Reading Between Reviews: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Holy sh!t.   There’s gonna be a third season. WHAT.

Okay, but for real.  Code Geass was an anime that many, many people enjoyed.  Released a full decade ago, it blended the giant mech action of Gundam, with a touch of magic, and absurd amounts of theatic flair, to create a rollercoaster of an anime that had critics and audiences alike enthralled.  It has quite a reputation, and has been deemed the favorite anime of many, or just an overrated fluke by some.  I would like to weigh in my own personal opinion, and give my own take on this rather unique anime.

As with my other reviews, there will  be very minimal spoilers, and anything you see here, you’d probably get from the first episode or so.  Alright, let’s get into it!

1. Story

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In an alternate future, the world has been split into three gigantic superpowers.  The whole of Asia is the Chinese Federation, Europe and Africa make up the European Union, and the Americas have become the Holy Britannian Empire.  By 2010 a.t.b, the measure of time used in the world of Code Geass, the Britannian Empire was able to successfully conquer Japan using revolutionary technology: the Knightmare Frames.Using these armored suits, they steamrolled Japan, renaming it Area 11, and referring to those in it as Elevens.  Deprived of their freedom, independence, and name, the Japanese began to grow resentful, some even resorting to terrorist activity.  Among this backdrop, we have the development of our main character, Lelouch Lamperouge, or rather, Lelouch vi Britannia, the exiled prince.code-geass-3-2

Stuck in Japan, used as a bargaining chip from a young age, the genius prince attends Britannian school Ashford Academy, resigned to a world he can’t change.  While taking care of his younger sister Nunnaly, who is blind and paralyzed, Lelouch spends his days conning nobles, gambling, and otherwise living a normal life at school, aiming to move up the social ladder normally.  This all changes when he gets caught in a terrorist attack, amidst which he meets the enigmatic, mysterious woman, C.C.  She gifts him the power of kings, Geass, which allows him to command anyone to do anything he pleases through  eye contact.  With this power, he gains confidence in his ability to create a new world, becoming the mysterious figure Zero, with the goal of tearing down Britannia, and ushering in a new age where his sister can be happy.

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The story of Code Geass is long and involved, chock-full of drama, turn coats, and ridiculous plot twists.  Despite the presence of mech suits and a trend to disregard logical fight scenes for the sake of visual spectacle,  much of the appeal of the series comes from the drama, the strategic nature of the fights.  You’ll see throughout the series slaughters, the rise and fall of nations, heel-face turns everywhere you look, and war on a scale that’s hard to comprehend.  However, throughout it all, the story remains cohesive and relatively simple to follow, allowing for effective plot twists and an overall strong narrative that tracks events on a scale rarely seen in any sort of media.  Because of such a large scale, many events in the story suddenly seem far more important, having the potential to change the course of a whole battle with just a single conversation.

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With that in mind, Code Geass has two huge focuses- one focus on the larger-scale battles, the ability of Lelouch to win battles, lead others, and gain their trust.  The second, and just as important, is the focus on a character’s individual motivations, why they do what they do, and how they interact with others.  Throughout the series, Lelouch must interact with and talk with many people- his best friend Suzaku, ace pilot Kallen, the leaders of Britannia, and more, and almost every single one has their own reasons for doing what they do.  No one side is portrayed as meaninglessly evil, even if the methodology is a bit gray in between.  There are certainly moments of cruelty in the storyline, and a scale of good and evil definitely exists, but everyone important, and even some characters who aren’t, get the chance to explain themselves, making the story that much more enjoyable.

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All that being said, with all this praise, Code Geass has its flaws.  The story, following Zero’s daring gambits and exploits, can get a bit unbelievable.  It goes way, way over the top, but is a slight bit inconsistent in how it does so.  Some of Zero’s exploits seem believable, given his genius-level intellect and Geass power, but others just seem implausible.  How did he set up so much in advance?  Why would he make that small mistake, when such a thing seems beneath him?  How many literally impossible predictions will Lelouch make in a row?  This is blatantly obvious at some points more than others, some having me roll my eyes in frustration, but luckily, Code Geass doesn’t do this too much.  If you can deal with such over-the-top shenanigans, then you probably won’t have any problems with its story.

2. Characters

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As mentioned in the story section, many characters important to the story get to explain their motivations, making a big part of the conflict presented.  Similarly, all the characters in the story tend to be relatively fleshed out, having concrete personalities and, for some, yes, obvious archetypes that they adhere to.  However, many of the characters have enough personality to the point where they are not just a reflection of an overdone trope- rather, they tend to have enough personality to reflect their motivation.  They have preference, they have ideals, and what they want is distinct enough to consider them important as individual characters, rather than just another piece of the background.

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Characters like Kallen Kozuki display this trait, being a side character that shows individual traits exceptionally well.  A Japanese girl who fights for the revolution with all her might, she is firey, passionate, and cares very much about Japan, despite her facade as a shy, withdrawn girl in Ashford Academy.  Other characters, Ohgi, Nunnally, Tohdoh, and far more display this as well, even if not quite to the extent as Kallen.  There’s generally a standard of quality to the personification of these characters, so that even with very standard characters, if there’s a name, then they will certainly have a concrete personality.  However, beyond the side characters, the two main ones provide an interesting dynamic that can’t be understated.

