In the Defense Of Guilty Crown And He Who Bears its Sinful Weight
Hello, everyone. If you’ve seen the reviews for Guilty Crown, you’ll notice that people are vastly conflicted on it. A large portion of the reviews (especially the top ones) are negative. I’ve seen this most prominently on My Anime List, but I’ve seen it elsewhere.
Negative reviews are always going to make it on the top. Generally, there are many reviews with the common consensus, and then one review stuck in that the people who disagree with that consensus push up to the top. It plays out that way regardless of what that consensus may be.
This always happens and is to be expected. What I find interesting in Guilty Crown’s case is that the anime itself on My Anime List gets a 7.52 out of 10. So out of the over 480,000 people who watched it, the consensus is that it is good.
However, if you look at the ten top reviews, over half are 4 or lower, with the highest being 10, but it is meant to be a joke. This shows that the more outspoken people (including those who write reviews and felt compelled to do more than just watch it) seem to think Guilty Crown ranges from being bad to a complete mess.
This all made me curious. Now you could say part of the blame lies in the fact that negative emotions tend to drive people to take action more often than positive ones, but that’s likely the pessimist in me talking.
I wanted to know why things were like this because I had watched Guilty Crown at that point and didn’t understand why so many people seemed to feel the way they did.
So I began to dig a little into it and found that the reasons (which often are fairly valid with context) go all the way back before I watched anime and to when Guilty Crown premiered in 2011.
So if you’ll bear with me, I’ll talk about Guilty Crown at length here. I’ll talk about the reasons I loved it, the places I felt it fell short, and I’ll address the similarities to Code Geass and the almost overwhelming (and sometimes it seems universal) hatred for the main character.
I’m doing this for a few reasons, but the main one is because I feel very passionate about this anime in particular, and I want to voice my opinion on the topic.
If you’ve read the title, you know where I stand already, and if that bothers you, you are more than welcomed to leave, but I would appreciate it if you would stay and hear me out to the end.
Like with all the stuff I talk about it, my goal isn’t to tell you Guilty Crown is the best thing ever made, and all should bow to its might. I’m here to talk about the good and the bad of the show and ultimately defend it from some of the accusations I’ve seen against it.
That is all I’m here to do.
Firstly, I want to explain my history with the series, or I suppose my almost lack thereof one because I feel that it’s important to understand my point of view. I had initially heard of Guilty Crown about four years ago from the second opening song, “The Everlasting Guilty Crown.”
After I heard (and adored) that song, I went on to listen to the first opening, “My Dearest,” and loved that too. That’s more or less where my knowledge ended. I had listened to the songs and watched the openings many, many times. And through that, I came to love the music, and I thought the visuals were breathtaking.
Ever since then, I had Guilty Crown on my mental “list” of stuff I wanted to watch, and I hadn’t seen or read about it at all. I didn’t even know of the plot, as can probably be judged by the…we’ll say “fitting” time I decided to watch it.
But with various things lining up, like me paying for Funimation now instead of Crunchyroll and me deciding on a whim just because, I chose to finally watch Guilty Crown.
And so people are aware, as well as for the sake of transparency, I had not watched either Code Geass or Neon Genesis Evangelion (Guilty Crown gets compared to both a lot for various reasons) until I started to see the controversy surrounding the series. That’s very important to mention because that seems to be one of the main reasons people are so conflicted.
It seems to be a “you like what you watched first” type of scenario. However, I wanted to address these issues with a fair bit of knowledge, so when I knew I would write this, I thought I should do my homework properly to understand both sides of the story.
I then went on to watch the entire first season of Code Geass and all of Evangelion, not counting the movies, all of which I will watch at a later date. Because I wanted to be thorough, I decided to watch Guilty Crown, yet again, after watching the two series it was supposedly stealing from.
I’ll be the first one to admit that doing so doesn’t help me completely understand both sides, as despite whatever I may try to do, I still watched Guilty Crown first, and I, unfortunately, don’t possess the godly power to turn back time.
If I did, I’d probably be some rich inventor back in the past, living a life of luxury, using my knowledge to become some ruler, loved by my allies, feared by my enemies, resting my head in a heavily fortified castle each night, and certainly not wasting many hours of my limited time in this life researching and writing about the fictional merits of a glorified flipbook.
With all that being said, I did everything I possibly could to get to the bottom of this series in a fair, unbiased way. But of course, as humans are biased creatures by nature, some of that will always get through no matter what I do. I am a human, after all. So I apologize for that. Well, without further ado, Let’s see if Guilty Crown is innocent.
All Too Real
In the not so distant future of December 24th, 2029, a meteorite collides with Japan, bringing with it a mysterious and deadly biological hazard later known as the “Apocalypse Virus.” This event, “Lost Christmas” as it is known, plunges Japan into a state of panic and anarchy.
Unable to control the outbreak itself, Japan seeks help overseas. In response, The United Nations sends an organization, GHQ, to their aid. The virus is contained, a vaccine is made, and Japan manages to get back on its feet; however, it comes at a cost.
Because of how indebted Japan becomes to other nations, The Land of the Rising Sun all but loses its independence as a country, leaving the quasi-government GHQ in control.
Our story takes place 10 years after the events of Lost Christmas. Young down-on-himself highschooler and social outcast Shu Ouma goes through life flying under the radar. He isn’t very good with people, and despite having “friends,” he doesn’t consider them as such.
He does his best to read social cues, which he often fails at, and tries to just go along with the conversation, tell people what they expect to hear.
Because of this, Shu feels like he never really shows himself to anyone, and perhaps if he did, nobody would like him. These thoughts only send Shu deeper into his own mind, where he constantly thinks of himself as a selfish coward.
One day, as Shu is in an abandoned building he uses as a hideout, he finds a girl named Inori Yuzuriha, bleeding out. He recognizes her immediately as the vocalist of “Egoist,” a popular music group on the internet he often listens to. Before he can ask what happened, a group of GHQ soldiers known as “Antibodies” force their way in and whisk her away.
