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I was cycling to work a few days ago, thinking about anime, specifically those I listed on my favourites list, and my thoughts turned to Code Geass. I found myself describing it effusively as "seventeen kinds of awesome!"

Then I thought, "I wonder if I can actually list those seventeen kinds? Cause, you know, I like to be precise. If it's actually eighteen kinds of awesome, or only sixteen, it'd be better to be accurate."

So, here's a list of Code Geass's awesomenesses. (I've tried to make this comprehensible even if you don't know anime, and to keep the spoilers to a minimum.)

  1. Villain Protagonist. We have to start with the main character, Lelouche. As Vitenka put it, he's a MainCharacterBadGuy: that is, a Villain Protagonist. Death Note showed us how awesome this could be with its Villain Protagonist Light, and it's still a pretty unusual take on things: awesome.

  2. Cunning Plans. The similarities between Lelouche and Light don't end there. They're also both Chessmasters, who manipulate those around them for their own ends, and factor their opponents' reactions to their strategies into those strategies in Xanatos Gambits. And watching a well-written Xanatos is awesome.

  3. Magic with Limits. Like Light, Lelouche has a single supernatural power: the power of mind control. But it has limits. I hate it when magic is just a way for characters to get out of the scrapes they get themselves into, but Code Geass isn't like that: his power (the titular Geass) has several clearly defined restrictions, most notably that it can only ever be used on a given person once. As Light did, Lelouche does some experiments so that he (and we) can find out the limits of his power, and they're set at the right place to make him scary and powerful, but far from invulnerable.

  4. Moral Depth. But Lelouche isn't just a clone of Light. One of the most notable differences is their morals and emotions. Light was always sigle-mindedly set on achieving his goals: any hint of emotion was always a total sham. Lelouche is more complex. He's dedicated to his goals, but he's not happy about some of the means he uses to achieve them, and he's genuinely troubled by some of the consequences of the rebellion he leads. Complex character making morally difficult decisions with huge amounts at stake? Awesome.

  5. Secret Identities. Also, he takes the "secret identity" thing further than Light did. Lelouche actually has a superhero-style outfit, with a voice-changer mask so he doesn't suffer from "surely you should know that voice". It's cheesy, but it allows all sorts of fun tension as different people know Lelouche and his secret persona Zero in different contexts, and as he risks being found out. (Suzaku has similar issues with people who know him as a classmate but not as a mecha pilot.)

  6. Self-mocking Melodrama. While I'm mentioning Zero's outfit, I have to also mention Zero's style. Lelouche is a man with a flair for the dramatic, and he plays it up to an astonishing degree. This is often just really cool; at times it crosses into what would be cheesy, were it not for the fact that other characters comment on his melodrama, disparaging his ham. Style and dramatic flair plus savvy characters who notice when it goes over the top? Awesome.

  7. Genre Defiance. Code Geass is to some extent a mecha anime, and Lelouche is the title character. So what's his mech like? ...He doesn't have one. There are a few notable mechs from the title sequence, but they belong to other main characters; Lelouche doesn't have one, instead using his powers to steal one every now and then when he needs one. The series defies the rules of its genre, and that makes it awesome.

  8. Same Aims, Different Means. So far I've just talked about Lelouche, but the series has a lot of other characters. His chief foil is Suzaku, who's a separate kind of awesome himself. Suzaku is the character who you might expect to be the protagonist: the youth from a privileged background now disadvantaged and determined to do what's right. (And in fact, it seems someone else thought that Suzaku was a protagonist-style character too, since there's a spinoff/sequel/alternate series called Code Geass: Suzaku of the Alliance. I'd be interested to see it, but I feel it might have difficulty being as cool as Lelouche's story.) The beautiful thing is that Lelouche's and Suzaku's aims are the same; but their means put them on opposite sides of the conflict. (But also in the same school group, just for fun.)

  9. High-School Hijinks. Ah yes, the school. I do like it when anime break with the cliché that every giant mecha pilot is a schoolkid, and have some adult protagonists. But I'm fond of school settings too, as can be seen by the amount of my favourite anime which are set in part in a school. And this school is hilarious. The education facility for the children of the Brittanian Empire's rich and famous, it features an AbsurdlyPowerfulStudentCouncil of deranged loonies, including three of the main characters, and several others who get a surprising amount of character development. The series is mostly about more important things, but I do like the moments of HighSchoolHijinks, because well-done HighSchoolHijinks are awesome.

  10. The Brittanian Empire. Britain has taken over the world! And we're evil! ...Except that most Britannians are actually very sympathetic and pleasant characters, including some of the royalty. It's just a few of the leaders, and the fact that Japan are the other side, that makes the Britannians seem initially like the bad guys. The situation rapidly becomes more complex than that, of course. But the evil Britannians get some great lines, such as when the king says, "The EU claim than all men are equal, and they're so disorganised and always squabbling! Only we Britannians have the strength to admit that man's existence is inherently discriminatory!"

