Guilty Crown – It Had Potential, But Ultimately Failed
March 31, 2012 9 Comments
Guilty Crown was a show that had plenty of potential, but ultimately turned out to be a terribly written show, with annoying characters, and very little clue about its direction. It started off as one of the most hyped shows for the Autumn 2011 season – there were immensely high expectations, which it ultimately succumbed to. The high expectations largely stemmed from the staff involved with this project – having the staff of Death Note and Code Geass working together sounded like a great idea, add to that character designs by Redjuice, and theme song by Supercell, and you had some form of anime dream team. The issue is, however, that such a ‘dream team’ involved on a single project never truly works, there are too many different approaches and ideas as to what direction the show should take. In a sense Guilty Crown was destined to fail before it even began, largely because the expectations were simply too high – the show was never going to be as good as people wanted it to be.
You could also argue that bringing on board people from two very different shows didn’t help either, with Death Note’s tight plot, and the style and drama from Code Geass clashing in Guilty Crown. We also had a case where the story appeared to have been taken from Code Geass, and with a few name changes it was grafted onto the artwork for this show. But, more fundamentally, this clash of styles did not work – you can see where the writers appear to want a tighter plot that twists and turns, coupled with dramatic, and very stylised fight sequences. The problem is that having both together just ended in chaos, with both story elements seemingly as out of place as the other – there was no flow to this series, no clear direction, and at times, no clue. This show was in a sense fundamentally flawed due to these clashing styles with the plot seemingly going in three directions at once while not moving at all.
There were some fascinating pieces of animation, and story where we could see a battle of wits taking place – those life-or-death battles that could be decided in an instant. But then the show would oddly shift into Code Geass school mode, with much teenage melodrama and angst – it was disjointed in every aspect, and the school scenes in particular just felt out of place. It was as if there were two shows being produced, but instead of releasing them separately, they were grafted together in the vain hope that something good would be spawned. And the plot itself was all over the place, with random biblical references, and later on a clear attempt to take the idea of SEELE from Evangelion and try to force it into the story of Guilty Crown. The first half of the series had some semblance of direction, and while Shu and Inori were relatively week as main characters, there was at least a relatively clear plot. the second half, however, was all over the place, with numerous plot arcs and elements being thrown in to what may be the anime equivalent of gumbo. There was no direction, no idea about what the story was about, with random deaths, resurrections, and a mixture of new and old testament references that simply did not work.
To have a central plot point about original sin with adam and eve, only to make the entire final arc take place around what is effectively the Tower of Babel was a clear case of bad writing. Never mind that half of the apparent philosophical reasons for the events in this second half, it is preposterous to try and put the Tower of Babel into the story of original sin, they are different myths for one thing. Guilty Crown appeared to be living under the mistaken belief that adding random biblical references, along with an entire plot device about original sin made it a deep and thought provoking show. The characters kept coming out with, what one assumes are meant to be profound utterances that feed into the shows (apparent) exploration of the human condition. It is pretentious, and badly written – the idea that an Adam and Eve were meant to repopulate the earth in order to cleanse mankind of its sins was not only ludicrous, but clunky. There has only ever been one show where adding biblical references, and in particular original sin has worked, and that was Evangelion – largely because the series was so ridiculous to begin with that such an idea simply worked.
The characters themselves were quite two-dimensional, which was curious when it appears that Guilty Crown was meant to be an exploration of the human condition. There was never any real character progression, aside from Inori, who at least changed from being an un-feeling doll into someone who can clearly express emotions, that it took 22 episodes largely made it pointless though. There were relationships and feelings between characters, which were never explained – Haruka for example seems to be very attached to Shu, and yet is quite happy to send ghost robots and other nasties at him. Gai was fascinating at first, but his death and sudden resurrection was yet again another clunky plot device. Furthermore, his reasons for doing what he did came across as quite selfish and again silly, yet the way in which those lines were delivered suggests that this was meant to be a profound quest to sae the soul of the one he loves. The problem is that there was no continuity between characters in the first and second halves of this series, with personalities appearing to change overnight, and yet revert the next episode. If anything, the only character that appeared to stay constant, with some progression was Ayase. She was able to open up to others and accepts help, whereas before she was stubborn and would never accept help from others even when she needed it.
Guilty Crown desperately lacked a proper, charismatic protagonist, someone that the audience could look at, and whether you love or hate them, at least respect them as the lead for the show. The ‘bad guys’ in this series were also laughable – there was so much effort put into making them the most unlikeable group of people on this planet that it just cane across as funny and preposterous. Having the antibodies dress in white and happily kill innocent civilians with smiles on their face just came across as pretty silly. Segai and Dan Eagleman demonstrated how ridiculous this show was, and yet were also some of the best characters. And in the end there was never really any true antagonist, with the GHQ seemingly puppets for Darth (SEELE), who have no knowledge about what’s going on, and will probably die soon anyway. Ultimately the characterisation of the protagonists, and antagonists is inconsistent and sloppy.
