If the Code Geass fan base was a house party, I would be the one stumbling into the living room at the early hours of the morning, just as the crowd are taking their leave, mumbling something about having a good time before the host gives me a dirty look for being so late. I’ve had the box set sitting on my shelf since June and only during the quiet festive months do I decide to finally take a gander at the fan favourite series that hit its fandom peak back in 2008/9. Being so late to the party, I’ve heard many opinions of Code Geass, and perhaps it’s the hype that has resisted me from taking a gander at this series sooner – why watch something that is bound to be good when I can look at something a bit more obscure? – but here we are with season 1 in Beez’s Anime Legends and we open with our hero Lelouch, a Royal Britannian in hiding after the death of his mother many years ago left him stripped of his Royal heritage and his little sister crippled. Not long after losing everything, his family developed the Knightmare Frames, powerful robots capable of mass destruction, and decided to conquer Japan. After a landslide win, Japan was stripped from its virtue and simply renamed ‘Eleven’ and its people ‘Elevens’. Lelouch and his sister remained in hiding during this dark time, proclaimed dead and lived their lives normally until one day, after a series of misunderstandings; Lelouch is given the power of Geass – the power to compel anyone to do as he commands. With a life-long dream built in his mind to take down the Britannians and form a world where his sister can live safely, he takes his new ability in his stride and begins to put his plan into action.
Watching this series as a long time anime fan, I couldn’t help but find many elements from other series woven into Code Geass; the Knightmare robots are Evangelion/RahXephon inspired, the leading male with a desire to change the world but unable to do so until he’s given an otherworldly power echoes of Light from Death Note, Cecile from the Empire looks like a reject from the Martian Successor Nadesico crew, and so on. In other circumstances I would call it a ‘rip off’ but I don’t get that from Code Geass, neither is it ‘homage’ to the series we all know and love. I think because Code Geass is created in such a way that it taps into the heart of every anime fan, and what we love about the medium, that it reminds us of other successful series that managed to drum up the same emotions.
Code Geass is a break-neck pace show from the get-go; as soon as Lelouch gets his power to control others he doesn’t hesitate to gather his army, go after his family, steal all weaponary necessary, or hesitate to dispose of allies if needed. Lives are lost, love grows on the battle field, political entanglements become involved, some battles are won but the war marches on. Lelouch is a very intelligent man with a strong will to take down his father, and his tactics of gathering the support of the ‘Elevens’ whilst remaining behind a mask to hide his identity is clever yet also taxing. He has numerous people standing in his way whilst trying to play out his part as a normal student and the hero known as ‘Zero’ to the public, unfortunately the two paths occasionally cross. His life-long friend Suzaku works for the army he’s trying to take down, the Geass power he is granted comes with a price, being a student and keeping his grades up is tricky when trying to plan battle tactics and his enemy will always be his blood family, and cutting ties to those who he used to love and grew up with will always be a tough obstacle to conquer. It’s not hard to get behind Lelouch’s cause or feel sympathetic for him when you see the moments when he’s about to lose it and breakdown due to the enormous pressure on him. It’s also fun watching him sweat sometimes as new challenges come his way and see how he works his way out of them, using chess of his main point of reference. In some instances he manages to escape due to annoying plot conveniences and his smug face can be a bit tiring to look at during the first few episodes when he seems untouchable, still he’s a strong lead.
The background and overall story of the series can get quite complicated; we get Lelouch’s Royal status and his reasons for wanting revenge but his enormous family can be hard to keep track of at times. This also expands into the side characters as the military, the Black Knights and the student body seems to expand with every passing episode, and not all of the cast are complete castaways. A lot of them play parts in the overall plot or at least provide sub-plots to build on the emotion and drama as the episodes roll on. The endless army members, the growing support for Lelouch’s alter ego Zero and the eventual growing friendships/relationships are often just as vigorous in pacing as the main story, to the point that some introductions and proclamations of love can feel rushed, but Code Geass isn’t a show to let you think about it too much. There’s always something going on onscreen that the moment that you start to ask a question on what’s happening it’s already moved onto the next plot point. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama to the point you forget what your original question was but the small cracks do appear for some parts of the story that you’re not entirely invested in. C.C. for example shows up miraculously after a supposed ‘death’ in episode one and seems to wander around Lelouch’s home in a bad temper for the rest of the series until she decides to let Lelouch in on something. Sadly she’s not as charming as Ryuk from Death Note where his observations and quirks made him fascinating to watch, C.C. just comes across as Lelouch’s constantly bad tempered girlfriend. Also the power of the Geass seems to become more of a ‘after thought’ towards the latter half of the series; we have the episodes near the beginning detailing the limits and control of the Geass, then it’s back-story of where it came from becomes fuzzy towards the mid-arc of the story with the introduction of another Geass user, and despite its hints of further expanding the conception, its instead gets pushed aside until it suddenly becomes relevant again during the very explosive final episodes of season 1.
The bigger plot twists maybe handled poorly by deux ex machina, and the melodrama is very noticeable with big bold speeches from every character whether they’re main cast or not, but Code Geass is still an enjoyable slice of anime. Beneath its intrepid script, notorious lead, loud explosions and big story lies good ideas, well constructed battles, a large but strong cast and addictive pacing throughout. It’s also one of the rare examples of a series that very much warrants it’s 25 episode run with little to no filler.
I was actually surprised to find out that CLAMP provided the character designs for Code Geass because the designs don’t immediately give themselves away as such. The female characters posing in cutesy ways, waving hair in the wind and the long skinny legs reminiscing xxxholic make you think “that’s CLAMP” but the actual designs themselves don’t have the signature eyes, round faces or soft colour palette. Instead the art is dynamic, sharp and fluid with no obvious ‘pretty boys’ in sight.
The music is one of the weakest aspects of the series; its slower numbers with the occasionally mellow ‘mmm bop’ vocals in the background were some of the better tracks but the rest of the score, although fitting for the vigorous pace, was just forgettable. The opening and ending themes did nothing to win me over either; first opening theme ‘Colors’ is an upbeat J-rock tune that didn’t struck a chord with me at first but I find myself missing it a lot once the 2nd opening ‘Kaidoku Funō’ made my ears bleed with its screechy vocals. The opening for the last 2 epic episodes, the techno-heavy track “Hitomi no Tsubasa”, was fitting for the mood and much more enjoyable than the track before it. The melody to the 1st ending theme is a complete copy of Rozen Maiden’s theme ‘Kinjirareta Asobi’, it’s follow up is a slower number “Mosaic Kakera” that was easy on the ears but still passable.
Each disc of the 6 DVD set comes with a healthy set of extras; clean openings and closings of course with trailers for other Beez property plus some nice commentary. My favourite extra would have to be the picture dramas; small episodes no longer than 5 minutes long often providing some comedy lacking in the series or expanding on the backgrounds for some of the minor characters of the piece. The episodes are presented as stills with English voice acting; overall they’re put together very well and slow down the tone and pace considerably compared to the series, making them a much more relaxing watch to wrap up each disc.
Code Geass is a series I sort of watched in a haze; everything zoomed past me so fast that at the end of all I found it hard to put how I felt about it into words. It certainly has the entertainment factor down to the ‘T’ and the production team behind it are obviously very experienced in this type of show. It has the quality in animation and story to claim it’s fame as being one of the best, even if it’s not perfect. It’s an addictive anime that has more energy levels and spirit than most series you’ll see on the market and that in itself makes it worth at least a watch, just be prepared for the sudden rush to leap onto the internet to purchase the second season as soon as you’re done with the last disc.