Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 28th 2008
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
The year is 2010. The Holy Empire of Britannia has taken over Japan and reduced the island nation to an administrative region known as Area 11. Given these circumstances, one would think that Lelouch Lamperouge, a young Britannian, would enjoy being on the winning side—but all he wants is revenge against the Empire. His reason: during the takeover of Japan, Lelouch's mother was killed and his sister permanently injured, and even more shockingly, he was disowned from the Britannian royal family. When a mysterious girl grants Lelouch the power of "Geass"—the ability to control people's minds upon eye contact—he suddenly has the tools to overthrow Britannia. Assuming the name of "Zero" and rallying the masses, Lelouch sets out to crush the Empire at any cost ... but does that also mean turning against his best friend Suzaku, who sides with the Britannian forces and is opposed to Zero's methods?
In a way, Code Geass reflects the malaise of a generation: the realization that old, rich, powerful people have screwed up the world and that the young are helpless to do anything about it. That is, until one of them gains a near-godlike superpower. Yes, we'd all like to think that the world's problems of economic collapse, class conflict, political instability, radical extremism, and more can be solved by forcibly ordering people to shoot themselves. Or can it? As it turns out, the series is at its best when raising questions rather than offering a final solution, whether it be through the ideological challenges between Lelouch and Suzaku, or the visceral thrill of Zero's vigilante methods. But despite these conceptual ambitions, the manga falters too often in its execution, and anyone expecting the artistic polish of the anime will be sorely disappointed.
Right from the start, this adaptation seems to struggle in trying to keep up with its animated counterpart. The first chapter is, of course, a blow-by-blow account of how Lelouch gets his powers, but stumbles with awkward pacing as it tries to jump between day-to-day school life to military action to supernatural abstraction. As Volume 1 progresses, the only scenes that feel truly natural are the ones involving uncivil disobedience—the midnight mischief of schoolmate Kallen, or Lelouch ordering a very important death towards the end of the book. Everything else, however, feels like a tacked-on attempt to build the depth of the story: school-life scenes involving random side characters, Lelouch and Suzaku's up-and-down friendship that never seems to go anywhere, and overblown angsty monologues about Lelouch's crippled sister Nunnally. All right, we get it, she's in a wheelchair! Stop shoving it in our faces!
Although one might expect things to improve as time goes along, Volume 2 only offers more of the same: pretty good when it gets into the action, but pretty horrible when it tries anything else. With Lelouch having stepped fully into his role as Zero, there are some intense thrills to be found here: the kidnapping of Suzaku as a political scapegoat, a hostage situation involving one of Lelouch's relatives, and most spectacularly, a dramatic explosion to close out the book. But in between those incidents lie some really stupid things like a cat stealing Zero's mask and causing slapstick antics for a whole chapter, or trying to socialize with the girls at school (nothing says pandering to fan fetishes like sticking cat ears on Lelouch). If this is an attempt to lighten the mood, all it does is make the story a disconnected mess; wacky school comedy stuff is best left to manga-ka who actually specialize in school comedy.
But amidst the story's ups and downs, one thing remains consistent: the thoroughly unimpressive art. Lacking the distinctive sharpness of the anime, the character designs in this version are practically a Hello Kitty-fied version of Code Geass, with Lelouch and friends looking almost middle-school-aged in some scenes. (Yeah, that's what we really need deciding the fate of the world, the Disney Channel demographic.) The one thing that does look impressive is Zero's mask and cape, but even then, his dramatic entrances are often hampered by poor staging—somehow, many of the scenes have a cramped feel to them, as if there just isn't enough room to illustrate everything that's going on. Given the simple, clean-lined style of the art, visual clutter shouldn't even be an issue, yet the close-packed layouts and overuse of tones end up taking their toll on the eyes.
Another thing that remains consistent is the bland writing and dialogue: not intense enough to make the battle scenes come alive, not sophisticated enough for the philosophical conflict between Lelouch/Zero and Suzaku, and certainly not funny enough for those occasional school comedy scenes. Well, perhaps we should be thankful that it's not crammed with technobabble and political jargon, but swinging to the opposite end of the scale—where any attempt at depth or nuance boils down to "I am sad because my sister is disabled"—is hardly an improvement. Sound effect translations are a more positive aspect, though, with the original Japanese left intact and appropriate translations worked into the art, and the glossy color pages at the start of each volume provide a nice bonus.
Fans who consider Code Geass an untouchable masterwork would do well to avoid this manga if they want to keep their perceptions of the series at that high level. This adaptation is exactly that—an adaptation, more or less reciting the events of the story, but with none of the style, the bombast, the intensity, the artistic flourish, or even the epic cliffhangers that the anime is known for. Instead, it lurches helplessly between different themes, moods and subplots, trying to capture the adolescent fantasy of overthrowing everything that's wrong with the world, but ultimately just scraping along as a middling action piece. Ah, if only someone with the Geass eye could have ordered Majiko to do a better job with the manga.
Overall : C
Story : B-
Art : C-
+ An ambitious concept that packs a number of thrilling, awe-inspiring action sequences.
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