The last battle of the fourth apocalypse is at hand and the fate of the world hangs in the balance as defiant United Nations forces bring their might to bear against the evil of Gai’s machinations. As war wages, Shu and a Funeral Parlour strike team take the fight to Gai in the beginning of the end as Guilty Crown heads towards its explosive climax.
In episode 21 the battle begins as endlaves are airdropped into the city and troops begin their advance. Unfortunately Gai is able to quickly respond by using three Voids to create an area denial weapon which decimates United Nations military strength, destroying 87% of their forces with the Apocalypse virus.
With the allied forces dealt a crippling blow Shuichiro mobilises GHQ forces to mop up the rest. Daryl is unsurprisingly not dead, though it’s amazing that even after trying to assassinate Gai and destroying several endlaves in the process, he hasn’t been even so much as court marshalled for his random defiance of orders. Instead he has joined Ghost unit, piloting a super endlave, which he is linked to in such a way it’s probably safe to assume that there will be no metaphorical ejection seat this time around.
Funeral Parlour forces launch their own strike amidst the chaos, Ayase in her endlave, Argo driving a truck, Haruka on a bike and Shu on the futuristic equivalent of a Segway. Using a backdoor left by Haruka, Tsugumi hacks into and shuts down the GHQ network, blinding GHQ command and taking all their endlaves out of action, allowing for allied forces to advance on a disorientated enemy.
Whilst the war rages above, Gai begins to erase Inori’s consciousness and memories to speed up Mana’s hostile takeover of Inori’s body. Inori’s memories and consciousness are personified by gleaming blue crystals, each crystal representing a memory, each an integral part of her personality and one by one they shatter, lost forever. The imagery is emotionally evocative in the sense of hopelessness it conveys as the slow, painless but unstoppable death of Inori takes place. Her consciousness slowly eroded as memories shatter and Mana consumes her. Gai apologises and we see a very brief flash back showing us it is Gai that saved and/or awakened Inori (thus the whole Mana business) in the first place, though unfortunately no more context is given. But Inori won’t accept his apology, simply grateful that she got to live, meet Shu and fall in love like a normal girl.
As Inori begins to fade Gai questions her of Shu, asking what was so special about him that Inori would be so grateful to have lived and met him. Inori responds by explaining the tragedy of Shu for he encompasses, at least in her eyes the sadness and beauty of the world, the epitome of human nature in its flaws and virtues and that is why Inori loved him, because he was human and tragically so.
Coming to a large chamber Yu separates Shu from the rest of the group, or ‘followers’ as he calls them. We then finally learn about Yu, that he’s of an organisation which derives the will of the human race, which is an odd description since they don’t so much derive it as they do seem to dictate it without pity or remorse.
Shu denies Yu’s offer of Kingship and so Yu is forced to try and strip him of his power. It seems he assumed this would happen for he has a line of Da’at followers lined up so that their Voids could be used against Shu, which Yu does with glee. The followers say nothing, only the occasional scream of pain as their Voids are extracted or the death throes of their Voids destruction break their unified silence, unflinching as the man or woman next to them erupts into a crystalline mass.
Meanwhile the Funeral Parlour strike force runs into trouble of its own with Daryl in the super endlave as well as an array of Ghost endlaves and soldiers blocking their path and ready for a fight.
Shu fights valiantly against Yu, eventually besting him in swordplay before throwing Yu’s final attack back at him. Defeated, Yu disappears in much the same way as a Void evaporates after it is thrown away, giving the impression that he is a Void himself, though this can’t be so for he has a Void of his own.
Inori is finally overcome by the crystals that slowly engulf her, but before they fully consume her a single tear escapes and sprouts into a single unassuming crystal flower at the base of the cocoon that was once Inori. Shu arrives moments later to witness the rebirth of Mana, who regards him with a sublimely evil look in the same way a hungry cat might eye a mouse.
The calm before the storm has finally abated and the action packed conclusion has begun. We’re treated to a action packed view of the battlefield as the United Nations launch their full attack against Gai who responds in kind. After I’m not sure how many episodes since his introduction, the reason for Gai breaking Kido Kenji out of prison is finally revealed after only being cleverly hinted at in the last episode. The 256 Leukocytes was a ruse, they only have one it turns out but thanks to Kenji the bluff held until now. This still doesn’t excuse the fact there was absolutely no explanation at the time, Gai essentially breaks a mass murderer out of prison, gives no reason whatsoever and everyone is just fine with it. Though I suppose if this show is about anything it’s about loyalty, Gai’s loyalty to Mana and Shu to Inori, men of singular purpose and devotion which will bring about one or both of their ends. There is the question of why the remaining Leukocyte they had didn’t fire on carrier fleet before they arrived, thus deterring the actual invasion to begin with but we’ll just chalk that up to another unanswered question.
Ayase, after being quite neglected these past few episodes has nice little moment with Shu in this one. As Shu helps her into her endlave pilot’s chair she asks him if he has it in him to shoot Gai. Shu responds without hesitation that he could. Then he randomly compliments Ayase on her purity, which is either a show of very poor conversational skills or a clever deflection away from the aforementioned topic. Either way Ayase is flustered allowing Shu to elaborate and assure her if it comes to it her Void will be put to good use, thus he’s sorry someone so pure is going be used by someone dirty like him, to an end which may be the worse of them both. She reminds him in a friendly way she didn’t give him her Void so he has an obligation to survive so he can return it after the battle. Shu understands the gist of what she’s saying with a smile and thanks.
It’s a small but nice moment between the two and it’s good that we get to see some sense of closure between both characters. Whilst they haven’t had many scenes together, every scene they have shared has been meaningful in some way and this was no exception. Their friendship has grown as they have helped each other grow, enabling and helping each other with such significance that a scene like this was really a necessary one. It marks the point where after all their trials and tribulations together, they now respect each other as equals and care about each other enough that Ayase would essentially make him promise not to die.
When Shu denies Yu’s offer of marriage to Mana (i.e. his sister) for eternity in exchange for the obliteration of mankind, Yu then tells of how Gai didn’t so much as blink before agreeing to it. So the question that arises is really this; with their roles reversed would Shu have said yes in Gai’s position if it was Inori, not Mana as Eve? Shu’s love for Inori is strong; in fact he has done very stupid things thanks to this simple fact. So is Gai simply more devoted to his love or has Shu simply never been forced into a position where he’s had to choose with such high stakes?
Whilst Inori loves Shu for his flaws and merits it isn’t truly clear if he is mature enough to say no to such a deal considering the events of the past 21 episodes. Whilst Shu has certainly grown as a person, almost the entirety of his decisions have been made concerning Inori; the safety of Inori, saving Inori and just generally looking after Inori. It isn’t too much to assume that Shu would go so far as to become the evil Gai has, especially considering his Nazi themed power trip only a few episodes ago. More than ever it seems that only circumstance separates Shu and Gai, that this episode isn’t so much the prelude to a showdown between a hero and a villain as much as it is a prelude to a battle between two men, driven to extremes by their love for a woman.
With the end in sight the show is looking to bow out with a grand finale of spectacle and tragedy. The fate of the world, but more importantly the lives of almost all the characters we’ve come to know are on the line and there’s no telling which way the dice will fall. After such a strong episode the conclusion will probably leave us with many unanswered questions, but hopefully it will be powerful enough to satisfy the amount of time we have invested in the show up to this point. The stage is set and the pieces move towards the endgame, the finale approaches but what revelations and closure it brings is yet to be revealed. Hopefully it will have be worth the wait.