And by that, I mean it’s gotten to the point where saying you don’t enjoy Guilty Crown is almost considered contrarian, although fans still can’t seem to agree on what degree of enjoyment is allowed.
Time does a lot of strange things to a show’s reputation, doesn’t it? Once acclaimed anime like Kill la Kill are now considered terrible disappointments that couldn’t live up to the legacy of its infinitely better predecessors, Mari Okada has gone from being cool to hate to cool to like to back again without any real middle-ground, and not getting into Symphogear is apparently the equivalent of suffering a major personality disorder. It’s gotten to the point where I’m kind of missing the moe trend a bit. At least cute girl/slice-of-life fans have an understandable reason for why they like what they do. It reminds them of a calmer time in their life. Not a reason I can sympathize with, but it’s better than your reasons consisting of nothing but shouting memes all the time like you’re the reincarnation of fucking He-Man.
And yet, while Guilty Crown has definitely enjoyed a warmer reputation since it invited a fuck-ton of anime fans to smash it over the head with all the hammers at its disposal, people are still undecided regarding how much they enjoyed it. It’s not like Samurai Flamenco where they say it’s a great show that uses the insanity in order to get a message across. Most people just say it’s a fun show to point and laugh at before refusing to put it on their favorites list because apparently being enjoyable in that vein is an automatic disqualification. Then they link Shinmaru’s or Draggle’s “epic” posts on the anime and relish on the fond memories of dumbness that trainwrecks like Aldnoah Zero could never hope to achieve. You know guys, I don’t like it when you consider the show God’s gift to anime because nothing spoils a product more than rampant fanboyism, but at least be honest with said gift when you receive it. If I can put the goddamn thing on my favorites list despite my generally pessimistic views on most of what surrounds the show, why can’t you?
I admit to having warmed up considerably towards Guilty Crown over the years. I don’t find it as funny as most people, I don’t consider it one of the most fun anime in years (although it’s probably my favorite anime of 2011, a year that had quite a few shows I liked), and it kind of takes a few episodes to get really fun (first arc is okay, but everything after just dwarfs it by comparison). But in a medium that constantly winks to the audience and indulges on the joke to the point of over-the-top weariness in order to produce laughs or “awesomeness” or stupid donut metaphors that the characters in Silicon Valley would find dumb, shows that take their stupidity as seriously as Guilty Crown whilst simultaneously using the stupidity as an essential part of its core message are as hard to find as a five-legged gecko. Not to mention, the pacing, action, and characterization (however fucked up it is) are all solid for the most part, and the animation/music is generally great. And any anime that accomplishes all that deserves quite a few props, even if the stupidity you have to swallow in order to appreciate what it’s going for can be a bit too “anime” for my taste, ironic or not.
In case you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen this show, I’ll fill you in. Guilty Crown is about a boy named Shu Ouma, who on paper is your standard teen who’s bored with life and treats his friends like they don’t even exist, yet refuses to do anything about it, but in practice is the guy whose picture would be used as the definition of the word “chew toy” since everyone in-universe and out-of-universe loves to dump on the dude no matter what he does to the point that Lara Croft is recommending therapy. After discovering his scantily-clad crush, a pop singer named Inori, hiding in his secret place, he ends up getting roped in the middle of the conflict between a resistance group called Funeral Parlor and the Brittania-copy cat organization known as GHQ after acquiring a mysterious ability to pull objects out of people called “The Power of the Kings” (hahaha, insert Code Geass-ripoff joke here). I’d attempt to fill in the details regarding this conflict, but I’d rather not turn this review into an essay and Guilty Crown’s plot is such a cluttered pile of bananas that Ikuhara fans wouldn’t be able to explain in a way that makes any sense. So let’s just say for simplicity’s sake that the show is about Shu and his growth from a nobody to the king that Japan deserves. And since Japan is run by a bunch of idiots in this universe, it stands to reason that their king would be the biggest fuck-up the likes of which has never been seen.
As I was doing my third rewatch of the series, watching the show go to more and more desperate attempts to torture our pretty boy main, I kept getting a high school version of Jack Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2 stuck in my head: a controversial pretty boy in love with a badly written fucktard whose attempts at being cooler than he actually is is both sad and kinda tragic when you realize why the creators made him out to be the protagonist in the first place. And since we’re bringing up Metal Gear Solid, Guilty Crown shares a fuck load of similarities with that franchise, doesn’t it? Like the horrible dialogue, superpowers mixed with mecha, girls taking every opportunity to show their cleavage even when being shot at, campy military leaders that are at odds with their more realistic underlings, post-modern themes that people are divided on regarding their existence to this day, and the fact that it pulls off the goofiest shit with a straight face. Wonder if Hideo Kojima has ever taken the opportunity to watch this thing. I’d be surprised if it didn’t end up in his top five anime series of all-time.
Fortunately for you, Guilty Crown, I really love Metal Gear Solid. Especially 2. And I have a certain amount of fondness for Mr. and Mrs. Fucknugget too. But at the same time, whilst I’m glad we agree that turning Shu into a break-dancing cyborg ninja would have been a bit too post-modern for the series (and we live in a world where an Alexandre Dumas adaptation can have a giant mecha fight out of nowhere and still get acclaims across the board), I will say that not turning Dan Eagleman into a shirtless right-wing nut who body slams people from his giant mecha is a fucking missed opportunity. Because honestly Guilty Crown, I kind of find your villains a bit on the meh side. Scarface ain’t bad or anything, but he’s no Revolver Ocelot or Liquid Snake or Solidus…uh actually Solidus was worse, so never mind.
