Over the past half a year, a good friend of mine and I have read through Guilty Crown: Lost Christmas, a 2012 visual novel from Nitro+. It was written by Jin Haganeya, who previously penned Demonbane & Dra+Koi for the same company. This visual novel is a prequel to the anime of the same name, 2011’s Guilty Crown.
For some background, Guilty Crown was a divisive science fiction series from Production IG that seemed to have everything going for it. Production IG is a prestigious studio that’s responsible for classics like Ghost in the Shell. The anime was directed by Tetsurou Araki who saw great success with Death Note and Highschool of the Dead and would later see meteoric rise thanks to Attack on Titan. Key artwork for the show was done by Redjuice. Best of all, the music was done by Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan, Kill La Kill, Promare).
Despite all of these blessings, the show got mixed critical reception due to the poor quality of the script and the lacking characters. Having watched the whole show halfway through, I found the characters to be really unlikeable and the story to lack a solid hook to keep me invested. For all of the cosmetic and aesthetic qualities, a script can’t be underestimated in making a show enjoyable.
Funny then that the man who assisted with the screenplay, Haganeya, made a story that feels 10 times as epic, thoughtful, and final as the main series he worked off of to make Lost Christmas. His visual novel explains the circumstances behind some major events in the anime’s lore, expanding on them and creating characters and themes that feel wholly unique.
And it’s something truly special.
The reference to Christmas in the title goes far beyond the setting of the story, to the point of almost being exhaustive. The principal cast is named after characters from A Christmas Carol. The protagonist, Scrooge, is a human test subject who escapes from a facility along with Carol, another test subject.
The antagonists seen through the majority of the story are known as Present and Past. Additionally, the chapters of the visual novel are not-so-subtle references to Christmas stories and films. Not only that but there are broader religious references and Scrooge’s power to corrupt people with his right hand is a reference to King Midas, who turned what he touched into gold.
The extent of the references throughout the media might seem like overkill to some and to those people, I’d say you don’t know what fun is. Literary allusion isn’t just cool because it’s referential or because it makes a writer seem cultured. It allows a story to clearly draw parallels between itself and other stories while also building onto those themes with new interpretations. What was once a simple story can be more complex or it can be told in a new genre.
Haganeya is a writer who loves to reference myth, literature, and film in his stories, but never brazenly or without some purpose central to the story’s themes. His most popular work, Demonbane, has had its praises sung to me for its science-fiction take on Cthulu mythos. In my limited experience with his writing, I feel very strongly that he is a writer who likes to pay homage to the literature that inspires him.
In doing so, he’s created a story that has had two profound effects on me:
- He’s inspired me to put my heart and soul even more into my own written work.
- The quality of his story has convinced me that there are more visual novels that I should check out.
The second point is actually the one I’m most impressed by. Visual Novels have always felt like such a time-sink compared to other mediums. If you asked me “why?” my answer likely wouldn’t be a super satisfying one. It comes down to laziness and a lack of drive to commit to reading something that, in theory, would take longer than just reading a novel.
Visual novels are words, but they are also voice-acted motion comics of sorts. They are a middle-ground that, given the choice between a book or a film/show, I would probably go with one of the extremes than the middle option. What visual novels I’ve seen clips of in the past never quite enticed me either. Until Lost Christmas that is.
This might be a larger appraisal of Nitro+ than just Haganeya, but the direction, sound design, and visual flair of this Visual Novel could turn even the most jaded VN critic into a fan. I’m convinced of it. The artwork by Chuuou Higashiguchi is simply striking and rivals the already impressive artwork by Redjuice used to promote the series. More stark shadows and vibrant colors against darker contrasting backgrounds.
Even the CG used for mechs has an unnatural, alien look to it, which feels fitting given the more frightening nature of the adversaries Scrooge and Carol face later on. It’s amazing how such a simple design for Scrooge looks so iconic and cool. It’s just his expression, his red coat, and the intimidating look of his poses that make him so eyecatching. Less is more sometimes.
Without spoiling too much, the story by Haganeya cuts to the chase a lot quicker in explaining the world of Guilty Crown and the threats that endanger it. The “Apocalypse Virus” threatens to destroy the world by turning people into crystals. Scrooge is a test subject whose right hand can instantly infect and kill people with the virus.
Just like in the anime, the protagonist can reach into people and pull out their “void,” a manifestation of their soul in the form of a weapon or other object. In this case, the only person Scrooge can safely do this to is Carol, another test subject who – unlike anyone else in the series – has multiple voids inside her. She isn’t hurt by his right hand, making her the only one he can get close to.
In that fact alone, there is an element of sexuality and intimacy in their relationship that was lacking in the romance of the anime series. Shu Oumu, the main character, had feelings for Inori, the female lead, but I was never invested in them as a pair. Inori was deadpan and serious all the time, whereas Carol has a sense of humor. She’s playful and smiley, even in danger. Scrooge, in contrast to both her and Shu, is far more serious.
The simple idea of being unable to touch people with the sole exception of Carol lends their relationship a sense of importance from the beginning. Their chemistry in their downtime accentuates this and the building tension of their crusade only further does so. They are an interesting pair to follow through the story. It starts as a story of revenge, with Scrooge looking for his lost memories and rampaging against the organization that experimented on him.
When stakes are revealed, however, the story feels more climactic and all-important in the grand scheme of the world than anything that happened in the main story. It’s crazy to think how different in quality this novel is from the main series while being in the same universe. It almost makes me wish Haganeya was chosen to write the show.
If the stories and content were polar opposites, I wouldn’t bother comparing them so, but so much of what I love about Lost Christmas is what I saw potential in during the anime. The artwork and aesthetic feel reminiscent but the music by Hiroyuki Sawano used in the novel makes separating the two works impossible.
Referring back to the two points I made earlier, the first was pretty special to me. Over the last half a year, a little before I started reading Lost Christmas when my friend and I found the time, I started writing a novel. I’ve channeled my inspirations from film and anime into every aspect of the novel’s creation.
Sometimes though, I feel like my story is feeling too “try-hard” or too “chuuni” (look it up) and I start doubting the emotions that went into crafting the tale in the first place. Will the feeling I get while writing it come across while others are reading it? Reading a story like Lost Christmas, told as eloquently as it was in a medium such as it is, has convinced me more than ever that I shouldn’t feel discouraged. And that means a lot to me.
Lost Christmas is a darker, more intimate, more gripping, and much more satisfying story all while maintaining the qualities that drew people to the series in the first place. If you can find a download with a good translation, it is a story that rivals many sci-fi anime. With the quality of the sound design and voice acting, you’ll seldom mind that the images are static.
I’ve never reviewed a Visual Novel before. That’s a first. Seemed different enough to put her on my variety blog here. I hope you enjoyed it and feel free to leave a comment telling me what other visual novels I should take a gander at.
Thank you for reading and I’ll see you next time!