|It’s a show about terrorism! (Panties.)||2 out of 3 users found this review helpful.|
In an alternate universe, (cleavage) Japan has been taken over by the Britannian Empire and renamed “Area 11.” (You got buns, hon.) Lelouch, the series protagonist, is the exiled prince of Britannia out for revenge against his despised father (panties) and the destruction of the empire he loathes almost as much as himself. (Baby got back.) When Prince Lelouch was ten, he came out of the closet to his father (and wore a fabulous outfit just for the occasion) and his father, in proper patriarchal homophobic outrage, exiled Lelouch and his younger sister to Japan. (JK, that’s totally not what happened. It’s what should have happened, though.) Also…thong. (Of course).
(No, I won’t explain the panty jokes. Hee hee.)
Now it is one thing for a show to be fast-paced. Soul Eater is fast-paced. Fullmetal Alchemist is fast-paced. It is another thing entirely for a show to feel as though sometime during the pre-recording, they accidentally stuck the DVD on fast-forward and the producers said, “Hey! It looks better on fast-forward, let’s keep it that way! Hopefully the audience won’t notice.” I guess it’s a good thing though, and a good explanation for the show’s popularity despite its numerous contrivances, plot holes, and deux ex machina. If you stopped for enough of a breather to actually think about what you’re watching, you’d have more questions than you did when you started puberty. (Mommy, why?) Where did the logic go? It took an extended vacation. Doesn’t Lelouch’s geass seem a lot like dressed up deux ex machina? Oh hell yes.
The term deux ex machina gets tossed around a lot by us critics, so I feel I should try to justify my use of the phrase. For those of you who are a little unclear, deus ex machina comes from the Latin meaning literally “god out of the machine.” It refers to a plot device wherein a seemingly inextricable situation encountered by the protagonist is unexpectedly solved through a contrived intervention sometimes by another character, but usually by nature itself. It was conventionally used in the classical Greek tragedies and was meant to show that nature, or “God” was on the hero’s side. The ancient Greek plays can be forgiven for this because, well, they’re the ancient Greek plays, but in terms of modern usage, it’s not something you want to have in a narrative. It demonstrates a severe lack of creativity on the writer’s part. Basically, it’s when the story goes “But then suddenly...” and the audience says, “Come on, really? You expect us to buy that?”
Keep that in mind as you watch, and I am sure you will figure out that from the first episode to the last, you are neck-deep in deux ex machina. In fact, I’m pretty sure that is the show’s entire premise, even if it is dressed up real nice.
It is quite clear that Code Geass is a show that runs high on sensationalism and empty on realism. It is quite the silliest thing I have ever seen, from Emperor Charles giving his Hitler-like speech on extreme Darwinism, to Euphemia’s…existence. I almost died when she told Suzaku her thoughts on war, ‘Suzaku, I finally understand. It's not about ideal countries, justice, or other such complicated things. I just want to see smiles.’ Oh honey, I just hope I’m there when you try to tell that to the guys in Iraq. I couldn’t decide if these moments are presented seriously or just in the spirit of pitch-black comedy. My guess is a little bit of both, if that makes sense. It’s debatable.
Code Geass features an extensive ensemble cast and unlike titles such as Baccano and Fullmetal Alchemist, doesn’t handle its many characters well beyond using them to drive the plot forward. Some entertain for a few scenes, but at best, they are flat contradictory plot devices and at worst, wholly unsympathetic. The big exception to this is the show’s protagonist, Lelouch. He’s fascinating and oddly admirable despite his numerous crimes and while he isn’t enough on his own to give the show any real substance, he’s certainly enough to make the show enjoyable. It’s no wonder his fans refuse to let him go. (Ha ha, no spoilers for you!)
That brings me to the show’s most defining characteristic; it’s enjoyable. I probably sounded rather pompous going on and on about deux ex machina, the lack of logic, the many contrivances, the shallow characters…but the thrills are so constant that you shouldn’t care too much. While Code Geass is typically tagged as a mecha show, the mechas are probably the least entertaining element here, in my opinion anyway. The show is at its best when Lelouch is demonstrating his tactical prowess and outmaneuvering the Empire, then cackling about it, while of course looking fabulous. These episodes are clever enough to make me think that in spite of the shallow pool of pseudo-intellectualism in which the show wades, there are some pretty smart writers behind the show’s flashy mecha fights and oodles of fan service.
As entertaining as it is, it’s almost insulting because the thrills are cheap, manipulative cheats. Frankly they make me balk at rewarding it for anything, especially in light of that abominable waste of a second season, in which the flaws aren’t really any more frequent, but they’re more noticeable. The second season really only offered one thing, and it was the only thing the first season was missing: an emotionally satisfying conclusion. I have to admit though, they may be cheats, but they’re so skillfully done that they’re easy to miss and hard to care about. I was taken in for a while, and I’m supposed to be a critic.
As far as sound goes, the opening and closing themes are nothing special, memorable, sure, and probably beloved by J-pop lovers, but otherwise fairly skippable. The soundtrack throughout the show is consistently good, from dramatic orchestral to lilting saxophone solo, and sets the mood quite well. For the voice acting, Jun Fukuyama is magnificent as Lelouch, which just the right balance of passion and cold charisma. Every time Lelouch opens his mouth, you better just shut the hell up and listen, it’s so spellbinding. Honestly, the dub starts off kind of rough in comparison. Johnny Yong Bosch, who plays the dubbed Lelouch, mentioned once in an interview that he was initially unsure how to play the part and didn’t understand why the director kept telling him to be more dramatic. In the first few episodes, well, it shows, as Bosch sounds like he’s trying way too hard. However, within a few episodes he slips into the role, and by the end his performance could stand up tall beside Fukuyama’s. I didn’t like the dub at first, but I was unfair. Once again, both tracks are solid, so it’s just going to come down to whatever you like better, Japanese sociopathic awesome or English sociopathic awesome.
It’s no secret that Code Geass is a good-looking show. The characters were designed by Clamp, that female artist team famous for its cute characters, and these are flashy even by Clamp standards. (Is it just me or is Suzaku a dead-ringer for Syaoron?) It was animated by Sunrise, responsible for famous titles like Mobile Suit Gundam and the fantasy classic Vision of Escaflowne, so it’s a studio with an already impressive resume. All in all the animation is consistently excellent, not quite on par with something like Brotherhood, but the animators spread their budget throughout and prioritized it for when it really mattered. The second season’s animation is technically better, as Code Geass was a runaway hit and so they got a bigger budget for the second season, but you shouldn’t have too many complaints as far as the visuals go. Panties.
All in all, Code Geass is above all else entertaining. It occasionally borders on brilliant, but always keeps a keen eye for spectacle. The flaws I mentioned are significant, yes, but honestly, chances are you either won’t notice or just won’t care. The show is very good at what it does, and while I teetered on the edge of giving it two and a half stars, the sheer sharpness and wit of a few shining episodes, not to mention an engaging conclusion, were enough to bring it up a notch. I give it three “maniacal monologues” out of four.