From Tetsurō Araki, director of Death Note and Highschool of the Dead, comes Production I.G’s action-packed original anime, Guilty Crown (2011). On August 27, 2013, the series arrives on North American home video from Funimation Entertainment, with the series’ twenty-two episodes spread over two, separately released Blu-ray/DVD combo packs crammed with special features, including commentaries, interviews, trailers, and a comedic, multi-part OVA. What’s more, FUNimation also offers anime fans the opportunity to take home this beautifully-animated series in an equally beautifully presented Limited Edition collector’s case featuring two, 108-page full color artbooks! It’s an impressive release to say the least, but is it worth the investment? Honestly, I’m divided.
On one hand, Guilty Crown’s greatest selling point is the strength of its central character, Shu, as the series begins (I stress this last part). I found Shu to be absolutely compelling at the outset, as he appears to suffer from some sort of developmental disorder that prevents him from connecting with others emotionally and thereby making true friends. It seems as though he may in fact be afflicted with a mild form of Asperger’s. As such, when Shu gains the ability to produce weapons from people’s chests that are actually physical manifestations of their souls, there’s no telling what he’s going to do. After all, the dystopian version of a future Japan in which he lives is run by power mad military men against whom a terrorist organization called Funeral Parlor fights for the people’s freedom, and Funeral Parlor wants Shu among their ranks.
What I found so fascinating about Shu’s ability to reach into a person and produce their “void” (the aforementioned soul weapon) was that it provides him with that which he lacks as a character: the ability to empathize with others. With his power, though, he is quite literally able to see into people’s hearts and therefore grows as a character. It’s a brilliant bit of writing that deepens the character and really gives us something to invest in. As a result, the first eleven episodes are about more than just the battle between the government forces and Funeral Parlor, they’re about Shu finding himself at last able to make true friends. And this arc builds to an incredible climax in episode eleven, which concludes Part One of FUNimation’s release, when Shu realizes that he is literally powerless without his friends at his side. What makes this episode so great is that, building on all prior developments of the characters and their relationships, Shu’s assault on a government stronghold with his newfound friends naturally evolves out of everything that came before it. It just feels right.
On the other hand, the series takes a major turn thereafter that will either wow you or alienate you entirely, and I fall into the latter camp. FUNimation’s Part Two opens with episode twelve, which wraps up the series’ first arc and serves. Unfortunately, it also serves as a massive exposition dump, changing the entire landscape of the series in one swoop. The first eleven episodes’ worth of narrative development are almost entirely undone by the heaps of previously unavailable information dumped on us in episode twelve. The series thereafter ceases to be about a socially awkward teen’s quest to save the world as he makes friends and becomes instead… well, I don’t know what honestly. But it’s not the same as before, I can tell you that.
The episodes collected in Part Two are so strikingly different from those of Part One that it’s almost like watching an entirely different series, or a Bizarro World version of Guilty Crown at least. And the problem is simple: things change too fast. The first half of the series develops organically while the latter half relies on retcons and sudden, barely provoked character changes to propel the narrative forward. This is not to say that the entire second half is entirely devoid of value or anything of the sort. After all, for a time the series adopts a distinctly John Carpenter/Escape from New York vibe, for example, and you can’t go wrong there. It all just needs more development. So much happens in those last eleven episodes that I would have rather seen the series play out over the course of 52 episodes rather than twenty-two (and I honestly would have left the first eleven unchanged at that). But it is what it is, and judging by the insane amount of cosplaying photos that pop up for Guilty Crown on Google, there are obviously many people who weren’t as off-put by the awkwardly rapid development of the narrative as I. So perhaps mine is the minority opinion.