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.
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.
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.
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