Guilty Crown has what I always want to see in anime: science fiction. Now I love watching a giant robot blowing things up, but Guilty Crown is not just about robots. It actually centers on a pseudo-scientific power of pulling tools out of people called “Voids,” which are supposed to represent someone’s heart or character if he or she were a tool. This concept forms the setting for a show that had me hooked when so many others left me bored. The motivations of the characters are explored with depth and complexity. The world seems real and the stakes are high. Still, the show does have some flaws with the romantic elements and borrows heavily from standard anime tropes.
The emotional center of a person can focus on hurting or healing. The characters in Guilty Crown contain this complexity and work with it creatively. The first Void we see is Inori’s sword, though there doesn’t seem to be enough character development to understand why she is a sword. But it is easier to see why a character like Hare has the ability to heal. She is a generous person. She takes care of Shu when he needs it. She is a bit of a cheerleader for everyone. On the other side, Yahiro’s Void makes a lot of sense too. He is a cold and cutting figure on the inside. He has no problem cutting people off for his own gain or benefit. It is no surprise that he manifests a pair of wicked scissors. The voids offer a chance to understand the different characters better and maybe even glimpse at their essence.
It is amazing that the idea is just not limited to different types of weapons. We do not just see different kinds of swords or guns but a range of tools—the funniest being a refrigerator pulled out during practice. Shields, cameras, and anti-gravity projectors are just a few of the items Shu uses throughout the first 12 episodes. Waiting to see what comes next is a nice element to the series.
Along with different Voids, we also watch a real development in Shu’s emotional arc. Shu hides the first time he is called to protect Inori, and he hates himself for the weakness it shows. But even after he gains the power to protect people, he still has to confront the demons of his past. He is horrified by the damage he can cause. He even runs away when the pain he caused in others overwhelms him. Despite this, he still eventually finds the courage to take on the important challenges. The twelfth episode contains an epic battle that brings him to face something he really wished he had forgotten. So Shu is a hero that seems human and relatable.
Shu’s development does not take place in a safe, clean world either. The second episode contains a pretty graphic scene showing how ugly the world is. This is not a world where good always wins; it is a world where evil exists and has been brutalizing people for a while. Death in this show is costly. It is not a cartoonishly violent display we can marginalize but a stark reminder of the harsh realities of occupation. Some of the characters may be caricatures, but the background of the world is still realistic enough for us to cheer for a victory.
The biggest flaw is the romance. It just does not exist. Compare that to Eureka Seven, where a boy has a crush and it grows until it becomes mutual love. Shu has a crush on Inori in Guilty Crown, but instead of giving Inori some emotional depth of her own, she just remains an emotionless doll. We can make some inferences based on her actions, but that is just us projecting meaning into them. Shu just likes her because she has a pretty face. She is just a carrot waiting to be used. Hare ought be the one Shu loves instead, because at least she is more then a tool.
The crazy villains do nothing for the story either. One wants to be the president. One wants to marry a reincarnated-crystal girl. One just wants to fire missiles at everything. In short, they are one-dimensional. The first villain we meet has the most depth and he does not last too long in the show. The creativity is focused on the voids and situations while pretty much ignoring the villains. They need to have a good reason for wanting to destroy the world, though. If they can just come up with a semi-believable excuse it would be a more enjoyable story. But if they destroy the world they have nothing to do! At least if they claimed they wanted to turn it into a weapon it would make a lot more sense.
Despite those two flaws, I recommend that you go and watch the show. For American viewers, it is available for free on Hulu. Let the world take you in and strike you with harsh reality. Cheer for a hero who is as human as you. Watch as science becomes magic and tools appear from inside of people—and, of course, watch Shu grab a woman’s boob on accident.