(#MechaMarch2023) Code Geass R1 & R2

Localization Talk and Other Stuff

I’m looking at this post wondering if I even have to write anything about it. Then I thought about it. This season of Mecha March needed a show that had what people call the more idealized sort of localization. The one where the show got the voice cast it needed without any major sorts of censoring and it was popular on television. Not just popular in Japan, but popular in the United States. I mean, there was also the fact that I just wanted to talk about Code Geass in general because I just rewatched the whole show and just wanted to. That means in this case it fulfills both purposes.

But yeah, this show was popular in the United States adult swim about a year after it aired in Japan. You know, for how popular anime was back then compared to now. We now live in a time period where we can watch dubs almost as fast as dubs, depending on how much a licenser wants to dub it, and the internet is faster than it has ever been before. But for that time period, it was pretty much on fire if people were in the anime sphere of things. There is a reason why this show is such a  nostalgic pick because it has been over 15 years since this show has appeared and it’s still making waves in anime and other places now.

Discussing this show might be a little difficult because it isn’t just a fifty episode show that flows from episode 1 to episode 50. It isn’t just one long run, there is a massive cut off from R1 (which is season 1) to R2. That break being a time skip that does change how the pace of how R2 is compared to R1 which is much slower and self reflective in terms of its chaos. I think I figured it out on how to do it in my head. Whatever the case is, it’s time to really just get into the only Goro Taniguchi that most people know about despite it being full of Goro Taniguchi-isms and ideas. 

The Backstory of Code Geass

Code Geass takes place in an alternative world where the three major controlling factions are the Holy Britannian Empire, the United Republic of Europia or the E.U., and the Chinese Federation. In the year 2011 marks the time of the Britannian invasion of Japan and just completely took it over. The once proud Japan is now called Area 11 which its people just lazily and/or mockingly called 11’s. So that is the entire backstory of this show without mentioning any character names or main ideas yet, but there is so much already so much an anime can do with all of those things to make it so interesting. 

Especially when you look at imperialism and the push for resources. The Holy Britannian Empire attacked Japan with a mecha called Nightmare Frames. Basically, mecha that move on wheels like Votoms or any Ryosuke Takakashi work on the land. But the Japanese had tanks and despite the realistic expectations of all of it, the Nightmare frames are the cause of that war ending so much in the Britannian favors. There is a Sakuradite reserve in Mount Fuji and that is an ore that will allow mecha to advise much further than ever beyond current technological levels. So that in itself is a reason for the conquest of Japan, but that is what everyone thinks at first. 

Then enter the entire itself to enter a bit more is the main character drama behind the show. After the death of his mother, Lady Marianne’s death and his sister Nunally being blinded and put into a wheelchair for life, the emperor Charles Zi Britannia forced the two kids to Japan right before the invasion started. They were taken in by the Kurugi family and well, that is where all the chaos of this entire backstory starts. A friendship between Lelouch and Suzaku Kururugi before the chaos starts, a prince that hates the Britannian empire in exile, and an entire country in chains held by the Britannian empire. It’s only later when we discover why this happened.A lot of cool and clean material for all of that. 

The Beginning and General Story of R1

The first season starts with Lelouch Lamperouge (yes, an alias away from his vi Britannia name) going to school at Ashford Academy. A specialized academy built by the now diminished Ashford Family in Japan for Britanian students. One day after competing with a noble through chess to show how smart he is, Lelouch is immediately thrown into a terrorist plot situation against his will. The Japanese terrorists took a supposed giant gas canister of some kind and the Britannians want it back.

So basically, that gas canister turns out to be holding an immortal woman who Lelouch makes a deal with to make sure he doesn’t die from the Britannian police trying to wipe everyone out. Her name is C.C. Also, we see that Suzaku is a part of the Britannian forces as an honorary Britannian AND we meet some new cast members like Kallen in her red nightmare frame. There really is a lot happening at once in the first episode like a lot of Goro Taniguchi stuff which means it smooths out afterwards a bit more. 

