All Hail Lelouch!
This review has been a long time coming, but I finally finished watching both seasons with my friends. This review will cover both seasons and is spoiler free. Code Geass is a 50 episode Sunrise anime split between 2 seasons. For several years the anime has been out of print but recently came back thanks to Funimation for a 10th anniversary re-release. I first watched Code Geass several years ago when I first got into anime, and I loved every second of it. Did my thoughts change, or is it just as awesome as I remember?
Since this review will cover both seasons of Code Geass, the first part of the review will cover season 1. The next section will cover season 2, while the final section will address my thoughts on the show as a whole and other relevant information/thoughts.
Season 1 opens with a seemingly normal high school anime setting. That is, until the show deviates from this shortly into the first episode. The viewer is quickly introduced to The Holy Britanian Empire and how it has taken over most of the world. Additionally, it shows Japan, now known as Area 11, where the anime takes place. Obviously the Japanese people aren’t happy about being conquered and it is clear that this will be a key aspect of the anime.
Code Geass follows both Lelouch, a Britannian student, and Suzaku a Japanese born who has decided to join the Britannian army. Lelouch was once a Britannian prince but was banished from the empire after the death of his mother where his sister, Nunnally was left crippled and blind following the incident. They were then both banished to Area 11 where they were taken in by Suzaku’s family.
In hiding, Lelouch wants nothing more than to have a world where he and his sister can live in peace. To do so, he pretends to be a typical student until he can finally exact his revenge on The Holly Britanian Empire. However, Lelouch goes from “typical” student to rebellion leader for the 11’s once he is granted the gift of Geass from the mysterious C2. With his Geass, Lelouch is able to command anybody he makes eye contact with to do anything he wishes. In order to protect himself and Nunnally, he dawns the persona Zero in order to lead the rebellion and further his own ambitions.
If it weren’t obvious, the show wastes no time in the introduction of the conflicting ideologies between Lelouch and Suzaku. Lelouch believes that change must be made from the outside by force and Suzaku believes that things can be changed from the inside, slowly over time. This is the core conflict and driving force of the narrative in Code Geass.
This may seem like a convoluted mess of an introduction but the anime flows logically and naturally throughout its run. As the show gets further and further in, the tension and situations build upon each other until things are brought to a head at the concluding episode. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.
First let me discuss the characters a bit more. Lelouch is immediately set to be a brilliant strategist. This does a lot for the anime by making it easy to accept how Lelouch is able to lead the rebellion so effectively. While his character is over-the-top and extremely theatric, his thoughts and actions are easy for the audience to follow and comprehend. Suzaku is a bit more frustrating as a character since he is overly idealistic. That being said, he makes for an excellent foil for Lelouch.
On the outside, the remaining cast can seem to be excessive. There are tons of characters in the first season of Code Geass and even more are added once season two drops. However, it is fairly easy to keep track of each of the characters and their relationships to everybody else within the narrative. That being said, there are some characters who receive more attention than others in the development department, but even the more random characters are given just enough to be reasonably organic.
As for the story, some folks are going to have a hard time accepting how grandiose and epic the story attempts to be. For starters, the audience has to accept that Lelouch is not only extremely intelligent, but also has a seemingly overpowered ability. Being able to overlook or accept details at face value is vital to enjoying the show to its fullest. This isn’t to say that there are massive flaws, but little things here and there can add up. However, this is never a problem that the show doesn’t manage to overcome given the chance.
Speaking of Lelouch’s Geass, it is handled very well by the anime. It has limitations and rules which Lelouch works out. The best part of this is that the show bothers to make sure that it shows Lelouch doing this rather than just telling the viewer he did so. While the show certainly hides many things from the viewer for maximum affect, it is always sure to explain itself so that he viewer can understand how things got from point a to point b. It does so by either preemptively showing seemingly inconsequential scenes or by utilizing a flash-back where information was purposefully omitted from the viewer via a jump cut or obfuscation.
Each episode of Code Geass snowballs as the stakes and situations for the characters become bigger and grander. This keeps the show exciting but does give the anime an air of ridiculousness. However, this is not a weakness of the anime as it may first seem to be. Despite how silly some of the anime is, it never ceases to feel organic and logical from the perspective of the show’s narrative. While it may bug some viewers that the show has its moments of silliness, given the chance, the show always recovers and presents its events as both logical and meaningful.
