Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Definitely one of my favourite series to be released in recent years, Code Geass is an action-packed, dramatic original anime series that seems to have caught on quickly with anime fans. It reminds me strongly of Death Note in some ways but isn't quite as disturbing, nor quite as much of a tense thriller. Even if you're not usually a fan of anime series this might be one to check out.
The background to
Code Geass is interesting in itself: it's set in an alternative Earth where the British Empire never went into decline and has gradually conquered a sizable chunk of the world's surface, in part helped by their giant robots called Knightmares. The latest country to be conquered in 2010 was Japan, which was subsequently renamed "Area 11″ and its people dubbed "Elevens". The rest of the world seems to be divided amongst several superpowers, such as the Chinese Federation. Naturally not all the Japanese took this invasion lying down and have formed a resistance to fight back against the Holy Empire of Britannia. You can find more information on the background on the Wikipedia.
The main story begins 7 years after the conquest of Japan and revolves around Lelouch Lamperouge, a Britannian teenager who attends the prestigious Ashford Academy and seems to have a hobby of using his chess genius to embarrass minor Britannian nobility. After such a match Lelouch gets mixed up in a resistance operation that results in him gaining the power of Geass, which allows him to give anyone who looks into his eye a command which they are compelled to follow. Even if the command is "kill yourself". Lelouch uses this ability, along with his tactical genius, to form the persona of Zero and take command of a group of rebels and use them to do considerable damage to the Britannians. Lelouch's motives for this become clear over the course of the series.
Along with Lelouch there is a supporting cast of interesting characters, most of which manage to conform to some clichéd anime archetype or other. There's the shy girl who's not-so-secretly in love with Lelouch, the obnoxious best friend, the bossy student body president and so on. The characters manage to be just different enough to keep things interesting though, especially as the series progresses, or at least fun. In case you're wondering why you're getting flashes of Cardcaptor Sakura or Tsuabasa, the character designs were done by CLAMP, although the series is not one of theirs.
Like many other anime, especially those involving mechas and high school students, the show tends to have a mix of drama, action and comedy. The pace of the show doesn't exactly start off slow but it still manages to pick up towards the final episodes. There's plenty of twists and turns in the story as well, enough to make it a reasonably good thriller.
There's quite a bit of character development for the leads during the course of the first season but Lelouch really steals the show in some of his more contemplative moments. His character is similar to Light Yagami from Death Note but where Light has only a few initial concerns about his path, Lelough struggles with it almost until the end. I think this makes him far more interesting to watch: he's never truly convinced that what he's doing is right and has to do a lot of rationalisation to get through all the terrible things he does. In a way, he's even willing to sacrifice himself – or at least his humanity – to achieve his goals, which are surprisingly unselfish.
Although the show only recently finished airing in Japan it has already been licensed in America by Bandai Entertainment, perhaps due to its (apparently) large following. I've already seen it referenced or parodied on at least two other anime series. A second season has been announced as well, which is just as well since the first ends on a cliffhanger.
Now, there is one thing I'm slightly upset about already with the English dub: it was announced that Johnny Yong Bosch would be doing the voice of Lelouch. Now, I don't actually mind Bosch's voice work but he has a major strike against him in almost everything he does – he always sounds like Johnny Yong Bosch! Vash, Ichigo, Renton and Itsuki all sound pretty much the same (despite their wildly differing characters) and, at least in this case, I think his voice is not a good fit for Lelouch at all. I'm probably being a bit harsh here: we can't expect everyone to have the range of Crispin Freeman. I'll reserve final judgement for when I actually watch the show but I guessing I'm going to be watching this one with subtitles after the first viewing.
Overall, I absolutely loved this series and I can't wait for the second season. If you enjoyed shows like Death Note or Full Metal Panic! then I'm sure you'll enjoy Code Geass as well.