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Code Geass : Lelouch of the Rebellion Season 1 - THE REVIEW
Code Geass is an unexpected gem of a TV series which came out of nowhere and radically changed how I thought about the world.....and also Japanese Animation (Anime).
Everyone knows what it's like to be recommended by a friend to 'watch this' or 'have a look at that'. A friend of mine advised me to have a look at anime so after looking for a series aimed at mature teens and adults, I found Code Geass.........wow.
Set in an alternate history, where The Holy Britannian Empire has become an imperial superpower in control of 1/3 of the world's land, Code Geass is the story of Lulouch ,an exiled and presumed dead Britannian Prince, who leads a normal high school life in occupied Japan (now known as Area 11). This is until he receives the supernatural power of Geass which allows him to command people to unconditionally do his bidding for one time only. From here, the story focuses on his secret alias Zero. Zero is the leader of a terrorist uprising against the tyrannical Britiannian Empire. Furthermore, he is reunited with his childhood friend Suzaku, a Japanese boy turned honorary Britannian soldier. These two friends protect each others deep and dangerous pasts whilst unbeknown to them, come into conflict as terrorist vs. soldier.
Without going into too much detail, the series explores nationality, morality, ends vs. means, freedom fighter vs. terrorist, strength, conflict and peace, and personae.*
It is difficult to assign a Western genre to this series. Each few of episodes are closely linked to the past and focus on a different aspect - high school drama, political rivalries, ideology, the supernatural powers of Geass, war and revolution. These underlying issues give a certain weight and interest to each set piece and event.
Take the main bulk of the story. You would suspect that in a story in which the protagonist leads a rebellion against a tyrannical state, the viewer would side instinctively with the rebels. To the show's credit, it takes a more realistic (and overall more interesting) approach. No matter the good intentions behind the rebels campaign, they are, in the end, terrorists. Their plight to 'free Japan' results in death, pain and murder. Admittedly the Britainnian forces are considerably more 'evil' with their slaughtering of the innocent and elitist behaviour towards '11's' (Britannian slang towards ex-Japanese people). However, the question is raised, is it better to change a totalitarian state with violence and revolution (Zero's forces) or to accept them and gradually change them from the inside (Suzaku). Suzaku is portrayed as the white knight, a pure being, and yet he sides with the totalitarian state. Lulouch is in the grey area. He is as violent and murderous as his opponents and yet his evil aims for revenge against the imperial family for murdering his mother are juxtaposed against his human desire to protect his blind and crippled sister (the only family he has). This makes for some very intriguing TV.
As the series matures, the characters are explored and the consequences of each action, each battle, become even more important and morally ambiguous. In the opening episodes, I originally questioned whether this could be described as an anime aimed at mature older viewers. Besides the blood, it did not seem as though it was that a mature series - I considered turning it off. This was my main criticism - the weak start. However, I expect it was intentional. Let lush visuals and hints at a bigger picture draw in viewers and then allow the depth to grow from there. Furthermore, instantly delving into deep ideological issues may well have put people off and impact of them may have been dulled.
As for the combat, it is set in 2017 but futuristic sci-fi-esque elements run through the whole series. Mechs (essentially human piloted robots) were used by the Britannian's against the Japanese and remain the main way of dealing with conflict. As soon as I saw mech's in the opening few seconds, I became instantly sceptical - the Transformers films show just how dull robots hitting each other can be. How wrong I was - Michael Bay could learn a thing or two from this. They mech's aren't introduced until you feel an emotional bond, strong enough, that you actually care. Furthermore, down to the moral issues being addressed, what the battle represents is something more than living or dying. Down to this, even to a viewer who is ignoring the important allusions to clashes of ideology, the battles feel real and intense. Furthermore, each mech is individual. Lulouch and Suzaku's class mate Kallen is another Britannian fighting for Zero (whose role as a terrorist/rebel only the viewer knows) has a unique and personified mech whilst Suzaku has a white and powerful one named 'Lancelot (presumably down to his knightly honour). Along side the visuals and choreography, this all allows for some pretty impressive army vs. army battles. A personal favourite is one major battle in the middle of the season. I wont go into much detail but Zero's strategy is pitted against strong opposition and the outcomes, battles and techniques, really got to me. Think chess meets a war film...with mechs.
As for the content, this would be rate 15 in the UK. Simples. It has nudity but not in a sexualised manner, swearing, murder and war. Some people have said Japanese anime is misogynistic but this series is different. There are typically weak stereotypical girls, but there are equally stereotypical and weak boys. Furthermore, the series doesn't seem to treat men or women differently. There are equally as many female and male commanders in the rebel forces and Britannian army and neither seems to be treated any different. from the other.
I would also like to add that at some point during this 25 episode series, I was surprised to hear myself gasp when an unspecified secondary or background character you'd initially dismiss, gets shot. Usually there would be little response to that but thinking back, it was set up well. Throughout the series you grow attached to much of the cast, even the Britannians. It just goes to show that everyone is human, even the terrorist, the solider or the imperial commander...apart from the ultimate bad guy, he's just evil.
* Quote & image from http://www.squidoo.com/animeforgrownups
^ Source - http://codegeass.wikia.com/wiki/Battle_of_Narita
In conclusion, watch Code Geass and give it a chance. The first 6 or so episodes are weak compared to the rest but entertaining enough and have the character building necessary for the rest of the series. You will support different characters to others, you will love and hate different things to them, but in the end, you'll enjoy it. Then give it sometime, you'll marvel at it. The ending certainly is perfect.
Bring on series 2 is all I'll say.
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