  11. Romantic Tension. Yes, this series has that too. Not as much as some series, certainly, but what there is is fun. There are three girls I've thought Lelouche is going to end up with (at different times, obviously), and also romances happening between at least two pairs of other characters. And this looks like the kind of series that will do things, not just sit there with the romantic tension unresolved. (Although I recognise reluctantly that I may have to wait till the end of series 2 for a full resolution here.)

  12. It's Not Afraid To Kill People. On the subject of things the anime isn't afraid to do, there's another Trope which is regarded as a sign of quality, and which adds to the tension, titled simply AnyoneCanDie. I won't say much more since spoilers, but Code Geass has shown itself willing to let at least moderately important characters die if the plot demands.

  13. Plot Twists. That plot is actually really good. It's undeniably complex, but that's no bad thing. The several different groups each have believable motivations, the gradually-revealed backplot is juicy and consistent, and best of all, the plot twists are both believable and unpredictable. I really like a story with good plot twists.

  14. Pacing. The series also deserves recognition for its pacing. Several series that are otherwise pretty good have times when the plot drags, or blatant filler episodes. Code Geass manages to keep each episode moving quickly, with a variety of different settings but no filler. Many episodes manage to have a self-contained plot for that episode, while simultaneously advancing the ongoing plot and setting up points that will be returned to later. Just like Babylon 5, when a series manages to combine episodic plot with arc, it's awesome.

  15. Foreshadowing. This series sets up things for future payoffs. Sometimes you don't see them coming, and you're rewarded when the twist comes by being able to go "Oh, of course, that fits with X". Other times you can see something coming, but can't tell quite what it's going to be. For example (spoiler!), we were told as almost a throwaway line that Nanaly's blindness has a psychological cause. That's clearly a setup for her to open her eyes at some key moment. But we don't know when that'll be, or what she'll discover when she does. And how will it interact with the long-established way that Lelouche's power needs eye contact? I don't know, but I'm going to enjoy finding out.

  16. Product Placement. You might feel I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Product placement is not normally something that adds to a show (apart from where it lets a show exist in the first place). But Code Geass's delightfully Japanese take on Pizza Hut is hilarious and boggling. The product placement is normally relatively standard - the Pizza Hut logo visible on some pizza while the characters are talking about something else. But one time we see them filling in a collect-me card to send off for a "Lovable Cheese Hugging Pillow". (There does exist in Japan such a thing as a "hugging pillow", or dakimura, but beware, the Google search results are likely to be NSFW.) An episode or two later, the characters are having a very serious discussion about plot-significant stuff, while one of them clings on to the large orange cuddly cheese toy that they received. It's very, very strange, and rather wonderful.

  17. Coherence in Diversity. As I've demonstrated, there's a lot of different aspects to Code Geass! It's got politics, rebels, high-school comedy, secret plans, mecha, backplot, supernatural powers, a touch of romance, secret identities, war, a huge cast of characters... It would be very easy for a series with this much going on to feel like a hodge-podge of elements thrown together with little thought, but Code Geass manages to pull them all together to make a startlingly coherent and compelling story.

Okay, I think that's enough. I've covered most of the aspects that I love about this show.

So, what have we learned? Well, I've learned that seventeen is an awful lot, and I'll be rather more careful with the numbers I utter on a whim in future! And a series that was merely five kinds of awesome would be plenty good enough.

EDIT: Note that I'm not trying to give a balanced review here. I'm not going to try to list its flaws, but it has a few. I'm just enthusing.

I guess the thing about Code Geass is that it combines the key hooks from two of my favourite anime series. Like Death Note, it has the Chessmaster Villain Protagonist whose plans depend on his predictions of his opponents' actions. And like Full Metal Panic and Neon Genesis Evangelion, it has mecha pilots on whom great things depend, combined with high-school comedy.

It sounds like the mixing-pot kind of recipe for a train wreck, doesn't it? However, it's very well done, which makes the diversity of Code Geass one of its strengths. It's able to push all the right buttons, and that may just make it my new favourite anime.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2008 11:21 am (UTC)
So was this an attempt to find seventeen different kinds of awesome, or an impartial and scientific classification of awesomness? One might be surprised that you discovered exactly as many kinds of awesome as you had speculated there might be.

Confirmation bias, 'n all that. The public have a right to know.

Aug. 6th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
I think I have to admit some bias. For one thing, I didn't list any of Code Geass's flaws, of which it has a few. For another thing, I thought for a while I'd be stuck on fifteen kinds of awesome. But I didn't get round to posting this until I'd thought of another two.

