Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion Review (Including R2)

Code Geass was either the fifth or the sixth anime I ever watched all the way through, and it has stayed in my top five anime since 2012, when I watched it. By Code Geass, I mean Lelouch of the Rebellion and its second season, R2. They are technically two separate series, but made within a year of each other, and they fit together so perfectly that it’s not hard to tell a ton of planning went into continuing and structuring the story. Code Geass is a timeless tale. I recommend it to anyone and everyone. Let me tell you a bit more of my thoughts about it in this review.

Story: 10/10

The story of Code Geass is so profound and so classic that I can’t imagine it being any better.

The numerous stories, genres, and characters within it make Code Geass palatable to a wide variety of fans. Strong female characters, touching family ties and friendships, and moderate levels of male-character “fanservice” make Code Geass a worthwhile watch for a more “feminine” crowd. On the other hand, fierce mecha battles, war stories, female-character “fanservice,” and two leading male characters (Lelouch and Suzaku) make the show a great watch for the more “masculine” viewers. Wither way, you may find the show interesting because of its political intrigue, discussions of idealism and philosophy, battles of wit between characters, and excavations into the psychology of characters.

What is the story actually about? For some, it is a story of a tragedy, how Lelouch falls in darkness using unethical methods to achieve an idealistic dream, or how Suzaku loses everything and ends up destorying the people he wanted to protect. For others, Code Geass is a story of romance, depending on your “ship.” An important element of the story is the relationship between Lelouch and C.C., and how being with Lelouch changes C.C. into a more “human” character. Code Geass is also a story of friendship, involving everyone at Ashford Academy and some outside of it. Plus, there is the dynamic between Lelouch and Suzaku as best friends yet worst enemies.

In addition, Code Geass can be thought of as alternative history. It’s the tale of a fighting but failing smaller country in the face of brutal, technologically advanced invaders. It is the story of Lelouch, a young man who wants to change the world, regardless of what or who he must sacrifice. It is a story of the power of sibling love, and the harshness of sibling competition. Some fans watch Code Geass simply for the mecha fights and robo lore– there’s a vast world of Knightmares and their technology you can explore if you look into the fandom. For all those interested in meaningful and exciting stories, Code Geass will be a treat.

The structure of the first season of Code Geass is interesting. You could say it reads like a well-planned novel, with each chapter (episode) giving the required information and the right amount of character and world development, in addition to using literary tools such as parallel characters, foreshadowing, irony, and more. I heartily enjoy structure, so here is my analysis. You can think of Code Geass as having five “arcs” or “books” where each episode strongly ties into the next one.

Episodes 1-6 establish Lelouch, his power, the start of his battles, and his background as well as developing the parallel protagonist Suzaku as his simultaneous friend and enemy. Episodes 7-11 show the battles with Britannia led by Lelouch as the iconic hero, “Zero,” and his followers the “Black Knights.” Episodes 12-16 can be thought of as two interconnected arcs featuring the key characters of first Shirley and then Mao. Episodes 17-20 continue the story of battles as well as once again comparing and contrasting the characters and paths of Lelouch and Suzaku, and the romantic relationship between Suzaku and Euphemia. Episodes 21-25 form the final “arc,” wherein the fate of Euphemia leads to the culmination of Zero’s war and the final emotional face-off between Lelouch and Suzaku.

Though the story is excellent, the structure of Code Geass R2 is not quite as neat and well-executed as the first series. Most fans won’t notice or mind this, but I must mention it as someone interested in story design. Rather than each episode covering one main event and episodes forming 4-6 episode “arcs,” main events are split between episodes via “cliff-hangers,” and organization is patchy. If I had to break it down into a storytelling format, it’s possible to think of R2 as having six parts: opening battles, evolution of driving motivations, rising in victory, lashing out in defeat, another rise and fall in power, and the final campaign. Here is my analysis.