Feeling like even more of a coward, Shu decides to do something for once in his life and follow the directions of Inori’s small spider robot, Funnel, and take the strange vial contained in it to the specified location. There he is saved from a group of ruffians by a strong young man known as Gai.
Before Gai can take the vial from Shu, the area is attacked by GHQ alongside their giant robots known as “Endlaves.” Understanding the vial is very important; Shu does everything in his limited power to protect its contents.
During his retreat, he runs into Inori, who seems to be in danger. Mustering all his courage, he runs up to save her, only to have the vial shot open and its power consume him.
He is granted “the Power of King’s” in his right hand. This lets Shu reach inside of people and draw out their “Voids” – manifestations of the holder’s heart – to use as weapons to fight. Wielding Inori’s Void that takes the form of a gigantic sword, he fends off the attacking GHQ.
Shu later learns that Gai is the leader, and Inori is a member of a terrorist organization known as Funeral Parlor who hopes to gain Japan’s independence back from GHQ’s clutches.
Joining on Funeral Parlor’s next missions, Shu sees first hand the murderous will of GHQ as they gun down innocent people who are supposedly “infected” with the Virus. Gai then asks Shu to join up with Funeral Parlor and use his special power to help liberate their country, but Shu wonders if that’s the right decision.
What exactly is Gai fighting for? How does murdering people stop murderers? Where will this fighting actually get them? What if GHQ is actually right?
And so the ever complacent Shu gets pulled in every direction as he fruitlessly tries to maintain his everyday life, all the while his right hand contains the power to shift the tide of the civil war taking place all around him.
I want to start this topic by saying something that some might find controversial, and even more, are sure to disagree with, but I believe it to be true nonetheless.
Had it not been for Shu, Guilty Crown’s plot would be far worse. I’ll explain why that is when I talk about Shu more in-depth, but for now, I’ll talk about the story as a whole and let that comment sit a bit.
What will immediately come up when talking about the plot is the similarities to one of the most beloved anime of all time, Code Geass.
Both involve a highschooler getting a strange power known as the Power of the Kings after coming in contact with a girl being chased down by the government, and both use them to fight a civil war going on in a Japan that has lost its independence from outside forces.
The differences come from why Japan has lost its independence. In Code Geass’s case, it comes from a tyrannical country known as Brittania that wishes to more or less rule the world, calling the countries it conquered “areas,” which is why Japan is known as Area 11 and its people, Elevens.
In Guilty Crown’s case, Japan relies on outside help to contain a virus and become indebted as a result.
The stories also progress similarly, such as much of Guilty Crown’s first half taking place over a series of battles against GHQ. This is also why I believe the first half is the worse half. Not because it’s bad, per se, but because it is simple. It lacks any real identity, apart from its specific circumstances and from what Shu brings to the table.
The second half of the show, also the more messy half, is when Guilty Crown really begins to gain its own identity. The battles are toned down a bit, the virus issue is brought to the forefront rather than being a plot device for why Japan is in the state it is like before, and plot points that have been set up from the beginning start to culminate.
As I said, it is the messier half; I will not disagree with those who say that. Several things may not make sense at first glance, or motivations of characters seem odd, or various other things that have you asking questions.
While being better, the pacing is a complete shift from what you grew accustomed to the first 12 episodes and can be a little jarring. There is also just a lot that happens during the second half, to the point where you may need a pen and paper to keep up, and certain aspects of it aren’t well explained, Inori, which I’ll talk about later, being one of those.
The main problem is that the second half of Guilty Crown tried to do too much with too little time left, and as a result, became a bit sloppy overall. Not bad, mind you, sloppy. There’s a difference.
It’s fun, suspenseful, and entertaining, but everything gets muddied together, and certain aspects may get left behind because of it. However, it managed to become its own thing.
Even though I largely disagree with the statement, I understand how one could find Guilty Crown similar to Code Geass in the first half. The only thing that really separates the progression of each respective series is the main characters themselves.
I think we can all agree that Lelouch and Shu are vastly different main characters. However, they are both more or less in the same situations with few differences despite them being not at all similar people and their motivations entirely different from one another. So even while they look different on paper, it makes both feel quite similar to each other in ways.
With that being said, however you feel about the second half of Guilty Crown, as opinions seem to vary, I don’t see any way you could possibly relate it to Code Geass. Guilty Crown completely becomes itself, although that self becomes messy as a result.
My biggest disappointment is that the first half was what it was. It certainly wasn’t bad, and I’m not saying that. There are plenty of good moments throughout (Guilty Crown is just chock full of epic clips you’ll want to rewatch, to be honest), but it would have been far better if it was done in the style of the second half instead.
While the action scenes are great, Guilty Crown has the type of story and characters that fit much better in a slower, more melodramatic environment. The battles, while fun, are not what should have been the focus. It’s just upsetting it took half the series for them to figure that out.
But Is It Just A Rip-off?
This now begs the question: if Guilty Crown is really only “copying” Code Geass for the first half, if at all, and the main characters are so vastly different from each other, where does this opinion come from?
Well, without context, I hardly understand the opinion. With context, it becomes a vastly different story, however. To understand this, we need to go back a bit in history and talk about the anime industry in general.
As I’m sure most of you know, much of anime comes from various other sources like many visual mediums. Anime often comes from light novels and manga mainly. Because of this, it becomes hard to get something that’s wholly unique.
Of course, someone who has read the manga or light novel will still get a unique experience watching their favorite series come to life, and many people will never see the source material in the first place. This means an anime series will still be unique regardless, but it’s much more difficult to be original when building from something preexisting rather than starting from scratch.
Think Legos. If you had to work with a few preset combinations of blocks rather than the actual small blocks themselves, you could still make grand builds, but you would be far more limited in what you could do with them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at anime studio Sunrise’s 2006 mecha anime Code Geass.
Unlike many, many anime series, Code Geass was an anime, an actual anime, a true anime, some may say.
It was an anime written by Ichiro Okouchi to be an anime for an anime audience. It came from nothing else. It was an exciting series about a tragic story of war following an angry young man who wanted revenge on his own family for wronging him no matter the cost.
