This Crown of Love I Shall Adorn: On Watching Without Irony

guilty crown blu-rays

All I wanted for Christmas was Guilty Crown.

This may be surprising to some, due to how maligned the series was while airing. Unwitting passenger on the autumn 2011 hype train, Guilty Crown became a must-see series months before the first episode aired. It debuted to a smattering of applause, with an eager audience waiting with baited breath for the series to deliver on its supposed promises. They continued to wait, and wait, until slowly, viewers began to disembark from the hype train, especially when the conductor himself couldn’t stand to watch the series past the seventh episode. Guilty Crown became a joke, something to watch to see what new crazy plot development the staff would come up with next, and the anime blogging community pounced on every misstep. I too, joined in on this fun.

In spite of being an obvious target – the easiest of 2011, if the year-end lists are to be believed – the majority of viewers in the blogging community stuck with Guilty Crown to the end. The term “watching ironically” was bandied about, as it often is with any sort of series deemed terrible, “terribad,” or of the “so bad, it’s good” variety. However, I don’t particularly believe in so-called ironic enjoyment.

Irony, in its broadest definition, is a rhetorical device used to emphasize a specific thought or situation by employing the opposite to convey said thought. For an example, let’s say one of my coworkers is late to work. As they meander in, an hour later than their scheduled time, my response could be a direct, “Would you like to explain to me why are you so late?” or the more sarcastic option of, “So nice of you to arrive to work in such a timely manner!” While the former addresses and sums up the situation immediately – my coworker is late and they are in the wrong – the latter uses the opposite expression to highlight the fact of their tardiness. They are not arriving to work in a timely manner, and they will have to explain why. In spite of the former being the more professional response, especially in a work environment, I would be sorely tempted to use the latter to accentuate my anger.

When I say I love Guilty Crown, it is not an ironic statement. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the series, and will surely enjoy re-watching it again. Additionally, as a viewer, I take issue with the expression of watching or enjoying something ironically as I believe those statements to be disingenuous. It’s a way of placing your own viewing above a particular series or product, instead of simply admitting to your love of it. There’s an undercurrent of smug superiority that permeates this type of viewing, implying that if a particular series is awful – rest assured, Guilty Crown is atrocious on every level save its animation – they need to qualify their enjoyment of it, lest they appear unintelligent.

Regardless of whether you claim to be laughing with a series or at it, you are still deriving enjoyment from your viewing, and it’s at this point where the idea of ironic enjoyment really looses steam. Based on our previously-established definition of irony, the means of conveying the fact must be opposed to the fact itself. If one claims to hate Guilty Crown and yet continues to watch it, laughing as Shuu establishes a new world order at his school or leads the charge on a segway into a climactic battle, they’re still enjoying themselves while watching it. Their actions of mocking the series are not opposed their enjoyment; therefore, there is no irony. I would go as far as to say that, deep down, they actually love it in spite of their protesting. How is that for irony?

My favorite commentary on Guilty Crown comes from people who unabashedly admit that they loved watching it, without the ironic qualifier. Guilty Crown thoroughly entertained me even if my personal expectations for a cohesive narrative or well-developed characters were not met. In fact, my love comes not in spite of the series’ many flaws, but because of them. I am looking forward to watching it again now that I am a proud owner of the blu-ray discs. Guilty Crown was one of the best, most heartfelt gifts I received this year. No irony.

23 comments

  1. Yeah, “ironic” viewing is utter bullshit; if you’re enjoying a piece of entertainment in some fashion, how can you be doing so “ironically”? Its meant to entertain, you’re entertained! Boom. Not ironic.

    1. Yeah, I mocked Guilty Crown incessantly (and still will) yet I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was one of the most entertaining things I watched that year, aside from Penguindrum, of course, for completely different reasons.

      Thanks for commenting. ^ ^

  2. This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. I think people like to put the “So Bad It’s Good” label on stories they enjoy despite holding no empathy towards its characters and not being engaged by its themes. It breaks down the expectations we have towards fiction. It makes us realise that stories are just stories.