The smoothing out in this case is Lelouch taking on the identity of Zero, leading the small terrorist cel he just met to victory against the Britannian Forces, with some interruptions from a white Nightmare Frame controlled by Suzaku which is not something Lelouch knows, but Zero still killed Princes Clovis who is the current governor of “Area 11”. That terrorist cell eventually becomes the Black Knights who start their rebellion of Japan to the point where it becomes the worst and largest problem possible. That is R1 while missing out a lot of details like school life at Ashford Academy and Lelouch seeing how his rebellion is affecting people he knows. 

The Macro Look at R1

I’m going to cover the overall themes I got out of it in different sections then R1 and R2 overviews. So yeah, this is going to get long. 

I could just easily describe R1 as every kind of anime, anime. Especially that specific example during the early to mid 2000’s. It has girls with colored hair and some with psychic powers, a very big school where the student council is so powerful they can make you crossdress or chase after one specific person if they are interested, there is a war outside with freedom fighters of Japanese culture trying to take back their nation against the Britanian menace, and a protagonist who in the anime is very intelligent and has all sorts of plots for how his rebellion is going to go if everything works out to plan. Which of course it does but with a lot of resistance along the way.

The very fact that R1 can take so many of those ideas and then slowly some of them away and/or ruin them in an effective way that makes the show work so well. Ashford Academy is a sanctuary away from the turmoils of war in the city, but the kids living in Japan whose family are a part of the conflict outside. As Lelouch goes deeper into his Zero person and as the Black Knights strength grows, the safety of Ashford Academy falls apart. It is such a huge conflict for him as he has to live with his schemes of mind wiping people into doing his bidding. So there is the drama of Lelouch just becoming zero with Lelouch being his alter ego. 

I really do not think that Lelouch is smarter than everyone else because these writers don’t know how to do that without bringing everyone else down. For instance, how do people live in a world where they have cellphones and giant robots, but no one knows how video recording works? Or the fact that no one actually knows how to play chess in this show and it only gets worse in R2 despite the symbolism of it all that is more of the point. That is the kind of show we are in here. It is a lot more for the dramatic flair and feelings than intellectual conquest and games. That part is just a major facade for the chaos we see happen in the show. It is quite a lot of fun though.

The Beginning and Story of R2

R2 starts almost like the beginning of R1 with some obvious changes. Lelouch is back at school for some reason and he doesn’t even know who Zero is. He has a brother named Rolo now and there is no Nunally to be seen at all. You know, despite there being a Black Knight organization still existing even if it’s the slimiest bones possible from where it was at the end of R1. Somehow, a betting deal with Lelouch playing chess as a very specific noble casino has led to Lelouch gaining his memories back after touching CC. Immediately, he basically takes over the operation and helps the remnants of the Black Knights to safety including the ones about to be executed.

So yes, the Black Knights are formed again allying themselves with the Chinese Federation. The show moves so quickly to Nunally becoming the Viceroy of Area 11 with leads to Lelouch eventually leaving Japan with the Black Knights to China where he gets involved in a small conflict between his forces, Britannia, and China with some small bits of conflict where China befriends the Black Knights. There are also some minor conflicts with Lelouch still in Japan at times where he meets up with some of his school friends until he returns to Japan once again. 

Some of the Black Knights murder a lot of CC’s former workplace that is a Geass research area just out of the blue. Then, the Black Knights and their allies return to Japan in order to just disrupt the flow of the Britannian empire and finally put them at a disadvantage. So what happens? No wars happen, but there is drama. One involves the firing of a magical nuke, Fleijas, that has been developed over the course of the season and it destroys Tokyo. That also leads to the Black Knights siding with Britannia which means Lelouch/Zero is betrayed and Suzaku doesn’t know what he wants to do anymore. So what happens? 

Lelouch and Suzaku, after killing the emperor, take over Britannia. Oh, CC is there too.  So all they have to do is fight against every single friend and enemy that they have made over the course of the show. That is while the enemy is basically nuking the battlefield. So that is the enemy Lelouch is facing. Somehow, Lelouch and Suzaku pull it off and take over the entire world. That leads to one of the most amazing finales where Suzaku is supposedly dead and the emperor Lelouch is on a parade. Then Suzaku as Zero shows up, gets past all of Lelouch’s guards, and is utterly gutted for the fate of the entire world. The world is now free and that is all because of Lelouch’s sacrifice there too. 

