June 6, 2008
I was incredibly skeptical about Code Geass at first, but I’m very pleased to say that I was greatly surprised.
STORY – Before I saw this series, it was described to me on multiple occasions as “Death Note with mechas.” After seeing it, however, I am inclined to disagree. The similarities between the two series are superficial at best, and though I can see why people would draw the comparison, I don’t really think that dis/liking one means that you’ll dis/like the other. But anyway, unlike Death Note, I wouldn’t say that the story in Code Geass is particularly notable or unique. It’s actually rather straightforward and even a little cliche, but that’s exactly why this is such a well done series — the barebones storyline is handled in a refreshing and new way that grabs the viewer’s attention. There are enough twists and turns involved to keep you on the edge of your seat. The pacing is excellent and nothing feels rushed or drawn out. Indeed, the progression up to the conclusion is especially brilliant. (It’s a cliffhanger “ending,” but oh, it’s just a fantastic cliffhanger.)
The series is also appealing in its uncanny ability to mix genres. Yes, this is a mecha series, but it really doesn’t have to be. Yes, CLAMP did the character designs and there are some very shoujo elements (read: homolust), but there are very shounen rivalries and some pretty epic battle scenes too. Everybody wins! Additionally, because of the number of characters, the story allows for a number of small subplots. I was very happy with how this was handled in particular because all of the subplots relate and affect the main plot directly, whether by revealing some bit of information to both the characters and the viewer or by pushing forward interesting character development. Everything is well thought out and wonderfully executed, so despite the fact that “strong-willed person with plans to change the world receives mysterious power that helps facilitate his goals” isn’t a very unique storyline… Code Geass makes it work.
Also. Code Geass utilizes the “best friends trying to kill each other” plotline, and I’m a sucker for that plotline.
CHARACTER – The characters in this series are rather varied. Some are very plain and one-dimensional, while others have an amazing complexity to them that makes them incredibly life-like. I’ll be honest; I’ve become somewhat infatuated with Lelouch as a character (and am rather biased as a result). To me, he is very much a human character — he has emotions, opinions, a unique point of view, and some very serious flaws, all of which make him wonderfully easy to relate to and to sympathize with. He is easily the most complex character in the series, and he feels real to me, even with his supernatural powers and his genius-level intellect. This ability to make the audience relate to him is also probably the series’ greatest strength and the main reason why the story is able to remain relevant and interesting despite the fact that there aren’t too many new ideas plotwise.
Suzaku would probably be second in line for complexity after Lelouch, though his sense of justice might be called cliche at first (along with Nunnally’s and Euphemia’s), and his hax-level physical prowess is somehow harder to accept than Lelouch’s genius-level intelligence. It’s harder to appreciate Suzaku’s depth at first, partially because he is presented as Lelouch’s main obstacle and the audience’s sympathies are with Lelouch, but a great deal is revealed about his character throughout the course of the series, and he becomes an amazing foil to his rival. Their conflicting ideologies and philosophies are fascinating if you really look into it, and gay as it sounds, they really do compliment each other very well.
Much of the rest of the cast seems to fall into typical archetypes — there’s your adorable little sister, your mad scientist and his assistant, your cheerful schoolgirls, your best friend, your most loyal soldier, your second-in-command, your village idiot, your… really creepy lesbian girl? Despite the generic-sounding descriptions, most of the characters are actually pretty fun, or at the very least, interesting. C.C. provides snarky commentary. Shirley spreads innocent schoolgirl love. Nunnally is so moe, you’ll die. Jeremiah is a good butt of all jokes. Little bits of backstory are tossed in here and there to separate them from the crowd, but it’s never enough to actually intrude, and the wide range of characters lets you settle into the world pretty well too; after all, what universe is complete without an animal mascot that shows up now and again?
