Guilty Crown is an original piece, not being based on any previous form of media. To summarize the rather convoluted plot: the story follows a high school student named Shu Ouma. He’s taken from his normal life when he runs into a mysterious girl named Inori. From there things get interesting as the writing slowly unveils there’s something bigger at play than a simple resistance versus the tyrannic government. This is perhaps the show’s biggest disappointing aspect: there are some unique ideas but the poorly explained plot and characters stop Guilty Crown from being the science fiction masterpiece it could have been.
The first episode did an excellent job establishing a tension-filled atmosphere. We’re introduced to Inori in a fast-paced escape sequence. There’s a lot to like here, from the gorgeous animation/overall style to the interesting backstory with Japan reliant on foreign aid and having an unstable government. It sets the tone for what should be a stylistic and action-packed story. It definitely has those two things, but the characters and terribly explained plot progression stops it from being something that can be called great. Shu is one of the biggest examples of the writing going all over the place and demonstrating how not to do character development.
The first few episodes did a great job introducing Shu. It’s clear what the writing was going for: Shu is a shy, anxiety-filled student. His meetup with Inori, and then the resistance group Funeral Parlor leads him on a journey to becoming an extroverted hero. This isn’t bad in concept; in fact, it’s quite good. For a little while the writing was succeeding. (I particularly liked the inner monologue in the first few episodes.) But, he starts to go downhill in Episode Eight, which was the worst episode of the show. We see Shu attack his friend over flirting with Inori even though Shu said it was fine earlier in the episode. In a later episode Shu states to Funeral Parlor, “I’m not the one that betrays people here.” Yet in the episode previously mentioned he betrayed his friend, thus making Shu a hypocrite.
Later in arc two the writing has Shu become a tyrannical leader, bordering on being evil. This plot development comes about after the death of someone close to him. Now it makes sense something would happen to his character development, but this was just an abrupt change. Everyone falling in line with him was too sudden, and worse this character arc lasted only a couple of episodes. He goes from tyrant to being a noble hero looking out for others in just under three episodes. Does the writing expect us to forget about what just happened and be engaged with him now? It doesn’t work that way. This type of character development needed more episodes and better writing to make it work. Shu’s character was just all over the place and ended up being a missed opportunity for something truly interesting.
Inori…where to start with her. First, the romance between her and Shu makes little sense in the first arc. Unlike an anime like Tsubasa, it takes awhile for the romance aspect of Guilty Crown to feel remotely organic. Inori is often little more than a plot device, or worse- a tool. The main character often reaches into her chest (yes it’s a strange visual) to pull out her Void. The viewer often wonders why Inori acts the way she does, because she doesn’t act or talk like a normal person. Finally in a big (and poorly explained) plot twist it turns out she is the clone of the main character’s sister who happens to be evil used by aliens(?) to bring about an apocalypse. That sentence was tough to type, but the point is made. The anime really went off the deep end in arc two, not really explaining much of anything. (So how did Shu block out all those vital memories?)
The show could have ended at the end of the first arc and it would have been a little more decent. The ongoing tension with Funeral Parlor against the government was engaging. Gai was little more than the generic tough, win at all costs leader at first. But as he got to interact with Shu and work with him Gai ended up being one of the best characters. Of course, arc two brings him back for convoluted development and throws away his sense of nobility. There are many other characters of note. Some of them are good, such as Ayase, and Shibunji. Some interesting, such as Kenji and Arisa, are unfortunately rendered an almost non-factor by the end.
There’s a lot to like in the first arc, perhaps the best part being Shu being taken into custody. Segai, by far the show’s best antagonist, shows Shu the government is seemingly not evil and that in fact Funeral Parlor is the organization that needs to be stopped. The dialogue here is brilliant, as Segai showcases deceptive tactics in an attempt to get Shu on his side. Another really well done aspect of the first arc was the hostile government takeover by Keido. It was a well written, explosive sequence. Arc one isn’t perfect however. The school scenes were painful to watch for one thing. The fan service was a major drawback. As stated earlier, Episode Eight was the worst. A major part of it is dedicated to the beach. It doesn’t end with that episode unfortunately, as even good characters such as Arisa and Menjou are victim to it. In fact, almost all the major female characters are reduced in one way or another to fan service scenes. Classiness unfortunately doesn’t often exist in Guilty Crown.
One character that needs to be mentioned is Yuu. He was an interesting antagonist, but the problem (now stop me if you’ve heard this) is that his character is poorly defined. There’s virtually no backstory as to what he is, or what Da’ath even is. His relationship to the Mana aspect was overly complex and his explanations ended up making the story more convoluted. By the time he’s gone the viewer is left wondering who he even was. The climax has some exciting fight scenes, though with a cheesy, save-the-day deus ex machina moment.
The soundtrack is outstanding, one of the best. Almost every theme is excellent and sounds like something out of a film production. The second ending’s visuals with the two main characters running against an emotional theme was very well done as well. The action scenes are often exciting and diverse. We have classic military gun fights, mechas, and of course fantasy elements with Shu being able to use Voids. At the very least, Guilty Crown is never boring. Despite the second arc being the show’s downfall, there are some well done elements. The idea of being trapped in a building part of a state on lockdown was interesting to watch.
Overall, Guilty Crown is one of the biggest missed opportunities in anime history. There’s some great concepts that either aren’t explored properly or are just too convoluted to appreciate. Shu’s character journey is poorly written with only pieces of good writing. Inori is often just there for Shu to use as a weapon, and her character arc isn’t great thanks to -once again- horribly defined backstory. This is not to say the show is unwatchable. It has many exciting moments and a somewhat good cast with a fantastic soundtrack. As a whole though, there are better options.