Since I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I don’t want to get into many of the narrative specifics but I do want to note a few things of interest in the narrative that season 1 does. It is particularly interesting that the openings and endings for each part of the season match up with the tone of each arc of the story. This is an excellent touch that wasn’t necessary but greatly appreciated.
Among some of the moments I particularly enjoyed there is one I can’t help but avoid mentioning. There is an earlier episode where a long running joke is set up involving the color orange which absolutely slays me. This is particularly true once we get to season two, but it absolutely had to be mentioned here to say the least.
Another narrative moment of interest has to do with one of the later episodes where a certain major event involving a princess (If you’ve seen it, you know the episode). This episode is a point where some decide to drop the anime due to just how dumbly written a particular scene seems. However, it serves the narrative immensely and pays off since it allows for many of the events in season 2.
Code Geass knows exactly what it wants to do in season 1 and does it effectively. It gets the viewer deeply invested in the characters, events, and outcome that by time the final episode is reached it hardly feels like 25 episodes have passed. This is where some people drop the show though. Season 1 ends with a massive cliff-hanger that leaves almost everything completely unresolved. Thankfully, there is a second season.
If this were all there were to Code Geass I’d slap a 7/10 with a light recommendation to watch it for the shear amount of excitement it offers. This is mainly due to the non-existent ending this season has and a bit more meandering with the high school stuff than I might like. However, this season still offers a lot of twists and turns of excitement that warrant a look on their own. With season 2 thrown into the mix, this becomes a completely different story.
The second season of Code Geass is where the series truly shines. While season 1 leaves things hanging, season 2 resolves all of the major plot threads in a neat package that is nearly perfect. Even with this praise, the start of season 2 is not only a bit rocky, but also jarring for the viewer.
While one may expect season 2 to pick up immediately where season 1 left off, this is not what Code Geass elects to do. Instead, things have seemingly become a status-quo high school anime yet again with the inclusion of a new character, Rolo, who is now Lelouch’s brother. This start should be unsettling for the viewer, but instead is mostly just confusing and jarring.
That being said, since Rolo is more-or-less shoehorned into the anime, the director does an excellent job of writing around this fact. Once things get going again in the plot department, Rolo’s inclusion in the second season feels fairly organic. I remember reading that the way season two starts and Rolo’s character were not initially supposed to even be in the final cut of the show, but for the life of me I can’t find any information on it. Regardless, Rolo’s inclusion demonstrates that the show is capable of writing events and characters into the narrative even if they feel unnecessary. This is more of a strength for Code Geass than a weakness and is something that can be appreciated.
A lot happens at the start of the second season. Lelouch has lost his memory of being Zero, Nunnally, and the fact that he was once a Britanian Prince. His memory is restored once he is contacted by C.C. and the show begins to barrel for the finish line from there.
Plot wise, there is a lot to unpack in this second season, but for the sake of this review I’m going to avoid going into a lot of it since it would be extremely spoiler heavy. Instead I will be discussing ideas, concepts, and the feel/pacing of the plot.
Much of this season is going to deal with Lelouch’s struggles, both internal and external. This lays the ground work for more tragedy and somber tone for the season. The anime keeps things fairly consistent with season 1 for when the show is still fun and more lighthearted, but is capable of changing its tune once things start going wrong fro Lelouch.
There are some moments in season two that may even be difficult for some viewers to watch. The amount of tragedy that befalls the characters is pretty substantial, and this doesn’t even get into some of the more ethically questionable decisions that Lelouch ends up making. In short, season 2 is far more serious but still maintains its flamboyant and over the top nature.
The biggest talking points for the plot are when the power Geass becomes known by some of the cast members and the ending of the anime. Naturally, people are pretty against the power of Geass and consequently decide that Zero/Lelouch is evil simply for possessing the power. The show does an excellent job showing the division this causes in his supporters that leads up to his eventual betrayal.
Lelouch of course realizes this inevitability and makes a huge decision. This sets the ending in motion. To say the least, further decision would absolutely spoil how everything plays out but I will say that the ending to Code Geass is both powerful and likely one of the best endings to an anime I have seen.