ARTWORK & ANIMATION – I wasn’t too impressed with CLAMP’s character designs at first (noodleboys!), but as always seems to be the case, they gradually grew on me, and I remembered just how pretty X was. CLAMP just knows how to make everyone look amazingly sexy, male or female. I really loved how they did all of the facial expressions in the series though, especially for Lelouch. Seriously, that guy had some of the most awesome crazy expressions, some of the most amazingly heartwrenching sad expressions, and of course, some of the most amusing WTF expressions. The mecha designs for the Knightmare Frames were also pretty awesome. I dig the whole rollar blade thing, and some of the technologies they come up with are neat, if a little over-the-top. The animation is fluid and smooth for the most part and very few things stood out as being bad.
MUSIC – Initially, I wasn’t particularly fond of any of the OP/EDs for Code Geass except the first ending by ALI PROJECT because 1) I love ALI PROJECT, and 2) Yuki Kajiura’s style seemed to suit the series very well. The screaming violins both convey the high status of Britannia and the intensity of the emotions in the series. The rest of the themes seemed lackluster in comparison, but though I was never a huge fan of FLOW, “COLORS” kind of grew on me after a while. The final insert song, “Innocent Days” by Hitomi is pretty nice as well. Very thoughtful, very poignant, very fitting. The background music during the series was negligible for the most part; there is some pretty generic battle build-up type music and other appropriate, but rather typical, themes. And yet, subsequent viewings of the series really leads the music to grow on you — there are some neat classical/opera tracks, and the “All hail Brittania!” theme is definitely awesome.
VOICE ACTING – I’ve seen all of Code Geass subbed and most of it dubbed. Although I was incredibly turned off by Johnny Yong Bosch’s role as Lelouch initially, it kind of grew on me, and now I think it fits well enough, though I do wish he’d change his voice a little more when Lelouch is Zero (make it a little deeper?). Suzaku’s dub voice surprised me with how appropriate it was too. One of the things I really wish we could replicate in English though, is the subtle differences in manners between characters, between Lelouch and Suzaku at various stages of their lives, and between Lelouch and Zero. In Japanese, when Lelouch and Suzaku are children, they refer to themselves with “boku” and “ore” respectively. As teenagers, the pronouns are swapped, with Lelouch using “ore” (Zero uses “watashi”) and Suzaku using “boku.” Euphemia uses “watakushi.” I’ll skip the grammar lesson (go wiki “Japanese pronouns”), but suffice to say that these differences provide a lot of very intriguing insight into each of the characters. It’s really too bad English isn’t nearly as interesting.
The rest of the voices in the dub are pretty average, perhaps the low end of average, with a stereotypically high-pitched girly voice for Nunnally that is amazingly annoying, and very forgettable voices for virtually all the female characters (Milly, Shirley, and Kallen all kind of sound the same). I was very impressed with Lloyd’s dub voice though, even if nothing will ever amount to his amazing original voice, which is uh, amazing! Seriously. One of the most amusing voices I’ve ever heard. Jun Fukuyama’s voice for Lelouch I found to be a bit too deep/old sounding initially, but that grew on me as well, and I really love the badassity of his voice for Zero. Suzaku’s original voice sounds a little generic at first, but it grows with his character. There’s a good bit of Engrish in the Japanese version as well, which is always fun. I don’t think you can ever get tired of their “Yes, my lord(o)!” or their “All hail Britannia!”
Overall, I’d say the original is damn awesome, and the dub is relatively watchable — always a plus, right?
OVERALL – I really love this series, and I definitely did not see that happening. Honestly, I found the first episode incredibly underwhelming: the opening sequence made it look like a series I wouldn’t be interested in watching at all, and all of the expository really turned me off…but the second episode? That was so much more epic than I could have ever predicted, and I was pretty much won over after that. I’m just a sucker for chess analogies, I guess? Seriously though, good story, good characters, good animation, and good music! Mechas, politics, rivalry and comradery, strained friendships, love and hate, complex ideologies, and blowing shit up! What more could you want? :D