It was new, and nobody knew what was going to happen; there wasn’t even any way to find out if you wanted to. Mix that in with the already unpredictable nature of the show, and it was exhilarating.
That’s just what Code Geass was. It was itself. There was no framework. Nothing preexisting. You had to wait and find out what would happen. Ichiro Okouchi and Sunrise had full control to make what they wanted to make, and so they did, and the anime powerhouse that is Code Geass was born as a result.
This isn’t to say Code Geass was the first to do this or that its popularity was because of it, neither of those statements is wholly true, but it was certainly a factor.
To name an earlier example that’s also relevant to what we’ll be talking about today, Neon Genesis Evangelion is another one of these “true anime” I mentioned before. It does happen, but the fact remains that it is a rarity among the medium.
How rare? That’s not the easiest question to answer, as finding a definitive number for how many anime have been made is difficult. But from what I could find with my research, these series makeup somewhere around 4% of all anime in existence, give or take.
So how does this fit in with Guilty Crown? Well, Guilty Crown is among that prestigious 4%, and unfortunately, is the complete opposite of Geass in terms of its originality. That was one of its biggest downfalls.
Produced by Production I.G, a studio that most prominently produced series such as Bunny Drop, Psycho-Pass, and Haikyu!! It was written by Hiroyuki Yoshino, a writer who did some work for Code Geass, and a name you might recognize from earlier, Ichiro Okouchi, who composed both the story and script for the same series.
So you can imagine back when Guilty Crown came out in 2011, there was a lot of hype surrounding it. Not only was it another original anime, but it was also a series with staff and writers that had worked on Code Geass. It was sure to be a success. It was going to be amazing.
It was going to be something original like no one had ever seen. For proof of this hype, let’s turn to October 15th, 2011, to when Guilty Crown premiered its first two episodes in the states (the second of which was a worldwide premiere) in a panel at New York’s Comic-Con of all places.
One of, if not the biggest, conventions on the planet premiered this anime, not once, but twice. The second time, hosting a panel interviewing some of the staff. This was no normal anime, and the hype surrounding it followed appropriately.
It was marketed as being wholly original. This was said by one of Guilty Crown’s producers, George Wada, during an interview after the event:
“One of the most important things is that we wanted to do an original series. So, from a studio’s point of view, we wanted to create the next generation of anime with this show.”
Later in the same interview, when asked how the more “Japanese style” of the story (i.e., Japan trying to stay independent and retain its national identity (being uniquely Japanese has been a huge part of the culture for hundreds of years) would appeal to a worldwide audience, chief producer Koji Yamamoto responded:
“The basic concept of the show is in a Japanese style, a Japanese concept, and that is what makes it more original than other shows.”
So it’s clear that the staff and studio themselves thought very highly of their work. That confidence spread to the masses who were excited to get their first glance at this supposed “next generation of anime.” And so they did, and they were not given what they had been led to believe they would get.
The problem stems from multiple things, but I believe from expectations above all else. There’s a reason people often tell you not to have them; they normally do more harm than good.
There are a few types of people who I’m sure went into Guilty Crown when it aired. Of course, I can’t say anything with certainty, but I can make an educated guess based on what I have seen.
There are the people who wanted it to fail from the beginning, which there will always be, the type who are tired of hearing about it and tend to hate it just from that.
Some more neutral viewers will likely form their own opinions without being influenced by another group.
There’s a group that is likely to be influenced by the others.
And finally, there are the people who completely, hopelessly fell into the hype. They wanted all of their expectations to be met, and they wanted to see this most original anime series ever made.
And when they saw something that, in its setting, is quite similar to another beloved series the staff worked on, their expectation turned on them immediately. And seeing the staff somehow not even understand these similarities made this issue even worse.
When asked in the same interview about how they planned to differentiate Guilty Crown from Code Geass, the producers all wondered what similarities the two even shared. Once the statement was explained in more detail to the point where no one could easily ignore it, Yamamoto states that:
“We’re not trying to be like Geass. We didn’t plan to take anything from it for this show. Actually, as for the setting, Code Geass is quite apart from, way beyond modern Japan. But for Guilty Crown, the situation is more natural. So we’re not trying to do a similar plot. Of course, there are some similarities.”
More or less, the best argument that is given to the contrary is that Code Geass takes place in a more unique alternate world, while Guilty Crown takes place in a more natural, modern Japan.
Now I completely agree with Yamamoto, I don’t believe they wanted to take anything from Code Geass, and even if they did, I don’t see a problem. It’s pretty much impossible to have something wholly unique anymore, and I believe Guilty Crown did enough different to stand out. However, the issue comes from the blatant obliviousness of the staff themselves.
Reiterating how Guilty Crown is original, how it is unique. Even saying how the Japanese independence centered story at its core (which is almost the same scenario as Geass) is what will make it stand out from other series, presumably Code Geass included, certainly didn’t help their case.
If the staff had calmed down a few notches and looked at what they created more objectively (which I know can be hard sometimes as someone who writes as well) instead of thinking Guilty Crown would be some messiah to lead the industry towards its future, there would have been far less kickback.
And I believe many of the opinions still present today are a result of those original viewers, whether advertently or inadvertently.
Look at it this way. Going back to those groups of people I talked about before, let me ask this: of them, which is most likely to have positive views of the anime in question? The answer? Pretty much none of them.
One group was likely sick of it before it began and expected failure from the beginning. The next wanted and fully expected it to succeed, but because of the creators’ obliviousness, their expectations crushed them under their own weight.
Another group, likely the minority, looks at it fairly and concludes that it does resemble Geass in ways and that the creators shouldn’t have tried to claim full uniqueness. The last of the groups, in my mind the majority, is the one most likely to be influenced by all the other groups that have now largely turned negative.
That leaves a bunch of negativity. Much of it, not necessarily a fault of the anime itself, but those who created it instead.