In terms of pacing, the second season feels a lot longer than the first. This is largely due to the number of times the anime feels like it is just about ready to end. There were several times where the people I was rewatching this with thought the show was about over, even when there was still more than half the season left. This in tern sparked concern that the show would leave a bad taste in their mouth’s come time for the show’s conclusion. As I’ve said, this was not the case but this does demonstrate that season two has a lot of ambition and plot to resolve in its runtime.
While most of the story is superb, there are some moments that were weak. Particularly, anything related to the “Thought Elevator” that is brought up in season 1. This plot thread takes a good chunk of focus in season 2 and while most of the time it just kind of looms in the background, the dedicated episodes to this plot thread are probably the worst of the series.
All things considered though, the series has an overall solid plot with one of the strongest endings out there. I’d encourage giving this one its dues and watching it all the way through before passing judgments. Like season 1, there are some moments of silly writing and plot holes if one decides to look hard enough, but nothing that should ruin the enjoyment of the series.
Of special note, I really appreciate how dedicated Code Geass is to its orange joke. It’s just too good, even at the bitter end it still manages to sneak in another jab. Just something that tickles me personally and can’t go without being mentioned.
This is why I give season 2 of Code Geass a solid 9/10 rating with the recommendation to watch it, especially if season 1 was enjoyed in any capacity. Season 2 really steps up the game and has even more to offer.
Overall Thoughts & Season 3
Both Seasons of Code Geass offer an excellent thrill ride with plenty of twists and turns. Individually, the seasons are fairly decent but the two seasons come together to make one of the better shows to come out of 2006. Ten years later, and not only are people still talking about it, but it comes recommended to nearly everyone at some point or another.
Something that may bug some viewers is the large amount of fan service this show actually has. This is especially true in season 2. The first time through I didn’t really notice it much but the second time through it was more than a little obvious. However, the fan service never got out of hand and didn’t pull me out of the story at any point. Normally, I really dislike fan service in anime, but here it was acceptable.
The animation quality of both seasons coupled with the audio, isn’t the best out there, but the engaging narrative more than makes up for this fact. Code Geass is most suited for people who haven’t seen tons of titles, but at the same time, it has become such a staple in the community that even the most seasoned veterans should give it a watch at least once.
On the whole, Code Geass is an excellent anime for those who enjoy mind games and excitement. The show offers a gambit of emotions, opinions, and stories that can easily be enjoyed by almost anyone. It was just as good as I remembered it being and was definately worth the rewatch. For that reason both seasons receive a solid 9/10 overall rating with a recommendation to buy it.
I almost wanted to give this one a Seal of Excellence as it truly deserves a spot in any collection. However, the weak points of the anime make this one fall just a bit short. That being said, Code Geass at least warrants a watch from new or veteran anime fans. Currently, the show is licensed by Funimation and can be purchased from them or Righstuf on either DVD, Blu-ray, or even a Collector’s Edition.
Season 3 was announced for this title not that long ago now (Spoilers at the link for Season 1 and 2) and it certainly is interesting. It’s been stated that this will in fact be a continuation of the story that seems to contradict the ending. Personally, I’m unsurprisingly skeptical in regards to how good a third season will be, but I am interested in at least giving it a shot. On the one hand, it’s more Code Geass, on the other, the story felt pretty good where it was at. If you’ve seen the show, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
*Phew* I know this review was a long time coming and let me apologize for the long wait. Between school, actually getting this watched, work, and even the weather of all things this thing got way beyond delayed. In the future I don’t think I’ll be doing another ABC review like I ended up doing for Code Geass. This format resulted in what I feel to be a messy review that couldn’t have possibly hit on everything. Instead, if a show with multiple seasons that I feel connected pop up like this one, I’ll split it into parts or just do the first season like I typically do.
Largely, this was an experiment for me to see how the quality of a more long-form multi-season review would go. After writing it up and getting it ready I feel like the quality took a bit of a hit and it also made the review take even longer. So lesson learned, but at least I tried something different out. Voting for the D round should open soon, my internet is too slow to set that up this week so keep an eye out for it. I’ll leave it open longer than normal because of Christmas.