Guilty Crown (2011)

The right to use my friend as a weapon. That is the sinful crown I shall adorn.

Beginning it’s television run in Japan from October 2011, Guilty Crown is an original 22 episode Japanese anime television series produced by Production I.G, with Tetsuro Araki, Highschool of the Dead (2010), taking helm as series director, a man most famous for his work on the much praised anime classic Death Note (2006).

Primarily taking place in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, Japan, Guilty Crown the anime incorporates elements of numerous genres, mostly drawing inspiration from science and fantasy. Prior to the events of the central story, a biological hazard known as the Apocalypse Virus plunges Japan into a state of chaos on December 24, 2029. This event later becomes known as the Lost Christmas incident. Unable to contain the threat, Japan seeks international aid and the United Nations sends a quasi-governmental organization known as the GHQ to assist. The GHQ successfully contains the outbreak and restores a level of order at the cost of Japan’s independence. Fast forward to 2039, ten years since the devastating Lost Christmas occurrence, and audiences are introduced to 17-year old male protagonist, Shu Ouma, who lives his peaceful life aimlessly by simply attending school. That peace is shattered when, by chance, Shu runs into a girl by the name of Inori Yuzuriha, a 16-year old famous female vocalist of a band known as EGOIST and a member of the resistance group named Funeral Parlor whose main objective is to liberate Japan from the GHQ and restore its independence once more. Shu soon becomes intertwined with the resistance due to an accident and inadvertently obtains the Guilty Crown on his right arm, a Void Genome encased in a cylinder that when released bestows upon its user The Power of Kings, enabling the user the ability to draw out items called Voids from other people and wield these as weapons. After reluctantly being recruited by Gai Tsutsugami, the 17-year old leader of Funeral Parlor, Shu becomes part of the resistance marking the beginning of his story and the sinful crown he shall adorn. In the process, Shu must also deal with the burden his ability carries and the horrific mystery of his past.

Stealing her heart ... literally.
Stealing her heart … literally.

The principal narrative of Guilty Crown can come across as slightly cliché and is, to some extent, overcrowded or muddled, being somewhat overstuffed with a plethora of technical jargon, complex side plots and what initially feels like a hand-full of unnecessary characters, making the anime quite confusing or difficult to grasp and wrap ones head around on a preliminary view. While the whole Void Genome aspect of the story is rather fresh and innovative, the essential skeleton narrative feels like something presented to audiences multiple times before; a post-apocalyptic Japan setting and tight-fitted suit-wearing pilots who operate giant mecha-style robots are all elements we’ve been exposed to before in Japanese animation; Evangelion anyone? The Void Genome element however, which causes Shu to reluctantly join Funeral Parlor after receiving its power, is what ultimately makes Guilty Crown work, as the concept is fantastical and unique enough to keep viewers engrossed and interested with what’s unfolding on screen. The design and use of the Voids are individualized for each character and represent the heart of the person they’ve been drawn out from; these Voids can only be extracted from persons 17 years and younger. While this concept is explored in some detail, particularly looking at how students become segregated and deemed expendable the less practical and useful their Void is considered, due to a Void classification system shaped and implemented by Shu and one of his classmates, deeper concepts could have been explored, such as what might happen if a Void is removed from someone older than 17 years of age or why Voids are only able to be drawn out from people under a certain age?

The most interesting and complex of the chief characters is Shu Ouma, the male protagonist of Guilty Crown, whose right hand holds The Power of Kings, given to him by the Void Genome. Initially introduced as a shy individual who tended to stay out of peoples way, and was only able to form quasi-friendships with others, eventually grows and significantly transforms, both physically and psychologically, after meeting and falling in love with Inori. Once his relationship with Inori matures, and being entrusted with The Power of Kings, Shu gains responsibility and must learn to overcome his own weaknesses and shortcomings, forming lasting bonds with his friends and fellow allies, mustering courage, strength and the ability to become a true leader, ultimately learning the meaning of sacrifice. With her pinkish-white hair tied into pigtails, reddish eyes and stunning flowery red leotard, Inori Yuzuriha is beautiful to gaze upon but is fairly quiet and somewhat emotionless as a character, for narrative purposes, until forming a close bond with Shu when moving in with him. Unfortunately though, Inori as a character never seems to reach her full potential and falls somewhat flat against other, more prominent, female protagonists, never breaking out of what seems like a reserved, timid persona.

