Japanese Title: Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch
Related: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 (season 2 – included in review)
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 25 episodes (season 2)
- Deep, intricate plot with many worthy players involved.
- Strategic action and power plays.
- Interesting powers.
- A fantastic soundtrack that amps the action and tragedy equally.
- Lacklustre resolution to the thread on Lelouch’s mother.
- Some nonsense flip-flopping in season 2.
I watched Code Geass by accident. What, I accidentally watched fifty episodes of a show? Yes, more or less. I had acquired several anime from a friend and picked one at random start with, not knowing what any were about. Next thing I knew, it was the end of the next day. Code Geass is exactly my kind of story – anti-hero, small group versus a titan, unforgiving with its characters, and loaded with twists.
We follow Lelouch, an exiled Britannian prince seeking revenge against the Britannian Empire responsible for his mother’s death and crippling of his sister. He resides in Area 11, formerly Japan until Britannia striped the country of its power, resources, and culture. ‘Elevens,’ as the citizens are referred to, live beneath the boots of wealthy Britannians. A mysterious green-haired girl grants Lelouch the power of Geass, enabling mind control through eye contact once per target. Equipped with his newfound power, Lelouch dons the persona of Zero and takes command of the Japanese rebels against Britannia. What follows is a tale of cunning, lies, betrayal, and brutality.
The key, I find, to Code Geass’s success is in its unforgiving nature with the characters. We have a wide cast of characters from every angle of the conflict – rebels, Britannians, students, scientists, citizens rich and poor, foreign powers, etc. – and every single one of them is on the line. People die left and right, including many you expect to go the distance. Furthermore, both allies and enemies are worthy of their roles in the narrative. Lelouch is a smart tactician, and it would have been a dull affair indeed if his opponents were easy to defeat; no, in Code Geass the Britannians bring just as much cunning to the field. In particular, I enjoyed his chess-like battles against half-sister Princess Cornelia and Lelouch’s childhood friend Suzaku, who starts as a sanctimonious prick, one of my most hated character types, but like all great characters in Code Geass, there is more to him than that.
It’s a joy to watch Lelouch try to balance his life as a student, where a girl fancies him and he works on the student council, against his role as rebel leader without revealing his identity or power to anyone – the comic relief comes from school. Normally, I find the premise of high school teens fighting wars and such difficult to buy, but here they sell it by not forgetting the difficulties he would face. More than once, his actions as Zero have dire consequences on his Britannian classmates, which creates some excellent relationship conflict I didn’t expect.
That isn’t to say all is perfect in Code Geass. The strategic plays in battle aren’t as well illustrated as say Death Note (part one) and in the second season, there is some flip-flopping between allegiances akin to Pirates of the Caribbean 3’s nonsense where people switched sides every sneeze. The thread regarding Lelouch’s mother ends so poorly that despite being important to Lelouch, it has little effect on what follows or the ending.
Lastly, as a fan of mechs, I want to touch on their representation here. With studio Sunrise on production, one would expect Gundam-like mecha, but they actually try something different. Here, we have rollerblading, grappling hook wielding mechs with cockpits that jettison when in danger. I liked the urban-focused design in practicality and was a little disappointed when the more powerful mechs enter the scene, pushing too close to Gundam traits.
Code Geass has too many layers and elements for me to discuss in a reasonable review, but it all comes together in an anime I couldn’t stop watching. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. JUST ONE MORE! Even for this review, watching a third time, I meant to finish a few per day while I worked on other reviews, but I ended up completing all episodes in three days. Was I commanded to watch all episodes…? The conflict, the tension keeps on rising, destruction and tragedy every step of the way.
Art – High
CLAMP lends its iconic character art to Code Geass (not as hyper stretched as xxxHOLiC) coupled with what studio Sunrise does best – mechs. Love the costume design, especially for the Britannians. Biggest complaint is with mouths appearing on the side of the face when in profile, which gets rather extreme at times. Also, why are there so many skirt wedgies in season two? Seriously, can’t un-see it anymore.
Sound – Very High
Excellent acting in both languages, though I prefer the English, as Lloyd the scientist, one of my favourite characters, has the wrong voice in Japanese. Watching Code Geass again, I was reminded of how great this soundtrack is – many perfect tracks to enhance the scene. Only OPs and EDs let audio down, not because they are bad, but because they are too cheerful. (Season one, second opening is atrocious, though – didn’t anyone tell her she couldn’t sing?)
Story – Very High
Code Geass manages to craft an intense, strategic plot of a forsaken prince seeking revenge against his father’s empire. A few missteps didn’t hinder my ultimate enjoyment, even if a couple of events were eye narrowing.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Be prepared for sleepless nights once you begin.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)