Andrew Osmond calls for death to Britannia, the evil empire!
In the magnificent Sunrise alternate-world saga Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion – whose first 25-part season comes to DVD and Blu-ray today – the Imperial superpower conquers Japan, renaming it Area 11. Schoolboy Lelouch is one of the Britannian elite, but under his handsome, ice-cool exterior, he has a secret past, a fiery rage and world-shaking ambitions. In the first part, he’s caught up in a bloody battle in a Tokyo ghetto. All seems lost when he has a fateful encounter with a mysterious girl – yes, one of those mysterious anime girls. She gives him power over people’s minds, plus a ragtag resistance army with which to pound the invaders.
Code Geass is loaded with operatic character drama and big robots, plus character designs by the famed female group CLAMP. The revolutionary Lelouch relishes the theatrics of the show. After he gets his powers, he dons a snazzy mask and cape and calls himself Zero, champion of the Japanese oppressed. Much of the plotting revolves round delicious dramatic ironies, as we see the main players as friends and acquaintances in their “everyday” lives, who then fight each other to the death behind masks and power suits.
The show has an enormous cast, though fed in slowly enough so we can keep track. As a ruthless, manipulative gameplayer, Lelouch recalls Light Yagami in Death Note. There’s a difference, though; unlike Light, Lelouch cares desperately about the people in his personal life, such as his angelic little blind sister, Nunally (who would later be the star of her own spinoff video, Code Geass: Nunnally in Wonderland). Lelouch also shares a secret history with Suzaku, a more straightforwardly heroic Japanese youth on the other side of the war. It’s Suzaku who’s picked by the Britannians to pilot an experimental mecha (called Lancelot) and ends up wooing a sweet princess. She in turn has a sister, Cornelia, who’s a warrior queen in the tradition of Nausicaa’s Kushana. That gives you some idea of how Code Geass’s cast snowballs…
Many of the Japanese voice-actors have intimidating pedigrees. Lelouch himself is voiced, mellifluously and seductively, by Jun Fukuyama, who’s been in other CLAMP-related productions; he was Kimihiro in the anime version of xxxHOLIC, a role he reprised in the crossover film Blood-C: The Last Dark. You may also know him as the pedlar Lawrence in Spice and Wolf, Yukio in Blue Exorcist, and Ayasegawa in Bleach.
Lelouch’s friend and foe Suzaku is voiced by Takahiro Sakurai, who’s now playing Griffith in the new Berserk films and the title ursine in Polar Bear Café. Another pivotal Geass character is Kallen, Lelouch’s classmate, who’s yet another character with complex origins and a deadly double life. Her voice belongs to Ami Koshimizu, who co-stars with Jun Fukuyama in Spice and Wolf as the lupine Holo. Code Geass’s support is provided by Fumiko Orikasa (Rukia in Bleack) as Shirley, another girl in Lelouch’s life; and also by the show-stealing Tetsu Shiratori (Gluttony in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) as Lloyd, a mad scientist with a line in cracked humour.
The sheer number of colliding protagonists makes Code Geass fizz with backstories, twists, counter-twists, shock revelations and delirious “what the hell?” moments. There are endless combatants to pair off, cool battle tactics (Zero’s army brings down half a mountain) and Death Note-style conundrums (how do you fool a telepath?). The tone whiplashes from comedy scenes of high-school hijinks (Zero’s helmet gets nicked by a cat) to shocking images of kids and elderly being slaughtered by the Britannians.
It might seem a queasy mix at first, but gradually the two sides draw together, as Lelouch’s soap-bubble student home threatens to pop as the war seeps closer. Throughout, the show is motored along by its absurdly addictive plot, regular robot wars and bonkers multiple cliffhangers. In Japan, viewers had to endure a mid-series hiatus, and then a long wait before the sequel (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Revolution R2) picked up the story. Luckily, we won’t be left hanging so long – the follow-up comes to DVD and Blu-ray soonish…
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray.