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Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Reviewer: Tong T. 05/09/2008

Lelouche Lamperouge appears to be a typical high school student at Ashford Academy in the Britannian controlled Area 11 (formerly named Japan.) In reality, he is actually a prince in the Britannian imperial family, and seventeenth in line to the throne. Outcast to Japan after the death of his mother and crippling of his sister, Lelouche develops a deep hatred for the emperor of Britannia and the entire imperial establishment; vowing to one day destroy the superpower for good. After a chance encounter with a mysterious young woman named C.C., Lelouche finds himself gaining the power of Geass, which grants him the ability to force anyone to do what he wishes. With this new found asset, Lelouche becomes a mysterious figure named Zero and with this new persona begins his personal battle against the established Britannian Empire in Area 11.
On the surface, Code Geass: Lelouche of the Rebellion seems part political thriller, part mecha combat, part school drama, and part sci-fi/fantasy intrigue. This mishmash of genres in fact results in an exciting, over the top and, dare I say, epic series that will raise some eyebrows but also keep you engrossed from start to finish. The large cast, impressive production values, and entertaining melodrama make for an interesting combination. And despite some missteps in storytelling and character development, Code Geass is one of the most enjoyable anime in recent memory, if not one of the best.
Reviewing a show like Code Geass is a difficult proposition. On one hand, it's filled with so much brainless action, bombastic dialogue, and has such eye-catching visuals that it tops the charts in entertainment value. On the other hand, the characters, plot and premise are so stereotypical, over the top and ridiculous that it's hard to take seriously. In a nutshell, Code Geass is a political soap opera infused with plenty of sci-fi mecha action: a show that thrives on melodramatic moments rather than on plot or characters. Indeed one could completely ignore the plot altogether and hardly notice the difference; it may even be more enjoyable since, to be honest, the story itself isn't particularly well narrated or well executed. Yet despite some bad writing, poor storytelling, and unlikeable characters, there's something ingenious about a show that throws its nonsensical premises and overacted dialogue directly in the viewer's face and still stays incredibly fun to watch at the same time. Indeed Geass is a rare accomplishment. It is the culmination of style over substance and yet it totally delivers on an almost transcendental level. If all shows had this much style, one would probably start wondering what all the fuss regarding substance was about.
To explain this bizarre phenomenon, we must revisit the old phrase "so bad, it's good." There is perhaps nothing that describes Geass better than those four words. From a more critical perspective, Geass starts out on a good footing but ends up being pretty terrible. Despite a large cast of characters, few, if any, are likeable in the traditional sense. Suzaku, Lelouche's childhood friend, is a goody too shoes and an outright intolerable character, spouting enough overly-righteous phrases to undoubtedly motivate many viewers to want to strangle him with their bare hands. Lelouch, our anti-hero of sorts, isn't much more likeable with his self-conceited and arrogant demeanor. Other characters like Kallen or Euphemia are either too naive, filled with too much teenage angst and/or are portrayed in such a way that it's hard to feel anything but indifferent about them. Worse, some characters are introduced and then quickly discarded and forgotten, likely leaving viewers wondering why they were introduced in the first place (except perhaps as a set up for the sequel?) And the few likeable characters like Llyod or C.C. don't get nearly enough screen time. As for the plot itself, far too many loose ends are left unexplained, leaving the viewer with questions not only about various subplots but also about several key elements of the storyline. Now considering that this is the first season of a two season series, this may seem acceptable. But the lack of significant plot developments along crucial storylines throughout the series leads to poor pacing. By the end of the series, the storytelling seems to be thrown completely out the widows and the show degenerates to a series of "how insanely over the top and ridiculous can it get" scenarios, featuring plenty of stylized violence and grandiose dialogue. Oh and the ending is well, let's just say "inconclusive." But keep in mind, there is a sequel.
