Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (コードギアス 反逆のルルーシュ)comes in at number four on my list of favorite anime. It’salso the most recent series I’ve watched to completion.
A sidenote: This will have spoilers. The next couple paragraphs are a briefdescription of the introduction to the series, and after that point, I willtalk about it as if you have seen the entire series. If you haven’t seen theshow, I recommend that you stop when you see “Geass” in quotations.
I enjoy Geass because it is a proud nationalist piece of entertaiment. Thatis, it’s very passionately Japanese and disparaging to other cultures withgreat consistency. This is pretty rare for an anime, I think; while Lelouch“Western-izes” character looks like most newer anime, the storyline is veryanti-European, and the enemy of the protagonist becomes essentially everynon-Japanese at the end of the series.
This isn’t the only reason why I like Geass, but it’s a good framing point.The storyline of Geass is as follows: The Britannian Empire (think Europe) hasconquered most of the world. Years before, Japan was one of these placesconquered and was renamed to the eleventh colony. Japanese are not Japanese,they are “elevens”. Japan’s great national pride has been destroyed, and whileJapan is in a relatively peaceful state, the influence of Britannia pervadesalmost every aspect of their lives.
Lelouch is a high school student (it’s an anime, what did you expect?) in theeleventh colony. He is introduced as a tactical genius, though we can onlydeduce this through his skill of chess. On a fateful day, he stumbles intoa rebellion, where a number of Japanese have stolen Britannian mechs.They are attacking a Britannian convoy which they believe carries a weapon. Theattack begins, and the cargo is abandoned in a building, which Lelouch finds.When he opens it, he finds a girl, who wakes up and gives him the power of“Geass”.
The power of Geass is the ability for Lelouch to go into a person’s mind andrewrite it. This has a number of applications: he can order people through mindcontrol, erase their memories, or plant new/false ones. There are a number ofconstraints that are revealed throughout the series:
- He can only use Geass once on a person
- The more he uses Geass, the less control he has
- Geass cannot be used on another Geass user
Lelouch quickly grasps these powers and uses them for his new mission: todestroy the Britannian Empire and eliminate the Royal Family. His reasoning forthis? He is, of course, Lelouch vi Britannia, the son of the BritannianEmperor, and an heir to the throne.
Admittedly, this plot device seemed thin to me, as it assumes a number ofcharacteristics not uncommon to anime:
- A high school student
- A granted power
- A lofty goal
If these sound familiar, it’s because you might be familiar with Geass’spiritual brother, Death Note. It’s pretty hard to watch a lot of Lelouchwithout seeing the continuous analogies in both story and character throughoutDeath Note. The manga version of Death Note started in 2003 and is the first ofthe two. The anime, however, started within days of Code Geass! From 2006 to2007, they ran in almost perfect sync with each other. I imagine this wasfairly jarring to Japanese viewers, as the characters of Lelouch and LightYagami are fairly consistent throughout the series.
While Death Note ended after a single season, Lelouch continued for a second,titled “Code Geass R2”. Lelouch’s character in Season 2 is very similar toLight in the endgame of Death Note; the first part of both shows is abouta wildly intelligent, calculating leader; the second and final part showsa emotional, reactive character (not unlike Walter White in the final season ofBreaking Bad) who makes decisions that effectively write their own finale.
This similarity could be very off-putting for some, but I found it prettyrefreshing. I enjoyed Death Note more overall, but I found the final episodes(namely, the introduction of Near after L’s death) to be excessive and barelyjustifiable. The series could have ended after L’s death. Geass, on the otherhand, has a clear goal that is established at the beginning of the series, andfollowed through to the very end, with only a couple episodes that serve as anepilogue (and a true resolution) after Lelouch defeats the Emperor.
Lelouch and Death Note work because of the establishment of an incrediblystrong protagonist. Light and Lelouch are idealistic and outspoken about theirbeliefs, and pursue them at the expense of those around them. While some of thedecisions they make are deplorable, they command a certain amount of respectfrom the viewer because they fight for what they think is right, and nothingelse. It’s also worth noting that both characters fight for this underalter-egos: Light is Kira, and Lelouch is Zero.
Geass’s supporting characters reinforce the protagonist in very powerfulways. Lelouch’s crippled sister is a beautiful personification of what Lelouchis fighting for, and in a enjoyable twist, becomes who he is fighting againstas she ultimately chooses her previous family over living in hiding asa eleven.
Lelouch’s appropriation of the Japanese rebellion into The BlackKnights is a fascinating study in manipulation, and their relationship withZero is a good analogy to military command structure. This is one of the mostinteresting parts of Lelouch – his alliance with the Japanese even though he isnot only a Britannian, but a member of the Royal Family. It is remarkable,then, that the Knights’ hero is a part of their greatest enemies, and it’s nosurprise that they ultimately consider him an enemy shortly before he ascendsto the throne.
The mech portions of Geass feel well-done. Giant robot fighting has the abilityto become over-done like the harem style of anime, which has never beenremotely interesting in my opinion. Geass continually elevates the strength ofthe mechs until they are decimating cities at the end of the series, and themoral question of controlling such power is brought to the forefront and givenample exploration. The show also chooses to make the mechs defeatable. It’s notGundam where there are another fifteen mechs for a pilot to jump in after onegets destroyed – the Knights have one superpowered mech that, whenincapacitated, causes serious problems for the group. It’s a nice touch thatharkens back to Evangelion’s treatment of the mech genre. Being similar toEvangelion is always a good thing.
Overall, I really enjoyed Code Geass. Lelouch is a wonderful protagonist andwhile the comparisons to Death Note can be seen throughout the whole show, itstakes territory for itself and is a uniquely complex and smart anime. Whilethe second season slumps in the first third to half, it picks up fora satisfying and unexpected ending that wraps the show up nicely. I recommendit if you’re interested in military strategy (though don’t expect hugelycomplex scenarios, most resolve within an episode or two), racism andoppression (a topic that seems pretty rarely covered), and characterdevelopment over an extended period of time. The show dumps Lelouch on you inepisode one, and you stay with him all the way to episode fifty. That’s nota bad thing when it’s a fantastic character.