Many people are aware of the financial problems faced by the anime industry, and one of the methods that studios have adopted over recent years to try to shore up their crumbling foundations is to adapt popular manga, games, and more recently, Western comics. This approach has become a tried and tested moneymaking endeavour for the majority of studios, but in many cases this is simply due the fact that the source material caters to the lowest common denominator – which usually means fanservice. Unfortunately, the relative success of these shows have allowed them to become the norm rather than the exception, and with that comes a number of problems.
The sad fact is that while it’s okay to find inspiration from other sources, the industry has become so used to the adaptation that studios and writers find it difficult to produce work that could be considered “original”. Instead, what passes for a unique story tends to be nothing more than a collection of concepts and ideas from other tales that are thrown together in the vain hope that people will rush to buy the end product because … well, because someone tells them to.
But rather than dwelling on such things, let’s take a look at Guilty Crown.
Set in Tokyo in the year 2039, a decade has passed since a mysterious outbreak known as the “Apocalypse Virus” killed thousands of people and brought Japan to its knees – a disaster that would later be called “Lost Christmas”. Since that time Japan has lost its independence, and has become a martial state governed by an international organisation known as GHQ. The story opens with a pink-haired girl and a small robot escaping from a futuristic-looking facility, but security forces injure and corner her until she falls off a bridge. The next morning is just like any other day for highschool student Ouma Shu, an awkward young man who is a fan of the pop-group Egoist, whose lead singer just happens to be a waif-like girl with pink hair.
And then everything gets … weird.
Guilty Crown is a bit of an odd duck as it attempts to blend several disparate themes, but doesn’t quite manage to finish the job. The plot has clearly been influenced by several popular franchises – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the execution is where the writers have let themselves down. The narrative is often disjointed, and many events in the storyline appear to have no logic behind them other than to put Shu through an emotional wringer. In addition to this, the writers appear to have taken a rather nonchalant approach to reasoning and rationale, one example of which is how GHQ’s repeated massacres are never covered by any sort of media outlet. This seemingly lackadaisical attitude is apparent in several areas of the plot – which is littered with “coincidences” – and these cause the narrative to have a mechanical feeling. In many ways it’s almost as if the story was nothing more than a collection of bits that would apparently appeal to the largest number of people.
Aside from the inclusion of numerous well-known aspects that have clearly been transplanted from other popular stories and the “plot-by-numbers” approach, Guilty Crown also suffers from the rather obvious idea that most adults are evil and only kids are able to save the world. That said, the series does have some good points, in particular the way it attempts to recreate a situation similar to that found in “Lord of the Flies” by putting all of the students in one place and imposing self-rule. There are other, similarly dark influences that add a veneer of maturity to proceedings, but sadly these aren’t enough to support the inherent weaknesses in the narrative – the main one being the decision to make yet another school-based anime.
In terms of production quality, Guilty Crown is arguably up there with some of the better shows of recent years, but the sometimes stunning visuals and effects are tempered by a few issues that may initially appear to minor, but in actuality are representative of the mentality of the show’s creators. It’s obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into the background artwork and set designs, but the same isn’t true of the characters. For the most part they look good, but the decision to feature highschool students places an immediate limitation that becomes obvious when one considers the variety of features and body shapes found amongst the adults.
The problem lies in the fact that the design of the younger roles includes an element of stereotype in order to impart a degree of familiarity – thereby making the show more accessible to people. It’s an old marketing trick that has become a staple of the anime industry over the years, and while Guilty Crown has tried to be a little bit more subtle than most in its usage, one does have to question the logic behind Tsugumi. A cat-eared tsundere loli wearing what is effectively a plug suit (and a maid costume later on), only serves to highlight the thought processes of the show’s creators.
Thankfully Production I.G. maintain their standards when it comes to the animation, and the series is littered with flowing, well choreographed action scenes. The characters are well-balanced in their movements, and a degree of care has been taken with those that are injured, disabled, or suffer from an affliction.
