Code Geass writers on board. Whew now that’s a laundry list. With so many ideas flying around the story becomes very unfocused, but it’s no surprise with the huge writing staff on board and poor direction, even though Tetsuro Araki of Death Note acclaim is in the director’s chair.

Guilty Crown Enlaves

The story seems alright for the first six episodes but it quickly spirals out of control as if each writer is trying to tell their own story, creating many questions but answering too few of them, let alone elegantly. Even at the end, I still have no idea why exactly GHQ was evil (other than how we’re told they are), what Gai’s attractive vision for Funeral Parlor is, or what is even going on with the puppet-master villains? When answers are given, it’s usually backstory jabbed in rapidly. Too many cooks can spoil the broth.

Shu crying

The characters are a serious weak point. Lots of the characters fit into very stereotypical clichés. Shu is basically a Shinji clone and Inori is the emotionless Rei-type all series long, the list goes on. And it’s the character development that really suffers. Shu’s entire being will flip-flop from emo to hyper determined in a matter of one episode. Of course the guy is being exposed to traumatic elements but he gets over them at the drop of a hat. Then next episode Shu is back to his emo self from episode 1.

Guilty Crown Shu Republic

Without warning this protagonist will change his mind without reasons given, be they emotional, logical or otherwise. Help Funeral Parlor or not? Which girl is he really in love with? Funeral Parlor helped me become better? How? The staff wanted to depict real emotions but instead Shu just lurches from emotion to emotion from decision to decision with no process or gradual change. Everything is a trauma and it feels like he is being written to result rather than being grown, we need Shu to feel X so he will feel X . Characters need to get inside themselves and grapple with their emotions and thoughts before such drastic changes take place, be they positive or negative, in healthy ways or unhealthy.

Guilty Crown Gai undercover

Gai has his own problems with his complete motivations as a character being constantly skewed. His actions in particular aren’t wishy-washy but rather counter-intuitive and confusing. For example, our guy Gai’s idea plan B for a stealth rescue mission from a prison/virus quarantine is utter destruction of everything, so much for a rebel with a heart of gold.

Guilty Crown yandere Mana

In the lead female spot, Inori’s only really significant part other than window dressing is a very expected spoiler which I do not need to spoil for you readers to figure out. Mana is equally bad but she gets half a pass because she is yandere nuts I suppose. Also on the other side, I still cannot figure out most of the villains or why some of them within the big bad government of evil want to oppress Japan when they could just obliterate the virus with a satellite cannon or embrace the virus for a twisted world of crystal. The only characters that I can really get behind are the minor ones who are admittedly tolerable to actually pleasant. Yahiro and the rest of the student council bar Arisa are rather bro-like and in the Funeral Parlor crew I find Ayase to be a really cool character. Thumbs up for a great character who uses a wheelchair but her chair is no mark against her being badass.

Guilty Crown Ayase Shinomiya

It’s a shame though, there are moments in the story where things are progressing at a reasonable albeit cliched pace, but the main cast is being insipid. When the main cast starts shaping up the slightest, the story wavers and even contradicts itself directly. More plotholes and questions arise, while many others are left unanswered. There were nice nuggets of ideas going around and lots of opportunities but they were seldom used.

It’s not all bad though. The character design and animation, is GORGEOUS. This is a beautiful show visually and audibly in every regard. I cannot understate this fact. The Redjuice character designs are a hit, and it’s plain to see from all those Inori cosplayers. Every time Shu rips out a Void, enchanting ribbons pour out. The voice work is solid and even Funimation’s dub. Experienced actors and newbies both get to shine very well in their performances and I’m glad that at least the dub tries to make Shu a bit more consistent as a character. Finally, there’s the OST, which makes for a cinematic experience of addictive beats. Props to Hiroyuki Yoshino for stellar compositions. In spite of my growing disdain for the series, I could not stop humming  Supercell’s “My Dearest”. The sum of the parts gives you action sequences where you just want to stop thinking and take in the pretty explosions and awesome music. Guilty Crown is most enjoyable when the plot isn’t happening but when you’re just compelled to keep watching because of how well-produced it is.

Guilty Crown Ouma Shu and crew

The DVDs and marketing do play to the series strengths. If snag the limited edition, you get two awesome 100+ page artbooks full of character sketches to soak in all the Redjuice art and it’s a treat for the eyes. Every bit from character to backgrounds to the Voids themselves have detailed notes. The discs have staple commentaries, a short interview with the staff from 2011, and cute shorts so there are nice features to be had in all this. Funimation went all-out in the presentation and it shows when you crack open this fantastic looking box set.

Guilty Crown Shu on a segway

With well-known writers, directors, composers, and artists on-staff I can say many people had unrealistically high expectations for the series. At the end of the day though, I still cannot say I can recommend Guilty Crown out of the blue to anyone in good conscience. It really depends how much you want to watch something incredibly animated but needs your brain off for the assembly of cliches. To get the maximum enjoyment or have it rank at mediocre at best, the viewer just needs to roll with the punches or take it anything but seriously. I give Guilty Crown a 2.5/5 with the saving graces being the production values behind the show. I wanted to like it in spite of lots of good potential lost but if there’s a silver lining to it all, I hear the visual novel is a lot stronger of a story. Join me next time when I go shoe shopping.

Pros:

– Very strong art and animation makes for a beautiful show

– Equally strong OST that won’t get out of your head

Cons:

– Character development languishes greatly for the main cast

– Confusing plot points and character motivations leave more holes further in the series

– Poor pacing

Rating: 2.5/5

rating25

Miscellaneous details:
Studio: Production I.G
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Writer: Hiroyuki Yoshino
Character design: redjuice (original)
Music: Hiroyuki Sawano
Original run: October 13, 2011 – March 22, 2012

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The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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