As promised, here is our final review of Code Geass as a whole. Anything goes here comment wise, and I hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage of Geass this past 6 months. I know I’ve enjoyed writing about it and engaging in conversations with my readers. I’d like to thank all of you that read my entries (and I was really surprised how many of you there were). I’d especially like to thank those commenters who contributed each week and gave me a lot to think about. Finally, thanks to Crusader for putting his spin on things and serve as a counterweight to my fanboyisms.
I’m starting with characters first because I think that characters are the primary reason in which I thought this show was great. You know that you really care about the characters in a show when you get gravely pissed off when they get trashed in their development later on.
Lelouch is probably the only character that really had a full character development over the entire series. They pretty much had no choice in that matter because he was the main character, and without him changing over the course of the show it would have been a flop. He slowly transitioned from pure rage (death of his mother), to a careful planner (OotBK), to being held back by his emotions (Shirley/Euphemia/Nunally), to sacrificing his morals for success (Euphemia, OotBK, geass cult), to throwing away his past (his parents, Nunally), to dedication to the end result (taking over Brittania), and finally, to self-sacrifice (death). None of the other characters had anywhere near the same level of development. I hugely enjoyed his various theatrics and over-the-top speeches throughout the series, second only to the awesomeness that was Emperor Wakamoto. Those speeches were just amazing to watch. And who could forget the fabulousness…
The rest of the cast was way over inflated. During the first season it didn’t seem so large, and I fell for Kallen, C.C., and Kaguya, in that order. More than just because I thought they were hot, I found especially C.C. to be a deeply intriguing character to follow. I really found it unfortunate how they destroyed many of the great characters from season one over the course of R2, people like Cornelia, Toudou, and Kallen. The cast is so huge that I really can’t discuss them individually here, you’ll have to look through all my posts to see my views on all of them. But in the end, do you think you will ever forget all of the characters? Think of all the memorable side cast (Shirley, Rivalz, Milly, Nina, Lloyd, Cecile, Ougi, Villetta, Anya, Gino, Orange, Cornelia, etc.), something for everyone and a cast that will stay with me.
Character Ratings: 8/10 due to R2 character destruction (Lelouch 10/10)
I have made it no secret my utter loathing for poncy effete ivory tower eggheads with a pretension to military genius, I am very much a follower of advocates of total war when is comes to the philosophy of war and the hard science of conflict. Suffice to say the titular lead of Code Geass deviated and tried unsuccessfully to challenge the legacy of Clausewitz in a rather sloppy manner. Clausewitz was right Goro is wrong. Were it so easy Lulu, were it so easy. Milage varies with regard to lead charcters and suffice to say mine was worse than a H2.
Still other than that the cast was bursting at the seams and since death was only for the most part temporary much of the drama was killed off once the reality of the revolving door for the office of death was discovered. At least in R1 the cast was at least manageable if barely in R2 it just got ridiculous to the point remebering people’s names had become a chore. In the end it seems every one from the first season who survived suffered greatly in the development department to make way for new guys who never amounted to much of anything. Li in particular seemed little better than an expendable Todou clone, and given how he was trumpeted as an equal of Lulu and Suzaku it was sad to see that it was certainly not the case give how Li had very little action to speak of and how the Kallen vs. Suzaku rivalry, and Schniezel vs. Lulu rivalry made Li a secondary actor at best. We don’t get much to work with in regards to the rest of the cast and it just highlights the pitfalls of having such a large cast without enough death to cull off people who no longer have a real purpose. In hindsight R2 could have benefited more from an Ali al Sarshes that could have eliminated some of the fat. As it stands I still feel that the Knight of Rounds were misused since they could have been so much more.