Also, if I was going to add an eighteenth kind of awesome, I know precisely what it'd be. But I thought seventeen was an appropriate cut-off point (which I typoed as "cute-off point"). So, yeah, it's probably not as impartial and scientific as it could be. I doubt it'd be accepted as a submission to Nature.
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Also, if I was going to add an eighteenth kind of awesome, I know precisely what it'd be.
Go on, what?
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
Another character - my favourite of the female characters, who despite her red hair isn't really a tsunderekko most of the time, but does have her own double life, crises of conscience, moments of romantic tension, tense family background and so on.

Then would come the utterly demented TV producer, probably. I like the way he appeared quite early on, but gradually became more of a main character over time, gradually showing more aspects of his twisted character.
Aug. 6th, 2008 12:39 pm (UTC)
It sounds interesting - is this an anime which is sensibly available, or is it subject to the vagueries of BitTorrent?
Aug. 6th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
Apparently it's been licensed by Bandai, but not yet released in the west. So no, it's not currently available in any sensible fashion, as most respectable anime torrent trackers will have removed it since it's been licensed. It's apparently scheduled for broadcast in the US this year, and so the DVDs may be available next year. I'll be getting them when they are.
Aug. 6th, 2008 01:50 pm (UTC)
I haven't been very impressed with Code Geass, but I'll try to pay more attention to is given what you've written here.

Do you really think it's comparable to Death Note? Death Note seemed like a masterpiece to me.
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)
Am I right in thinking you came into Code Geass quite late through the series? If so, I think you should watch the first 3-4 episodes. They perhaps demonstrate the key concept and why I like Lelouche so much. (Okay, I actually missed episodes 1-2 myself. I plan to catch them up.)

I think the central hook of Code Geass is very similar to that of Death Note, and the reasons I like them both so much are very similar. Death Note perhaps has a little more Chessmastering (and certainly more Xanatos Gambits), but I think the ultimate reason I like the series so much is Lelouche, and many of the reasons I like him so much he shares with Light.

On the other hand, this is all subjective, and your opinions may vary.
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC)
I've seen all of Code Geass.

I don't think I saw any of it (apart from the last episode) at WA.
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, you've seen all of it? Interesting. Well, fair enough, this is just my opinion :)
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
I did watch it while being tired, having to watch it all at once ready for WA. That undoubtedly prejudiced me against it. I'd be interested to hear what other WA-ers think of it.

The Anime News Network ratings seem to be of a similar order for Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion and Death Note.
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
Interestingly, Death Note gets about twice as many 10s as 9s. Code Geass gets about equal 9s and 10s, but the second season gets about twice as many 10s as 9s, just like Death Note (though with understandably rather fewer ratings, as it's much newer). I was expecting the second season to be rather worse, as second seasons often are. But it looks like we may be in for a good time when we eventually get to see S2.
Aug. 6th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
Probably... given that it's new (and probably not released legally in the west) you'll get more fans watching and rating it at present. Similarly I find scores on IMDB tend to be inflated when things are new, I'd expect the effect to be more pronounced with anime.

Of course, it may be that my assumptions about how likely 'neutral' people are to watch new second series anime are faulty.
Aug. 6th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, there is probably a fan-inflation factor. And also, as you say, people who didn't like S1 that much seem unlikely to watch S2. OTOH, I'd expect a lot of fans to have pretty high expectations from S2.

I guess we'll have to wait and see for ourselves :)
Aug. 6th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
Are we going to watch series 2 after series 1?
Aug. 6th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
I'm certainly going to be voting for it :)

(Not necessarily immediately. I don't know how much of S2 has even been fansubbed, given that it was announced licensed in March, before it even aired in April; most fansubbers won't do licensed series. So it may have to wait till DVDs are available, which may be some time.)
Aug. 7th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
This comment has been made because there should clearly be 17 comments on this post. If anybody makes another one, delete it.
Aug. 20th, 2014 11:01 am (UTC)
Which lasted successfully for six years, but six years later...! :)

Alex: I just saw your set on multiverse, and read your 17 points, and you're right, that DOES sound completely awesome! Do you know if it did become available on DVD?
Aug. 20th, 2014 11:15 am (UTC)
It did indeed! I own the entire first series on DVD, and most of the second but not quite all of it. I'm rewatching it now with the excuse of being "research" for making my Multiverse set ;) so I'm likely to be filling in the gap in my DVD collection pretty soon.

You'd be very welcome to borrow the first DVD to see if you like it!
Aug. 20th, 2014 02:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That would be really lovely (although probably not for a couple of months when things are a bit quieter :))
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )