This anime choice was suggested for testing by a dear friend. While I could not finish it, there is a sizeable amount of information to provide that I think should make for a great post. Hopefully that can serve as consolation.
More than anything else, if I had to describe Guilty Crown in one word, it would be “ambitious.” Most, I think, would see that as a good thing, but the fun part of this title is that it’s not… and is! Very confusing, very convoluted, very flimsy; this series is something else, and this article may end up being 2,000+ words long, because it’s just that gosh-darn interesting to behold.
If you watched Code Geass and Neon Genesis Evangelion lately, you will find a lot of similarities between those and this. Some may read that and think, “Ah, it seems Guilty Crown is paying homage to them!” I suppose you could consider it that way, though one could also see it as, er, copying. A nationwide fight between a big, government agency and an underground “terrorist” group. A male lead with a special ability that proves world-changing. A female lead with a rainbow hair color that assists the male lead and serves as a “mysterious~ enigmatic figure~.” Male lead has self-esteem issues and constantly wavers when faced with the consequences of his actions. Power struggles. Mech battles. Psychological trauma involving events from the past. Many little things that make me think of other series appear in some capacity, and while it doesn’t always feel like a copy-paste, the intentions feel suspect.
Anime needs to profit. It can be a flimsy business, especially when it comes to original content. Why do anime tend to follow trends? To profit. Simple mindset to understand. So in 2011, when Guilty Crown aired, what was the mindset? To profit. What was popular at the time? Well, Code Geass had ended just three years prior, and that’s one of the most iconic anime of the last couple decades. And hey, why not spice it up by throwing in some existential dread? Neon Genesis Evangelion, another iconic anime series involving mechs and dystopian themes, did so to great effect. A combobulated specimen that, from my perspective, feels as though it wants to take advantage of the hype surrounding various anime from the past, then injecting modern tropes in an attempt to please everyone. Perhaps that wasn’t the intent—who’s to say? All I can do is speculate, nine years after it aired.
Whatever intent this anime had, there’s a noticeable lack of care put into the story that tends to focus on the larger details. Somewhat similarly to JoJo, one will likely remember individual moments and events, rather than what led up to them. But unlike the aforementioned JoJo, which can hide behind the shield of satire and comedy, Guilty Crown suffers from trying to make sense of anything. Sure, some situations are “explained,” though others tend to swoop in from above or behind or wherever, completely avoiding the gaze of common sense. Things happen because they must, as dictated by the mighty script, and those willing to think upon it be damned.
Yet there is some merit in just how insane this story really is. You may have noticed the “[Dropped]” part of the post title and wondered where I dropped this at. The answer is the halfway point: a clean 11 of 22 episodes. Thus, I cannot speak personally about how the latter half of the story’s events transpire. Although, out of curiosity, I read a Wikipedia summation of the rest of the story… and I was in store for some bonkers stuff. Lots of dark material, of course: death, destruction, psychological torture, deception, secrets, lies; all that. The over-the-top nature, in the right hands, could prove spectacular, especially when allowed to simmer, build itself up, and remain generally single-toned. It worked for Code Geass (relatively well); here, I believe there are simply too many bizarre circumstances.
First of all, most of the characters are awful. For all the story’s logical fallacies, the characters may be what bring down the experience the absolute most. The male lead, Shu, is a Shinji Ikari wannabe who switches between sniveling pessimist bogged down by past trauma and “badass” hero with world-bending importance. To some extent, it’s understandable for a 16-ish-year-old dude with past trauma to act like a sniveling pessimist, but the writing does him no favors.
