Let’s get one thing straight: this anime is hilarious. I know, I know — I, too, lambasted the show in the past, but I was wrong. I simply hadn’t given the show enough of a chance.
Throughout much of the first half of Guilty Crown, Shu is a colossal wimp. Every time he needs to man up, he pulls a gigantic phallus symbol from Inori’s chest — the same action that often carries rape overtones throughout the series. In the tenth episode, however, at Shu’s lowest point, Inori simply walks away from him. He’s no longer able to essentially fuck a hot babe to establish his manhood. Instead of the main character jerking off to an unconscious anime girl, all he can do is eat her (rice)balls and cry pathetically: “It’s too salty, Inori.” That is goddamn hilarious.
I’ve taken a look around the Internet for negative reactions of Guilty Crown. The lamentations are always the same: the show makes no sense, the writers aren’t even trying, Guilty Crown is aggressively stupid, blah blah blah. The silliest criticism of all goes a little something like this: “If I wanted to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, I’d watch Neon Genesis Evangelion.” Well, yeah, of course Guilty Crown is derivative… just like every damn action/mecha/whatever anime out there. Guilty Crown is a loving ode to badness.
But it’s not quite as simple as “It’s so bad, it’s good!” The brilliance of Guilty Crown is that it doesn’t care about plot or characterization. The anime’s calling card is in demonstrating just how “not real” it is. It is a massively-budgeted, postmodern action/mecha comedy. The characters are stupid because anime characters are stupid. You don’t even have to bother with the characterization, because you can simply reach into someone’s heart and pull out an item that might as well have the word “SYMBOLISM” emblazoned on the side. They’re all just toys to fulfill the main character’s needs. In most shows, the main character is simply bland and interesting. Here, he literally reduces everyone’s personalities to an object then takes them for himself. Shu is a personality-vampire.
Likewise, the complaints regarding the lack of realism are irrelevant. In distilling action/mecha anime to their most theatrical components, of course realistic physics would go out the window. And of course it doesn’t matter how Shu escapes the collapsing tower at the end of the series. If you set out to make something exhilarating, why would you worry about the realism of deep sea diving for supplies? In an anime about the ostentatious excess of the action/mecha genre, it would be self-defeating to include a step-by-step demonstration of how Shu can realistically jump out of a car and still beat it to the destination. Ayase’s boobs jiggle too much? Well, of course they do. Like every other female character in the anime, she’s a walking, talking example of female objectification. She’s traded in the function of her legs for extra breast mobility in order to maximize her function within a bad genre series. Again, Guilty Crown isn’t merely a derivative; it seeks to be the most exemplary derivative! — so much that one of its female characters can’t even walk. The lack of realism doesn’t mean the plot is bad. It means you’re putting too much emphasis on the plot over the story.
But the one thing the anime is not, however, is lazy. The anime is trying. How can it not be trying? The event that will bring about human evolution is called the Fourth Apocalypse, a deliberate callback to NGE‘s Third Impact. Inori looks like Shu’s sister; Rei is made from parts of Shinji’s mother. There’s even a mysterious organization trying to pull the strings in the background. Characters in lab coats repeatedly parrot a bunch of pseudo-science nonsense regarding the human genome and evolution. How can any of this be an accident? At the same time, Guilty Crown isn’t simply aping NGE. Guilty Crown elevates the act of being a derivative to an artform. Daath pulling out an apple at the 11th hour is more than just half-assed symbolism; it’s just fucking comical. In another way, Guilty Crown is pure camp:
American writer Susan Sontag’s essay Notes on “Camp” (1964) emphasised its key elements as: artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and ‘shocking’ excess.
What exemplifies middlebrow art pretentiousness anymore than anime symbolism?
Another important scene: Haruka is surrounded by no less than four computer screens as she pounds away at her keyboard. The screen beeps and beeps; a loading bar is filling up. “Almost there,” she cries. “Almost there! It’s open!” The anime cuts back to a red DNA strand turning green. Wow, how impressive! In the very next scene, Inori simply sings one of her terrible JPOP ballads, which somehow manages to heal everyone. The science is thus self-admittedly dumb and meaningless. You can’t understand it and you’re not supposed to try. You won’t be filling up pages and pages of some Wikia with theories and analysis here. Well, I suppose you could try, but good luck.
Not only is the science stupid, the Christian imagery is stupid. Even the politics are stupid. Everything’s stupid. For instance, the whole “everyone against Japan” storyline goes absolutely nowhere, and thereby epitomizes the sort of polarized fantasy you might find in countless other shows (e.g. Code Geass). The plot takes a backseat to outrageous set pieces (see: the first half’s finale). The action is elaborate and expressive, but only for its own sake and nothing more. Guilty Crown just doesn’t give a damn, and that’s because we’ve reached the limits of the sort of anime that the show is brilliantly trying to replicate.
Ever since NGE, these stories pretty much always boil down to the same basic archetypal conflicts: reckless scientific experimentation, pretentious struggles against some nefarious religious establishment, man led astray by horribly incorrect theories regarding human evolution, etc. Enough, says Guilty Crown. But the show isn’t simply cynical. Guilty Crown unabashedly loves bad action/mecha anime. At the same time, however, to create, you must destroy. And here we are, destroying these archetypes we’ve come to know and mindlessly accept by taking them seriously.
