I avoided watching Code Geass for a long time, partly because I am picky about character design in anime (I happen to like my characters to be somewhat under eight feet tall), and partly because I had watched two episodes without beginning to care about any of the characters. In the end, two things made me change my mind. One came from the preparations I made before creating my anime fanart group at deviantART, in which I learned that Lelouch Lamperouge ranked third in the Anime-Planet poll for character all-time popularity (an influx of votes for Kakashi-sensei has since lowered Lelouch to fourth place). Granted this is not the most scientific poll in the world (nor does it claim to be), but when over twenty thousand named characters got ranked in that poll, scoring so high must mean something.
The other reason I gave Code Geass a second chance was TWWK’s earlier post on this series, in which he was clearly quite exercised, even appalled, at the violence later on in the series. I couldn’t help being curious about the show that elicited this response from him. Of course, since TWWK wrote this essay with a backdrop of real violence happening too close to home, and since he didn’t know Code Geass would go in that direction whereas his post gave me the benefit of being prepared for it, there was no possible way I could react as he did. Still, I am holding off watching the last two episodes in the first season, so as to put myself in as similar a position as possible to TWWK’s when he wrote his post.
(SPOILER WARNINGS for Code Geass, Death Note, and Steins;Gate below!)
The word fanservice is not uniquely defined in anime. Ordinarily we associate it with suggestive depictions of female characters, but it can also be associated with violence, or even with big robots. Thus shows like Berserk and Viper’s Creed can be considered as fanservice to their respective fan bases. Perhaps part of the reason that Code Geass has such a large following is because it contains all three kinds of fanservice (four if you count male fanservice as a separate entity). In any case, writing as I am from the perspective of looking ahead to the last two episodes of the first season of Code Geass, I am as disturbed as TWWK by this latest twist in the plot, but for a different reason.
Since the moment early in the series when C.C. granted Lelouch the Geass power to command any person to do his bidding once, Lelouch comes across to me as a brilliant young man gradually decaying in his very soul. Little by little, he sacrifices everything to his goal of achieving a liberated Japan under his rule. In order to keep his double life as Lelouch and Zero a secret, he lies, murders, and even uses the people most important to him. When Britannia offers through Euphemia to create the “Specially Administrated Zone” of Japan, Lelouch rejects an opportunity to have a good laugh at everything at his own expense, and lay down his weapons. He can accept no outcome without himself ruling over a liberated Japan. He has long since left that kind of humility behind.
To me, the most horrible crime against human nature in Code Geass occurs before the violence that rightfully enraged my colleague. It is when Lelouch issues the command that forces Euphemia to commit that violence. Lelouch acts surprised, but he has no excuse, as he has known for a while that he is losing control of his Geass power, and that this loss of control is inevitable for anyone who has been granted such a power. His crime is all the worse for causing Euphemia to do something so diametrically opposed to her very nature. When Lelouch accepts even this outcome as a necessary sacrifice for the sake of his aspirations, I can come to only one conclusion: justice must be done on a person who has so sealed his fate. I too would have difficulty accepting the violence that follows if it were real rather than fictional, but as I type, I find Lelouch’s loss of humanity more disturbing than Euphemia’s rampage.
Anime gives us the opportunity to explore “what if” questions. Death Note asks: what if a person had the power to choose who lives and who dies? Steins;Gate asks: what if a person had the power to travel through time and alter history? Code Geass asks: what if a person had the power to command anyone else, even if only once per victim, to do anything he wanted? Perhaps one lesson we can take from all these series is that there may very well be a reason that, in God’s wisdom, we have not yet learned how to make life and death decisions, control time, or exert absolute authority over the actions of others, merely at a whim.
When Yagami Light comes to justice at the end of Death Note, we may feel sorry for him, but it would be hard to think that he has received anything other than what he deserved. Okabe Rintarou manages to get out of Steins;Gate with his life, but has to go through a lot of trouble to undo the damage he brought upon the flow of time. Like Yagami Light, Lelouch Lamperouge embraces his newfound power with all his heart; unlike Okabe Rintarou, he never pauses to feel remorse or regret over any event that ensues from his choice.
It has taken some self-control to hold off on seeing those last two episodes of the first season of Code Geass, but I am ready to discover what becomes of Lelouch Lamperouge. I know what I am hoping will happen. But then, I am usually pretty obvious about things like that.