Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Guilty Crown Episode 1 – The Future Starts with You

Guilty Crown Episode 1 – The Future Starts with You

Funimation spent 2010 simulcasting every noitaminA show it could get its hands on, which gave us gems like Tatami Galaxy, Shiki, and Princess Jellyfish. This year, the company has been much more selective about its simulcast choices in general, including with the noitaminA block. It selected the high-concept sci-fi dystopia series with thinly veiled social commentary over the carefully crafted character drama in winter and spring, and didn’t even pick up the dystopia show in the summer. That last decision was wise, as No. 6 was the worst noitaminA show we’ve had in years, but Fractale and [C] were also far weaker than their less political counterparts.

Guilty Crown is the latest show set in a dystopian future; here Japan has been taken over by a shadowy multinational organization and a band of resistance fighters seeks to liberate the country. One would think that Funimation would still be a bit shy of this sort of series, given how their last picks turned out, but instead the company is doubling down on their pick, running ads on anime related websites about how Guilty Crown is “the most anticipated new series” of the season.

Given the show is vying with the swan song of one of the most iconic series of the past decade, and the lavishly produced prequel of the popular Fate/Stay Night, that was and is a rather grandiose claim, but it may well be true. The more amazing fact is that all that anticipation looks to be justified.

Shuu Ouma spends his first time on screen watching a music video of his favorite singer ...

In 2039, a decade after a deadly virus ripped its way through Japan, the country is still under the control of the GHQ, an international body which came in under the pretext of helping Japan recover from the virus, but which effectively took the place over. Shuu Ouma lives his life ignoring that political reality, indifferent to everything and just trying to drift by making as little waves as possible. Then Inori Yuzuriha, lead singer of a band whom Ouma idolizes, appears injured before him, on the lam from the powers that be—and his life is changed forever.

Guilty Crown is being billed as having the same director as Death Note, but the better point of comparison is with Code Geass, which also shares some crossover staff with this project. Both Code Geass and Guilty Crown feature a high school protagonist who accidentally comes into contact with an member of the Japanese resistance force fighting against an invading power, gains a special ability through that chance encounter which allows him to fight, and thus becomes a key member in the battle to liberate Japan, all in the first episode.

... unaware she's robbing a GHQ facility at that very moment

Both also feature brutal occupying regimes that slaughter entire slum neighborhoods in the premiere episode to establish themselves as the bad guys. And both have secret conspiracies within the conquering forces, whose “research projects” fall into the rebels’ hands. Both even feature rollerskating mecha (a feature shared with Rideback, another show where such weapons are attributed to a conquering power’s success).

What distinguishes the projects is not the plot outline, but the protagonist, and the tone he sets by his actions. Code Geass had Lelouch Lamperouge, one of the most memorable and controversial anime protagonists ever, a genius meglomaniac who was waiting for a chance to rebel even before fate dropped one in his lap. He comes upon his powers completely by chance, forced by circumstances to become the hero or die, but in some sense the role was one he was born for.

I suppose when you've got the threat of a deadly plauge as justification, marking undesirable elements as infected gives a perfect excuse for mass slaughter

Shuu Ouma, by contrast, has no pretensions about himself or desires to excel. He’s naturally withdrawn and cowardly, and his instinctual response when confronted with danger is to run away. But unlike Lelouch, he has a real choice, to ignore what he’s seen and go back to his life, or to reach for something greater. He knows he’s a coward, too afraid to be forward with a girl, much less take on giant robots. But in a crucial moment, he decides he wants to be something more.

noitaminA’s various dystopian entries this year have all had some underlying social message aimed at its viewers. In Fractale, it was the need for real human contact and communication and avoiding an over-reliance on technology. In [C], it was about how Japan needed to embrace financial risk, no longer mortgaging the future through deficit spending in a misguided attempt to maintain stability, and being willing to bring the next generation into the world. In No. 6 it was … well, I don’t know what the ultimate point was, because I dropped that show like a hot potato three episodes in and still regret giving it that much of my life.

What makes Ouma's bravery so special is that he acknowledges his weakness; he just has to do something anyway

In Guilty Crown, the GHQ continually puts on paternalistic airs, claiming that Japan can’t take care of itself, can’t protect itself, can’t do anything. Ouma resents that, but he still lives within that framework, reflecting that sense of impotence in his personal life as much as in his musings about the country’s political situation. But the appearance of Inori gives him something he’s never had before: a reason to man up. He’s shamed by his initial cowardice as the GHQ comes to take Inori away as a terrorist, to be executed. And her words to him remind him that the way he is living now is a choice, one he can change.

So he mans up: Ouma takes on Inori’s mission, slowly exposing himself to more and more risks until he finally runs into a mech’s line of fire to protect Inori. This winds up somehow triggering the item that Inori stole from the GHQ, giving Ouma the ability to extract weapons from those around him. The process is eerily similar to that in Dantalian, and the mere concept unexplainable (and frankly a little stupid) within a science fiction framework. But the result is an Ouma who can face an armored mech, and win.

Yep, I'm definitely getting a Dantalian vibe from this

I’m not certain if the show will try to provide a “scientific” explanation of Ouma’s newfound ability, or if it will just let it slide. I also don’t know if the show will have deeper thematic reason for why Ouma needs someone else to pull a weapon out of. I do know that Guilty Crown has its themes clearly in mind with everything it does: Ouma’s situation is meant to both emphasize them, and personalize them.

What Guilty Crown asks of Japan is to step up, to accept adult responsibilities and no longer cede control to someone else. There’s an obvious political allegory to this, with Japan leaving its defense and thus much of its foreign policy in American hands. But both the challenge and the solution the show presents is placed on the social and personal level: Ouma as an lone individual must choose to take control of his life, and accept the consequences of that act. Likewise, the country’s populace (both in the story and in real life) has to stop expecting other people to save their society, teetering on the brink of collapse, for them.

There are flashbacks indicating that Ouma isn't just some ordinary kid, but we'll have to see where that leads us

I’ve gone through this entire review of Guilty Crown without discussion of the spectacular animation, the excellent pacing, the impressive action scenes, or the effective use of exposition. It has all those, but that’s not what impressed me the most. What really caught my eye was how the show used one individual choice to reveal its proposed path forward.

Making a timid high school kid Ouma the protagonist isn’t just a matter of wish fulfillment (although of course that’s there too). It’s to remind us that the choice he faces is also ours. It’s a choice to build the future you want to see, rather than to live in fear while other people make decisions for you—and it’s a choice the show is calling each one of us to make, regardless of how powerless we think we are. Ouma asks himself, “Shouldn’t I do something?” That’s the question Guilty Crown presents before its audience. And it won’t let us go without an answer.

I've spent almost the entire review talking about Ouma, but I don't want to completely ignore the rest of the cast. Gai Tsutsugami, for example, looks to be the head of at least one resistance cell, and he's not afraid to get his hands dirty

As mentioned above, Guilty Crown is being simulcasted by Funimation. If the usual pattern holds, I’d expect the show to be on Hulu as well before the second episode airs.

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