In my last essay, Neon Genesis Evangelion Doesn’t Deserve To Be A Classic, I ended my tearing down of an anime monument by offering Code Geass as an alternative classic mecha anime that actually deserves the praise it’s given. This got me thinking about how many anime are out there that have been slapped with the ‘classic’ label, without regard for how they would look years down the line. Personally, I don’t think Evangelion deserved that designation at the time of airing, but I’ve broadcast my opinions about Eva enough already.
If you’re a fresh otaku who is looking to dive into the vast wealth of anime that’s come before, it’s more intimidating than the influx of shows that come with every new season. These aren’t hot topics to talk about on Twitter, but these are series that are almost set in stone as being high above the rest. Everyone knows Cowboy Bebop and Akira, but if it doesn’t do enough to appeal to the modern viewer, than it’s really not easy to share that view. As for me, my first essay was about how Death Note is vastly overrated, so hot takes are kinda my thing.
This will be formatted as reviews rather than essays, as it is similar enough to the seasonal releases that it could fill a nice niche between the drop of five shows I might decide to review every three months. Plus, essays are generally reserved for shows I can approach from an angle as to how they do something specific, while reviews are overall recommendations. As I’ve already recommended Code Geass, you can be confident that it has my heartiest approval. Not without its flaws, but the story is worth your time.
Code Geass takes place in an alternate history where the Empire of Brittania has conquered most of the world, and most recently Area 11, formerly known as Japan. The native Japanese have formed resistance groups with little success in the years since the death of their prime minister, but find new hope in the rise of Zero, a masked hero leading the group known as the Black Knights. Zero is able to pull off miracles, rescuing the prime minister’s son, Suzaku, and winning multiple battles against overwhelming odds.
What the Empire and the rebels don’t know is that Zero is actually Lelouch vi Britannia, the exiled son of the emperor. Lelouch, after making a contract with a mysterious girl named CC, has acquired the power of the geass, or to command absolute obedience from anyone he makes eye contact with, but only once. Lelouch must maintain his double life as a high school student to avoid suspicion, while waging complete war against his family, in order to enact revenge for the assassination of his mother and disablement of his sister.
[the following contains spoilers for the first season of Code Geass]
Initially, Code Geass bears a striking resemblance to Death Note. Both feature competent antihero protagonists with genius level IQs, making sketchy decisions to create a better world without regard for the wellbeing of their loved ones. However, Code Geass is notably different in its emphasis on mecha action, politics, and actually having a satisfying ending. I’m avoiding spoilers for the second season because this is meant to convince you to watch Code Geass if you haven’t seen it already, but you just need to know that this series doesn’t waste your time.
Lelouch may be a morally gray character like Light, but he’s not as outright psychotic, and he actually seems to care about his friends and family. He will betray them at times, commit heinous acts to give himself an edge in the war, but he rarely goes so far as to be irredeemable. Throughout he is grounded through his devotion to protecting his sister Nunally (these names do not get less absurd going on). When he’s allowed to be the student Lelouch, he’s a good friend to Suzaku, as well as the other kids on the student council, it is just that he more often has to be Zero who can’t be as sentimental.
But the show isn’t all blurry morality and philosophical meandering, it’s also absolutely gorgeous. The character design betray a passion for scarecrows in their strangely long and skinny body types, but there’s no denying that characters have a strong dramatic flair to them. Lelouch, CC, and most of the Knights of the Round share a distinctive look to them, but things only get a little dry when it comes to the other students, which gets the least amount of love in most categories. However, this is a rare weak moment in Code Geass’ presentation.
The fights between the mechs known as Nightmares are actually kind of uncommon, as the conflicts of the show are contained within Lelouch having to solve a problem with his geass. Only direct battles between the Black Knights and Britannia involve use of the Nightmares, and Lelouch’s battles are limited to the intellectual sort. The best example of this is where he has to trick the last person to receive a geass from CC