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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Popcorn Break: Code Geass Part 1 (ep 1 - 25)

So I just finished the climactic ending of the first season of Code Geass. This is not a review, because part 2 is an integral part of the story, and this is an artificial midpoint (Though what a note to end on!). Spoilers, of course, so I am sticking in a jump:


As good as the first opener and closer songs are, I had completely forgotten that these last few OPs are sung by the always delightful Access (Fans of D. Grey Man may find the voice familiar). The middle OP was so forgettable that I seriously forgot the opening title had played for one or two episodes and the closer, while a slightly better song, was an inappropriate way to close out the more emotional episodes (though the opening line, "Mosaic pieces coming together one by one" is thematically appropriate). The background music for the first few episodes was absolutely phenomenal  but in the later episodes I found it merely serviceable and undistracting.


This is actually my main concern with Code Geass. Those few opening episodes are pure genius adrenaline rush and the assault on Tokyo makes good on the promise of epic scale that will be much more present in part 2. With a 50 episode run and a plot this complicated, however, the pace has to come down at some point. Most of these slow parts happen at Ashford Academy, and while you can tell the writers are trying their hardest to make even those scenes relevant and emotional, I found them to be rather bland in comparison to the over the top dramatics of the rebellion. Part of the problem is Shirley.


As a character, there is nothing particularly wrong with Shirley. The show sets her up rather explicitly as the girlfriend character, and indeed she is more a girlfriend trope than anything else. Cutting off that relationship with Geass may have been necessary for the plot, to isolate Lelouch, to flaunt the show's subversion of shonen anime conventions, and to give Lelouch an emotional moment (note that they did not subvert the trope by allowing Shirley to have any agency at all-- that would be too radical), but so many scenes in Ashford Academy feel like they could have a lot going on, but instead are stillborn with the snipping of this thread. It is like the hole in your gums after a tooth is removed.

I can't quite tell, but I will give the show benefit of the doubt and say this stillborn feeling is intentional, in which case it is actually sort of genius and serves to both isolate Lelouch further and keep us focused on the action without conciously realizing (I didn't realize until this re-watch) why we just can't seem to care about the academy.


This is a show that just doesn't do subtle. The villainous Lelouch cackles, the heroic Suzaku has to be ordered to save his life instead of being altruistic. Every line is delivered at a single, very loud, emotional register. Stylistically, this is the Michael Bay of anime. The best part is that each character is a manifestation of a certain philosophy, and they shout that philosophy from the rooftops at every chance they get. The plot is both convoluted and immensely contrived, yet instead of diminishing my enjoyment I find myself cackling along with Zero, simultaneously amused by the absurdities and exhilarated by the spectacle.

And yet, rewatching, there are a few subtle points, and they do them very well. The Geass subplot, and with it the true ambitions of the emperor are plain to see. The first time through I though they did a poor job of explaining the mysticism underlying the power that connects VV, CC, Mao and Lelouch (and more...), but seeing all these scattered clues makes me suspect I simply missed it on the first go around.


Even though Lelouch's status as a good or evil person is up for debate, there is no question as he flies into Tokyo that he is playing the villain, and is indeed intended to be a subversion of the typical hero/villain dichotomy. The genius of this show, above and beyond the pacing, storytelling, and dialogue, is how Lelouch cackles. When one of Captain Luffy's enemies cackles, it is immediately as if he is holding up a sign indicating that he is Evil, Villainous, and Mad. When Lelouch cackles, it is far more complex. When he first starts to cackle, perhaps you are cackling along with him, after all you have just seen the universe throw all manner of twists his way to which, in that moment, the only response is mad laughter. He can be standing on a stage with lightning cracking behind him as he wears the black and angular Zero suit and mask, and in that moment your mind is operating on the same wavelength as his. It is only when he cackles for a few seconds too long that you pause and think, in my head I was just cackling like a Bond villain and in the moment it made perfect sense but now... look at him!

Onwards and Upwards:

Part two is in every way bigger, plus it starts to explore the metaphysics of CC and the Geass power. As I recall, the pacing problems get worse, but if you have been enjoying this as much as I have, you have built up enough goodwill to get to the spectacular final act even if the next twenty episodes are an unbroken stretch of necrophiliac bestiality porn.

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