Saturday 19 May 2012

Anime REVIEW: Guilty Crown

When I first heard of Guilty Crown, it sounded like something that would be right up my alley. Post-apocalyptic  setting? Check. Protagonist granted godlike powers? Check. Robots? You better believe it. Created by Production I.G. (whose repertoire includes works such as Ghost in the Shell, Palabor and The End of Evangelion), this 22-episode series aired between October 2011 and March 2012.

On Christmas Eve, 2029, the unidentified "Apocalypse Virus" spreads and plunges Japan into a state of emergency in a chaos known as the "Lost Christmas" incident. An international organisation named the GHQ intervenes using martial law in order to restore Japan, but it comes at the cost of the country's independence.

Ten years later in 2039, Shu Ouma, a reserved 17-year-old high school student, meets Inori Yuzuriha (lead singer of music group Egoist) while visiting one of his favorite places on before heading home from school. While Shu is a big fan of Inori's music, he quickly discovers a second side to her -she is a member of the "Undertakers," a resistance group that aims to liberate Japan from the GHQ. While helping Inori transport a stolen Void Genome to the Undertakers, Shu is fused with the Genome - granting him the "Kings Mark" on his right hand. This gives him the power to reach inside another person's heart to extract and materialize a weapon or item from it. From then on, Shu becomes reluctantly involved with the Undertakers and their battle against the GHQ, but along the way he discovers many secrets of his forgotten past.

"The Power of Kings"

Despite this rather exciting premise, to put it bluntly this is one hell of a dull show. Due to Shu's ability to draw weapons out of anyone, Guilty Crown is in fact little more than a show that relies wholly on Dues Ex Machina's to get the job done. It offers zero suspense because every time the characters were in a bind he'd find a void that would instantly be advantageous to their situation. To make up for this fact, the writers concluded that plot twist after plot twist would be the way to go. There's so much backstabbing going on that you have to wonder why most of the characters haven't just killed each other already. Then finally at the series mid-point the narrative style completely changes, along with the balance of character focus. The only problem is that its still almost the exact same plot as the first half, except with a few of the details changed here and there and many of the characters cheapened to the point of no return. The plot promises greatness, but it is something it time and time again fails to deliver. Along with reasonable explanation of what's going on half the time.

Shu falls quite neatly into the "boy becoming a man" category of anime protagonist, and fluctuates as a character on a fairly frequent basis. One minute he's weak, the next he's taking on a whole squad of Endlaves (the term for Guilty Crown's mecha) on his own. His "dictator Shu" period is probably when he's at his most interesting, but by that point he's not a character you'll find yourself routing for. Much like his ability, his characterisation is whatever the plot needs at that given time.

"Use me": Words that sum up Inori as a character pretty nicely

As for Inori, well there isn't a lot to say about her because her character is almost non-existent. She is detached and passive to the point that would make Evangelion's Rei seem alive, and her hopeless devotion to Shu borders on misogynistic levels. When the mystery of who she really was was finally revealed, I found myself routing for the antagonist. Undertaker leader Gai is the third and final of the "only characters that really matter", and for the most part was the best of the three. A tactical and efficient leader, but at the same time one that you could tell had secrets and cared deep down. A pity he was completely ruined at the half way point.

The rest of the cast aren't much better, with its generic good-guy terrorists, whiny students and evil guys who are evil for the sake of it. There are even some that have no introduction or explanation yet are seemingly integral to the plot. Even as the credits of the final episode roll, you'll be left wondering questions like "what exactly was the point of that guy they broke out of prison again?".

Gai Tsutsugami: Leader of the Undertakers

Usually I dedicate a decent section to discussing robots in a mecha-related anime or show (being the mechaphile that I am) but doing so when discussing Guilty Crown seems utterly pointless. They have bland, generic designs and offer little to nothing to the overall plot. The control system is relatively interesting (the machines are piloted remotely from a separate cockpit away from the robot), but other than that there's very little on offer here other than to give some side characters things to do. A Code Geass comparison might be fair but at least the Knightmare frames in that looked unique and had somewhat of a purpose. A mecha anime this is not.

This is about as exciting as the robots get.

But stopping to talk about the good things for a moment - Guilty Crown boasts very high production values and that really shows in the art direction. The character design is great and the fight visuals are top notch (even for the less-than-interesting mecha aspect). The show also has a brilliant soundtrack produced by the band Supercell, who I'm sure many know from their Black Rock Shooter fame.

With a brilliant concept behind it, Guilty Crown could have been a fantastic anime. However its terrible execution of the plot and less than stellar characterisation really let it down. Casual fans may get a kick out of Guilty Crown, but they'd be better off watching Code Geass if they want something similar. And if they've watched Code Geass already they'd probably be better off watching that again instead.

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