The Macro Look at R2

If you look at Code Geass R2 from a fair distance away from its inner workings, the entire show works. Even at the fast pace that it moves, one plot does actually lead to another plot. There is a good sense of direction in where the show is going and some character beats even make sense. Mainly anyone in the Suzaku, Lelouch, C2, and Kallen corridor with some minor characters getting some highlights when they can too. All of this sort of ideas punctuated by really badass and awesome moments keeps Code Geass R2 as a very functional sort of season for the most part. Everything falls apart when the microscope comes out though.

Code Geass R2 is a lot more tolerable than Gundam Wing is, but it follows a lot of its problems. Gundam Wing is one of those shows where you watch and want to see what revolution is happening or who is in power that week. Code Geass is still better than that, but it does suffer from having too many plot twists per episode. Some of them just don’t make any sense or have no lead up while others do. It really is such a hodge podge of stuff with even more character than last time. So it really is a major stroke of how much confidence the show has that can do something. Just means that it drops a lot of thematic resonance throughout it tha R1 consistently had.

Control and Free Will

If there is one major idea behind Code Geass is the concept of control. Pretty obvious considering that we have an protagonis with the power of controlling other people just by staring at them. In the first episode, Lelouch made a contract with CC that gave him a power of the king called a Geass. One that allows him to command people to do his bidding one time. Something which not only ruins the lives of people around him when used effectively, but one that disrupts the people around him and the nature of the world itself. Some of it literally when it takes the floor under his opponent away from them by using his power on the right people.

So yes, all of Lelouch’s faults and uses of the geass do get to him in the end. That is the reason why the Black Knights turned on him after all. Or why he faced the many trials of trying to eliminate Geass from the world even if that was pretty hamfisted. But he isn’t the only one to use something to put fear into people. Schneizel, one of Lelouch’s brothers, built an almost impenetrable fortress that fired Fjeila nukes to put his own control of the world. Not to mention that Schneizel was a smug snake who can manipulate people’s point of view through his words by letting people think they are doing something for themselves when it’s Schneizel controlling everything behind the scenes. 

It is possible to push this control further on. We can talk about Emperor Charle’s plan to capture all the holy sites around the world, subjugating untold amounts of people for his own whims. In the end, all of that goes away and people can choose their own destiny for what they want. It really is too much of a clean ending for it to come into reality like that, but that’s anime and that is what happens when the entire hate center of the world disappears. Schneizel is working under the new Zero who doesn’t have Geass powers. Charles and Lelouch are now dead (well, about the Lelouch thing….). In this world’s terms with no larger figures of power in the way for control, there is peace until the next thing happens. 

Colonialism and Power

I suppose this is attached to the last section, but I think there is something different here. This is something that is far more prevalent in R1 with a bit of it in R2. There are three major colonial powers in the Code Geass universe and they are fighting over land. We don’t see a lot of the European theater that is hinted at besides what we see in Akito the Exiled. Insead, we only see how people are treated in Tokyo. The Japanese are literally at the beck and call of the Britannians and even at some times face the worst torment possible just to keep living. Not to mention Britannians get their nice cityscapes while the Japanese live in Ghettos. Code Geass isn’t very subtle about its themes and that’s ok.

Also, it should be mentioned again that Japan Code Geass is Area 11 after all. That immediately means that the Holy Britannian Empire at least has ten other civilizations that are subjugated and ruled over by one member of the Britannian royal family and there are literally bucket loads of those people. Each of them waiting to show the Britanian ideals of people not being equal. Plus, there is that search for resources and Geass relics that pushes each side of the government to just rule the world. That is Colonialism and we are seeing the effects of that throughout the anime. I have a feeling that the Black Knights aren’t the only rebels in this world. They are just the only ones we see. 

Loss of the Themes

Code Geass R1 isn’t the best anime that exists, because that’s Stand Alone Complex, but it is a very solid product. It had a singular vision in what it wanted to be and set out to do it naturally. No moment was wasted, including the Ashford Academy’s festival day that made the show feel comfy before something large happened. The day time at school contrasts to the night time with the Black Knights and running operations to save Japan at night. Plus the larger battles that were huge and had heavy civilian costs. That dynamic of one slowly breaking into the other one is quality stuff. Especially since Lelouch’s geass comes into place there too. It all is such a good cohesive package in an interesting way.