Anyways, Guilty Crown comes off to me more and more over the years less like a bad anime and more like a good show that nobody wanted because it didn’t fit within what they were used to. Mainly, being offensive on purpose, because this show is clearly trying to offend you and it’s not getting any of the context wrong whilst doing so like, say, Cross Ange. Shu is not as inconsistent a character as people say he is. He’s a nice but REALLY stupid dude who just can’t win and goes to more and more extremes to try and compensate for his personality flaws, only to fuck up in a very consistent rate. Every time he tries to grow, he finds himself unable to do so because something (really stupid) always happens that gets in his way. Even when he turns into a neo-Nazi wannabe, he (hilariously) reassures us that he’s doing it for the good of the school and that after they were free, he could drop the act. And when that plan failed, he went through the standard character growth we expect from an underdog protagonist before finally becoming the Jesus Dalai Lama Christ the cast deserved. A very dumb one, but it’s not like the characters surrounding him were much better at that point. Specially Inori, who’s so blatantly wish-fulfillment-y that it gets hilarious.
I’m gonna be straight with you guys here. I laugh more at Guilty Crown whenever somebody (particularly Shu) worships Inori like she’s every man’s fantasy when it’s plainly obvious she’s the sexist caricature that the underbelly of the Evangelion fans picture Rei to be. When Shu does something incredibly climactic to him, but to an outsider’s view, it’s just something people see as normal. When he’s being a wannabe Neo-Nazi, because don’t we all? The segway joke that the Internet seems to have latched onto is cute, but I honestly think it’s an overrated thing to focus on, and Shu getting tortured can be a bit hit-and-miss. That joke when the entire school zoomed in on him after he touched a classmate’s boob whilst testing out his voids was cool. The one when Ayase put him through the crapper after he took pity on her handicapped status, not so much.
But something about that first joke (the Inori-related stuff in case you didn’t get that) really sticks with me, probably because it’s Shu’s entire motivation for even being the main character before all his convoluted backstory gets revealed (and even then, it’s the major reason for why he does everything even when he says he’s doing it for his friends). I know a lot of people, including me, have criticized that relationship in the past, seeing it as nothing more than a joke that makes Raiden’s and Rosemary’s relationship drama look well-written. But also like Raiden and Rosemary, I can’t help but see it now as intentionally bad given how it’s an attraction that’s entirely based on lies and even when something genuine comes from it, it never works out to the characters’ benefit. The final scene in particular makes me laugh like a hyena when it’s revealed what came out of the relationship. It’s just so fucked up and so fitting that Shu can’t move on from a relationship with a living sex doll even when she doomed him to a life of blindness. In fact, my only complaint with the relationship is that it was never consummated at all. What? Like it would have been more out of place than anything else in this show?
Having said that, Guilty Crown still has moments of dumb that not even being satirical/ironic about can excuse. The fact that Shu can only pull voids from those under 17 years of age is incredibly contrived with no good (or any) explanation given for it whatsoever. And the final act when an important character is brought back to life on the opposite side…without wishing to spoil much, remember the final climax in Metal Gear Solid 4 when Snake and Liquid Ocelot had their last showdown? Then after the latter is defeated, another character shows up at the last minute to put everything into perspective whilst trying to make his side in the right despite the many lives that were lost in the process? Well let’s just say Guilty Crown’s final bad guy fares no better at justifying himself, and I doubt we’ll be getting another sequel sometime down the line that paints his journey towards peace as Evil vs. Evil.
I’m not really sure what the reaction to Guilty Crown would be if it came out now, or what my reaction would be if my current self saw it for the first time, especially if I wasn’t marathoning it. Nonetheless, the fact remains that no other trainwreck has really caught on as much as this show has to the point that it was put on a now defunct comedy watch with people saying “it’s enjoyable, but not for the reason it thinks it’s being”. You wouldn’t hear them say the same thing about Sword Art Online and Psycho-Pass 2. And Aldnoah Zero just bored folks a few episodes into the second season. Whilst I can say what I enjoy about this show fine (mainly by being Metal Gear Solid 2 if converted through an anime filter whilst removing most of the parts that would work in a video game but not in a series), what exactly was so special about this particular trainwreck that made it constant entertainment for them? And why are they so hesitant to rank it amongst their favorites if it kept their eyes glued to the screen the entire way through, especially when stuff like Code Geass, Star Driver, and Symphogear can make it on?
I suspect that both questions share the same answer. Maybe it’s the cynical characters. Maybe it’s the pretentious tone. Maybe it’s the fact that whilst shows like Code Geass and Symphogear make no sense, Guilty Crown really makes no sense.
- The Funimation dub has its positives and negatives that ultimately balance out, but if you really care about voice-acting, I’d recommend just watching in Japanese.
- I mean I do English because I’m too lazy to change the languages unless it’s unbearable. Plus Shu’s English voice when he gets his arm cut off is better than his Japanese one, which sort of makes up for Hare’s unbearably bad line-read in Episode 9.
- I suspect my generally down nature on Guilty Crown despite my enjoyment of it has to with the large number of fans(?) who won’t shut up about it. What did I say before about fanbases ruining good things again?
- Still, having it as my annual Christmas anime is nice.
- Remind me why Dan Eagleman only stuck around for five episodes again?
- That second opening is pretty kick-ass (first sucks though).