Review: Code Geass, Hangyaku no Lelouch


It’s time for another big hitter: Code Geass. Part of me has been trying to spread apart shows that have such a big reputation, if only because I know there are plenty of shows out there that I’ll watch that won’t be half as good. Going into watching Code Geass, I knew it was good (although I’m not sure how much of that was because of the first or second season): I’ve heard it described as a masterpiece by more than one person. Not a term thrown around lightly here. That aside, it has also been said that everyone’s taste in anime is awful, so what was I to expect, I might hate the show.

(Note: This review is for season 1 only, season 2 will arrive… soon).

Background:

The setting for Code Geass is an oppressed, imperially controlled Japan, known officially in the show as Area 11. The world is almost exclusively controlled by three huge empires: The EU, The Chinese Federation and Britannia. At the beginning of the show there is no doubt that Britannia is going to be the enemy throughout. Our main character is Lelouch, once ninth in line to the throne of Britannia, now cast out living in exile in Area 11 with his crippled, blinded sister, Nunnally. Our story kicks off as Lelouch gains the power of Geass from a mysterious girl (C.C or C 2), which allows him to command others to do what he wants (only once, mind). He then sets off with the goal of  bringing down Britannia, restoring Japan and creating a generally better world for Nunnally.

Plot:

It’s a complicated story. I’m not even going to try and sum up the whole plot of Code Geass in a review because it would probably take about 1000 words by itself. Essentially, this is what happens.

With his new power, Lelouch forms the Black Knights a group of freedom fighters/terrorists which turn out to be largely successful. To hide his identity from Britannia, Lelouch dons a mask and gives himself the name of Zero. Zero’s ability to get results leads to influence and several important Britannia’s join his cause and he also gains the support of many of the Japanese people. On the flip side, Lelouch’s childhood friend Suzaku (unknown to Lelouch), is fighting for Britannia in order to justify the murder of his father (the old Japanese Prime Minister) at the time of the invasion (or something like that).

Things escalate a lot (quite quickly it has to be said), and the Black Knights and many of the Japanese freedom groups pin down the Britannian forces in Tokyo and are the cusp of victory, but are defeated when Zero leaves the battle. His identity is revealed to Suzaku who (it would seem), shoots him. But there is a second season, so I’m guessing he’s alright.

There are a lot of details left out there, but as I said, if I tried to cover everything I think we’d be here for a while.

Nunnally. The reason Lelouch does everything he does. Or is she?
Nunnally. The reason Lelouch does everything he does. Or is she?

Character Development:

Code Geass is a show that is very MC focused. Lelouch makes the show. Sure, there are some well developed concepts, but without Lelouch, we’d be looking at a totally different type of show. What we see from Lelouch is a real conflict in his motives. I’m not going to lie, it took me 7 or 8 episodes to really start to warm to him. Yes, we get that he’s obscenely clever, but actually that’s no excuse to be arrogant all of the time. Which he is, without fail. That said, you’ve really got to admire the ambition the writers had trying to maintain a character like him in a show. The multiple aspects of his character could have easily got confused and impossible to follow, but they don’t and by the end you really feel for Lelouch and one of the causes he’s aiming for (the trick is just deciding what he’s actually trying to achieve.)

C.C. helps Lelouch out a lot. Like a lot.
C.C. helps Lelouch out a lot. Like a lot.

My previous point aside, he isn’t the only significant character. Lelouch’s female sidekick C.C, is somewhat of an enigma throughout the show, and even towards the end we are only given glimpses into her background. However, her unwitting desire to help Lelouch as well as the ability of rapid healing makes her interesting throughout. Suzaku is obviously also important to the story. If you want him to be, he can quite easily be seen as the real hero of the show, though his seemingly mindless following of Britannian order’s leads me to think otherwise.

Sound, artwork and animation:

I’ll start with what I didn’t like. The artwork, though clearly very skillful, wasn’t really that appealing to me. The mechas seemed pretty ordinary and the characters designs were all a little bit much. I mean, come on, everyone has impossibly long legs.

That aside, the animation is pretty good, the action scenes are one of the reasons to watch the show, with no one battle feeling repetitive, while preventing a needless amount of powers creeping in to the abilities of the machines.

Of the three I group together here, the sound was by far the best. The openings and endings were excellent (even if the first opening is a little trippy). There are some really good pieces of backing music (one of which actually gains the spot of best soundtrack), that really fit the feeling of the show and the personalities of the characters.

Favourite Episode:

Episode 14: Geass vs Geass

I wasn’t all that sure which episode to go for given that there are so many that could be chosen just because of the battle scenes. So, I went for one that didn’t have mechas in at as key factor. This was the episode where I really started to connect to Lelouch. Shirley is collateral damage in the story, but here we see Lelouch really do his best for her interests. For once I felt that Lelouch really wasn’t putting Lelouch first: something he was all too guilty of in early episodes.

This is Zero. Or Lelouch. Depends who you know.
This is Zero. Or Lelouch. Depends who you know.

Best piece of music:

In a change from tradition, this track doesn’t have a video. There is one on YouTube but it’s been blocked because of copyright infringement, so I’ll drop a soundcloud link instead.

From the OST, track 17, Occupied Thinking. There are a lot of good tracks I could have chosen, but I went for this one because this is the sound I associate with Lelouch and Lelouch is what Code Geass is all about. The track just oozes our MC’s intelligence and it fits the show perfectly.

Overall:

I liked Code Geass. I liked it a lot actually, but I’ll tell you what, it wasn’t a masterpiece. In moments it was there, but to call the whole thing a masterpiece, in my eyes, is a bit extreme. It takes a long time to start believing in Lelouch and up until that point I can’t say I liked him at all. The show was so focused upon it’s main character, without any of the character’s knowing it, confused the story in places. That said, the animation and the soundtrack in particular are stunning. For the second half Lelouch is the character you wanted him to be from the beginning and for that, I’d more than happily recommend the show, even if I’m not jumping on the brilliance bandwagon.

Code Geass R1

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