Sunday, June 6, 2010
Anime review: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
The name might be a mouthful, but I found Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion to be a surprisingly enjoyable and well-written anime. The series follows Lelouch Lamperouge, a boy in his mid-teens who attends Ashford Academy with his childhood friend Suzaku Kururugi. Lelouch lives with his younger sister Nunnally, who is both blind and wheelchair-bound.
The series doesn't waste much time in explaining the back story of all of the key characters. Lelouch and Nunnally are really the former heirs to the Britannian throne. Because of his father's apparent lack of care for either Nunnally or himself, Lelouch escapes Britannia with his sister at a very young age. They end up in Japan where they meet Suzaku, who becomes the closest thing they have to a family. However, the happiness is not to last, as the Britannian Empire seeks to control Japan, and Suzaku moves away for many years. As Japan is transformed into Area 11, Lelouch and Nunally change their last name from 'Britannia' to 'Lamperouge' so as not to draw attention to themselves. Due to the culmination of all these events, Lelouch develops a deep hatred for the Empire and his father, Emperor Charles Zi Britannia. Lelouch seeks to change the world so that his sister Nunally might live happily in it. His hatred and his desire to alter the world are kept secret from, Nunnally, however.
During one of the Britannian raids on the Shinjuku district (essentially a slum for former Japanese citizens now dubbed 'elevens') Lelouch encounters Suzaku who has recently joined the Britannian military forces as a test pilot for new prototype Knightmare mech, dubbed the Lancelot. The two come across an unfamiliar container which they discover carries a girl. Lelouch and Suzaku take separate routes back to the street level of Shinjuku. The girl is shot by Britannian soldiers, but is able to grant Lelouch special powers if he agrees to her contract. The terms of the contract are unclear to Lelouch, but he accepts anyway, and is given the ability to control any person's mind. He is only able to do so once per individual person, however, and the eye contact must be direct.
Lelouch then commandeers a Knightmare mech and issues commands via radio to the local Japanese freedom fighters. These rebels cause a distraction while Lelouch infiltrates the command ship and assassinates another member of the royal family, Prince Clovis. After causing complete chaos for the Brittannians in Shinjuku, Lelouch creates for himself a disguise and an alternate masked identity known as Zero. And this is just the beginning of the series.
Code Geass is from Sunrise, the company famous for distributing Mobile Suit Gundam. At first glance, Code Geass does seem to be some sort of spin-off of their flagship Gundam franchise, and there's no doubt they drew inspiration from it. Code Geass does involve a large deal of political conflict, but it is carried out in a manner of fighting unjust rule with unorthodox combat tactics. Lelouch understands that the Britannian military adheres to specific rules and regulations, whereas he and the Black Knights are not bound by these limitations. The mech designs are named after knights of Arthurian legend, and these titles prove fitting as the Knightmares often rely heavily on close-range weaponry and command units are usually decorated with gold and silver armor plating.
Lelouch is an incredibly interesting lead character, as he tries to justify his actions by constantly stating that every action he takes is for Nunally's sake. While all this seems honorable enough, his methods are dark and manipulative, due to both his Geass and his spiteful attitude towards the royal family. From a very early point in the series, Lelouch is shown to be both an effective and confident leader. As the series progresses, Lelouch leaves command of the Black Knights in the hands of Ohgi and Todou in order to deal with his own personal matters. Lelouch must constantly balance his school life and his role as Zero without the two ever crossing paths with one another, and his cover is almost blown a few times over the course of the series.
Kallen Kozuki is one of Lelouch's classmates, though she is unaware of his role as Zero - ironic, as she joins the Black Knights very early on, proving to be one of their most capable Knightmare pilots. Kallen is more focused on completing her missions and seeking revenge against Britannia for their treatment of the Japanese people. C.C. (pronounced: C-two) is the girl who granted Lelouch his powers and seems to die on many occasions only to reappear unharmed. She is usually seen in Lelouch's presence, though for both their sakes, Lelouch wishes C.C. to remain unseen by others. C.C. is key in Lelouch's intent to destroy Britannia and helps out with each plan of attack. She promises to remain by his side to the very end, but doesn't explain what it is she desires from him in exchange for saving his life and granting him the power of Geass.
As the series plays out, viewers are introduced to some side characters such as Lloyd and Rakshata who, while not the most important players in the conflict, both play the role of engineer to the Knightmares of their respective faction. Each embodies the reasons that normal people (i.e. not Lelouch or members of the royal family) decide to choose a side and fight until victory or death. As Lelouch encounters his family on the battlefield (often without them knowing the difference between Zero and Lelouch), he uses them to dig deeper into the mystery surrounding the death of his mother. The sheer number of characters playing significant roles in Code Geass may seem daunting, but each is developed to a level where viewers will either sympathize with them or be vehemently opposed to their methods.
The art style is bright and colorful when focusing on Lelouch's studies, yet dark and moody when the Black Knights engage in battle. The visuals may not be the most mind-blowing, but they look good nonetheless. The soundtrack trumps the art style with its heavy focus on brass, percussion, and string parts, creating more of a full orchestra sound than a specific niche sound as heard in many other mecha series. Code Geass may not have the most memorable orchestrated soundtrack of all time, but it certainly fits the series' events well. The Japanese voice actors and the English voice actors both play their roles quite well. The English dub has a few odd casting choices, though any performances that seem uninspired are by those playing characters with brief appearances, so it doesn't exactly throw a wrench in the flow of things. As brilliantly as Johnny Yong Bosch portrays Lelouch, I have to give Liam O'Brien props to for his portrayal of the ever-eccentric Lloyd.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is a very interesting spin on the sci-fi and mecha anime genres, including fantasy elements and rewriting history. The series is not particularly Gundam-esque, but that isn't a bad thing, as it shows Sunrise's ability to mix things up a bit. The broad range of characters combined with their various backstories and reasons for joining the conflict is deeply entertaining and keeps the human element of the story the major focus. It's not often that a series attempts to place an anti-hero in the lead of such a large series, and the fact that Lelouch keeps from becoming the stereotypical scheming kid keeps things engaging, as viewers can't ever be too sure as to what Lelouch's next move will be.
My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)