Let me ask you this: how many stories have you seen that share similar plot points to others you’ve seen? Probably a lot. I know I have. I’ve even written some.
As I said, 100% uniqueness is borderline impossible. The difference is those stories don’t often throw into your face how original they are.
They take inspiration from other sources, honor that fact, throw in their own ideas and run with it to make their own unique experience. That’s ok, and that’s what Guilty Crown itself does.
It is not a rip-off of Code Geass, and I will continue to defend that point, but it is certainly inspired by it, and it most definitely takes plot points from it.
Though in ways it works differently from Lelouch’s, Shu’s power even shares the name “the Power of King’s.” In my mind, that’s more paying homage, as you could just call it something else easily enough, but why pay homage to something that you weren’t inspired by?
Am I supposed to assume that these two powers that involve eye contact created by shared staff were named the same thing by mistake?
What hurt Guilty Crown the most were the ones who made it themselves, and how all that hype they played up changed to disappointment. That continues to this day, even if it isn’t realized.
When people hear it thrown around that Guilty Crown is a mere rip-off of Code Geass and go into it assuming just that, they expect it to be a failure, so it will be one in their mind.
That’s also why it seems to depend on what you watch first. Not neces I sarily because Guilty Crown is copying Code Geass, but because if you enjoyed Code Geass and heard that Guilty Crown is copying that, you won’t just take the similarities at face value, and as a result, you’ll be more critical of it than it may deserve.
And if you find out what the creators have said, it pushes you further into that belief. That’s not to say Guilty Crown doesn’t deserve some of what it gets, it most certainly does, believe me, but the accusations that it is just a rip-off of Code Geass holds absolutely no ground apart from a way to counter the vain words of its creators.
It’s an accusation that is entirely false, but because of Guilty Crown’s own creators refusing to look at their work objectively, it has started to look like the truth. And whether the accusations are true or false doesn’t actually matter in the end. Many people continue to believe them and spread it to future viewers who follow suit. That is why I believe Guilty Crown gets the reception it does.
If I just ended it there, that wouldn’t be fair at all. While I think that pretty well covers the comparisons to Geass, what I said above assumes that everyone who dislikes Guilty Crown comes from that one group. That simply isn’t the case.
I’ve seen many valid reasons people are against Guilty Crown, and personally, I agree with some of them. One of the biggest involving aspects of the plot progression.
As I said earlier, the first half is essentially mech battle after mech battle with little deviation from that formula until about episode 9. I’m not a big fan of the whole “monster of the week” type of storytelling. It’s one big reason I feel like the middle of Evangelion is pretty weak, and Guilty Crown does this, but instead of monsters, it’s “what Void will I use for this week’s battle?”
This also brings to light another issue with the plot that depending on who you are; you’ll be more bothered by this than others. That’s the fact that Shu’s Void power is a deus ex machina. He always has just the right Void to solve any problem to get out of any situation he finds himself in.
I don’t mind this plot device all that much if it’s done decently. In Guilty Crown, there’s an actual reason why Shu always pulls the right Void besides pure luck. It can still be seen as lazy writing, but at the very least, there’s a valid reason for it, even if that reason is, again, awfully convenient. I’ve seen far worse versions of it.
There’s also that quite jarring tone shift from the first half of the show to the second. Though I like it, if you were a huge fan of the first 12 episodes, it will come off as odd. This could just be them not knowing what to do with the series, which would be even stranger considering Guilty Crown, since conception, was planned for 2 seasons. Not that it made it there in the end.
There’s also the issue of the amount of fanservice in the show and that it treats the female characters like items. I don’t get that, to be honest. There’s some here and there, but nothing too out of the ordinary for something marketed largely towards pubescent boys and man-children.
One example people seem to have problems with is Inori’s outfit and how much skin it shows, and how ridiculous it is using it in warfare. To that, I agree completely. It’s just plain stupid, but I could give you about a thousand examples of both men and women in fiction who often have questionable fashion for their situation, so I don’t think it matters all that much.
Fiction has to make sense within the bounds of its own reality, not necessarily ours, and some things can be overlooked for the sake of style. Do you think it’s practical for Joker to run around thieving in Persona 5 wearing flashy red gloves? What about Cloud wielding a 7ft sword in Final Fantasy VII? No, but it looks nice, now doesn’t it?
I suppose the worst offender in the fanservice department is likely when one of the Endlave pilots of Funeral Parlor gets hurt (she’s synced with her mech, so she feels it’s a pain, just anime things), she occasionally looks to be feeling something other than pain.
With a skin-tight full-body suit, it doesn’t make it look any better, but that wardrobe isn’t entirely different from something like Evangelion. Though in that show, instead of seeing a pilot look slightly aroused after getting a fist to the metal ribs, you’ll see them suffer as though someone was ripping their arm off, veins popping out, screaming, the whole deal, so there’s that.
Also, Evangelion did the suits better, just saying. They at least seemed semi-practical, served a valid purpose, and were actually cool looking as well. Sorry, Guilty Crown, I know you based yours off of theirs, but you failed on that.
You also failed quite a bit with your world-building, which was super unfortunate as it had the potential to be great. Instead, you do little with it and just use the whole loss of Japan’s independence as a reason for war.
A war that never really goes anywhere, honestly. It feels almost like a test run of Shu’s powers, and that’s it. Unlike in Geass, where if you took the war away, that story would be nothing but a shell of itself. It’s required there.
And this may just be me nitpicking as somebody who tries to avoid doing this in their own writing, but I don’t like how Guilty Crown starts off giving you some boring backstory on how the world got where it is for like 2 minutes with nothing but a few images flashing by.
Give me the backstory naturally, over time. Don’t just say “here ya go” and dump the plot in my face. I’ve never appreciated that. It’s lazy. You should find a better way to do it. You probably could have just left it out, and the audience could have still pieced much of it together.
Have a little faith in us. Instead of doing a “Void of the week” beach episode, maybe spend more time fleshing parts of the story out so a plot dump wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
Anyway, this is not all the parts Guilty Crown fails at. Everybody will see their own failures as some will see success, sometimes they’ll even be the same thing for people.