However, what redeems the show from the utter disaster that is the actual plot and character development is its entertainment value and the show's uncanny ability to keep the viewers in a state of eager anticipation for the next episode. Sure the plot twists are mainly predictable and in some cases shameless. But we're so caught up in the outrageousness of everything that we're seeing onscreen that we end up being surprised anyway. Indeed the premises are so ridiculous, the characters so clichéd, and the plot so nonsensical that we start to see that none of that matters. Because the driving force behind Geass is not the strength of its storytelling or its characters, but rather in its self-indulgent presentation that flies in the face of how a "typical" anime presents itself. It's as if SUNRISE decided to completely discard the traditional backbone of most anime (the plot and the characters) and instead focus on the exaggerated drama, emotion, and adrenaline-pumping moments. Hence, Geass ends up being not so much a story with a certain plotline and characters but rather a series of exciting, exaggerated but well-crafted, incredulous and definitely memorable scenes. How the various scenarios and set pieces relate to one another is less important than the sheer dramatic and/or emotional impact that the scenes have on the viewer. Moreover, at the same time, SUNRISE also seems to be ridiculing itself for creating a "serious" show out of such ridiculous and sometimes comedic premises. In fact, a big part of Geass’s success as an anime series is in the way that it takes absolutely seriously the concepts and premises that, if present in other shows, would be considered humorous, comedic or even satirical. Characters like Zero are meant to be taken completely seriously despite the fact that they speak and act like comic book characters. Taken in this light, themes that may seem incessant or problematic, such as the consistently nationalistic overtones, end up being completely innocuous since we understand that while the show seems to take itself seriously, we the viewers should not.
Another distinctive aspect of Code Geass is its high production values and colorful animation. The character designs, created by CLAMP, are attractive and well drawn. And while the animation itself may not be absolutely top-tier, it is detailed, vivid, and remarkably lively. From devastated cityscapes and deserted slums to a dazzling and thriving metropolis, one on one mecha battles to full scale war, the visuals never disappoint. Sure it's not as smooth or fluid as it could be but it's flashy, colorful, which is very much fitting considering the nature of the series. The excellent voice acting also plays a key role in the show's success and legitimacy. Characters like Zero and Suzaku may be outrageous or cliched but their voice actors fit the characters so well that they are able to sell the characters. Jun Fukuyama does a particularly great job playing the key character of Lelouche/Zero. In fact, his performance, especially how well he transitions from the carefree high school student to the more sinister and manipulative rebel is vital to keeping the series enjoyable and entertaining. Fukuyama is essentially playing two characters and does it absolutely convincingly. There's nothing to complain about in terms of music either as the background music is very fitting and the first opening theme is well paced and exciting, though unfortunately the second opening theme is absolutely atrocious.
So at the end where do we stand with a show as outlandish and yet as fun to watch as Code Geass? The answer to that question may very well depend on the viewer's personal tastes. For some, the premise, characters, and plot alone is bad enough to make the show unwatchable. For others, the high action, flashy animation, and melodrama will be more than enough to make the show a favorite of all time. In a nutshell Geass is a very divisive anime that will surely garner vastly different opinions from viewers and reviewers alike. That said, this particular reviewer feels that what SUNRISE has done is quite ingenious, and it's not just because of the use of mecha action or melodrama, but rather how effectively it appeals to that certain aspect of anime that is not often addressed and yet is one of the main purposes of anime: entertainment. Geass may not win any awards for writing or animation quality but it's so entertaining that it's difficult to care. Ultimately if your main interest in anime is in the quality of the storytelling or the characters, then Geass is probably not for you. However, if you're in it to have fun or for some good laughs, then dive right in because this is one heck of a joyride.
Code Geass will be released on DVD in North American in 2008 by Bandai Entertainment. The series consists of 25 episodes. The sequel, entitled Code Geass: Lelouche of the Rebellion R2 premiered on Japanese television in April 2008.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
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Review Title:
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Alternative Titles:
Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch
625 Minutes
General Rating:
4 out of 5 stars
Suitable For:
Young Adults
Action, Drama, Mecha,
Military, School, Supernatural
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