    The way I see it, Guilty Crown did enough right to draw viewers into it, even if they interpreted the story differently from how the writers intended it. Isn’t that how fiction works in general, though? Our perspective will never line up with what the writer intended. I think having that ability to not take your own viewing seriously is important, that it’s because stories don’t have any special meaning that we can attach meaning to them.

    There are a lot of anime which seem incompetently told from a storytelling perspective and which I really, honestly enjoy, and I think you’ve nailed why it’s okay to like them.

    1. Hnnn…I think – and this is making a large assumption, but I’ve had this happen to me personally so I’m not as loathe to use this as an example – that once one is taught how to pick apart things, or learns of how even the most basic of narratives are supposed to work, they cannot turn that part of their brain off. Therefore, they feel pressure to justify their enjoyment, all the while knowing that the quality of what they’re enjoying is equivalent to a pile of excrement.

      In the case of Guilty Crown, I actually have not seen one person come to its defense in terms of story construction or meaning. ^ ^ Everyone I knew, regardless of whether they categorized their enjoyment as “ironic” was watching it because it was so bad.

      Thank you for weighing in. ^ ^

  3. The issue is that you are assuming both forms of entertainment are equal and deserve the same respect. While it is true one can enjoy a dumb show such as ‘whatever trashy comedy show here’ and then some masterpiece that inspired everything the same, the quality is not. One is worthy of respect as a well crafted art, and one is not well crafted. If you only look at the one aspect of enjoyment, then they are the same. They are not though.

    It is like saying one hates the show but watched it anyways. What they should say, they have no respect for the show but watches because of the camp or the like. That is fair to say. Like, I do feel that this post is a bit off. While it is true that people hate on stuff to seem better in some cases, quite a few people watch it with no respect to it. Hell, I watched some of the biking anime this fall. 8 episodes till I forgot to care and didn’t download the remaining of it. I didn’t respect it as a well crafted story. I didn’t respect it as something to make me think. It was so dumb and predictable so that I watched it for my own amusement as I haven’t seen something like that in years. If I am going to tell anyone about it (such as now), I will make sure to tell everyone that I did not watch it because it was good. I watched it because it was the right combo to amuse me. I wouldn’t call it irony, but I understand why one could call it ironically enjoying it.

    My issue is that this post just seems to imply that if you like a product, it means you respect a product equally. Obviously that was not what is said, but people that enjoy a show due to irony or whatever they want to call it, what they often mean is that they don’t respect the product. That is valid to say. I suppose this entire post is about this.

    ‘Their actions of mocking the series are not opposed their enjoyment; therefore, there is no irony. I would go as far as to say that, deep down, they actually love it in spite of their protesting. How is that for irony?’

    Love or not can be debated, but the lack of respect can not be. That lack of respect can mean ironic viewing is entirely logical.

    1. Hnnn…I’m curious as to how you arrived at that conclusion, and I’m sorry that my post was so unclear. I never meant to give the impression that I respect Guilty Crown, in fact I distinctly state that my enjoyment stems from how awful it was. It had an all-star production team across all facets of the series, and still was unable to construct a coherent narrative. The first post I wrote on Guilty Crown (and I’ll link in again here, in spite of linking it in the first full paragraph of this post) applies Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to Guilty Crown, and points out how Guilty Crown fails on multiple levels at even the most basic of storytelling.

      The crux of my argument in this post is that I shouldn’t feel the need to qualify my enjoyment simply due to the fact that something is of poor quality. At the same time I was watching Guilty Crown, I was also thoroughly enjoying Mawaru Penguindrum (a series, in my humble opinion, of exceptional quality) for completely different reasons. While I think explaining why I like each of them is always valuable, feeling forced to justify my enjoyment is not.

      I respect Mawaru Penguindrum. I don’t respect Guilty Crown. I enjoyed them both for vastly different reasons. My enjoyment of either is in no relation to the amount or lack of respect I may have for either series. That being said, the fact that I derived enjoyment out of both is not ironic because my actions are not opposed to my meaning. Mocking something because it’s awful can still bring a great deal of entertainment value to a series that one does not respect.

