Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - Complete Collection
In the late 2020s, a meteorite impact brought the Apocalypse virus to the world, and on December 24th 2029, an event nicknamed Lost Christmas unleashed this virus across Japan in devastating fashion. A decade later, a U.N.-sponsored organization called GHQ ruthlessly roots out the disease wherever they find it across Japan, which doesn't sit well with a terrorist group called Funeral Parlor. High school student Shu Ouma unwittingly gets caught up in the conflict between Funeral Parlor and the GHQ Anti Bodies (their specialized disease eradication squads) when he encounters one of the wounded Funeral Parlor members, a beautiful girl named Inori who also happens to be the vocalist for the popular Internet band Egoist. She is carrying a stolen Void Genome, a powerful genetic weapon intended for Funeral Parlor's leader that Shu winds up being injected with instead. It gives him the ability to manifest a person's Void (a tool or weapon derived from the person's psyche), which makes him an invaluable asset to Funeral Parlor whether he likes it or not. As Shu gradually gets drawn into schemes that could put the fate of the whole world at stake, he comes to appreciate the awesome weight of the “Power of the King” that he now possesses.
In one of the included interviews for Funimation's rerelease of this series, one of the show's producers specifically mentions Neon Genesis Evangelion as a personal inspiration. That's not surprising, as Guilty Crown gives off a very Evangelion-like vibe at many points throughout its run, with many story elements from the mecha classic being liberally borrowed even into the show's final plot twists. There's just one problem with that: director Tetsuro Araki, who has made a career out of directing flamboyant shows like Attack on Titan, Death Note, and High School of the Dead, is no Hideaki Anno.
To be sure, Araki knows how to stage a good actioner, which is why Guilty Crown stands out most strongly in its action scenes. There's no shortage of flash and pop in its use of weapons and special powers, and it delivers quite well on the dramatics of its feature scenes. It also uses some interesting (though not necessarily original) concepts to feed those action scenes, such as remote-controlled mecha and the reflection of each person's personality in their Void weapon. Fight scenes are reasonably well-animated too, especially the mecha aspects, which show a good deal of fluidity.
However, problems start cropping up when you look at any aspect of the storytelling. This series has some truly whiplash plot twists, which isn't necessarily a problem all by itself. The real problem is that these plot twists are not well thought-out, which leads to problems with weak set-ups and rough execution, especially near the end of each season. There are some definite logical gaps, which may leave viewers scratching their heads over how Character A ended up in Place B or why Character C does not remember certain things that he should. Two of the most glaring examples of this are a nasty incest angle that comes out of nowhere and a couple of poorly-justified changes of allegiance, which seem to have been thrown in just to give certain characters some weak reason to fight each other, along with some difficult-to-fathom motivations. The arc in the second half where even the protagonist seems to lose his way for a while fares better, but even that idea has been done more smoothly elsewhere. Overall, these problems suggest that the series may have been originally conceived for 24-26 episodes but had to get pared down to 22 in production.
Other problems spring up on the character development front. The screenwriters do fine with the sometimes prickly relationships between Shu and other male characters, especially Funeral Parlor leader Gai, but female characters are another story. By far the biggest trouble spot is Inori, who is quite capable in a fight but has little to no personality and seems to exist entirely to be alluring eye candy, serve as a literal sheath for Shu's most powerful weapon, and give Shu reasons to fight. Watching her pathetic portrayal only makes me appreciate what Anno did with Rei Ayanami (Inori's spiritual predecessor) even more; Rei at least had a sense of internal conflict, even if it was restrained.
Inori is not the only problem, though. Ayase is potentially one of the most interesting characters, as an extremely rare (for anime) paraplegic character in a major role. However, the series never actually does much with her; all we really learn about her is that she has a one-sided crush on Gai and that she's adamant about not accepting help when getting in and out of her wheelchair. At least she has a distinct personality, which makes her more interesting than Inori. Then there's the petite hacker Tsugumi, who gets even less attention and has no real traits beyond being perpetually high-energy. Arisa, the Student Council President, also shows flashes of potential but nothing that makes much sense is ever done with her either. Finally, there's Shu's mother Haruka, whose personality varies as the scene dictates. Only Shu's friend/potential love interest Hare actually gets to do much, but she's never more than a second-tier supporting character.
The series does look good, which partly balances the poor storytelling out. Gai is cut from classic pretty boy cloth, and Inori is far from the only female character with sex appeal. Few male characters other than Gai stand out, but at least they are usually drawn well. So are the Endlaves, which may not be the most exciting mecha designs, but they are convincing and flawlessly integrated into the action. Depictions of the future Tokyo find a reasonable balance between futuristic elements and modern-day architecture. Graphic content remains moderate, with the most edgy content being a few executions; the fact that Apocalypse Virus victims crystallize as they die mutes the harshness of their death scenes. Fanservice seems more major up front, but aside from some skintight body suits and Inori's occasionally revealing costumes, it's not a big factor of the show.
The music is a big factor though, definitely where the series shines brightest. The first opener, “My Dearest,” is a powerhouse production that easily ranks among the best OPs of the last few years, joined by solid closers and a decent but much less impressive second half replacement. Scattered throughout the soundtrack are a number of insert songs, but the dramatic, orchestrated styling does well enough on its own, with numerous numbers from composer Hiroyuki Sawano, reminiscent of his other great work in Attack on Titan, Aldnoah.Zero, Kill la Kill, and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
Funimation's English dub also hits the mark well, with no mismatched casting choices and several truly perfect fits. I almost felt sorry for Alexis Tipton not getting much to do with Inori, but John Swasey as major antagonist Makoto Waltz Segai gives a highlight performance. Almost none of the songs sung in the series are dubbed, but this was apparently not by Funimation's choice; a message on the discs indicates that they were contractually obligated to leave certain songs alone.
This complete series release looks to be just the original half-series releases stuck together in a single case, so this is an offering strictly for those who did not get it the first time around. Both the Blu-Ray and DVD versions are present, each with a substantial set of extras: episode web previews, numerous comedy shorts (which are not all that funny), assorted promos and trailers, clean versions of all theme songs, and English audio commentaries for two episodes in each half. There's also a 10 minute interview with three of the series' producers and a “reassortment” video, which is basically the first dozen episodes boiled down into one 47-minute piece of animation. Conspicuously absent is the “Lost Christmas” OVA which came bundled with the computer game prequel in Japan.
In the end, Guilty Crown can be an entertaining series; its production values are too impressive for it to totally fall on its face. However, it has too many storytelling and characterization weaknesses for me to call it good.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Great first opening theme and musical score, very solid English dub, good action scenes
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