Episodes 1-4 show Lelouch regaining his power, forming alliances, and rebuilding his army, along with familiarizing viewers with the characters once again. Episodes 5-7 follow Lelouch’s thoughts and actions as he realizes that Nunnally is out of his grasp and that his fight is no longer only about her. Episodes 8-11 show Zero’s struggles and great battles to create an independent nation and to recreate the order within the Chinese Federation.

The twelfth episode gives viewers a light-hearted filler about the characters at school, ending with an important development regarding Shirley. Episodes 13-15 are chiefly a supernatural arc showing the downfall of the Geass Order and Lelouch’s experience in the Thought Elevator interface created by his father. Episodes 16-21, broadly, are about the rise and fall of Zero as the head of the new military of the United Nations Federation, ending with Lelouch’s final confrontation with his father and a new ascent to power. Finally, episodes 22-25 show the take-over of the world and the execution of Lelouch’s final plan, The Zero Requiem.

Themes of atonement, redemption, and responsibility are present in the second season, along with more supernatural elements than in the first season. For some fans, Code Geass R2 is a tale of tragedy, showing the despair of lead characters Lelouch and Suzaku, and the massive loss of life incurred by their wars. Once again, as in the first series, it’s also possible to not care about the story and just enjoy the battles, including the intense mecha fights. Whatever you choose to focus on, Code Geass is a wonderful story.

Art: 8/10 Excellent

Although Code Geass was made in 2006, its animation remains amazing to fans both young and old, as long as they like the stylization of the characters. You either like CLAMP or you don’t. It’s usually one way or the other for the anime fans. In case you don’t know, CLAMP is/are a mangaka group famous for their unique drawing style, which shows characters who are tall and extremely thin, with long, lanky limbs and a particular (cute) face-shape. CLAMP was also involved with shows like Cardcaptor Sakura, xxxHolic, Blood-C, and Chobits. They have received wide acclaim and many awards, producing a great number of works, especially in the 90s and early 2000s.

Even as someone who isn’t invested in the mecha genre– I like them, I just haven’t seen any of the classics yet– I greatly appreciate how much work and detail was put into the series’ mechas, the Knightmares. They are animated beauitfully with 2D and no CG is used in the robot fights.

Throughout Code Geass, bright and vivid colors are used for characters, which helps make them unforgettable. The quality of animation in general is good, much better than “average” for a 2006 anime. Over-the-top gestures and expressions abound in this series, and I love every one of them. I guess the unique art in Code Geass makes it hit-or-miss for some, but it was a big hit for me.

Sound: 10/10 Perfect

The original sountrack was at the time really bold and unique for anime, and I think it was a brave move and a successful one. The style is very orchestral with a lot of trumpets and piano and strings, played in ways inspired by classical music. The soundtracks contain some of my favorite musical pieces ever. I love all the openings and endings in the series. The first opening is my favorite of all the openings because of what the lyrics mean. (It’s called “Colors” by Flow.) In season two, I love the 2nd ED, “My Elegant, Evil Flower” by Ali Project.

Kotaro Nakagawa composed the OST scores for Code Geass and I believe his unusual style is widely underrated. The music is often described as dramatic but elegant, and incorporates underused elements such as fast percussion, trumpets, acoustic guitar, and unusual vocal rhythms. A personal favorite is the track “Noblesse Oblige,” which paints the perfect picture of the arrogant Britannian aristocracy. “Innocent Days” is a haunting and beautiful score with female vocalists. “The Black Knights” score is often used in suspenseful situations or battles during the anime. Note that all of these examples are from the season one OST. From R2, there are the astoundingly gorgeous tracks “Madder Skies,” “Desperation,” and “Continued Story.”

The seiyuu cast is amazing. I want to tell you about my favorites. Four of the star seiyuu in Code Geass are Jun Fukuyama (Lelouch), Ami Koshimizu (Kallen), Yukana (CC), and Sakurai Takahiro (Suzaku.) Each has been in a good number of memorable roles, and some like Sakurai and Fukuyama continue to act every season in today’s current anime. You might know Fukuyama from when he played Koro-sensei in Assassination Classroom, though it’s hard to tell at first because his range of pitch and tone are so incredible. Koshimizu has played supporting roles in many big-name anime, and she was the main lead (Ryouko Matoi) in Kill la Kill.