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The second-most important character in the series, is undoubtedly Suzaku Kururugi, Lelouch’s “best friend.”  Similarly to Lelouch, he’s an immensely talented individual, who is also discontent with the way things are, but to contrast him in almost every other way, he’s Japanese by blood, becomes a Britannian soldier, does not kill when he can help it, and follows the rules of society whenever possible.  I say “best friend” when describing him, but really, Suzaku and Lelouch are like.  The equivalent of those people on Facebook that say “we’re in a relationship” then change it to “it’s complicated” and back and forth again.  They’re enemies- the ace of Britannia in his Lancelot Knightmare Frame, and Zero, the revolutionary who leads Japan, but still generally consider each other friends, making their interactions…interesting to say the least.

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We have a huge cast of memorable characters,  many of which get a chance to shine at some point, of course, some more than others. There level of quality to the character design, ensures that no character in the series is bland or completely devoid of personality, allowing for intriguing character interactions and conflicts in almost every episode.  Of course, there are certain characters that may not be the most intriguing, and some interactions that might not sit well with some people.  The themes and ideas they argue can sometimes feel inconsistent and odd, as if the only reason the character is there is to provide an opposing view, in line with the thematic nature of Code Geass.  This may not sit well with some people, but, for the unique designs of each character, and the level of quality that is generally upheld, I think I can deal with such a potential flaw.

3. Style/Art

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This is absolutely, without a doubt, the strongest point of Code Geass.  It has a very unique style in its storytelling, animation, and music, that demands that everything has to be over the top in some respect.  Artistically, for a 2006 anime, it holds up rather well, with a distinct, thin, long style for its characters that somehow works pretty well, and musically, the music is distinct, and adds a lot to the anime.  Whether it’s from the blaring, regal trumpets in the soundtrack, to some movement that simply shouldn’t be physically possible in giant mecha, Code Geass goes all in.  Even the mental chess and strategy that is employed is rather far-fetched, but it makes just enough sense that it works.  You’ll see daring escapes, unorthodox wartime strategies, and political trickery that, even when it shouldn’t work, somehow does.  Code Geass is one of the most theatric anime I have ever seen, and for the most part, it does it very well, thanks very much to the main character, Lelouch.

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As Zero, Lelouch naturally needs to exert leadership and have an aura of command, and boy, does he have one.  Normally, I wouldn’t be able to so confidently talk about anything involving the “presence” a fictional character would have, but man, Lelouch is something else.  His persona as Zero, with clothes boasting a sleek, powerful design, the usage of broad, sweeping arm motions, and a need to be as dramatic as possible, for the sake of both the viewers, and the people following him in-story, it all adds up to make him one of the most hammy characters in any media I’ve watched.  However, for a series like Code Geass, it works wonders.  Any event, any battle of wits, with Lelouch at the forefront, feels as if the fate of the world is riding on it, that there’s weight on every single battle, little or small.code geass 16.jpg

Code Geass has a very confident style, one that has you at the edge of your seat, constantly wondering what’s going to happen next.  How will our hero achieve victory? Who will he fight, and who will win?  How will Zero escape this situation?  Admittedly, from a storytelling perspective, this doesn’t always work out very well, resulting in some of the aforementioned flaws where the writers seem to dig just a bit too deep, but for the most part, it’s very enjoyable.

4. Personal Enjoyment

Personally, Code Geass was a fun anime to experience, as well as to read into.  It has a lot of depth to its world, its characters are decently intriguing to look into, and beyond anything else, it was fun to watch.  It feels like  a smarter version of stereotypical shonen anime like Attack on Titan, combining ridiculous, great action sequences, with relatively intelligent discussions about the way the world should be led.  Some of said discussions honestly feel like they could parallel real-world thoughts of a new generation faced with societal structures they dislike.  However, such a discussion would be a topic for another day.

That all being said, where the story and characterization may fall short of the best around, Code Geass, I feel, has enough style and drama to make for something unique and entertaining.  The themes the anime seems to encompass develop very well over time, becoming far more than just the story of a revolution.  It is that, to be sure, but come the tail end of the series, Code Geass aims its sights far higher, with a story that, thanks to a beautifully poetic, appropriately dramatic ending, smartly confronts tough questions in a way that I have yet to see in almost any story, regardless of the type of media.

Code Geass then, in my book, all things considered, is a solid 8.5 out of 10, but, similarly to Death Note, has rightfully earned its place as a classic in my book.  I enjoyed the hell out of it, despite its few very apparent flaws, and is one of the three anime that I’d highly recommend to anyone, including people who don’t watch anime.

Well, if you’ve read through the whole of the review, thanks!  It was a really fun one to do, and watching through parts of the series, trying to think of what to write, searching for good moments, was enjoyable as well.  Do you guys have any thoughts on the series?  Agree, or disagree?  And man.  Are you hype for season 3 yet?  Because holy crap, I am so ready.

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