Like many anime that run for over twenty episodes, Guilty Crown features two opening and ending sequences – each with an original track written by Supercell. The first OP is a rather dizzying blend of effects, character montages and action scenes while the song “My Dearest” – a suitably fast paced and dramatic pop song performed by Koeda – sets the tone for the series. “The Everlasting Guilty Crown” performed by the fictional band Egoist is the track of choice for the second opening sequence, but while the artwork and design ethic have clearly shifted to promote a bittersweet atmosphere, the actual content is much the same as that of the first OP. Egoist also perform the melancholy ballad “Departures ~Anata ni Okuru Ai no Uta~” for the first ending sequence, which features Ouma Shu and Yuzuriha Inori walking away from each other against a backdrop of character art and effects. The second ED contains a mixture of video footage of landscape speeding by, scenes from the series and a few still images of the school environs that are “projected” onto a screen behind Inori and Shu as they decide to run – all while Koeda performs the rather upbeat rock song “Kokuhaku”
Although it’s true that some thought has gone into the composition of the opening sequences and that they are very well choreographed, both also feature overt plot spoilers. Now this does happen in other anime, but in general there are efforts to avoid such things occurring – which doesn’t appear to be the case with Guilty Crown.
Aside from that minor niggle, the high production standards are also reflected in the quality of the music and audio effects. Sawano Hiroyuki has taken care to ensure that the background pieces are varied and suitably dramatic where necessary. The wide range of sounds and noises are clear and distinct, and the audio/visual choreography shows just how much effort has been made to produce a show that looks and sounds great.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the actual dialogue.
Now while it’s true that Guilty Crown features a range of characters and personality types, for some reason the decision was made to revert to old anime stereotypes and then write justifications into the storyline. The script is littered with monologues, diatribes, conversations and arguments that would grace any show where the “hero” has to lead his people to salvation whilst fighting against the enemy and his inner demons, forming a pseudo-harem along the way, and showing the world just how much of a tragic-yet-heroic figure he is. Thankfully the actors are more than capable, but no matter how good their skills are, prosaic and formulaic dialogue will always be just that.
As for the characters themselves, Ouma Shu is the kind of leading man who can be found in a number of other titles – quiet, reserved, doesn’t have many friends, and a bit of a loser – and therein lies the problem. The writers have taken great pains to try to show him as a “human” more than anything else, but in their efforts to promote Shu as the tragic hero, they’ve ignored one of the most basic rules of characterisation.
In other words, Shu has no personality whatsoever – even at the end of the series when all his “suffering” is over.
It’s this apparent inability to develop the characters in any meaningful way that makes them appear as nothing more than inane, and the lack of any real growth means that everyone pretty much ends the series having learned very little (aside from maybe Daryl). In addition to this there’s an element of ridiculousness to the choice of characters, the prime example being Yuzuriha Inori (although Tsugumi does come a close second). One has to wonder what chemically induced delusion could have persuaded the show’s creators that having the lead singer of a hugely popular band stealing from the enemy in the opening scenes while wearing her stage outfit was a good idea.
Apparently students can recognise her even though she’s wearing a school uniform, but soldiers and officers of the military forces controlling Japan have no idea who she is since pink-haired girls wearing fluttery costumes are a dime a dozen in Japan.
Guilty Crown is one of those anime that can only truly be enjoyed if you have never watched any of the titles that it takes its inspirations from – and that becomes a problem if one has watched, and enjoyed, most of them. The main issue is that there are several character types and plot elements that are better used in their original anime, so their inclusion here makes them stand out in less than flattering ways.
The real problem with Guilty Crown though, is the element of arrogance that is prevalent throughout the series, and this comes solely from the show’s creators. The basic premise of Guilty Crown is perfectly fine, but everyone from the director and series composers to the producers have assumed that the “anime-by-numbers” approach that they have so clearly used here is enough to make a hit franchise. There appears to have been a major assumption that the audience will swallow the whole thing without automatically referencing other shows that they may have watched, and that’s where everything begins to fall apart.
Storytelling is, after all, an art form, and a good writer can captivate their audience without overtly referencing where there inspiration came from. Unfortunately the folks behind Guilty Crown appear to have forgotten this simple fact, and it leaves one with the sad realisation that this anime had the potential to be so much more than it is.