Guilty Crown is a twenty-two episode anime series directed by Tetsuro Araki (whose other works include the blockbusters Death Note and Attack on Titan.) The show is an anime I have wanted to check out for quite some time after being impressed by an episode screening during my first ever visit to an anime convention. Two years later I am finally able to sample the series in its entirety thanks to the folks at Manga Entertainment. UK fans can watch the first part of the show on this recently released collection that contains eleven episodes across two DVD discs.
The show takes place in the near future (2029 to be precise) when disaster befalls the nation of Japan (atom bombs, nuclear meltdowns, tsunamis… the creators of my favourite cartoons seem to be cursed with the worst luck.) This time round a meteor crashes on the place unleashing a lethal virus that crystalizes the skin of anyone unfortunate enough to contract it (that sounds almost as bad as man-flu.) The situation is ultimately brought under control when an organization known as the GHQ shows up and uses their medical expertise to halt the spread of the infection. Unfortunately for the residents of Japan the GHQ decide to take over the country as well.
A decade later a resistance group named Funeral Parlour is formed to liberate Japan from the GHQ’s oppression. The group’s trump card is Shu Ouma – a high school student who accidently acquired the Power of Kings after becoming exposed to a mysterious concoction. Shu’s ability allows him to plunge his hand into an individual’s chest and extract the person’s void (which can be anything from a robot busting sword to a ray gun that manipulates gravity.) It’s a useful skill to have and much less messy than ripping out a heart, which is the normal consequence of driving your arm into someone’s torso.
Whilst watching Guilty Crown I couldn’t help but be impressed by the show’s spectacular visuals. The high production values are one of the things that caught my eye during the aforementioned convention screening. Unfortunately after watching the opening eleven episodes it has become apparent that the eye candy on show isn’t supported by a deep story. Guilty Crown is ultimately “guilty” of robbing most of its ideas from other animes, which have handled the pilfered material better. A teenage protagonist, fan service courtesy of cute girls, fighting robots, relationship drama, conspiracies revolving around the hero’s past… gripes its almost as if the creators were working off a checklist of anime clichés when they came up with the series.
The show’s biggest weakness would probably have to be its leading man. I didn’t warm to Shu as he seems to have graduated from the Shinji Ikari school of whining. Although he isn’t as intolerable as Evangelion’s lead he is certainly guilty of excessive moping. Most of the time he moans about being a reluctant freedom fighter and don’t get me started about how he sulks when teen idol Inori Yuzuha blows off his romantic advances. I would have been happier if the narrative would have focused its attention on the more interesting supporting cast. Funeral Parlour’s respected leader Gai Tsutsgami for example is easier to admire given that he is a master tactician who keeps his cool under fire. I also took a shine to Ayase Shinoiya who, in her limited screen time, shows how she overcomes the handicap of being wheelchair bound to become the resistance’s top Endlave pilot.
If I had to rate part one of Guilty Crown I would give it three stars out of five. It’s entertaining and blessed with sublime visuals, but content wise it has yet to wow me. Given that it borrows so many ideas from better shows, the series struggles to establish its own identity, not knowing what it wants to be. The anime’s tone feels disjointed as it uncomfortably transitions from comedy to heart wrenching drama. One minute we are expected to laugh, when Shu’s failure to extract a girl’s void ends with him groping her breasts, and the next moment we are meant to weep tears when it is revealed that one of Shu’s friends has a terminally ill brother.
This first part of Guilty Crown ends on a doozy of a cliffhanger, so fingers crossed that the next instalment takes the story in a more interesting direction. What I’ve seen thus far has potential, and I can recommend it to sci-fi action anime fans, but as a show handled by the director of Death Note I was expecting something a little cleverer for the twenty quid I paid.