While everything I said previously stands true in my mind, the last thing I want to do is generalize everybody who dislikes Guilty Crown as being part of the “it’s like Geass” group.
If I did that, this would be no better than the people who purely judge Guilty Crown off of Geass or the ones who claim that you only like it because you saw it first. People like and dislike different things for various reasons. Sometimes it is no more complicated than that.
I now want to talk about Guilty Crown’s characters, but especially Shu Ouma, our protagonist, at length here. I have hardly ever seen any character as universally hated as this man is.
Sure, there have been some, but that’s usually because they’re a villain, or a bad person, or evil, or have less personality than the sack of potatoes in my kitchen, something that makes you just want to hate their stupid little faces.
I don’t think Shu is any of those things, yet the community despises him. Some of this, I get, and most I don’t. First, we’ll discuss the kind of character Shu is.
He is not your typical hero in pretty much anyway. He isn’t cool, per se. He’s not brave. He’s down on himself, hates himself even, and has several bad personality traits shown throughout the series.
The main reason I find that he is so disliked is that he is often called a wimp. That Shu needs to buck up, and that he’s painful to watch because of it. This leads to a bit of an interesting topic that I think speaks to this situation as a whole.
Do you remember when I mentioned earlier that Neon Genesis Evangelion was important? Well, Shu is where that fits in.
The protagonist of Evangelion, Shinji Ikari, often gets the same criticism as Shu does. They are generally disliked for the same reasons, I.e., wimpy, seeks pity, self-hatred, etc.
Now Shinji has more of a cult following than Shu for various reasons, one of which being that Evangelion is a much bigger deal than Guilty Crown, and people are always ready to take up pitchforks for their argument, but it’s interesting how both Shu and Shinji seem to get the same disdain by viewers.
There needs to be a common denominator there. Shu and Shinji are fairly similar characters, not the same, but they certainly share various aspects of each other. The main one being the fact that they are not necessarily “heroic” is the usual sense. They’re what’s generally considered an “anti-hero.”
Going back to the same interview from earlier, a producer, Ryo Ohyama, answered a question relating to Shu’s character when a comparison to Evangelion was brought up:
“As for Ikari Shinji, that’s a show from 1995, and Shinji is more passive. They’re both in their own world, and they don’t come out from that world. So Shu is kind of a 2011 version of Shinji: He has friends, but he doesn’t have connections with them yet. The relationships are skin-deep. That’s more of a 2011 type, nowadays, of a 17-year-old boy. So that’s the difference between Shu and Shinji.”
While I think there are more differences than that, It’s clear that, if nothing else, the producers see somewhat of a resemblance between the characters. And from the criticism of the characters, the viewers do too.
Just what is it about these characters that make people feel this way? Well, I believe it goes back to that concept of what being “heroic” actually means.
In our minds, a hero is pretty clear cut: They fight, usually against the odds, for what they believe in or to protect something or someone they care about. They are not usually afraid, but if they are, they power through it. They do what needs to be done with as much courage as they can muster, no matter the enemy.
That is the usual concept of being heroic, someone who is willing to fight for others, despite the risk to themselves.
While both Shu and Shinji display these traits at times, they don’t display them far more often. Several times throughout, Guilty Crown Shu completely runs away from his problems. Even right at the beginning of the series, he’s scared, worrying only about his own well-being, and fails to protect Inori. Then he hates himself for it, and the cycle repeats.
Even after he gets the Power of King’s and gets a bit of spunk, it’s a fickle thing. He loses his confidence very easily, sometimes gaining too much, and both results almost always end in the people he cares about getting hurt.
That isn’t heroic – because Shu is not a hero, not in the traditional sense. And this is, I think, the biggest reason he gets the hate he does.
Both Shinji and Shu often display self-hating tendencies, often pity themselves, get stuck in their own head, and despise themselves for not being perfect. They’re too far gone to listen to anyone else, and so the cycle of hate continues.
This is why people both love and hate these characters, it’s the same fact, but depending on the person, they perceive it differently. That’s why it’s hard for the groups to agree.
One side thinks they’re beyond feeling sorry for and get annoyed by their actions, and the other side thinks these feelings make the characters more human and can even relate to them in ways because of that.
We even learn in Guilty Crown that one of the reasons Inori cares for Shu is because he is so human. He’s a failure, he makes mistakes, he fumbles around, and he gets back up and often goes and makes the same exact mistakes again. But that’s what makes him human in her eyes: because he’s far from perfect, yet he continues to try.
So we’re left with one main point of commonality here, how both Shu and Shinji are not the ideal “hero” and how some take their flaws as either the humanity in them or nothing but self-pity and that the characters need to grow up.
I could sit here and give you some psychological reason as to why this is, such as people don’t like these more “human” characters because they reflect the more negative part of our own humanity that we would prefer to run from, so our instinct is to displace our own hatred on to these characters as it’s safer than facing the music ourselves, something that’s ironic as both Shu and Shinji do this several times themselves, but I don’t think that quite covers it. I think it is true for some but not all.
Another argument I’ve seen is that you won’t be able to relate to the characters if you haven’t been through something similar in your life. I’ve never quite liked this. While it is easier to understand something you yourself have been through, this argument assumes that people lack empathy, which isn’t true for many.
Just because you may not have gone through thoughts like Shinji or Shu doesn’t mean you can’t relate with them. I can’t stand that argument, to be honest. It’s such a cut and dry statement. It leaves no real room for discussion. It’s just like, “Oh, you’ll never get it,” and that’s it. It’s hardly even an argument, but for some, I’m sure that is also the truth.
One theory I’ll add to the topic is that the whole “hero” concept might be more important than it seems. Many people watch anime and use other forms of entertainment as escapism. A way to get away from their normal lives, a way to forget, if even for a moment.
Some people just don’t want to watch a mopey, self-hating teenager; they would rather watch a hero and feel better about things. I know if every anime had protagonists like Shu or Shinji, I’d probably go crazy despite how much I like them.