Climbing Jacob's Ladder
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

Surprisingly, it’s the secondary characters of Guilty Crown who hold some strong emotional draws to the narrative. With gentle eyes and a sugary, charming exterior, it’s 16-year old Hare Menjou, a classmate of Shu’s who resides in the same apartment block and attended the same school as Shu since Junior High, who breaths life and genuine emotion to the story. Secretly in love with Shu, Hare is by far the most relatable, sweet and sympathetic of the characters, presented with sincere and honest humanity. Hare’s Void, which takes the form of bandages that have the ability to repair and heal, truly represents her kind compassionate ‘mending’ heart. 17-year old wheelchair-bound Ayase Shinomiya, a member from the group Funeral Parlor and pilot of humanoid robot Endlave, a humanoid war machine used for military purposes, is another cast highlight. Presented as a strong, independent and desirable female protagonist, even though crippled and unable to use her legs, Ayase is a very unique inclusion to the main cluster of players and is somewhat unlike anything presented in anime before. Even though bound by the restrictions of her wheelchair, this rare beauty still manages to equal her more traditional counterparts, and is incredible to watch develop, get her hands dirty and actually get in on the action. Lastly, the brash and cheeky plugsuit wearing 14-year old Tsugumi Sendo, a professional hacker who acts as the operator for the guerrilla resistance group, is a great inclusion to the cast, adding some much needed lightheartedness and humor to a sometimes heavy storyline.

Understanding the intricate character relationships can be slightly tricky to begin with, but become somewhat clearer the further the series progresses, particularly Inori’s past and her connection and relationship with both Gai and Shu. While the love triangle between Shu, Gai and Inori is a central focus for the narrative, the friendship elements come across much stronger, leaving a bolder statement overall. Shu’s relationship with his high school classmates, particularly the kind Souta Tamadate, who genuinely cares for his friends, leaves a lasting impression about companionship as the two boys have an ongoing conflict, both having strong feelings for Inori, but overcome the obstacles put in their path discovering that true friendship conquers all. It’s in the smaller episodes, like the friends trip to the beach, where the heart of the anime shines the brightest.

Virtual gaming in 2039?
Virtual gaming in 2039?

While Guilty Crown tries to explore several heavy themes, some of the writing can come across as being a little cheesy or cliché. It’s in the visual design where Guilty Crown truly triumphs. Art director Yusuke Takeda, Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), is clearly at the top of his game on Guilty Crown, as no matter the location, mood or atmosphere of a scene, it’s captured in the most picturesque, beautiful way possible. A stunning technical masterpiece, the dreamlike artistic style of Guilty Crown is gorgeous, with an excellent use of light, reflection and colour, mostly pinks blues and purples, keeping the anime visually exciting and fresh when the dialogue or narrative feels flat or confusing. The super slick mechanical and fantastical designs, such as the Voids and mecha, are astonishingly unique and have an almost dreamlike quality to their construction and interpretation. The character work, original character design by artist Redjuice while Hiromi Katō provides the character designs for the anime, is highly detailed with each individual, whether a major player or background character, appearing to be distinguishable and authentically stunning. The high-octane battle sequences are nothing short of spectacular and are crammed with impressive imagination as the camera often manages to find new and exciting ways to capture the action. A seamless blend of traditional and computer generated animation Guilty Crown is a visual tour de force.

The stirring and emotive score of Guilty Crown is composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, Attack on Titan (2013), and 11-member J-pop music group Supercell who perform both opening and ending themes and provide the in-anime songs which appear throughout the series, add a nice touch to the overall feel and vibe. The Guilty Crown theme song, Euterpe, a tune that is sung by protagonist Inori Yuzuriha in the beginning of the first episode and throughout, is also performed by Supercell under the name fictional name of EGOIST.

Crystal clearly isn't Inori's thing ...
Crystal clearly isn’t Inori’s thing …

While Guilty Crown can be somewhat confusing and over crowded with complex side plots, puzzling revelations, intricate character back-stories and too much technical terminology, the astounding visuals alone are certainly worth the sit through. The script isn’t always the strongest, or most focused, but where it lacks in originality or coherence, its characters pick up the slack, providing enough emotional draw to keep most interested, as Guilty Crown includes one of the saddest, most impactful character deaths I’ve personally experienced in an anime in a long time. So while not everyone’s cup of tea, Guilty Crown comes recommended to those who enjoy post-apocalyptic type stories, mecha or anime enthusiasts and those who are simply inspired by vivid breathtaking visual design.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Guilty Crown is released through Madman Entertainment Australia