By Nomad(Is not a Noodle Person)Otto
So, Code Geass. Code Geass is nowhere near as polarizing a show as Lucky Star way in its heyday (the hate generated by that show was like 5 times funnier than the show itself), but it’s still a show that has two major camps about it. I’ve been in both camps, but, as of watching episode 5 in season 2, I’m pretty far into the pro-Geass camp. It may seem really weird that my attitude towards a show would swing wildly within three episodes, but, there’s a method to my madness. In the case of Geass, the three episode swing happened from the last episode of the first season to the second episode of the new season. Given that there’s a huge (as far as “Nomad Arbitrary Time Units”) time gap between the two seasons, it’s not as weird as it could have been, but, still, going from liking the show to hating it to liking it again was a big swing, something I feel I need to justify. Jolly good, see you below the fold:
To begin with, I’d like to say that Geass has a number of really glaring flaws. Most important is the pander factor. A fairly sizable chunk of the show is basically a bone to throw to the fanboys (and girls), for example, the endless shots of Karen’s ass; also, Rollo, the Uke character. Lloyd and Suzaku weren’t enough, so, to complete the pairings, they added an Uke, as I am not a yaoi fangirl, my appreciation for this addition to the cast is somewhere between zero and minus eleven (hur hur). Furthermore product placement is fail and pisses me off a great deal. Finally, the shift from happy school life to terrorist plottings violates the “no more X episodes” rule that I discussed previously.
So, what’s to like about the show? Well, in my mind, it has three major threads that more than make up for the pizza-hut. First, there’s the symmetry between combatants. Second, there’s an inversion of the standard “winning by losing” trope. Last, but most important to me, is a solid dose of commentary about my favorite blood sport: power politics. None of these things alone is enough to overcome my annoyance at the weaknesses of Geass, but, together, they forge a sort of “black tri-thread” with enough power to execute a “jet stream attack” on my viewing habits (I blame this awful extended metaphor on the SRW I’ve been playing instead of writing for the blog or doing real work).
So, interchangeable combatants. It’s a common theme in “real robot” shows (like gundam) and it’s even started shown up in “super robot” shows with a non-trivial frequency. The basic idea is that the two sides aren’t that different, and, has circumstances been different, the warriors on one side could easily have been found on the other side. For example, in real history, a Robert E. Lee is seen by some as an example of this “if only things were different, we could have been friends” mentality (my two cents: treason in defense of slavery is not excusable). The suggestion, moreover, is that the real enemy is war itself.
It’s an interesting, if a little overdone, idea, but it’s not the idea that Geass advocates. in Code Geass, Lulu and Suzaku are friends who end up on opposite sides of a war. However, there’s a profound difference between the two, and between the sides they support. Lulu is supporting a bunch of terrorists, something I can’t imagine the “noble knight” Suzaku doing, while Suzaku deeply cares about his people, in contrast to Lulu, who isn’t a racist, but, at a basic level, doesn’t really care about the damn elevens. At first, it seems weird that Lulu and Suzaku ended up on the sides they did, but, really, it makes perfect sense. They’re not just cogs in a larger machine of war, but, sympathetic individuals who have chosen to support morally questionable enterprises (terrorists, the oppressor nation) because of a higher good. To use an analogue, it’s like the difference between orcs and humans in warcraft II (they both play pretty much exactly the same: interchangeable combatants) vs. the difference between the three races in starcraft (they play similarly, but are fundamentally different: whatever the hell Geass is doing)
This parallelism breaks around the end of the first season, when Lulu accidentally Geasses Euphie into murdering a whole mess of elevens. At this point, the chance of reconciliation between elevens and Britanians is so tiny that it makes the idea of forcing the Britanians out seem reasonable. The population has been radicalized, and it looks like Lulu has basically won. This, of course, is not the case, as by Geassing Euphie, Lulu has sown the seeds of his own destruction; by winning, he has lost, as Suzaku is not committed to his destruction. However, Suzaku, in so doing, has also set himself up for a fall, as he is now a creature of the emperor’s, and no-longer has a chance to break the cycle of control: the best he can do is to buy the elevens a temporary reprieve, if and when he becomes governor.
Normally, we see the trope from the other end, a character who wins by losing, and the ability to transcend or escape from a broken system. Geass, to its credit, has no ray of light, it’s the main characters who start the exchange, and force a mutual zugzwang, a series of forced moves that will end only in anihilation, each step perfectly logical, but with a repugnant finish. Of course, someone will end up winning the exchange, if only by virtue of not playing, which is the third thing I love about code Geass.
If you asked me to tell you the best spectator sport in the world, power politics and war would definitely be up there. Of course, they’re horrible to live through, but, if you wanted a pure example of human ingenuity and gamesmanship, you couldn’t do much better than those two. Geass has, at core, a story of power politics, but it’s a little difficult to see at first. Lulu begins as nothing more than a private citizen with a grudge, but, through extraordinary circumstances, has a glimpse at greatness, he might be able to change the world.
The problem is that during the first season it’s not really clear what he’s opposing, sure, Britania is bad, but he spends most of his time trying to find out who killed his mom; not really power-politics at all. The only guy who really “gets’ what’s going on the the Britanian traitor/intelligence guy. He sees that though Zero, there’s a real chance at completely changing how power is allocated: who has control over the world, and who has to shut up and deal. Lulu doesn’t think of that as his “real goal,” but, as the show goes on, his desire for revenge, and, later, his desire to protect his sister are gradually being sublimated to his desire to tug the strings of fate, to play chess master to the world. It’s so completely human, it’s wonderful, as once people taste the honey of control, it tends to slowly dominate their lives.
What’s even more fascinating is that by trying to control him through Nunnaly, Suzaku and the others are playing with fire. They can only control Lulu so long as they don’t actually “do” anything, because once she’s dead, all that’s left for Lulu is power, and I’m sure that even if he ends up failing to take over, the blood and chaos he makes will be fantastic. Well, that’s about it for now, catch you cats later.