That may be the reason the next anime I’m going to watch is a chill slice of life series about a bunch of friends looking for an asteroid. Or maybe it has nothing to do with that at all and is instead because I watched Code Geass. For those curious, yes, I still feel dead inside and feel as though I lack the emotion known as “joy” because of the last few episodes of season 1, but getting back on topic!
Fiction has a rare power in the way that despite none of the stuff you see being real, the feelings and experiences you get when seeing them are. They can change you as a person. A lot of who I am is because of the many stories I’ve experienced over the years.
When you see an ideal person, real or fake, it can inspire you, and slowly that will rub off on you, and in some cases, make you a better person yourself. “If they can do it, so can I!” Like that.
I am who I am in large part from the characters in those stories, and If I grew up seeing nothing but Shu’s and Shinji’s, well, I would be a very different person, that’s for sure.
Overall I don’t think there’s any single right answer for why people feel the way they do. It’s likely a combination of every argument you can think of and more. Shu and Shinji are both complex characters, and we as humans are complex as well. Perhaps that is why we can’t quite understand them.
Maybe they are simply just humans, and unfortunately, humans are one of the things that we understand least in the universe.
Wait, There Are Others?
From the last dozen or so paragraphs, you might think Shu is the only character in Guilty Crown, but believe it or not, there are more. Bah! Who cares about them though, more Shu! (Kinda) joking aside, there are quite a few more that are good and some that aren’t. Some that make the show quite a bit better and some that…don’t.
Inori Yuzuriha, our female lead, falls into a bit of a gray area for me. She’s not a bad character, but not an altogether interesting one either. I don’t really get her. I mean, for the first 10 episodes of the series, she’s completely shafted, and by that, I don’t mean she’s not in it; I mean, the story has little to do with her. She is more motivation to Shu rather than an important aspect of the story.
Without Shu, her character is nonexistent for much of the series (which I suppose brings some truth to the iconic “I am yours” line.) It isn’t until halfway through that we learn about her backstory, which is admittedly quite an interesting, if not odd, one, only to have her existence be supporting Shu until the last few episodes when she’s important again.
She always matters, not because of herself but because of Shu. There are also just certain points where she contradicts herself, and I don’t really understand her actions.
There’s a moment early on where she disobeys Gai’s orders for Shu’s benefit, just to tell Shu that all she’s done was because she was following Gai’s orders? Like what? That’s the best you can come up with? Don’t quit your day job, Inori. You’re better at singing.
You could say her contradictions result from her backstory, which, yes, I could see, but it still comes off as confusing regardless.
Another character that is confusing to a similar degree is Gai Tsutsugami. Our leader of Funeral Parlor is an interesting character, and I would say (despite some real flaws) the best in the series next to Shu. He is the complete opposite of our protagonist.
Whereas Shu is emotionally driven, weak, cowardly, Gai is confident, level-headed, brave, Gai is everything Shu isn’t. Attention is drawn to this several times throughout the series. Gai is the yin to Shu’s yang, and it’s something that comes into play as each respective character grows, though Shu much more so.
That’s not to say Gai is without problems; he suffers from similar issues to Inori where his motivations aren’t all that clear, even when you have all the information available. I swear, it’s like the writers even poke fun at this when Shu and other characters are always asking what he fights for.
But besides the fact that he seems to flip back and forth on issues like a gymnast, all and all, he’s an interesting character that supports the show quite well.
Then you have characters like Tsugumi (the brains of the operation), who is in charge of Funeral Parlor’s intel and controls various machines with a full-body catsuit? Yeah, she feels as out of place in a story about a virus and warfare as you’d expect.
At the very least, she’s more memorable than most of Funeral Parlor’s goons who get little screen time unless there’s a mission that needs doing. The exception to this is Ayase Shinomiya, who (mostly) is a fantastic character.
She is a bit of a rarity in many forms of media, but especially anime, as despite her being disabled and stuck in a wheelchair, she is not weak and is not portrayed like that. There’s an episode where Shu dares to make that mistake, and she somehow throws him on the ground, knocking him unconscious, while being in a wheelchair. How? I don’t know. I watched it, and I couldn’t tell you.
She also pilots Funeral Parlor’s Endlave, which brings a question to light that only I probably wonder about. The Endlaves works similar to the Eva units from Evangelion in that the pilot is “synced” with the mech, so they feel the same pain it does.
My question is: in Guilty Crown, the connection is less direct as they’re synched through a helmet in a device away from the actual mech, so since the pain seems to be transmitted through the brain and not the actual nerves in the body if Ayase’s Endlave got its leg cut off would she feel some kind of phantom pain?
Does anybody else think that? There has to be someone! Come on, Guilty Crown, rather than your staff shooting themselves in the foot, we should have asked what happened if you shot Ayase in the foot!
Ahem! Where I said she’s mostly a great character is how towards the later parts, she kind of falls into that more trope-y weak girl, which some could say is her growth as a character by allowing herself to be weak. I don’t know. Take it as you will.
Shu also has his armory of Void weapons to manipulate – I mean his lovely friends at school. Some are interesting, some are not, and the ones that aren’t interesting initially actually become so later on. I can’t go into it without spoiling things but know for the most part that they aren’t your stereotypical supporting cast, or, at least, aren’t used in that way.
About Time – Hold On
Did you enjoy talking about someone besides Shu? Good! Now I want to talk about him one more time, as he is the most important character in the whole story after all.
I said I’d talk about what I believe separates him from Shinji the most and why he helps make the story good as a whole, and that’s what I intend to do now. Starting off, I would say the biggest difference between Shu and Shinji is actually the reason Shu is such an interesting protagonist for the story he’s in. And that difference has to do with Shu’s mental state.
Comparing him to Shinji, when Evangelion begins, we are introduced to our main character, who – quite frankly – is already broken. He has had issues from a young age, and those issues worsen as Shinji pilots Eva 01.
Shu, on the other hand, while lacking self-confidence, isn’t damaged, per se. Besides some memory loss, in many ways, he is just your average angsty teenager. The difference is we see throughout the series how Shu’s mental state begins to crack.