      Thank you for the food for thought. ^ ^

  4. I guess I have a love-hate relationship with Guilty Crown. On one hand I DID have a lot of fun participating in a group re-watch a year ago and seeing how deep the rabbit hole really went. On the other hand, just watching the series makes me feel weirdly dirty, to be honest. I’ve seen anime that I thought were pretty dumb but were full of heart (Aquarion EVOL.) I’ve seen anime that I thought were pretty dumb but were obviously run by creative types who were clearly having a blast making it (most of Valvrave.) But Guilty Crown is weird in that despite being hilarious, despite having a pretty decent musical score and some fantastic visuals, there’s this undercurrent of venom to the show that turns me off. Around the point that Shu becomes [SPOILERS!] in the second half, I always can’t help but get the feeling that the director hated what he was doing, that the writer hated the cast, that everyone involved in the production despised it and wanted to see it burn. There are bits of the show I’ll always remember (segways!) but to this day I can’t listen to any song from the soundtrack without feeling tainted. Not so much that the show had promise (for better or worse we received exactly what you’d expect from the staff involved) but that it’s one of the few shows I’ve seen that wasn’t so much “bad” or “pandering” as it was sincerely hateful towards human beings. Maybe I’m overreacting though!

    That said, I am a little in awe of the sheer wealth of posts that sprung out of Guilty Crown while it was airing, from weekly Christmas hymns to GUESS THE DUMBs to other things. I guess that ashes make for a really effective fertilizer.

    1. I didn’t see the same undercurrent of venom in the series that you did in terms of content, but I can see how one could glean something similar from its production/existence.

      When the series was airing, and nearly everyone was writing something about it, there was often the accusation of it being a creatively and morally bankrupt series. Guilty Crown did everything it could to sell itself as a product through its production values, soundtrack, etc. making any story/character development far less important, presumably, in the eyes of the production team. All they needed to do to make money was present a shiny package, and the series would sell, regardless of content.

      A comparison has been made between Guilty Crown and Fractale, both being “failures” of different types. Fractale was presumably trying to say something meaningful – even if that message was muddied and incomprehensible – where Guilty Crown was simply an empty money vehicle.

      If anything makes me weary of proclaiming a love for Guilty Crown, it’s definitely this, which could also account for your feelings that the production staff just flat-out hated people. ^ ^

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article, Emily. In fact, it has inspired me to write a post of my own defending the notion of the terribad, as I do believe it is a legitimate category of entertainment. But, yeah, it’s always great to read well-though-out perspectives that differ from one’s own🙂.

    1. Oh, I do as well. Sorry for the confusion. I just don’t think that it’s ironic, or that one should hide their love of something, simply because its awful.

      Regardless, I look forward to reading your post! ^ ^

  6. I noticed that what when I’m watching Guilty Crown-tier shows, I’m not actually watching the shows themselves but the production of the shows. It’s the same thing which makes folks question the writing/directing when things go awry instead of being absorbed into show itself. It all goes back to a quote to from my favorite director, that “all films are a documentary of their own production.”

    But this is neither here nor there really. Regardless of whether you’re watching Guilty Crown or what’s going on behind-the-scenes, nothing will ever compare to first moment you dropped jaw, held your palm to forehead and gasped, “Holy shit, was he really just riding a segway!?”

    1. That’s an interesting way of looking at a series/film that I had not thought of. In a previous comment, I mention that one of the larger criticisms of Guilty Crown is that it’s creatively (and morally) bankrupt. It’s widely thought that the production team was going for glitz and glamour over actual content or character narrative.