Character Rating: (R1) B+, (R2) C-, (Final Grade) C
I think a lot of people would have ignored this or even put it at the end but not me. The music in geass was absolutely superb, one of the top 5 all-time for sure. Starting with the OPs, “Colors” (aka Jibun Woooooooo) by Flow remains near the top of my playlist even today, a perfect rocking pace to the start of the series. “Kaidoku Funou” by Jinn wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was tolerable, but “Hitomi no Tsubasa” from Access was a rock solid closing song for the first season. As for R2, initially I found that “O2” from Orange Range wasn’t particularly fitting, but it grew on me over the course of the season and once that single came out and has become one of my favorites. Plus, nothing beats how pumped you get when they show Orange-kun while singing “I continue to fight!” They went back to Flow for “World End” to finish off R2, and while I found that it was decent, it wasn’t all that memorable. The various EDs served their purpose quite well, even though I don’t particularly care for Ali Project. They slowed things down a bit at the end of each episode, doing what EDs are supposed to do.
The OST was even better than the collection of OPs end EDs. If you have not listened to all four sets of them, do yourself a favor and get your hands on them. The bgm throughout was top notch, with upbeat action tracks for combat (“In Justice,” “Nightmare,” “All-out Attacks,” and “Guren”), wistful tunes for the various bouts of comedy (“School Festival!” “Stray Cat”), and the lulz for the theatrics (“The Master,” “All Hail Brittania!”). They did a wonderful job with the serious moments as well, with the many inserts by Hitomi creating a believable mood of seriousness and emotion. Highlights of her music include “Stories,” “Masquerade,” and “If I Were A Bird.” It definitely ranks right up there with Kure-nai among recent OSTs I can’t stop listening to.
Music Rating: 10/10
I can’t say much about the music since I was by and large still recovering from the positively sublime musical overload from Macross Frontier, still Ali-Project did not over awe me in the slightest. In that light I canot give a fair assessment for the music of CG even if I felt that Rolo’s death song was horribly out of place for that ingrate.
Music Rating: No Grade
Well this is a mecha show, so I had to say something on Geass’ mecha. The concept behind the original mecha in Geass was excellent. I mean it borrowed a bit from Votoms, but otherwise the concepts they put out were fairly unique. They put in a lot of thought and detail into it, I’ve been reading a good amount of the side materials that came with my R1 DVDs. Ground-based mecha were a refreshingly different type these days, and the weaponry (especially the slash harkens) kept it that way. However, they went away from this in R2 significantly with the advent of floaters and lasers. Eventually they didn’t even need floatpacks, they just had wings =/
The fights were pretty lively first season, which focused on tactics rather than who had the super duper mecha for the most part. However, the second season saw a tech wars explosion, as we went from the 6th generation KMFs (Sutherland) to the 9th (Lancelot Albion) over just what, 2 years? There was always a new mecha that just went around and kicked everyone’s ass, including the Shinkirou, Shen Hu, Guren, etc.
Mecha Rating: 9/10 (R1) and 7/10 (R2) average out to 8/10.
The mecha combat in R2 was not very fulfilling in my opinion because once the float packs started showing up it became very Gundam and lost it’s R1 charm. To be fair they did kind of bring the old R1 land roller system and harken slashes back into prominence with the last duel, but I had hoped that it would have forgone the float pack entirely and differentiated itself from Gundam as it stands it lies somewhere between VOTOMS and Gundam and not excelling as a result. The mecha designs were not terribly original given how the Tristan/Kyrios and Mordred/Virtue comparison was inevitable given how uninspired they were from the outset.
Even when new Knight of Rounds KMFs were introduced they did not last nearly as long and in some cases many of them were out righted cheated of mecha screen time. Perhaps as a political drama CG succeeds but from a mecha stand point I think that it was fairly mediocre given how the comparisons to Gundam were being openly invited in the case of Lancelot Albion and its glaring similarity to Wing Zero. R1 at least had many grunty suits with minimal custom frames, that ethos was dragged out and shot once they started skipping Knightmare generations to get to Lancelot Albion. Even if they were loaded with Strike Freedom levels of fire power I cannot over look the uninspired designs of the lead mecha. I did like the Vincents and Wards but given how they were rapidly reduced to cannon fodder status it was much less enjoyable when their life expectancies post Rolo were dismally short.