Unlike Shinji, who is mostly damaged from the beginning and gets worse as time goes on, we get to see Shu’s transition as it happens.
One of the things I’ve never understood is that there’s a point near the end of the series where something happens to Shu that changes his character. That’s as vague as I can be without spoiling anything, and the common opinion seems to be that it came out of nowhere, and he is a poorly written character, in part, because of that.
I completely disagree with that statement, though I think there should have been another episode or two dedicated to it. Ever since episode 1, Shu’s fragile mental state has been a major part of the story, to the point you could even say that’s what’s the plot is about.
I mean, I can count on one hand the number of times this man smiles in the anime. Numerous times he gains confidence, either in himself or someone else, just to be stabbed in the back immediately, thus cracking his mental state even more. He doesn’t know who to trust. He can barely have faith in Inori half the time and never in himself.
While some might argue Shu doesn’t go through as much as Shinji does, he goes through quite a bit, and it affects him just as bad, if not worse, than Shinji because of a personality trait the producers themselves said. Shu is not anywhere near as passive as Shinji is. Shu is similar to Shinji if his entire reason for fighting didn’t hinge on someone telling him to do it. Shinji rarely fights back. Shu does, multiple times. And this leads him to question whether he’s actually in the right when he does.
Every little thing that happens hits him like a truck. He shoulders everything by himself. All of this eventually adds up to him having a breakdown; he simply cracks. I don’t see how you could say this is out of nowhere. It was expected. I would have been surprised if something didn’t break him.
Not only is he highly emotional and self-critical to begin with, but he also gained a power he never wanted and got used by everyone for their own selfish needs.
He’s often forced to use his powers, powers, that again I want to draw attention to this fact, he never wanted in the first place, to protect his friends. But his power uses his friends’ hearts as weapons and puts them in danger as a result. He is now using his friends as pawns in a similar way that he’s been used.
To quote something Shu himself says later on, and I think the best tagline for Guilty Crown as a whole:
“The right to use my friends as a weapon, that is the sinful crown I shall adorn.”
A far cry from the innocent kid who looked at people around him and earlier said:
“I wonder if it’s the selfish people who get ahead in this world, after all.”
He’s a kind and sensitive person stuck as a pawn in a cruel game played by bad people. It would break anyone, especially someone like him. As I said before, Shu isn’t strong. Having the Power of Kings doesn’t change that.
If you suddenly acquired a power, it wouldn’t rewrite your DNA. You would still be you. And that’s why I think Shu makes Guilty Crown so much better. Without him, Guilty Crown would be a mecha anime about dystopian Japan, mixed in with a virus and mech battles. Nothing too interesting.
With him, however, it becomes a story about a fragile boy, caught in the middle of a war he wanted nothing to do with, with a power he never wanted, as everyone around him betrays and uses him for their own agendas. It becomes a story about a young boy’s mental state and how fragile of a thing that can actually be.
Actually About Time
Are you tired of talking about comparisons? I know I am, but it couldn’t really be helped. That’s the elephant in the room with Guilty Crown, but I think it’s finally time we talk about what the show does that’s wholly unique.
Guilty Crown does absolutely beautiful things with both its art and its music. Music is so important to Guilty Crown. It is not background noise. It is not for ambiance. It is a way the story is conveyed.
The scene following the above image plays out less like an anime and more akin to something like a rhythm game. The music is synced wonderfully to the action on screen, making this short scene that lasts only about a minute one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever seen in an anime. While I can’t say every scene is this fantastic, this is in a league of its own. This will tell you what you are in for.
There’s a reason that this scene, in all its short glory, was posted to Youtube under the name “Guilty Crown Epic Scene.” It is just that. It is a great testament to what music is in this series.
It is a necessary part of Guilty Crown’s identity. It is as important to what the series is as the story, characters, voice actors, anything else you can imagine.
If you doubt me on this, go watch either the above scene or even more than that, just watch the first 4 minutes of episode 1; you’ll understand exactly what I mean, I promise you that. Guilty Crown is not shy whatsoever about its wonderful music, nor should it be.
And to top it all off, the OST is so diverse. There are slow songs, fast songs, rap, pop, even opera. There’re songs in Japanese, songs in English, even one of the most recognizable songs in the anime is in German.
The OST really feels like it covers just about every base, and pretty much anyone could find at least one song they would enjoy in it.
When I write about a game or an anime, I always listen to the soundtrack at least once to get a feel for it. I listened to the entire 3 hour OST of Guilty Crown almost two times over and went back to listen to specific songs several – and by several, I mean a lot more than several – times as I wrote this. I even listened to it as I was just playing games for fun. It’s fantastic, and it’s a soundtrack that will stick with me for a long, long time.
Hiroyuki Sawano absolutely hit it out of the park with his compositions for this one. While I’ve never watched anything else he has worked on, he has big titles like the Seven Deadly Sins and Attack on Titan in his wheelhouse, and if they are half as good as Guilty Crown in the sound department, I’m sold, I’m a fan for life.
But as I said, the reason the OST is so good is not only because it’s good on its own, it’s how well it compliments the series as a whole. The artwork in Guilty Crown is also a special thing. I can’t tell you how epic the moment is in the first episode where Shu acquires his power, takes Inori’s Void, looks up at the camera, cold stare in his eyes, and “Bios” starts up.
It’s mesmerizing and Guilty Crown is full of moments like that from beginning to end that without the art and music would mean nothing.
It’s art. That’s truly the only word that can describe it. And I made fun of the character design earlier when I talked about Tsugumi, but there’s actually an interesting story behind it.
Supercell and Egoist made the music for most of the opening and endings. The former being a Japanese band and the latter being a fictional band made up of Ryo (the lead of the former) and a recent member at the time, Chelly (who does Inori’s vocals for the singing) created just for Guilty Crown.
