30 June 2010

Review: "Code Geass", season 1

There's going to be some massive spoilers in here, but that's because I need to write these things down in order to fully express all my opinions on Code Geass.

As I've been watching new series through the last few weeks, I've been hit by the fact that it has taken me a while to get interested in certain shows. As stated before, I needed some effort to get into watching Azumanga Daioh and Fate/Stay Night. I was lucky that Haruhi started with a show that was right up my alley, though it could have also been the order that the episodes were run, as research on the Internet has indicated that there are two different ways to watch the first season of Haruhi.

Code Geass only took an episode. I was already hooked when they started talking about a foreign power invading Japan and imposing their will, making the citizens generally miserable yet there's nothing that the citizenry can do about it. I drew so many parallels to my current work situation, covered ad nauseum below, that it wasn't funny.

The main character, Lelouch, could care less for the most part though. He just wants revenge. In a major way. (Yes, this is another parallel, deal with it.) His father, the Emperor, seemed to have a hand in his mother's death and his sister's subsequent disability (paraplegic and blind). In the first episode, he is put under the titular "geas", in that he can make any person obey his instructions once when Lelouch desires it. Lelouch is out for revolution in order to attain his revenge, and he's not squeamish in the least about trying to obtain it.

His opposite number is his childhood friend, Suzaku. Suzaku was the son of the late Japanese prime minister, the one who committed suicide which effectively surrendered Japan to Britannia. Suzaku is ethnically 100% Japanese, but would rather enlist (and take orders from) the Britannia Empire. He believes that through his work, he can change Britannia to be better from within. And by the way, Suzaku ends up piloting the best mecha in the show.

Yes, it's a mecha show. It's also a bit of a political intrigue show. There's a high-school setting, domestic scenes, shoot-em-up scenes, philosophical scenes. There's really something in here for everyone. There's fanservice (once episode 15 really gets it going, there are more than a few instances of "why did that girl just take off all her clothes anyway?"), bishounen, and about the only thing it's really missing is the cliche cute anime mascot.

The main conflict in the series though is the eternal waltz between sudden action and collaborative action. The show tells us that sudden action can be the wrong action, but collaborative action can be bogged down in bureaucracy. To be honest, while watching the first season, I was extremely curious to see if they would resolve the intricate ballet... where on one hand, you have the proverbial "nail that sticks up which should be hammered down" in Lelouch, while if the other side won it would be due to a traitor who betrayed his homeland. Is it best to trust power and work with power to try to bend its aims and goals, or is it best to directly confront power and risk having power defeat you totally and possibly make your life worse?

I loved the message and the plot, and I really enjoy watching shows where you have all the knowledge yet the characters don't. I'm interested in the interplay of characters when they're not fully informed and it also promises a dynamic denouement. Lelouch needed to keep his underground life a secret from all, and that part of the plot was terrific in my opinion. I enjoy a good Tom Clancy novel, so the political stuff was right up my alley as well. The mecha wasn't terrible, the fanservice was fairly decent as well, and the fight scenes were mostly fun.....

However, there are many warning flags with this one. In full disclosure, I was rooting for Lelouch, because while his goals were slightly abominable and the way he treated people was not the greatest at times (for example, triggering a landslide to defeat an army with superior forces but also not warning any civilians below), I absolutely could not stand Suzaku. Hard-core spoilers are definitely ahead here. Suzaku actually killed his father rather than to let Japan resist... but now, he's absolutely a cog in the machine, nothing but a tool who never can resist an order from the same imperial power that now absolutely mistreats his fellow citizens. Lelouch called him out on it, asking him how he's able to reconcile his absolute hypocrisy in killing his own father while saying that no one else is able to break the rules.

Suzaku, you're a complete ass and an utter fool. I meet so many people like you in my daily life, tools that are more than content to let others suffer as long as you're fine. For all the sermonizing Suzaku did about changing from within, he didn't do a single thing about actually changing anything. As a low-level flunky, he couldn't. In essence, he was a hypocrite that never put his money where his mouth was throughout the whole series, and he was supposed to be the alternate protagonist.

The other major complaint that I had with the series is the semi-famous sequence involving Princess Euphemia in episodes 22-23. This set into action a series of events that seemed very poorly written. I looked through Wikipedia and found that there was a second season commissioned of "Code Geass", and it would have been roughly the time that these episodes came out. I do not know if the writers changed the plot in order to make a hook for the second season or it the plot was supposed to have hashed out this way, but I was amazingly disappointed. In essence, the goal of creating a semi-independent Japan was moving along due to the inside efforts of Princess Euphemia and the outside influence of Zero/Lelouch. However, in an idiot plot twist, Lelouch accidentally told Euphemia to kill all Japanese (in jest) and his power forced her to obey.

Firstly, I was sincerely hoping to see what would happen with peace. That was Lelouch's primary objective, though his secondary objective (revenge on Britannia's royal family) was still unmet. I would have enjoyed seeing his conflict over this matter, to find out if he was to gain support for a second go-round or go rogue. I would have really enjoyed seeing him lay out his reasons in front of Suzaku and to see Suzaku's inner conflict. The series could have really ended well then.

But, it didn't. The final fight for Tokyo was attended by characters thought LONG dead that were reintroduced as living possibly one episode before. It was attended by new super-mecha that didn't even exist until after episode 22. It was the most slapped-together ending I've ever seen. Again, being an enthusiast for Lelouch, it did not help to see an ending which seemed to be going against him... but dammit, I don't like winning or losing by plot hole, and there were some really craptastic contrivances marching across my screen in episodes 24 and 25.

To be honest, I'm not sure if I'd ever rewatch the series because I know where the ending will take me. I may just watch through episode 22, because while there was still some unbelievability, I like the intrigue, secrets, mecha fights, but I can't tell you how much I despise the ending. It took a quality show, one I'd rate 9 out of 10, into a 6. Yes, same as Fate/Stay Night, and to be perfectly honest the Achilles' heel of the first season ending of Code Geass turned out to be worse than the characters I saw in Fate/Stay Night

I am not watching the second season of Code Geass. I do not like plots that start contriving themselves, because it tends to be a runaway reaction. I feel that watching twenty-five episodes is a good indication of where a series will go in the following twenty-five episodes. However, I will absolutely say that through episode 22, it's a terrific series, and I will be making up my own ending much like the 'bots did following MST3k's "The Girl in Lover's Lane".

No comments: