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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: Code Geass

Facts:

Thrilling Action-Adventure on a Grand Scale Replete with Conspiracy, Supernatural Powers, and Fast-Paced Mech Battles. So Loud And Dramatic It Will Have You Capitalizing Every Word You Write. 50 episodes over two seasons. Fairly hard to find legitimately, but this youtube looks legit.

Bottom Line:

Code Geass is an absolute adrenaline rush so loud and exciting that you completely forget the nagging feeling of having walked into a freshman philosophy seminar. While they show makes pretensions of depth, it mostly uses it to give twists to the plot and motivations to the characters, skirting the line between blandly inoffensive and distractingly theoretical well enough that it can (and should be) enjoyed as fluff, albeit some of the best fluff ever put on television. If you absolutely must have a relatable character drama in a peaceful, quiet setting, I would still recommend this as the absolute best your least favorite genre has to offer.


Adolescent Power Fantasy:

Let us get this out of the way at the very start. Code Geass is an adolescent power fantasy. I first saw this at a fairly impressionable age (just coming off calling myself a Randian Objectivist with pride, for context) and it is in retrospect frightening how well I was able to relate to Lelouch. A terribly intelligent loner who lacks the motivation to achieve at his potential realizes he is special when given superpowers, and that is all he needs to seek vengeance on those who wronged him and conquer the world to institute a "new, better system". The only women who don't fall in love with him fall in love with someone else and all the men are either comic relief or ideologically driven warriors (and sometimes both). As innovative and subversive as the characterizations can be, this is a cast of cardboard cutouts, though certainly made of the smoothest, sturdiest cardboard imaginable, who are shuttled between set piece battles, grand gestures, and interludes of high school life at a breakneck pace. Still, with so much going on it is easy to keep your feet out of the plotholes and entirely possible to miss the contrived nature of some of the daring feats until long after the episode is over.

Pure Adrenaline Rush:

There are enough gorgeous action sequences here, mostly in the form of fairly tactical battles among continuously improving weapons (the rebels start with "4th generation" mechs and end up with "9th generation", each iteration being noticeably more awesome) that you can have a good time even if the plot runs by too fast. And it does run by very fast.

But it is the speed of the plot, even more than the speed of the mechs, that gets the heart pumping, and in the final episodes of each season the events, unexpected but always foreshadowed and sensible in retrospect, come only moments before your are able to make sense of the previous events, leaving the viewer as adrift as those surrounding Zero must feel. Zero is intelligently written and his machinations, as implausible as they often are in execution, consistently feel like strokes of genius, and with the added crutch of hyperactive pacing it is easy to feel like you are watching a genuinely brilliant mind.

The speed at which everything happens means that a second viewing can fill in a lot of gaps and was, for me at least, a great deal of fun. At the same time, there really isn't enough depth to merit third or fourth viewings from anyone but serious mech battle fans.

Recommendations:

This is a show that borrows heavily from the mainstream, partly in order to subvert mainstream hero archetypes, but also because it revels in just how much fun a huge mech battle can be.
  • If you yearn for more romance, or indeed a show entirely devoted to watching Suzaku and Shirley fall in love, try Full Metal Panic!, which has the added bonus of some good light comedy moments.
  • If you enjoyed the tactical battles of the last few episodes' battle over Fuji, the military classic Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a must watch, though much more slowly paced.
  • If you liked the high action mech battles, then there are really about ten million mech shows including promenently Mobile Suit Gundam and it's million successors. Those who though that the Euphy / Nunnally solution should have prevailed will like Heroic Age in particular.
  • Finally, Chrome Shell Regios strikes a number of the same notes in a more high school focused setting that sticks out in my mind as being a more conventional version of Code Geass, though how exactly that is escapes me at the moment.
Of these, LoGH is much more intelligent and slower, while the rest are intellectual popcorn, though also generally slower, just cause good lord I finished the last episode an hour ago and am still breathing heavily.

Final Note:

Code Geass is at its heart a popcorn action show with lofty aspirations that it, quite unusually  executes deftly. The way it undermines the hero archetype and plays with the philosophical themes of control, rebellion, means and ends elevates an exceptional action vehicle into a grand melodrama that sucks you in and shakes you up with all the force of a 9th generation Guren. Stimulating the reptile parts of your brainstem with over the top battles and gestures while at the same time engaging your frontal cortex, Code Geass is a tremendous amount of fun for your entire brain and a shining example of what an action show can achieve.

Purely based on how much I enjoyed it, I give Code Geass a 9.5/10.

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