This is interesting because one of the illustrators for Supercell was Redjuice, who went on to be selected for the character designs for Guilty Crown’s cast, as they thought his concept art fit the theme of the show. And I think Redjuice did a great job, and as for Tsugumi, he claimed that the studio had no problems with her cat ears, so he felt like he got to put his own style into the anime. Yeah, everything has a story when you get right down to it.
But whoever designed the characters, it was ultimately up to the studio and animators to bring them to life, and they sure did.
I honestly wasn’t expecting it from Production I.G. Not because they’re a bad studio, I just never hear them talked about, and I never knew of anything they made having exceptional visuals, but whatever they did, they did it right.
The animation is so fluid. I swear I almost had a brain aneurysm when I saw Shu stumble as he was running away. “That was so smooth!” Or when I saw Inori bang her head on a desk in the first episode. “Ow, that hurt, but wow, did it look good!”
It’s not the type of thing you can really explain because instances pop up all throughout the show. You also won’t be able to understand it from pictures as I’ve shown you. You’ll notice them when you see them, and if you are half as strange as me, you might find sick enjoyment in someone banging their head beautifully as well.
I also got sick enjoyment out of seeing how emotional Shu looks at times. His facial expressions are just masterfully done; they really are. I’ve seen this boy put through just about everything you can imagine. I’ve seen him hurt, terrified, happy, sad, exhausted, defeated, angry. I’ve seen someone go through all the things you would never want to go through yourself.
It’s all so convincing. I don’t feel like I’m looking at a character made to perform a role in a story; I feel like I’m watching someone get torn apart from the inside out. Like I’m watching someone slowly break. It’s horrible but real. And that’s what makes it so memorable.
This is present in the series’ art in various ways, some of which aren’t obvious initially.
Above is two images of Shu making roughly the same expression. The difference is the one on the left took place at the beginning of the series, while the one on the right was towards the end. You don’t need me to tell you that they are not the same person, you can see that.
But the reason I like it so much is it’s subtle. I didn’t notice the change until I rewatched Guilty Crown, in fact. A side by side makes it much easier to see, however. On the right, you can see Shu’s scars. I’m not talking about physical ones. You can see in his eyes how much pain and stress he has been through. His eyes are sharper, his expression is more relaxed, but in a tired, drained way, he’s cracking a smile, but there’s no happiness in it. It’s empty.
This is really the only time I’ve ever been able to actually see visible agony in a character before. Without any words, I can just look at him and tell. I can see his pain. It’s the type of thing that makes me stop and think, “somebody had to draw that,” and it blows my mind briefly.
If you can’t tell, I love both the art and music in Guilty Crown so much, and I have no problem saying they are the best parts of the show and some of the best in anime history. That’s the honest truth in my heart, but don’t take my word for it.
Even with how incredibly conflicted people are with Guilty Crown, no matter how many negative opinions I saw, they almost all ended, in one form or another, with the same thing: “but the music and art are phenomenal.”
No matter how much people take up arms on either side, I rarely have ever seen a single person attack either the art or music, and for an anime that’s so divisive, I think that speaks for itself.
So to answer the question on everyone’s mind: is Guilty Crown a masterpiece, or is it nothing but a poor copycat of Code Geass?
Well, like most arguments, the truth lies somewhere in between. I personally adored my time with Guilty Crown, and while I believe it has its fair share of problems, much being in its pacing, character’s, priorities, and the creators themselves, I still highly enjoyed my time.
I’d recommend Guilty Crown to anyone interested in a suspenseful, action-packed series, with a few twists and turns along the way.
If you can look past the similarities to Geass, I see no reason you couldn’t enjoy both of the series fully. Despite what many people say, no, it is not a rip-off. They are quite different in many ways, and each has its own merits and faults. Take that from someone who watched both series for the first time practically alongside each other and really enjoyed both.
I really hope that some of the toxic rhetoric sounding Guilty Crown doesn’t keep people from giving the series a good try. I would hate for anyone to ever miss out on a series that may be a gem for them just because of a few toxic opinions floating in the community.
That’s why I always stress how important it is to give these things a try yourself regardless of anything you may read. When you write an opinionated piece, you have a lot more power to affect people’s views and expectations than you may think you do.
Even this, which likely many won’t read, has the power to change one or two people if they would see it, and that’s a very special thing, and I hope greatly I always respect and never take that fact lightly. I’ll try to always hold myself to that, and I hope everyone else will as well. That’s why if there’s anything you take away from this, I want it to be my cheesy ending I always do. Even if it’s often a joke and sounds gimmicky, I say it because I truly mean it.
As always, this is just my opinion and isn’t any more or less valid than yours. If you have a problem with that, I’ll call up Shu and have him tear your Void out and expose how embarrassing it is to the world…if you’re 17 or under. Only that group has Voids for some reason.
Ahem! I highly recommend you don’t listen to some man-child and or pubescent boy like me and watch the series for yourself and form your own opinions. I heard that if you form enough of them, you might finally be able to get to the center of that pesky Tootsie Pop you’ve been working on. Take care of the owl first, though. He ruins everything.
Thank you very much for reading
What do you suppose my Void would have been? A sword might have been pretty neat, like Inori. Be illegal to pull that out anywhere, though. Maybe some kind of pocket knife so I have tools on the go? I think I’d rather have something useful, so if I ever needed it, I could just yank it out.
Could you imagine how useful it would be to rip out like a clean pair of clothes whenever you’re out? Maybe like, “oh, it’s raining, I better pull out my Void jacket!”
“Oh no! I spilled my drink! I better grab my Void mop!” I think it’d be helpful.
But I guess you don’t really get to pick your Voids since they’re the manifestation of your heart, and your desires and all that. What would the manifestation of sarcasm be then? A Void that’s literally nothing. A Void that’s actually devoid of anything. Yeah, I’d be ok with that. I like the irony. Maybe I already had one then! As long as it’s not a refrigerator like that one guy. That’s somehow insulting and boring all at once.
What would you want your Void to be? Sorry if you want a refrigerator, and I’ve offended you. I suppose I can see the use, as long as it’s a stocked one.