Another hilarious moment: Gai’s about to use a tracking pen to direct a plummeting satellite away from Tokyo. He is strong in his self-sacrifice; the pen is literally mightier than the swo-… nope. Shu mans up again and pulls a comically big weapon out of Inori for the umpteenth time. Fuck your pen — look how big my penis is! And hell yeah, I just saved the day. What does this mean? The anime immediately cuts to a broken TV signal coming back to life. Everyone give a round of applause to our heroes. Your dick-measuring contest managed to save TV. You mean to tell me that this dry sense of humor was a mistake?
Shu should offend you. Guilty Crown demonstrates just how exploitative these stories can be. Shu is just your typical anime nipponjin taken to the extreme. He’s your wimpy, affected, effeminate crybaby who’s nevertheless selfless and magnanimous to a fault. Yahiro, the one friend he fights so hard to spare from Gai’s wrath, ends up betraying Shu shortly after an ostentatious, slo-mo, “Let’s crack open some brewskis and bond like real bros” scene. And what happens next? Bam, Shu gets stabbed in the back like the loser that he is. As he toasts his friend, Shu even gives that lameass half-smile that we’ve come to expect from the pure-hearted scamps populating 99% of our anime series.
Even so, people whine, and boy, do they whine: “Oh my God, this guy is so unlikeable.” Even Gai, at the halfway point of the series, tells Shu to quit being a beta and become an alpha just like him. This is where the show flips Shu’s character on its head: a cute girl dies, and as a result, Shu transforms into this fascist dictator without once winking at the audience. Shu basically becomes Gai, the alpha dog. Like Gai, you’re either with him or against him. Naturally, Shu rules with an ironfist, employing his cold masculine logic, and still, the audience hates him.
Shu simply adopts the mantle of tactical realism — the same tactical realism that might call for, say, eugenics for the sake of humanity — and that’s what makes it so funny. C’mon, people, if we want to save lives, we’re going to have to prioritize the strongest among us! The anime then literally pulls a Dragon Ball Z-esque scouter from out of nowhere, and starts measuring everyone’s power level. “We have to be stronger,” says Yahiro, “and discard these wussy, feminine emotions and concerns for other people’s feelings!” Tactical realism! Fuck yeah, it’s not discrimination, it’s distinguishin’~! Oops, we just became Hitler; the anime just Godwin’d the audience. If that’s not subversive, I don’t know what is. All Shu did was use the same cold logic that the badass Gai employed throughout the first half of the series. Is this not what everyone wanted? Are you not entertained? Back when Shu was simply a wimp, he didn’t hurt anybody either, but boy, did everyone act as though he was the worst anime character ever.
I mean, it’s just funny to read the same criticism over and over: “D-did the student body just turn into a police state? That’s just ridiculous!” And here’s Guilty Crown‘s response: “Yeah, isn’t it?” Well, duh, of course it’s ridiculous. How many countless anime do the same exact thing? I seem to even recall a show where the students are holed up in the school as a result of some geopolitical drama.
Moving on, Inori is branded as this obligatory emotion-less, sexy Rei-type character. Critics cry that she has no personality, but since when did Rei-types ever have a personality? Did Rei herself have a personality? In any case, like all of the other female characters in Guilty Crown, you’re supposed to recognize how bad action/mecha anime tend to reduce the female archetype to these meek, doll-like characters in need of male attention. The anime exaggerates to comical effect the anti-feminist notion that Woman is simply a symptom of Man. As a result, Inori has no personality; to Shu, she readily proclaims, “I’m yours.” Within her metaphysical cavity, he reclaims his phallus symbol, i.e. Adam’s rib. It’s offensive because it’s supposed to be. After all, how many damn stories are out there where the female is forever linked to the male protagonist just because the stars somehow magically aligned and farted out a prophecy?
Guilty Crown‘s unrepentant misogyny reflects the state of female protagonists across anime. If anything, the anime doesn’t patronize by hiding behind the guise of female empowerment that you might find in something like, say, Mardock Scramble. Guilty Crown doesn’t try fabricate a solution born from the male fantasy; it simply offends, and in doing so, it has more potential to galvanize the audience over a more self-righteous, moralizing anime. This is demonstrated again and again with Inori’s character. What does Inori want to eat? She wants onigiri — y’know, like every damn anime about a precocious little girl, e.g. Aishiteruze Baby, Usagi Drop, etc. But this time, the “little girl” is showing more skin than clothing. At 17, Inori is just a couple years away from becoming a young woman, but she nevertheless has the mental and emotional capacity that would make Usagi Drop‘s Rin seem like a candidate for Mensa. Inori’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. She can’t even convey a single emotion without belting a plaintive ballad.
The anime is chock full of callbacks to the shows that have come before it. Characters engage in meaningless chess matches for no apparent reason. Everyone ends up being a childhood friend of everyone. Kallen… er, I mean, Ayase puts herself in a shiny red suit just to flop her tits around in the cockpit of her mecha. Oh, let’s put her in a wheel chair too for good measure. Guilty Crown is simply a pastiche, and not necessarily of just mecha/action anime. Gai, who simultaneously served as a friend but also a father figure at the start of the show, resurrects out of nowhere like the flimsy Jesus character that he is, and chops off Shu’s hand like Darth fucking Vader. Dan Eagleman isn’t just another American stereotype — he’s THE American stereotype. Shu doesn’t walk in on Ayase; she walks in on him. Don’t people find any of these examples weirdly specific?
I think I’ve said as much as I can say about Guilty Crown. It’s simply the best anime I’ve seen in years. Without a doubt, if I could ever make an anime, I would’ve wanted it to have been Guilty Crown.
“Why would they pose like this?! It’s so unrealistic! Do they think they’re cool or something? It’s almost as if they know they’re in an action/mecha anime!”