[Anime Review]: Code Geass

Code Geass2

Director: Goro Taniguchi

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi

Animation Studios: Sunrise

Version Watched: Subbed

There are big-name anime, and then there are anime that long-time fans will always be sure to recommend. Code Geass tends to fall into both categories and has definitely earned a place on my own list of recommendations. It’s exciting, it knows just how to play its cards to keep you on the edge of your seat and it will constantly force you to review your concept of who is right and who is wrong in the series of events that take place. Having said that, however, the show has a long list of negative points to go along with all of its good ones and it would be remiss of me not to discuss them.

Area Eleven, formerly Japan, is just one of the many nations now under the control of the Holy Britannian Empire. Its citizens reduced to Elevens as Britannians infest their new territory, Japan is a mere shadow of what it used to be. Lelouch vi Britannia, a student at Ashford Academy and noble in hiding, is granted the power of Geass during an Empire-ordered purge of Elevens. The ability to command anyone he makes eye contact with to do whatever he desires. The ability to rebel against the nation that spurned him and his sister, against his father, the Emperor. From student to strategic commander of Japan’s rebellion, Lelouch will have his revenge.

CodeGeass

I’m going to be honest here: I can’t possibly convey everything that makes up Code Geass in a single paragraph. It has Death Note style secret identities, adrenaline-infused mech battles (not so much Death Note style), epic mind games and a whole bunch more. Because I’m going to be complaining for a large portion of this review I want to assure you right now that Code Geass is worth your time. It’s a show that knows how to leave you needing more at the end of each episode, desperate to discover what’s going to happen next. Humour, action and intrigue blend together wonderfully in every scene in a way that gets you involved in the story and makes you care about the characters and what happens to them. It’s almost perfect. Almost.

I’ve already made a comparison to Death Note, and it’s a comparison that needs to be made because Code Geass points the same spotlight on morality and the ability to out-think one’s opponents in spectacular displays of wits while at the same time hiding your identity from them. Unfortunately this similarity is both a strength and a weakness in this case. The show tries to make you think about the concept of right or wrong by presenting you with two main characters that seem to inhabit opposite areas of the moral spectrum that are nonetheless firmly in the grey zone, but falls down in this area because the supposed “good” character chooses to defend what is essentially a tyrannical multinational dictatorship. All of the situations set up by the series to prompt moral thought  are upstaged by this fact (in my opinion), depriving the plot of the ethical conflict it tries to portray and causing a lot of scenes centered around that concept to fall flat.

Code Geass

The second major draw of Code Geass, the way a mere high school student uses his wits to defeat and manipulate much stronger opponents, has similar holes. It works and works well for the earlier portion of the story, injecting huge bursts of satisfaction into the viewer as complex plots are finally unveiled, but fizzles out when the stakes get larger. Rather than tactical superiority deciding the majority of battles, it almost always comes down to who has the bigger gun. Particular mechs and their pilots always triumph over others and it robs the plan of the day of any impact it might have had. It gets to the point where you can predict who will win simply by checking which pilots are present at any skirmish, regardless of whoever might be pulling strings from behind the scenes. It doesn’t ruin your enjoyment of the series, however, so much as it overshadows the more complicated plotlines Code Geass attempts to hook you with.

When you include supernatural powers, such as Geass, in your story there’s always a perceived need to explain it. Personally I would have preferred they hadn’t, as a mildly niggling question like “wait, but where did that power come from in the first place?” would have been leaps and bounds better than Code Geass’ attempts to integrate the supernatural into their story. There’s a relatively minor thread of plot winding its way through the series related to the Geass power, as well as some other things, that isn’t relevant for the majority of its events but nevertheless manages to become a major focus for one or two episodes near its conclusion. When you consider all of the things I’ve mentioned as major features of the story, you can see that this aspect just doesn’t fit in with everything else and ends up as a mere distraction as well as an unsatisfactory explanation for several other plot points. What may even be worse is that immediately after those episodes many of those points cease to be relevant, making me question why they were there at all. It’s hard to explain, but I feel that the parts of the show I’m talking about are used as excuses to allow the rest of the plot to progress, rather than being important in and of themselves.

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To round off my marathon of complaints, I need to say that I did not enjoy Code Geass’ final episodes. The following is merely my opinion, as opposed to objective criticism, but after 50 episodes you get to know characters quite well and I don’t think the actions taken at the end of the series reflect the way those characters should have acted. It was pointed out to me by Lazarinth that the final scenes are an epic and fitting conclusion, and I have to agree, but the events leading up to them and the logic behind them are laughable at best when you take into account what has gone before. When a character that has previously focussed on cold, hard logic and intellect makes a decision based on ideals and ignores more sensible alternatives, something has gone wrong.