Overall from a mecha stand point Code Geass is passable and offers nothing new to the genre other than to emulate Gundam. It could have done better things had they stayed on the ground and used that land roller system in new ways but in the end it was easier for them to go for a more Gundam feel. When I first saw the Knightmare frames I was excited these things had ejection systems and were purely land based, but in the end the ejection system was little used unless the plot called for it (like giving Asahina gazongas) or if Tamaki needed to get away. It was by no means terrible, but after being a veteran of G Gundam, VOTOMS, and most Tomino Gundams I cannot honestly say that Code Geass does anything new or terribly memorable. The mecha element of R2 was in many ways a quaternary aspect to the series as it could have easily been replaced by Suzaku going Super Saiyan instead. It lacked the homages to justify most of the R2 mecha designs that bore too much of resemblance to other mecha design concepts from Gundam 00, and as a result feels very derivative and safe. It was a lost opportunity in my opinion to bring land combat into the mainstream, and as a result it is just a sign of stagnation in the Sunrise mecha department if they cannot figure out how to better differentiate their mecha series. As it stands with the float pack, the land roller system became superfluous and looked out of place like a telescopic sight on a paintball gun.
While R1 had it’s unique combat R2 sputtered out with a Knightmare obsolescence scheme worthy of Microsoft. It just did not feel right to go from R1 showing some thought going into the battles to “Oh new KMF. stand aside very one, new guy is going to kick every one’s ass until the next new model.”
Mecha Rating: (R1) B+, (R2) C-, (Final Grade) B-
Ah the story, much maligned and much discussed. From a purely artistic standpoint it was pretty pathetic, with huge and gaping plotholes as well as jarring shifts and a massive lack of pacing. The plotholes especially made analysis often difficult, using the current dispute over Lelouch’s survival as an example. I find it hard to make a serious and in-depth analysis over clues they have given because most of it is probably wildly unintentional. There are so many abandoned plotlines and gaps in the story that create problems. As for the pacing, I didn’t have a problem with it in R1 when there were many episodes left, but looking back the Mao arc was fairly useless. In R2 we saw obvious pacing problems as the latter half of the series was extremely rushed at times and lacked proper buildup and explanation. I think the most egregious example was Marianne, who showed up suddenly in episode 20 with a cursory explanation and then was promptly killed off the next episode. The entire series up to that point was so focused on Lelouch finding out what happened to his mother, and they shoved it at us in two episodes.
However, despite the problems above in an artistic sense, the story was entertaining in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. Some may say it’s a trainwreck, some say it was for the lulz, and others a big trolling by Sunrise. Any way you describe it, those that watched it every week were unquestionably drawn to it if only to watch what crazy shit was going to happen next. Anything from Euphemia killing all the Elevens to Nunally showing up on the phone looking for her onii-sama. While the series often went off and lost focus on an individual episode basis, there was an overriding drive to it that was knocked around by whatever batshit insane plot twist the writers could come up with.
Story Rating: 5/10 (artistically), 10/10 (lulz/entertainment)
In terms of story CG was all over the place which really made it hard to discern if there really was a consistent narrative to begin with. Maybe it is a more modern anime in plot has been killed for the sake of inter-contextual bullshit. I call it BS because I am not a believer in throwing around big words with a pretension to philosophy as really a constructive exercise. That said maybe there was something very deep about CG but it was covered in a fog of lulz, fabulousness, fanservice, and yaoi bait. Perhaps there was a psychology dissertation buried within some of the more artsy episodes, but if there was my attention was diverted away to Millay’s funny hats and her Ashford antics. The thing that still stands out in my mind about rushed pacing with no build up was Marianne, for someone whose presence was an integral part of Lulu’s motivations, it was disappointing to see her come back and die within a scant few episodes of returning from the dead. Plot twists were to be expected but eventually the narrative became a whole string of plot twists some of which are not very satisfyingly explained and seemed geared towards shocking the viewer. In many ways I would have been able to put up with more of the “fuck with the ground” bullshit tactic they had been using if this was a fantasy setting. Alas it was not so and within a science fiction setting it doesn’t work nearly as well when my years of science class scream out in anguish over the instant swamp from an inch of water, and the bubble bath of doom from a scant amount of methane.
