Guilty Crown: ‘Political realities in my anime? Never!’

There is a certain rule on a forum I frequent that puzzles me a little, particularly now that I’ve spent just over a year tasting from the pot of Japanese politics. It’s that political discussions are actively discouraged because they are likely to descend into pointless debates and cycles of flaming. However, anyone with even a broad understanding of what’s been going on in Japan over the last half a century – the controversy over Article 9 and Japan’s place in the world; Japan’s push to be a permanent member of the Security Council; the minefield of apology politics; the depressing social effects of two decades of stagnation etc etc – would recognize that political themes run through a fair number of series. Gundam, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Code Geass, C, No.6, UN-GO – to name just a few of those I’ve seen. And that’s not counting the series where it’s ‘merely’ part of the background, but nevertheless grants those who are aware of it a deeper understanding on what’s going on in a particular show.

GHQ…doesn’t that remind you of anything…?

Guilty Crown, I contend, is one of the latter. The beginning of the introduction available on the official website refers to a development that bears heavy similarities to a certain Occupation more than half a century ago.

In 2029, the sudden breakout of the ‘Apocalypse Virus’ plunges Japan into chaos. Order is restored following the armed intervention of an international organization known as “GHQ”, under whose command Japan then remains. As a result of this incident, later to be known as the “Lost Christmas” incident, Japan loses her independence, and her people savour the transient peace that the occupation brings.

However, right from the start, the major theme of the show has been about the bonds between people. The rest of the introduction tells of its protagonist, Shuu, a 17-year old boy who wonders about the superficiality of his life, but nevertheless strives to maintain that peaceful existence by keeping his classmates at a distance. Surely I can’t be the only one who felt the resonance with much of modern Japan, right?

Action-wise, even if a touch unbelievable, I’d say that some of it was pretty damn cool.

Unfortunately for the show, however, its execution seems to have led most people to dismiss it as something of a pretentious ‘trainwreck’, or, in milder words, a show that simply did not know where it was going. Shuu’s early wishy washiness was especially grating to many viewers, and the writers were often dissed left, right and center because viewers felt that the characters were inconsistent and stagnant, and that the relationships were really shallow. Perhaps most importantly, viewers latched onto the comment in an early interview that the creators were “stressing action and plot: a cutting-edge show”. Most would probably say that the action was more than adequate – I thought it was pretty cool most of the time – but complaints about the plot started early and never let up throughout the broadcast.

Another question in the interview, however, goes deeper into the major theme of the series: human relationships. The creators actually explain where they have started with Shuu, thus hinting at where they were going:

On that same note, but lately there have been a lot of articles about the “herbivore” male, or “passive youth”. I was reminded of this sort of personality when I saw the hero in the show. I wanted to ask you personally, do you think of this hero as a “herbivore male”?

(A comparison to Evangelion’s Shinji Ikari came up when this question was being interpreted)

Ohyama: Shu is one of the main characters, but there’s also one more main character – Gai – and they’re completely opposite types of people. 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 more of a–

[the group breaks into laughter]

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.

Strong people are boring. It’s weakness that enables us to grow.

Besides that fact that characters being ‘inconsistent’ alludes to the possibility that they are developing rather than stagnant, this question and its answer clearly point out that Shuu’s relationships all started out being very shallow, and hinted that they would slowly develop. And so they did: in learning more about his friends – Yahiro’s brother, Souta’s crush on Inori – Shuu formed connections with them and learned how deeper emotional relationships can hurt more, but can also become the foundation of one’s strength. Admittedly, some plot developments were inexplicable based on what we’d been presented, and others were downright emotionally manipulative. However, I honestly feel that, when confronted with those developments, the characters’ decisions were consistent with their personalities and what they’d gone through. Furthermore, going back to my earlier comments about Japanese politics, understanding the political undertones helped me link this show to some of the strangeness I felt when I lived in Japan, strangeness over how Japanese people don’t really seem to know who are what they are as a nation.

Realising and developing relationships with others: that’s the major theme of this story.

In sum, I personally felt that the ‘discussion’ on Guilty Crown was largely made up of shallow criticisms based on opinions about what viewers want to see, rather than an interesting and well-informed critique about what the show is actually about. Not that I think the show is perfect – it doesn’t measure up to most of my favourites, nor to the other noitaminA show from last year that tackled similar political themes – but I truly feel that many viewers were disappointed because they tried to impose their own expectations on the show. Guilty Crown has interesting things to say about Japan – but I only recommend watching it if you’re open to them.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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