R2 is an absolute mess because it didn’t have enough time to go over the ideas it wanted too. For instance Nina builds the nuke for this world, the Fleija right? There is a time where that weapon goes off in Japan. There are only moments of contemplation there too. Plus the Black Knights getting involved in international relations instead of getting into Japan? I mean, that is the natural direction for Code Geass to go, but I felt like the show lost its sense of identity. Especially since the most interesting moments in R2 needed time to build. There should have been an R3 so the show could space itself out more and say something more about humanity then whatever the show just made up at that time. Ending the show would still have had that connection despite it all. 

Too Many Characters

This is just the truth of it. There are so many characters in Code Geass that they each fill out the screen a bit too much. In some ways, it makes sense for the show to have a ton of them. There are different organizations and parts of the Holy Britannian Military, many factions of the Japanese resistance until they become apart of the Black Knights, the Britannian Royal Family, Ashford Academy, random nobles that appear in Shinjuku, and I probably can keep going if I didn’t stop myself. There has to be a lot of named characters with very specific personalities and backstories. Too bad with even around 50 episodes in length, the show doesn’t have time for everyone.

I suppose that the amount of time dedicated to each character depends on what is important at the moment. Is Lelouch at school today? Then we need to have school Lelouch with other members of the student council (who are mostly fun people besides one specific person who is just angry and racist). What about the Black Knights? Well, some members of the Black Knights are going to make plans, others are going to make jokes, and one of them is going to be really annoying. Then there are small amounts of time with the Viceroy and their knights making plans with one special core unit with Suzaku and his white Nightmare. Everything in R1 is balanced.

R2 is a complete mess. Not only has the pace been sped up quite a bit because the show has to get into a lot of plots and details, the cast grows. Suddenly Suzaku is a member of the royal knights which means more characters need to be introduced. Then there are more members of Britannian royalty in play, and now we have China. I think the escalation is great because Lelouch finally left Japan. Of course there are going to be more military groups and political groups in different nations. The stakes have to expand in different directions and grow somehow. Just now that the large cast gets less time to be intelligent now and only Lelouch and his immediate enemy have that card. Everyone else is just a pawn and it’s suffering. 

Visuals, Mecha, and Conclusions

Code Geass is a show that came around when the newer style of animation started to look good. I’m not going to say that every single episode of this show looks good. It’s a pretty long show that has to have episodes that look and/or move better then others in order to allow animators to rest their hands a bit. Or too highlight specific moments that are heavy in terms of drama and just the sheer insanity of all of it and possibly because different specific animators worked on different cuts. But the show does look good with its overly bombastic world and its clamp character designs. Every single thing about this world is bombastic and we see that through tension and visual direction. Plus the numerous uniforms and outfits put into play. It’s crazy and good. 

The mecha and mechanical animation are pretty solid overall. Some very good design schemes for the Black Knight grunt units the Burais and beyond along with  the Britannian Glasgows with their more advanced units. What loses me a little bit is the level of creativity that disappears once the bigger units start flying. When Suzaku’s Lancelot and Kallen’s Gurren fight early on with their wheeled mecha in a mountain environment, that is the most excitement I’ve gotten from watching those fights. When suddenly there are more Knights like Suzaku who can suddenly fly and Kallen along with the Black Knights start flying too, so much depth of combat is ruined by removing a lot of limitations of being forced to roll around on the ground. 

With all that I have written about in my mind, Code Geass is a good show. I am in that camp that R1 is much tighter than R2 (because that’s the truth), but R2 is a fun bit of insanity that held up a bit more than I thought it would. That’s a huge plus. The character journeys for all of these characters are good and there is a reason why Sunrise has returned to the world of Code Geass in different scenarios like the Akito ovas, the recap films, the sequel film, and possibly the planned sequel that may have been forgotten about. It’s good stuff that has so much opportunity to be examined and presented in a different way. Code Geass is a good show, even if it loses its luster at times, and I highly recommend it. I wouldn’t have written this long post if I didn’t like it. 

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