Anime analysis & review: Code Geass, Lelouch of the Rebellion
Picture yourself as a young lad in an elite school for aristocrats. You are living in alternative timeline where the world is ruled by three superpowers, namely the Holy Britannian Empire, the European Union and the Chinese Federation. You happened to be a former prince of the Holy Britannian Empire, the largest of the three superpowers, but for reasons you could not fathom, your beloved mother died in a brutal assassination and as a result, your sister suffered severe mental and physical torment as well. You questioned your father about it, but he seemed apathetic. Out of your utter annoyance, you renounced your princely status and ended up being exiled to a faraway land with your now disabled sister. You vow to take down your father and his empire, and one unexpected day your long-awaited chance comes, as a woman appears and grants you a mysterious power that allows you to command anyone into absolute submission…
Thus was the life of Lelouch Lamperouge, formerly Prince Lelouch vi Britannia, the main protagonist of the award-winning anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion.
“If strength is justice, then is powerlessness a crime?”
Central to this question is the core of Code Geass’ plot. The story begins with the backdrop of a world largely subdued politically, if not geographically, by the Holy Britannian Empire under the tyrannical rule of King Charles zi Britannia. He rules with an iron scepter, consolidating his nation and suppressing dissension, justifying his actions on the argument that mankind is born unequal, and that his empire seeks to rectify this and build a better future for the human race. Nonetheless, his justification serves nothing but to paint a heroic, utopic picture of his empire when, in actual fact, he despises the weak and exalts no one but himself as the strongest, as evident from his treatment towards the young, insignificant Lelouch and his ultimate aim of challenging “God,” the collective unconsciousness of humanity.
Lelouch, in the form of the symbolic Zero, plays a further role in expounding on this question. Throughout the story, Lelouch, with the “Power of Kings” (i.e. the Geass), claims to use his power and influence to uphold justice and fight for the weak and powerless in his father’s empire, particularly in Area 11 (Japan). His seemingly righteous cause, masking his true intention to take revenge on his father and to create a better world for his sister Nunally, ends up bringing much suffering and even bloody deaths to countless helpless Elevens (Japanese) as well as Britannians, some of whom are personally related to him. The blood of innocent lives upon his hands in the name of sacrifice for “justice,” numerous innocents, powerless in the face of war and dissension, die as a result of his “crimes” in the process of fulfilling his personal ambitions.
Code Geass also raises numerous ethical questions and dilemmas in its plot. One of the most striking of these comes in the form of a question Lelouch asks, “Suppose there is an evil that justice cannot bring down. What would you do? Would you taint your hands with evil to destroy evil? Or would you carry out your own justice and succumb to that evil?” To rephrase this, “Is it justifiable to oppose evil with evil?” Revolving around this question, we see two of the main characters, Lelouch and Suzaku, locking horns with each other, with the former saying “yes” without winking an eye and the latter giving an indirect “no”, stating that he prefers to change evil from within itself. As a result, the both of them, despite being close childhood friends, take their separate ways, with the former choosing to openly defy the Britannian Empire, while the latter preferring to join the Empire, rise up in its ranks and effect change from within.
The story also presents several incidences, such as the Zero Requiem and the assassination of Princess Euphemia, whereby questions are raised regarding the justifications behind such actions, and whether there were any alternative methods or decisions that could have been considered at all. Euphemia’s death, for instance, brings up the matter as to whether she died a necessary death for a sin she evidently did not commit under her own free will. As for Lelouch’s part in her death, the question also comes to mind regarding what form of retribution, if any, is befitting of him for depriving not only an empire of a capable, diplomatic and peacemaking leader, but also a lover of his cheerful partner.
Comments on the anime
Code Geass is indeed a must-watch for any anime fan. When I first watched it, I was undoubtedly taken aback by the depth of its story and the way in which it juggles suspense, conflicts and internal struggles in a highly engaging manner. The anime starts off with an overwhelming blast, whereby from the first episode itself viewers are fed with questions after questions and suspense after suspense right up to the conclusion of the second season. The plot is crafted in such a way that at the end of almost every episode, viewers are left asking questions about the characters’ pasts or possible future plans. The plot is filled with dynamism, with twists and turns coming in just at the right times to alter the entire subsequent course of the storyline. And amidst all those seriousness of the conflicts and wars, the writers of the anime also managed to slot in sparse moments of lightheartedness in the form of school festivals and whacky student council members classical of Japanese animation.
One thing I found amusing about Code Geass is the way in which the political powers in the story are deliberately portrayed to reflect the realities of our world. It must be more than a coincidence, in my opinion, that the writers decided to portray the Holy Britannian Empire (representing Great Britain in our world) in the exact spot where the United States lies on the world map, reflecting the fact that both Great Britain and the United States are two major superpowers in the history of mankind. Additionally, the political and economic might of the European Union and China are also illustrated in the anime, with the former conquering most of Africa and the Middle East, and the latter extending its influence over most of Asia including India in the story.
Overall, Code Geass is a masterpiece in its own right, well deserving of its Tokyo Anime Awards and Animation Kobe Awards. Its widespread popularity in Japan and throughout the global anime community is no wonder, for it appeals to a wide fanbase, be they general fans with no particular sub-genre preferences, mecha fans, bishonen-yaoi fans or even ecchi fans. A good plot, with a blasting beginning, a mouthwatering progression of events, suspense-packed climaxes and twists, and a satisfying resolution, is what characterizes the entire series. Questions about the main characters’ pasts and motivations are satisfactorily answered in the end, although ethical questions are left for the interpretation of its viewers. Its artwork of characters with long limbs and slender figures, typical of CLAMP’s style like what you would see in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle or xxxHolic, is also fairly passable. Above all, the anime left me with a million-dollar question, “Would things have been better if the power of Geass did not exist at all?”
My only complaint is the anime’s selection and quality of some of its theme songs.