Alright, I’ve rambled enough, so I’ll condense everything else you need to know. The characters are done well. They each have their own agendas and feel like real people, including Nina, who is now officially Worst Girl 21st Century. The visuals, especially the character designs, can take a little while to get used to but still look great. I mean, nothing beats Lelouch’s expressions of maniacal glee or intense anger. As usual I have no complaints about the soundtrack or voice acting.

Summary – Despite all of my criticisms, Code Geass is a must-watch. Exciting like few anime manage to be, it will play with your emotions and thoughts alike. It has major issues in my eyes but these still did not prevent me from loving the series and chances are that you won’t pick holes like I have. Code Geass is often called a classic, and it deserves that title.

 Score – 9.5/10 – Great

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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26 Responses to [Anime Review]: Code Geass

  1. Lazarinth says:

    I find that a good way to test a climax’s validity is if you can click on a few random episodes to see if you can remember at least one important part in it. After failing to do this with Code Geass I concluded that the 5-10 episodes leading up to the ending (episode 50:Re;) was such a cluster-bomb of crammed in plot that must I concede to your notion that the ending was not the best, perhaps laughable to use your terms.

    • Silvachief says:

      I think they got the feeling of the conclusion right, if not the conclusion itself. I think your method is a good one, though I like to looked at how connected to the rest of the earlier story the ending is. If there’s a discrepancy there then there’s probably something wrong. Still, I think we can both agree that Code Geass is worth watching regardless.

      • Lazarinth says:

        What, you think just because it’s in both of our top fives, in the top tens of both Anime Encyclopedia and My Anime List for TV Series and almost any other best anime weblist worth a damn, has won multiple awards and is very highly acclaimed by anime critics, you’d think that I’d agree to that statement?
        Hmm, that question kind of answers itself doesn’t it. XD

  2. mochirochi says:

    I think I watched this till episode 13 before dropping it. I heard it gets really crazy though and everyone keeps saying that it’s amazing, so maybe I’ll go back and watch it. Good review by the way. It’s given me some things to think about.

    • Silvachief says:

      Thanks for the comment =)

      Code Geass undergoes a number of changes as it progresses, so it may be that the style of the later episodes suits your tastes more than the earlier ones. If you’re still not enjoying it by the time you get to the half way point though you’re probably justified in dropping it again.

  3. Lambda says:

    “the supposed “good” character chooses to defend what is essentially a tyrannical multinational dictatorship.”
    I’m assuming you’re talking about Suzaku here… but I didn’t think he wanted to keep the dictatorship, he wanted to change it from the inside…? That’s part of the reason he and Euphie got along so well. He didn’t want to completely dismantle countries in order to stop them from being directly under Brtiannia. Like Lelouch wanted an America way of breaking off but Suzaku was holding out for a Canada way or something…

    Code Geass is really fun. I enjoyed it a looooooot. Jun Fukuyama’s performance as Lelouch is actually one of my favourite bits of voice acting – it’s so over-the-top but so great… It’s really hot, too (he uses the same voice as Maou, so despite me previously saying that voices don’t really matter, I’d never skip a Maou line’s voice~).

    • Silvachief says:

      I’m a little unfair to Suzaku because, you’re right, he wanted to change Britannia within the bounds of the law. In my opinion, however, there’s a difference between trying to change something from the inside and defending every evil action it takes. He doesn’t just try to make Britannia a better place, he backs up everything they do by actively preventing anyone from opposing them. His heart’s in the right place but I couldn’t see him as the “good” character because of his actions.

      The fact that I have complaints like that is because that’s all I could find in Code Geass to complain about. It’s a fantastic experience the whole way through, though I can’t comment on how hot Lelouch’s voice is =P

  4. “Nina, who is now officially Worst Girl 21st Century”

    Couldn’t. Agree. More.

  5. fire says:

    Finally started CG last weekend, and finished it this week. What a ride. I think Code Geass was better than R2 – there was far more tension and much better pacing in the first season compared to the second.

    Three general comments:

    1) Code Geass is a supreme thrill. It has to be felt to be understood, as I’m sure anyone who has watched CG will agree. From the battle of wits to the mecha, from the terrorism to the pitched battles, from rebellion to world spanning conspiracies, CG is utterly unmatched in that adrenaline high – only one manga (Death Note) and one VN (GSM) match CG in this regard, but even these titans are somewhat more niche in that the thrill they provide come solely from battles of wit – as opposed to CG’s fantastic inclusion of mecha.