Yukana (real name Nogami Yukana) played Kirigiri in Danganronpa and appeared as supporting characters in many 90s and 2000s anime, including Cardcaptor Sakura, Full Metal Panic!, and Inuyasha. As for Sakurai Takahiro, he’s been in so many anime I don’t even know which ones he’s most famous for. I can’t even select one or two out of the several hundred he’s been part of. …Well, he was Yu in Ajin, Noboru Taki in Hibike! Euphonium, Reigen in Mob Psycho 100, and he’s appeared in several winter and spring 2019 anime. (Gyu in Demon Slayer, for examples.)

This is not one of those series where the star characters are the only striking actors. I find the voice acting throughout the series to be superb, with a variey of talents, some of whom don’t commonly show up in other anime. An example is actor, director, and composer Tetsu Shiratori, who played the interesting supporting character of Earl Lloyd. (He was also the voice of Gluttony in Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.)

Two other favorites of mine are Minagawa Junko (Cornelia) and Ohara Sayaka (Milly Ashford). Minagawa can do a young boy’s voice very well, and played Ritsuka in Loveless, Oz in Pandora Hearts, and Yun in Yona of the Dawn. Ohara usually plays mature and sometimes evil or mysterious woman characters, like Yuuko in xxxHolic, Beatrice in Umineko, Layla in Kaleido Star, and Irisviel in Fate/Zero.

Characters: 9/10 Astounding

I’ve yet to encounter an anime with characters I believe are more colorful, engaging, lovable, sympathetic, profoundnd, a well-developed than the ones in Code Geass.

Once you have seen a few episodes, you’ll find it difficult to forget the characters. This is largely thanks to their popular seiyuu and their unique visual designs, but even excluding those elements, the cast of Code Geass was well-developed and interesting. Considering the great number of characters, the series does a good job presenting the personalities of each. Granted, some characters go less developed than others; for example, the motivations and background of C.C. are largely unclear until the second season, though her personality is pictured well.

While a few of the major female characters seem one-dimensional and don’t appear often enough (such as Nunnally), others like Kallen are well-developed and presented from start to finish. Despite the show giving into some fanservice– titties with nipples alert!– and giving fans obvious openings and excuses to “ship” practically any pair (including yaoi couples), the main characters stay consistent and don’t act out of character for the sake of pleasing the audience.

Most Code Geass fans will agree that the most fascinating character is Lelouch. His semi-sociopathic traits of charisma, great intellect, proud nature, and sometimes cruel decisions are strangely coupled with his obvious humanity, powerful love for his sister, loneliness and isolation, and core wish of wanting to protect the weak. His views on morality are refreshing to some fans, though they make him an “anti-hero” to others– in particular, his opinion that results always matter more than methods, and the ends justify the means.

The character of Suzaku, the more typical hero-type person who cannot agree with Zero’s methods, serves as an excellent contrast to Lelouch. Suzaku is interesting in his own right thanks to his battles with his own hypocrisy, and the shame he feels over an action in the past that makes him all but eager to throw his life away. To see my character study of Suzaku, click here. With so much variety in characters, from Nina to Kallen and from Rolo to Xing-ke, there’s bound to be a character that appeals to you.

In season two, once again, the series does a great job with developing and expanding on its interesting central heroes, Lelouch and Suzaku, and even including character growth for more minor characters (such as Nina). I mentioned in my review of the first season that, considering the great number of characters, Code Geass does a good job of presenting the personalities of each. This is even truer in R2, where new characters are introduced, including Rolo of the Geass Order, Anya from Britannia’s knights, and Xing-ke from the Chinese Federation. Thankfully, there is much more personal development of C.C. in R2 compared to season one.

