Never have I watched an anime with such promise develop into something so decidedly mediocre. The first two episodes were amazing, my mind was blown - and then the writers shrugged, turned around, and walked away without bothering to do anything interesting. That is the sad truth of Guilty Crown: a lack of solid direction and stable plot can ruin a show despite extremely high production values.
As crazy as it is, the following has become anime cliché: a mysterious young girl is going to serve as a catalyst for (the end of the world/’evolution’ of mankind) and it’s up to the heroes to (stop it/save her). It started with Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it has been continued by RahXephon and Eureka 7, among others. Now it has been unceremoniously enthroned by Guilty Crown. And no, I haven’t spoiled anything for you, because you’ll figure out that much in about ten minutes.
This is the major failing of the narrative. Guilty Crown expects you to be familiar with this plot and accept that this is what’s going to happen rather than justify itself. What little is given is limited to the realm of meaningless techno babble. Not enough time is spent on Japan itself or the political situation for me to relate and identify with their struggle, or care about the big things that happen toward the end of the series. This is a world adrift, confused, and unfocused, and there’s nothing they show me that brings me down from apathy.
This formlessness works for Evangelion because that show is more a philosophical exploration than action flick; Guilty Crown trends the other way, yet does not build the foundation it needs to stand tall. It borrow elements from Evangelion, Eureka 7, Code Geass, and even Gurren Lagann, but, just when you think it's about to step into its own, it stops and reiterates. It is this active antithesis of originality that keeps it from achieving something more.
Wow. Outside of movies, this just might be the prettiest anime I’ve watched. Backgrounds are intricately, lovingly detailed. Explosion are eye-popping. Technology was slick and shiny, and magic was flashy. I was distracted by the stunning animation so often I’d miss dialogue and have to rewind. The entire thing is a wonder to behold and probably the major factor that kept me watching until the end.
I can criticize the story and characters all I want, but there’s no arguing that the production values are biblical. An amazing soundtrack has been coupled with excellent opening and closing themes to produce music that will make your heart pound during the actions scenes and caress your ears in the loving moments. Amazing stuff.
A brief, shining moment, then back into mediocrity. The protagonist, Ouma Shu, reminds me of Renton from Eureka 7, the typical flimsy male lead thrust into events beyond his control. Unlike Renton, Shu doesn’t have much lovability. He isn’t all that smart. In fact, he’s kind of a selfish jerk. All the time.
Probably the biggest flaw of Guilty Crown is that its protagonist cannot hold up the weight of the narrative, and ends up crushed by it. It feels as though Shu is constantly regressing, rather than progressing. Some mistakes are expected of our naïve boy as he changes into the man that we know he must become; some trials and tribulations must occur. However, it’s executed terribly. In one episode, we see him gain a few motes of confidence and self-respect; in the next, it’s as if that never happened, and he’s again back to questioning his worthlessness and place in the universe. He simply isn’t the dynamic character he needs to be to believe in the decisions he makes as the show progresses.
The rest of the cast repeats this shallow, inexplicable behavior by also couching itself in tried-and-true stereotypes. The coolest character, Gai Tsutsugami, is himself a huge plot-hole; his role, when explained at the end, is a complete ass-pull. I still didn’t think it would be that bad until I saw the tsundere in a wheelchair that’s also an expert mecha pilot. Along for the ride is a girl with car ears that’s an expert hacker, the serial murderer (also a hacker) that disturbingly licks his lips when presented with fights, the childhood friend, the woman inordinately obsessed with the unattainable man…the list goes on. And, of course, we have Inori Yuzuriha, the pink-haired mystery girl that falls in love with the protagonist when the events of the series give her every reason to hate his guts with a fiery passion. These strange clichés ring extremely hollow within the dramatic theme and presentation of the anime. The mood of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex just can’t mix with characters from Air.
If it was just for them, this section would have received a 4, but a few stars keep it afloat. Yahiro Samukawa, in particular, drew my attention early. My favorite character had to be one of the villains, Makoto Segai. He’s fiercely competent, eccentric, and interesting. I was also fascinated by Ouma Mana. All three of these characters could be considered villains; there’s a serious problem with the narrative when I’m actively rooting for the bad guys.
Guilty Crown’s plot never gets anywhere, and when it finally does, it’s too little too late. Backstories that should have been explained around the midway point to keep the audience caring are left until the second-to-last episode. There’s also a dramatic and negative shift in tone and pacing between the first and second halves of the series that is more jarring and upsetting than beneficial to the story. The slick animation and music were not enough to save the show. I kept wanting more, expecting more, waiting for more - but it’s disturbingly empty. It’s a shame, really. This should have been one of the greats.