    2) CG has some utterly compelling characters. Undoubtedly, the whole story is carried by Lelouch and Suzaku. The former is so utterly brilliant and ruthless and motivated – while also terribly human and vulnerable. I liked how Lelouch was often shown up – he gets caught off-guard, he loses his composure, and never does he pull off the kind of bullshit predictions that Light was wont to do. Neither is Lelouch defined by a single motivation – he has all the complexities of a real person, and is pulled between his competing desires – overthrowing Britannia, liberating Japan, revenge on the Emperor, protecting his sister, protecting his friends.

    On Suzaku – I actually liked him a lot. He is flawed and hypocritical but all too human and relatable for that. Nothing he does felt to me contrived – he is every bit as complex as real humans are – experiencing love and hate, having doubts and suspicions, capable of both enormous courage and utter foolishness. He has some definite motivations (do the best for Japan and those who cannot protect themselves) but has no clear idea how to do it (do his duty as a soldier? defeat Zero? join Zero? conquer the world? sic semper tyrannus?) – which is enormously understandable.

    C.C. was comparatively disappointing, but even so she’s an interesting character – at turns mysterious, funny and loveable, while having distinct motivations, and always having great chemistry with Lelouch.

    3) What does CG say? It says a lot of things. How we often have to choose between protecting what we love and satisfying our hatred. How justice and helping the weak is worthwhile, no matter how futile it all looks. How loyalty is good, but only up to a point, How there is a choice between the ruthless and the honourable, and how it’s often not clear which is better. How even our enemies have their own, often good, motivations, and aren’t utter monsters simply siting there to be destroyed.

    There are flaws, of course. Fuck the whole supernatural part of the plot. Parts of C2 felt rushed as well. And of course, the big one – sometimes Lelouch’s hamming it up seemed ludicrous, and simply begging for someone to shoot him in the head.

    That said, CG is a legend for a reason – utterly excellent, whatever its minute flaws.

    P.S. On Lelouch’s final gambit – it’s strongly suggested that he survived, meaning that the gambit wasn’t as costly or retarded as it seemed. The evidence that he survived: 1) He killed Charles, and should have obtained the Emperor’s Code, making him immortal. 2) In the final cart scene, C.C. is talking to Lelouch, and it’s strongly implied that she’s not just reminiscing, but rather directing her words to the cart driver, whose profile fits Lelouch’s. 3) C.C.’s entire motivation was to avoid eternal loneliness – this didn’t come up at all after the Code arc, and at the end she didn’t seem to upset about being alone for all eternity – which would make sense if she didn’t just lose her love, but rther would have him for company for the rest of time.

    • Silvachief says:

      I agree with you on that. I also preferred the first season.

      1. Agreed on all counts. Code Geass captures its viewers and forces them to care about what’s going on and thirst for what’s going to happen next. Very few other shows manage to really get blood pumping like that.

      2. Look, man, if you write down a whole bunch of things I agree with, how am I meant to reply? XD I didn’t expand on it in the review but the characters’ believability is a major asset to Code Geass. Even if I didn’t like a character or felt that their actions didn’t make for the best outcomes in terms of what the show was trying to do, they made sense in the context of that character. My issue with Suzaku wasn’t that he wasn’t human enough so much as it was that his actions didn’t fit the morally good / morally bad conflict that it seemed like CG was trying to play. In any case, it’s a minor complaint among many praises.

      I certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone that told me C.C needed more screen time. She’s a major character but never seems to do anything much and that’s a shame. Part of that probably stems from the overall weakness of the supernatural side of the plot.

      3. CG has so many themes and the best thing about them is that they don’t run the show, which is a complaint I make every now and then for other series. They’re portrayed in the context of the plot and are driven by it, and that’s fantastic.

      I did realize that Lelouch had probably survived. I guess it was the way the whole finale was handled that rubbed me the wrong way; it wasn’t just that last portion that I took issue with. Things like fleeing when the Black Knights turn against him rather than attempting to explain anything, the way he handled his reunion with Nunnally and of course that supernatural BS. The fact that I still love CG despite those complaints is a testament to how wonderful it is.

