It’s a time when Social Darwinism was the overriding philosophy of the strongest empire in the world. It’s a world where the British never knew their limits and conquered many nations with the help of giant robots. It’s a show which you can undoubtedly call “anime,” and depending on who you are, those words can mean you love it or you hate it. This is Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion.
I originally got into Code Geass before the show even started, as the pedigree of the character designs had me very intrigued. As if to say that this show was meant to on some level be eye candy for both male and female fans, the character designs are an unholy alliance between Shoujo Manga Superstars CLAMP (Cardcaptor Sakura, X, Magic Knight Rayearth, XXXHolic, Tsubasa), and veteran artist of well-developed women Kimura Takahiro (Gaogaigar, Betterman, Godannar, certain Viper games, Gun x Sword). When episode 1 appeared on the scene I was quick to snatch it up.
What was presented to me was an interesting twist on the giant robot genre. The main character didn’t have unwavering courage. He had a traumatic past, but not the kind that leaves a character hating conflict. What we got was Lelouch Lamperouge, a tactician first and foremost, who sees battles beyond the one-on-ones between giant robots. He’s also secretly Lelouch Vi Britannia, exiled prince of the Britannian Empire. There was a character who filled the role of your more standard giant robot hero, but he was made into a supporting, if important, character in Kururugi Suzaku.
My favorite character turned out to be a beautiful immortal named C.C. (pronounced C-Two), who gives Lelouch a mysterious power, the titular “Geass.” A Geass, at least in the case of Lelouch, is a contract which gives him the power to exert his will over another person and have them do anything Lelouch wants, as long as it’s within the ability of that person (no telling a man with no arms to clap). C.C. is tied into every aspect of the plot, and this is hinted at from the start, which gives her an air of mystery more inviting than even her sweet ass, an ass powered by an insatiable love of pizza (Pizza Hut in particular). There’s a ton of characters in Code Geass, as is expected of a major Sunrise show, and combined with the designs it’s the kind of situation where you’re bound to find a favorite, no matter how minor they are. There’s the (not really) quiet girl Kallen, the optimistic Britannian princess Euphemia, the lovable eternal side character Rivalz, and many more. Most likely it’ll be the Britannian Emperor, voiced by Wakamoto Norio. If you don’t know who he is, you’ve probably listened him before anyway.
Code Geass may give the initial impression of being some combination of Gundam and Death Note, and I even describe Code Geass as what SEED Destiny should have been, but calling it Gun Note can be a bit misleading. While Code Geass does have a highly intelligent protagonist matching wits with opponents from afar and possessing an occult power which gives him a significant edge, the show never really bothers to show you every minute detail in strategy. Seeing the battle of wits isn’t nearly as important as knowing that a battle of the wits took place. Code Geass, at its core, is all about being theatrical. Lelouch gives passionate inner monologues, and his voice change between his innocent high school student personality and his rebellion leader guise of “Zero” has nothing to do with convincing realism and everything to do with upping the melodramatic nature of the show. When a plot hole presents itself in Code Geass, and there are a LOT of them, my first response is never to nitpick, but to allow myself to be swept up in whatever’s going on and the emotional responses of the characters.
Convincing emotional responses are the work of a stellar voice cast. I mentioned Wakamoto Norio, but I think the stand-out role is probably C.C. as voiced by Yukana. Normally known for a more polite, feminine voice as seen in Tessa from Full Metal Panic and Cure White from Pretty Cure, Yukana’s C.C. voice is significantly deeper and more powerful. C.C. sounds like she has so much knowledge and experience that you the viewer should be honored that you even get to hear her speak. I liked Yukana already, this made me like her more.
It’s possible you’ve heard some of the controversy over the second season of Code Geass, Code Geass R2, and it has entirely to do with time slots. Originally Code Geass’s first season was set to air in Japanese prime time, but then was bumped to a late-night time slot. This resulted in a retooling and the adding of elements more favorable towards late-night viewers, e.g. fanservice. The show was a surprising success and when its second season got greenlit it got moved to the prime time slot that it originally had, but in doing so it was expected to draw in new viewers and had to backtrack a little to teach the prime time fledgling viewers all about Code Geass. This set back production and altered the plot in ways unknown, but the team in charge of Code Geass fought valiantly to keep it under control.
Code Geass’s strengths and weaknesses lie entirely in the fact that it’s a show which tries to please everybody. I wouldn’t say that the result is that it ends up pleasing nobody, far from it in fact. Just don’t get the wrong impression as to the kind of show it is. It is not Gundam, it is not Death Note, it is not Kingdom Hearts. You still might not like it in the end, and may think some of the plot points irreconciliable, but it’s as good a ride as any. Don’t call it a train wreck, call it a runaway train which managed to get to safety.