However I have to admit some of the moments like Rocket Emperor Wakamoto were genuinely funny. In that regard I did have a good laugh here and there, despite my greivances with its attempts at coherence. I still very much like how Cornelia was able to build up an artillery unit “from scraps in a cave” along with her glorious knifing of V2.
Story Rating: (Overall pacing/narrative) D+, (Lulz) A+
Overall Satisfaction and Conclusions
The numbers I gave for this rating were completely arbitrary and are totally subject to final modification. In the end when you try to give a series a final number or letter rating, I believe you have to consider everything as a whole. Is this a 10/10 show when you look at it from an artistic perspective? No, but then again I don’t possess a visual arts degree. When I rate shows like this I rate them based on my enjoyment, how much fun I had each week watching it. Now I really enjoyed R1, with all the keikkaku doori, the David against Goliath revolution, the twists, the combat, etc. After I watched it I gave it a definite 10/10. But when I try to rate the series as a whole I look at it a bit differently.
R2 took the emerging level of lulz and fabulousness from the first season and took it into the next gear at every possible moment. Yes there was cast inflation and a rushed plot, but I just couldn’t help each week writing a long blog entry, trolling around on /a/, building my .jpg collection, and going back and forth with all of you commenters. I spent many many hours on this show doing various things, and while it may slow down now that the series is over, I still have my LE R1 DVDs being released as well as all of the official English novel releases. Bandai and Sunrise are guaranteed to collect a couple of hundred dollars of my hard earned money. But you know what, they earned it. At the end of nearly every episode, I could look back and say “hey, that was entertaining.”
Overall Rating: 10/10
In the end I don’t think that Geass was a critical success mostly because in the end the Ashford antics demolished what credibility it really had as a serious musing on philosophy/psychology or whatever deep thing they were trying to go for. I highly doubt that CG has much re-watch value simply because much of the plot twists seem to lose their impact if you know what is going to happen. More over the huge cast was hard to keep track of and coupled with the revolving door of death it’s hard to care about some of the characters. As I have stated before as a mecha series it did not rock my world so to speak a lot of it has been done before and the introduction of the float pack really cut down my enjoyment of the series along with the post Rolo mistreatment of such great mecha like the Vincent and the Ward.
Nevertheless while my first experience with this franchise leads me to conclude that it is not my kind of mecha series, as it is dominated by other aspects that I am rather indifferent (harem elements) and hostile to (teenage emotional turmoil for the sake of teenage emotional turmoil), that does not mean it is therefore out and out bad. I don’t like much of it but it is very much a mainstream mecha series in that is tries to introduce other demographics into the mecha camp: your yaoi enthusiasts, your harem audience, and to a degree perhaps even your hard core lit majors who just love seeing some intercontextual allusions to famous works (being treated in a very light manner of course) that a science major like me could not give any less of a damn about. I think of CG as gateway series into the mecha genre for a lot of people, and while I probably will never revisit the franchise, unless I have a bottle of Jack, it has in the end made me more appreciative of Gundam 00 for remaining a bit more true to the older standards of mecha. It is my hope that now that Sunrise has in it possession a mecha cash cow that can cater exclusively to the casual mecha fan that likes having yaoi elements, harem elements, and for the younger folks that all of their future bishie pilots and pilots under the voting age can be inducted as Knightmare pilots instead of tossing them into a Gundam.
Maybe now even if the mecha combat between CG and Gundam are more or less the same perhaps what will define one from the other is that Gundam will finally see the return of old husky pilots like Ramaba Ral and Norris Packard. In the end CG has left a fine legacy for /a/ with a veritable tanker load of memes that will be with us for sometime. It should not be forgotten how much CG has contributed to meme culture and hopefully that will be a more lasting and positive legacy than being decried in later years as that blasted series that introduced BL and harem into mecha.
Overall Rating: (Critically) B- (Contribution to Memes and lulz) A+