      • fire says:

        On Suzaku – but doesn’t his own moral grayness fit in with Code Geass’s general point on morality? How following the rules may not necessarily lead to the greater good? I also think you do Suzaku a disservice – he understand that he’s serving a rather tyrannical empire, but what he wants to do is change it from within – he thinks (and for pretty good reasons) terrorism isn’t going to change a thing, except perhaps bring the Britannian hammer down on Japan even harder. In fact, his way (and Euphemia’s) was about to work, until Lelouch fucked up in the most epic way possible. My god, that scene…

        On the ending – I definitely agree with you; that’s why, in almost every aspect, I think Rebellion is superior to R2. The former would be a 9.3 for me; the latter a 9.

        On another note – have you tried Shinsekai Yori? It’s fantastic stuff – like with Comyu and GSM, it starts off incredibly, with impeccable pacing. Slows down towards the middle, and is on the whole a very ambitious VN, making some really powerful statements about society – one of the aspects about CG that was less than ideal, I think (lol@lelouch’s speeches on fighting evil).

        • Silvachief says:

          I suppose I fell into the trap of seeing a “Suzaku good, Lelouch bad” sort of thing going on. If you instead look at CG as exploring moral grey areas then it makes a little more sense. While watching I couldn’t help but feel that all Suzaku accomplished was to get in Lelouch’s way (which was the point, in a way). Although you’re right in saying his “way” was about to succeed (dat scene), I would say that Suzaku’s role in actually accomplishing that was negligible (and as long as the current Emperor was in power things weren’t going to change outside of Japan anyway). I guess I didn’t like the portrayal of Suzaku as righteous and holier-than-thou when he was so ineffectual overall (well, in everything except actual battles). I may be stuck on this viewpoint with no hope of getting out >.<

          Try as I might, I can't find a VN called Shinsekai Yori (though I know of the anime). Perhaps you have the wrong name?

      • almostNEET says:

        um, I agree on what your views regarding the supernatural and his reunion with Nunnaly(which was only done to increase his tragedy-esque life) but he had a good reason for not trying to explain himself to the Black Knights. if you recall, this happens right after the Tokyo tragedy, which left him emotionally devastated and when he sees Schneider with them he sees an easy exit from the pain and opts to take it(he had basically given up on life) and then also he’s kidnapped.
        P.S.
        I love maniacal Lelouch too. Jun-san you rock!!!

        • Silvachief says:

          Given how long it’s been since I watched Code Geass i’ll have to take your word for it. I certainly remember Lelouch having been mentally beaten-down at one point, so that makes sense.
          Lelouch is good, but Umineko’s Beatrice still takes the cake for voice acting for me ^_^

  6. fire says:

    Also just finished Anohana – very understated, but also very well done, especially when it came to characterization. You could feel the characters’ embarrassment, their love, their sadness and despair.

  7. Kai says:

    I like how you compare Death Note and Code Geass and I can certainly see the similarities, especially Lelouch and Light. Some differences I can see though is that for Lelouch, despite his ruthlessness and mercilessness, there is still some level of humanity within him-it allows the viewers to somehow relate to him. Intereresting, I also have very different emotions for these characters toward the end of the series (we all know what happen to these two at the end). In a bittersweet sort of way, I actually felt depressed for Lelouch, yet understood it actually makes sense. As for Light, I actually didn’t feel anything. I think at some point watching Death Note, I begun to treat Light as something inhumane, a monster which needs to be vanquished. Thus, the ending of Death Note also makes sense, as if it is a natural law of the world, but because of that, I couldn’t feel much for him.

    The inclusion of mecha in a anime which feature a battle of wits is an interesting idea. And the concept of Geass is a great element which reinforces the psychological thrills, as if the battle of wits with mecha isn’t already thrilling enough. It is just like a battle of chess with robots, lol. I’m not normally a mecha fan, but when there are other positive elements like these, it’s hard not to like it.

    Also, Jun Fukuyama is ftw.

    • Silvachief says:

      If you believe Light’s rambling about a better world you could maybe kinda sorta say there’s a human side to hi-
      Yeah, I can’t argue that and win. Lelouch was a great deal more human and I agree that that allows the audience to connect with him a bit more. Light is far more casual about human life and his methods and lack of value for human life make him harder to care for. I wouldn’t say I ever thought of Light as a monster, though I certainly supported Lelouch a great deal more than him.

      I think the mecha do a good job of making things exciting but at the same time, as I say in the review, they render a lot of Lelouch’s scheming impotent because certain pilots always win. While i’m also not a mecha fan, I did enjoy that aspect in both Code Geass and Muv-Luv.

      ❤ Lelouch's voice.

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