The plot appeared to have been created on a weekly basis after an alcohol fuelled acid binge. One week we would be told certain ‘fundamental truths’ about the voids, the world, and the ultimate plans of GHQ – but, the next week these fundamental truths may have been changed, forgotten about, or just ignored entirely. There was no continuity within the story – characters would change from bad to good in an instant, and things that were supposed to be unchangeable, especially about the voids would be forgotten about almost as soon as they came to light. With regards to the characters, it was if the writers were trying to demonstrate that the world is not black or white, but shades of grey. Having the characters change allegiance so often appeared to be their way of showing this, but it doesn’t really work. There seemed little point for characters to suddenly change allegiances – with manufactured plot devices used to explain why. Seeing Shu’s mother Haruka go from being someone who walked around the house in her underwear, being all touchy-feely with him, only to become part of the ‘bad side’ was odd. It was as if her personality changed, and yet a few episodes later, she was back to being rebellious and attempting to stop the next apocalypse.
Then we come to the character designs and animation, something that was both brilliant, but also problematic. The character designs are very pretty, with nice colours, but they are incredibly complicated, and if you compare Rejuice’s illustrations with the official artwork, you’ll notice how much has been missed out. The illustrations look amazing, but they don’t transfer well to animation – the animation bore little resemblance to many illustrations, so in a sense the inclusion of Redjuice to the team became a moot point. This is a problem when bringing in famous, or at least very well known illustrators; there seems little point if their artwork cannot be transferred to animation. There are limitations to what animation can produce, with detailed character designs being incredibly difficult to animate properly. There are of course studios that manage to produce immensely detailed and beautiful work, such as Studio Ghibli – they have a high budget, and a great time frame to do this, along with using classic cell-animation and watercolours.
Production I.G. did an excellent job animating this series, with fluid fight sequences, and some jaw-dropping visuals. But the inclusion of Redjuice to produce the character designs appears to be too much for them – there seems little point in producing beautiful character designs if they are impossible to animated accurately, and the artists talent seems to be wasted at this point. Also, the character designs for certain characters are far superior to those we see in the actual series, and it seems that the details, along with the way that Redjuice colour their works did not fit into the animation style of Production I.G.
Guilty Crown also appeared to attempt a Macross-like plot element, with the inclusion of Inori as a songstress, along with her band EGOIST. Guilty Crown is clearly no Macross, but when you hire a famous band (Supercell), there is at least the expectation that you use them. We have two songs from Inori that are recycled constantly throughout the series, along with the band EGOIST never actually making an appearance. The soundtrack itself is pretty good with some excellent pieces of music, and yet it feels wasted when half of th soundtrack isnt recogniseable in the series itself, and when it is, is a mere 30 seconds to a minute from a 5-7 minute track; there was all this wasted potential while simply recycling Euterpe and Departures. It is like the inclusion of this famous band, both in the series, and out was an after thought, which is odd when it is apparently the singing of Mana and Inori that create, and destroy the apocalypse phenomenon (or are at least significant to the phenomenon itself). Perhaps Macross has spoiled us over the years, and especially with Macross Frontier – having an entire soundtrack composed by the great Yoko Kanno that includes many brilliant tracks, which fit the series perfectly. Marketing Inori as a songstress comes across as more of a marketing exercise than anything meaningful – it was a way to sell the Supercell soundtrack. The soundtrack was excellent, but there needed to be more music and singing, we needed Inori as the songstress, much like Macross, otherwise there seems little point in including her. Again, this, much like certain elements of the story feels tacked on, it has the feel of an afterthought with little will to carry it through to the end.
Guilty Crown was ultimately a terrible show, and yet it was also entertaining, although this was unintentional, and likely not in the ways that the producers had envisioned. The animation was beautiful, and almost every episode did include some element of entertainment, along with some nice fight scenes. There were visuals that were both amazing, yet utterly out of place (Mana’s dance sequence while bringing about the next apocalypse), along with inconsistent characterisation and terrible (or no) plot development. The story was a mess, and was working in the mistaken belief that having a story about original sin with various other biblical references, only to set it in high school would work. Ultimately Guilty Crown probably failed before it even started – the expectations for the show were too high, and it would never have lived up to them.
But, this is no excuse for what was a sloppily put together series in terms of characters and plot, it tried to be too clever, and ended up being very pretentious. the show had a lot of potential, both in terms of story, but also animation quality, but it took itself too seriously, and appeared to believe in its own greatness, so in the end became a victim of its own hubris. My dislike for this show is largely because it had so much potential, and continued to have potential in each episode, yet nothing was ever done with it. I loved the animation quality, and some of the big set-piece visuals were jaw dropping, but the story never fit with them, it had the distinct feeling of too many ideas and different approaches to the story, but no real direction. Guilty Crown was ultimately a brilliant looking, but inconsistent show that utterly failed to make anything work properly – in a sense it was a classic case of too many cooks (too many cooks spoil the broth). I will likely forget about this show – and arguably already have forgotten about large sections of it – and there are far better shows out there that have significantly better stories and characters in them. In a sense, it may have been better to just watch Code Geass again, at least then we get to see Lelouche be all arrogant, but also charismatic.