Part of what makes Evangelion so interesting is that the writing is always very vague about what role Shinji plays in the grand scheme and whether his actions are justified. It properly explores his character and the way piloting the Eva unit affects him throughout the series. Very few attempts at funny business that mean nothing to the overall development. With Guilty Crown, you know Shu is the hero. It showcases his actions as just and necessary, especially when he goes against the grain and acts on his own. Apart from one instance where his actions leave him severely lost (which felt random considering all he did prior), Shu appears more like a standard shounen hero with a Shinji Ikari paint. It tries so hard to make him more emotionally despondent, and one can applaud the attempt. Yet, again, it’s more that it’s trying to take from better series to give itself life than trying for its own thing.
Many other characters share similar issues, though it’s more of a case-by-case basis. Inori is definitely a fascinating specimen of a character. Some parts gentle, deadly, apathetic, and empathetic, she seems to sway back and forth in terms of where she is as a person. However, given the events of the plot, one could argue there’s a reason for this. Outside the context of the show, her persona (and appearance) could boil down to appealing to what has worked for traditional American action films: the useful-but-still-sexy-heroine-who-serves-as-second-pudding-to-the-male-lead. Seeing as this is anime, such is only exacerbated to further effect, showcasing multiple instances of her (conveniently) not knowing social cues by undressing in front of people and running around warzones in scantily-clad clothing. A pillar of support for multiple men, and a tool for Shu to harness his signature weapon, she’s basically a table for the bros to set their feet on. And a cutie for viewers to ogle.
What may be the worst aspect is when the series tries to set these characters in a “normal” setting. The most tolerable moments of Guilty Crown is when shit is real and the plot is progressing forward smoothly, fallacies and all. When it’s not, it’s either a lot of festering angst or sexual fan service. This series gave birth to THIS GIF. While that may be the most egregious use of skin, it is far from the only time. Women changing, women showering, ass shots, titty jiggles, tight mechsuits (which, if you watch the series and how they’re used, seem entirely unnecessary), unintended sexual harassment, silly misunderstandings, and a stepmother who parades around like a lazy good-for-nothing that never changes out of her nightgown. When the plot is not dark, it’s just inappropriate. Whether dark or light-hearted, everything is very squint-inducing.
Now, if Shu had any chemistry with anyone at all, some of this may have been more tolerable. Unfortunately, the only person I felt compelled to see Shu with was Gai, the leader of the underground terrorist group fighting the big, bad government. Gai, for me, was probably the strongest character of the cast, simply because there wasn’t a lot of fodder to him for the audience to chew on. He was integral to the plot within circumstances that actually mattered and, perhaps ironically, grew more interesting as a character the more he was shrouded in mystery, thanks in part to Shu’s screen-hogging. When they were together, it was fairly intriguing to see Gai as this father-esque figure that Shu should aspire to—a strong, confident leader that can rally people and lead them to greatness. With anyone else, Shu was incredibly awkward and everyone liked him great despite how awkward he was. The latter portion of that is what I take issue with.
Some of this feels like I’m running around in circles; story bad, characters bad, story bad, characters bad. Let’s talk about something else: animation and soundtrack! Both are pretty solid, though not consistently so. The animation does take some shortcuts, especially outside the graver circumstances (go figure), but is generally very distinct and nice to gaze at. Inori may be waifu bait, but she’s effective waifu bait (I’m personally more fond of Tsugumi’s design, though). Soundtrack is a little more memorable, full of emotionally captivating tracks sung by an angel. It’s also memorable for being funny, as a certain track that plays in the background of certain scenes will randomly go “Y E S” or “N O” at its close. Not sure what the creative decision behind that was, but it ended up being pretty funny. It suits the mood in most situations and I even find the vocal performances to be good. They certainly tried.
This is a solid track:
How long is this now? 1,500 words for eleven episodes, half the series? Yeah, that’s probably enough from me. There are some solid elements here for both ironic and unironic viewing pleasures, along with minimal aspects of solid writing and ideas. Ultimately, it gets brought down by inadequacy, trying to take points from other series, and just being generally gross with its display of sexual fan service. By the way, while looking for that Tsugumi gif above, I found out the character is 14. She is sexually exploited, too. Classy.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.