      That being said, I would still love to have been a fly on the wall when whoever came up with some of these ideas was pitching them to the rest of the staff. ^ ^

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  7. My theory: when you really love an anime (or a movie, or a book, or…) then you watch it rather differently from if you just appreciate it or enjoy it, even if you do like it an awful lot. Loving an anime means basking in every detail it has to offer and celebrating all the little things that make it special. I mean, you mentioned Penguindrum above, and I’ve been rewatching it recently and it’s just such a joyful series at times: there are at least three moments per episode that I immediately want to go back and replay, all sorts of little lines that I want to commit to memory, character mannerisms and images and oh geez now I can’t even stop thinking about it… A lot of people (including myself, first time around!) found it disappointing because it didn’t explain enough, but when you start to treat the penguins, the LOCK OVAH JAPAN segments, the bunnies, the catchphrases, etc. as worthwhile in their own right, it suddenly becomes a very rich story. (And funnily enough, it becomes easier to see how all these elements do add together.)

    So when I enjoy something because it’s “so bad it’s good”, it’s because it’s so odd that all the things that are wrong with it leap out at me through their wrongness and awkwardness and perverseness and so on—it somehow becomes a lot easier to see all the quirks that are there for me to celebrate, and telling myself that I don’t really respect it frees me from having to worry about whether or not these elements mean anything and makes it easier to appreciate them as their own thing. That is, to watch it like I love it.

    Probably a bit of a stretch, but there you go. I’ll also note that I find a very strong communal element in this sort of thing. A few summers ago, a couple friends and I saw a couple cutscenes for a game called Deadly Premonition and decided we just had to play it together, and so we did. And we laughed at the bad jokes and the characterization and the plotting and (oh god) the facial expressions and just sorta basked in all its weird glory together. And that’s actually probably the best experience I’ve ever had playing a videogame, and I think that the way it became a sort of inside joke with us as we were playing it had a lot to do with that.

    (As a side note: this post really made me want to watch Guilty Crown.)

    1. When I become immersed in a series like Penguindrum, I also pay attention to every minute detail that the series is offering. That being said, as a viewer and a person, I am very detail-oriented. It’s impossible for me to “shut my brain off” as some say, so when watching a series like Guilty Crown, it’s almost easier to see the mistakes, as you say. ^ ^

      I may have made you want to watch Guilty Crown (and if you do, feel free to return and comment with your thoughts) but you have made me want to rewatch Penguindrum. ^ ^ I have such an affinity for that series.

      Another thing to note with Guilty Crown, I kept up with it while everyone was commenting on it, and additionally watched it my second time with friends (some of whom had already seen it). This weekend, I’m going to see if I can coerce my fiancée (the wonderful person who gifted me Guilty Crown) to watch a few episodes with me. It’s definitely something that I enjoy with others, much like your video game example, where the act of watching becomes part of the fun.

      Thank you for commenting. ^ ^

  8. I am pretty sure Ironic watching applies to “Mars of Destruction” though, if the viewer trolls other people by rating it 10/10 afterward that is.

    1. Ratings/reviews are something else entirely (this is why I rarely rate things, and additionally don’t review much ^ ^). People tend to base their ratings on two things: objective quality, and enjoyment. Whether one gives more to one side or the other would determine the amount of irony. If someone enjoyed Mars of Destruction that much, and that’s what they’re basing their ranking on, then I’d say that’s hardly trollish.

      Thanks for bringing this up. ^ ^

  9. Dear aj,

    If you ever get around to watching Valvrave, bear in mind people have compared it to Guilty Crown, except maybe Valvrave’s central plot and conspiracy always stayed on its course rather than veering off into nonsense like GC.
    I cannot predict you will enjoy Valvrave the same way as GC, so if you ever get around to watching Valvrave, I’d like to hear how both anime series compare to each other.

    1. To be honest Valvrave, started off ridiculous (even comical at times) but the second half of the series, it picks up and does answer questions that wasn’t answered in the first half. Pacing was a bit off. First half was slow, whilst the second half sped up, maybe because there is more action in it – but that’s just my quibble. It does end quite sad though. Nothing beats A-drei going “L-ELFFFFFFFFFFFF”.

      1. I saw the first episode and thought it was wacky, but put it aside because I had very little time to watch anime this past summer/autumn due to my job. I’ll definitely pick it back up…at some point. ^ ^;

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