The love-hate relationship between Suzaku and Lelouch was a huge part of Code Geass season one, and it continues to be a major factor in the development of both boys in R2. For most of the series, their feelings toward each other are entirely hateful, but farther into their series, the old bonds of their close friendship are explored and brought to light once again. Though many vocal fans express hatred for Suzaku, if you watch to the end of the series, you will come to understand that he is absolutely essential to Lelouch, even if you never come to like his personality. 

Enjoyment (10/10 Perfect) and Notes

There was no way I could enjoy this more than I did. Code Geass is an anime masterpiece far better than most anime I see coming out in recent years. Some specific things I liked about the show were the character parallels between Lelouch and Suzaku, the fact that the show is dark and thought-provoking, and the character of my favorite sincerely delusional knight, Suzaku.

Depending on how you look at it, Lelouch and Suzaku could be seen as fundamentally different (because of their respective value systems) or as fundamentally similar (because of their desire for “justice”). They are bitter enemies and closely bonded childhood friends at the same time. Each must ask himself many of the same questions on his personal journey. Code Geass shows parallelism of characters at its best. 

Despite themes of death, revolution, justice, terrorism, patriotism, and heroes, Code Geass is not preachy about values. Viewers are free to believe what they want without pressure from the show or favoritism showed to specific characters. Characters that other shows would be quick to dismiss as “evil,” are presented without bias in Code Geass, and the viewer is even given the chance to sympathize with them. Take, for an example, Governor-General Cornelia, a daughter of the Britannian Emperor. It would be easy to say she is a racist tyrant who has killed countless people. Despite this, we are shown Cornelia’s deep and sincere love for her sister Euphemia.

I enjoyed Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 immensely, as well. I love anime that is thought-provoking and anime that explores and challenges the psychology and value systems of the central characters. There were a lot of new elements in R2 that stuck out at me as particularly interesting. There were also a few things I didn’t like. Certain elements of R2 were less believable than the events in season one. The creators tried too hard to make the first two episodes similar to the first two episodes of season one, sacrificing originality. There were more stupid moments, such as Shirley nearly killing herself by accident in episode 13. There was a little more indriect fanservice in R2, and though I didn’t mind at all seeing repetitive shots of Kallen’s ass, I would also have liked to see more of her face expressions. 😛

Here are a few interesting aspects of R2. I wondered about the psychology (and neurology) of Rolo. Is it possible for a sociopath who killed so many people to develop feelings like those of brotherly love? What do viewers think about the concept of a God made up of the collective unconscious of all humankind? The theme of Geass power being a curse passed through the generations was eye-opening. In several cases, the way that Lelouch’s Geass orders backfired showed the theme that what goes around comes around. Late in the series, Lelouch states that everyone uses lies and that communities could not exist without people lying. This is a fascinating topic for discussion. 

There was also the theme that everyone has a reason for doing everything (though not always a just reason). Consider V.V.’s reason for hating Marianne, the reason for Nunnally’s blindness, and Charles’ excuse for sending Lelouch far away. For another topic, ask yourself if you would want to live in the kind of world that Charles wanted to create, where everyone’s true thoughts and feelings would always be clear to one another. On a somewhat less philosophical note, I think R2 deserves some praise for pulling off a story of this size. What I mean is that they made it about the whole world, in the end, and not just Japan. Finally, of course, the use of F.L.E.I.J.A. warheads cause viewers to think about nuclear war and the reality of weapons of mass destruction.

These examples are only a handful of the thought-provoking elements in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2. Perhaps the most thought-provoking and debate-inducing aspect of the series occurs at the very end, but I cannot discuss it without spoilers. If you have already had the ending spoiled, do you think Lelouch accomplished what he set out to do in the world? Do you think he made the right choice? Whether you know the ending or not, now is a great time to go and watch Code Geass for yourself. 

Overall Score: 9.4 Magificent/ Masterpiece

Code Geass is one of those rare anime that I think everyone animation fan should see in their lifetime. I cannot recommend it enough.

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