A recent discussion with a friend about characters in literature got me thinking about the most unlikely of anime, Guilty Crown. A show that I blogged episodically back when I first started this site, Guilty Crown was an awful show that was widely disparaged in the aniblogging community. One of the major complaints that I had about Guilty Crown was that its protagonist, Ouma Shu, was an inconsistent character that rapidly changed depending on what the story needed him to be. I considered Ouma Shu to be a poorly written character, but after the discussion, there is perhaps a better way to look at it. Shu’s character was unlikable because of his inconsistency, but that isn’t necessarily a result of bad writing; the inconsistency in his character could be intentional and indicative of a character with a weak core.
Ouma Shu is a character with a weak core, a weak personality, and this becomes extremely apparent midway through the show when Loop 7 becomes isolated from the rest of the world. The highschool students are taking refuge in their school and Shu becomes student council president, or the leader of the refuges. It is during this time in the story in which Shu is faced with multiple different opinions on how he should be leading the student body. However, because Shu ultimately has a weak core, he is easily influenced and what he believes is shifted depending who he talks to. One moment he goes from bonding with his friend about rejecting the “void rank” system to discussing with the very same system with one of his advisers. Shu claims he won’t implement the system, but in reality he is just flopping back and forth unsure of what to do and simply agreeing with whatever side he happens to talk to. And then he implements it anyway.
The constant shifting stems from Shu’s need to be validated externally. We know that from the beginning Shu is a guy who is awkward and wants to fit in. He wants to do right, but the problem is that he wants to do right by the standards of other people. Shu lacks the strong central core to guide him through the story, so he ends up getting pushed around by all the different parties (most notably by the undertakers). Being easily influenced and inconsistent doesn’t make Shu a very likable character, but he could’ve been an interesting character to watch. The writer’s behind the show failed to do anything meaningful with the show or the character, but I think Guilty Crown could’ve been an interesting watch if it focused on Shu’s transformation from a weak person who has to be validated externally to someone who has the strength to act based on his own convictions. Instead his character was just changed towards the end of the show without and reason or events to back it up as a result of poor writing.
A show that detailed this kind of personal growth particularly well – and a personal favorite of mine – is The Twelve Kingdoms. The main storyline of the show focuses around Nakajima Youko; a shy and weak highschool girl who is whisked away to a fantasy to become the ruler of the Kingdom of Kei. The Youko from highschool, like Ouma Shu, is a character that lacks a strong core as she lets herself be pushed around and influenced by the opinions of others. She is the class president, but she acts out of a desire to please everyone. In essence, she let herself be controlled by the standards of the people around her. Not that taking advice or considering the opinions of others are a bad thing – those are both very important attributes – but the opinions of others shouldn’t the sole factor in defining yourself as an individual.
In addition, Youko also has to come to terms with the fact that she needs to be strong first before she can hope to lead others. Usurping the false queen and ascending to the throne is only the beginning in this story as Youko becomes wrapped up in the court politics. Unable to take a firm stance as a leader, Youko leaves herself open to being controlled by her own advisers and the other faces in court. But over the course of the story, Youko undergoes tremendous growth as a character. She goes from being a weak girl who was easily controlled by others to a more confident individual and a strong leader. Not afraid to take advice and learn, but also not afraid to take a stance even when others disagree. The end of Youko’s story is one of the most satisfying conclusions I have seen and her transformation over the course of the story is a perfect example of how a person with a weak personality becomes stronger at the core.
Getting back to Guilty Crown, I’m not sure this has made me think any better of the show or the character of Shu. However, it has, in some ways, changed the way I look at the show. The inconsistent character isn’t necessarily a sign of bad writing; it could be a setup for developing a character. Hopefully, the next time a show writes a character in such a fashion, the transformation will be gradual but believable like in The Twelve Kingdoms.