While the exposition was a bit muddier than it should have been and we had no shortage of clichés added to the pot, this was the episode that probably generated the most genuine drama for me so far. It was probably a bad idea to watch GC immediately after Hoshi Ou o Kodomo, because any show that’s so dependent on gorgeous animation for impact is going to suffer in comparison to Makoto Shinkai. But surprisingly I.G. stepped up with a very solid episode that could hold it’s old without falling back on eye candy and forehead-pounding silliness.
I really think the episode benefitted from a pretty stark change in premise, as Gai, Inori and the entire Undertaker team were shunted off to the side and had only cameo roles. That provided much needed breathing-room for some real development for Shu’s character, and it initially looked as if might come in the form of some bonding with long-suffering admirer Hare (Shimamura Yu). Guilty Crown has thrown incongruous school life slapstick at us before – and undercut the dignity of the show in the process – so it’d hardly have been a shock to see it again. But an outing with Hare segues into something else altogether as they run into Yahiro on the train. Given the circumstances of their last meeting it’s hardly a surprise that there was tension in the air between them, and Shu summarily sent Hare off to shop by herself (though she chose to follow the boys instead).
Yahiro’s story comes into contrast here, as it’s revealed that he fled the care center with his brother Jun in the chaos of Undertaker’s attack because they were planning to “put Jun down”. He points out the irony himself – he sold Shu out to get into the place, only to escape using him as cover – and now he’s on the run, with Jun in the “carcinogenic stage” of the Apocalypse disease. Clearly, there’s something unusual in Jun’s condition that’s drawn the jaundiced eye of Segai, and his goons are on the hunt to find the boy and retrieve him for experimentation. Shu agrees to help in spite of Yahiro’s betrayal on the grounds that Jun is blameless, and even shows that all his combat training has started to take as he gives Yahiro some pointed criticism about his strategic sense. There’s also some clever interplay between Segai and Dan Eagleman (Tsuguo Magami), which is about as sharp as any of the humor gets. Eagleman remains a preposterous caricature himself, but Segai’s reactions to him are where the gold is buried.
The plan is to shelter the brothers with Undertaker, but Segai and his apes confront the fleeing boys in a warehouse, which leads to some of the more revealing moments of the series so far. I enjoyed seeing Yahiro object when Shu was about to take his void – it’d about time. But Shu convinced him with “Everything will be all right if you just let me use you!” (you’re welcome, Fujoshi) and thus commences the battle with Daryl and his mecha squadron. Where things really get interesting is when Jun’s disease – and his soul, as it appears – somehow transfer from his body to Daryl’s combat suit, and he pulls Shu into his mind for a revealing glimpse of the past. Somehow the Apocalypse crystals have given Jun the ability to read everyone’s void, which sheds more light on the nature of voids – as expressions of a person’s dark side. Alas this means that little Jun can now see the evil lurking inside everyone, including his big brother, who was thinking dark thoughts about what a burden Jun was even as he was looking after him during their orphan existence post-“Lost Christmas”. In fact, Jun asks Shu to end his life using his brother’s void, unable to face the prospect of coming to hate his brother, and when it appears that the mecha in Jun’s control is about to kill Yahiro, Shu impulsively complies (in this case literally snipping the red string of fate).
There are certainly elements in all that which are strongly derivative of Evangelion, with the potential for more as we explore the self-loathing Shu is going to feel for what he’s done. Nevertheless, that was the closest Guilty Crown has come to true poignancy as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always suspected that there was a cancerous ugliness at the heart of this void exploitation that Gai has forced on Shu, and it looks as if that path is going to be explored at last. Guilty Crown has too rarely possessed any real gravity so far, and I welcome this plotline if it’s going to deliver up some serious reflection and moral conflict. With last week’s episode being the tightest and most polished, this is probably the best two-episode run the series has had so far, so hopefully it’s finding its stride now. it certainly isn’t two late, as we haven’t even finished the first cour yet.