Guilty Crown: Series 1, Part 2 Review

The first half of Guilty Crown, I thought, was fairly routine and had nothing particularly original to add to the teen SF genre. An apocalyptic situation, military dictatorships, monster robots and terrorist attacks suggested a template pretty much standardised by Akira, with character designs that were a little more modern, but generic, with a visual aesthetic that owed much to Neon Genesis Evangelion and other I.G Production series. It was however at least relatively well done, providing plenty of incident in the first half, with the possibility of having somewhere more original to go in the second part. Not surprisingly for a Japanese anime series, the whole tone of Guilty Crown does indeed change half way through.

The concept and characterisation however initially came across as fairly routine. Set ten years after an Apocalypse virus was unleashed on what would become known as Lost Christmas, the devastated nation of Japan is ruled in 2039 by an apparently benevolent but in reality ruthless foreign power while it attempts to get back on its feet. A group of revolutionary activists known as the Funeral Parlour however are fighting back and have obtained a powerful tool known as the Void genome to help them in their struggle. This falls into the hands of an "ordinary" student, Shu Ouma, giving him the power to reach into other people and extract a tangible representation of their souls and use it as a weapon.

That is, of course, merely a set-up for huge explosive battles to take place between the Funeral Parlour activists and GHQ's Transformers-like human-piloted armoured Endlaves, with Shu throwing illuminated weaponry derived from the Voids at them. In addition to the familiar character types and situations (a little bit of schoolyard romance and rivalry), there were also a few mild fanservice elements, just to cover all the angles. Throwing all these elements together simply because they're expected rather than with any sense of internal conviction or logic, the first half of the series risked being confusing without really having anything fresh to add to the futuristic apocalypse situation.

By contrast, the second half of Guilty Crown almost abandons all these familiar situations, or at least the second act does. If the first 11 or 12 episodes constitute the first act scene-setting, episodes 12 to 17 cover the turn around to the second act revelations before the last five episodes bring the third act resolution and explanation of all (or most) of those unanswered questions. As such the middle part of the series doesn't sound all that promising, but it's a welcome settling down to a pace that gives the viewer time to take in who is who, what their aims are and what the options might be for all the outcome.

Abandoning for a while the familiar figures of power who were battling out the first half, Shu, the Funeral Parlour team and the high school students are ringed into a quarantined zone and being gradually squeezed by the GHQ forces. This creates a number of internal tensions over who is going to lead them, with a ranking system being proposed by some students on the value of personal Voids. Some revelations are also made about the nature of Voids that raise questions over how they should be used. Although it slows down considerably from the action-packed first half, this actually makes for a more compelling situation without really losing any of the tension created, and it's at least one that is easier to follow.

The real test of the Guilty Crown series as a whole comes in the third act. It's here that the major players return to the scene, and there are indeed some revelations that explain the origin and the nature of the Apocalypse virus. The playing out of the drama admittedly falls into standard game-play of mysterious origins and family secrets, followed by shoot-outs, betrayals and explosions, but it's more the nature of how Guilty Crown deals with the apocalypse scenario that is critical here. Not seeing the destruction merely as an end in itself, the series takes it a bit further and finds purpose in it being a potential cleansing, purification and rebirth of the human race to a new evolutionary level.

That doesn't mean that it still doesn't become confusing as other agencies and entities with their own agendas are added to the mix, but it does escalate towards a suitably explosive conclusion. Again, much of the imagery is borrowed from Akira (a child with enormous powers, spheres of destruction engulfing Japan, attacks on UN forces racing into take control of Japan in the aftermath, Shu even growing a Tetsuo-like artificial appendage), but it's beautifully animated, with plenty of spectacle, colour and action.

Guilty Crown: Part 2 is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Manga Entertainment. Both DVD and Blu-ray are 2-disc sets and contain the second half of the complete series (eleven episodes). On DVD the discs are dual-layer DVD-9. On DVD the set is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2. On Blu-ray, the set is AVC encoded, 1080/24p and encoded for Region B. The first half of the series was reviewed from the DVD release. This review takes a look at the Blu-ray specifications and content.

On DVD Guilty Crown already looked very good in Standard Definition, so you won't really benefit from any increase in resolution on Blu-ray unless you have a large display. Colours and brightness are good, lines are stable and the transfer is evidently a little smoother in 1080/24p. The image quality is not clinically sharp, retaining a little softness, but this depends on the scene. Colour banding issues are the only other issue you tend to have a lot of in modern BD and DVD transfers, but there is very little problem with that in this particular title in either format. I can't say I saw any artefacts or noticed any significant issues at all. Subtitles are white, as they should be, clear and easy to read. The audio tracks consist of an English dub in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 as well as the original Japanese track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0. I didn't sample the English dub myself, but the Japanese track is clear and resonant with a strong dynamic.

There are a good number of extra features on the two discs in the set and some of them might even be worth watching. Disc One contains Commentaries for episodes 15 and 19 by the US voice actors. Disc Two gathers all 10 Episode Previews into the Extra features rather than have them at the end of the actual episodes. There's also a cartoon 4-panel comedy series based on events in the episodes (8.39) - in Japanese and featuring the original series cast - with its typically obscure and untranslatable humour. If you need a reminder what happened in the first half of the series Reassortment (Series Digest) (47:33) compresses all the main action and developments into a handy digest with some narrative linking. The remainder of the extras consist of the usual Textless Opening, Closings and a US Trailer.

After a rather routine opening, Guilty Crown does indeed manage to move beyond the confusing amalgamation of stereotypical characters and standard SF apocalypse situations. The second half of the complete series still doesn't perhaps have a great deal of originality of its own, but it does take the situation a little bit further on than most and build towards a strong conclusion, aided with some fine animation from the Production I.G studio. The Blu-ray release from Manga Entertainment is strong, with good technical specifications and some useful extra features spread across its two Blu-rays discs.

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