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This Week in Anime
Why Was Code Geass Such a Big Deal?

by Christopher Farris & Steve Jones,

Chris and Steve make the highly questionable decision of watching all of Code Geass in 48 hours. Is the series just as good as it was nearly two decades ago?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, its movies, and Back Arrow are currently streaming on Cruncyroll, while Princess Principal: Crown Handler is available on HIDIVE. Code Geass: Rozé of the Recapture will be streaming on Disney+ and Hulu starting June 21.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet

Chris, I've got a topic this week that's sure to make the kids say, "jibun whoa."

That's right. It's chess. Get ready to learn about Ruy Lopez.
Steve, I believe you might be able to convince those kids above that our subject for today could teach them to play that most classic of board games, but come on. The grown-ups who watched Code Geass can all remember at least one thing about it.

Nobody in this show knows how to play friggin' chess.
Watching Code Geass for chess is like watching Birdie Wing for golf. The game is everywhere, and if you know even a single thing about actually playing it, you'll scream.

Thankfully, in both cases, the remainder of the show is equally, if not more, insane, so it all comes out in the wash.
There's a comparison to bring Code Geass back for the modern era. It's even appropriate given both it and Birdie Wing indulge in their iterations of Gundam homages. In the case of Geass, that's at least partially structural, including some streamlined recap movies, a future-framed follow-up, and now a whole new side-story series due to start airing this month!

Fans of extra-noodly CLAMP designs fighting in giant rollerblading robots never had it so good.

I forgot how much I loved these character designs. It's a Slenderman soap opera.

But yes, with the advent of more Geass content on the horizon, it's as good a time as any to go back to the halcyon days of 2006-2008. Let's whip out those yaoi paddles and see if we can figure out what made this show such a phenomenon. Was it actually kino? Or were we all brainwashed?
It's appropriate that Lucas and Nick kicked off their column earlier this week by referencing Death Note since its anime started airing at the same time as Geass. Both shows becoming such hits in their own right indicates that maybe we were just primed by that point to enjoy Machiavellian teenagers with magical murder powers.

I think there were a lot of factors that made Code Geass such fun to watch at the time that might not align with it today, and part of that is admitting that adult me likely wouldn't be as immediately into all this edgy absurdity as teen me was.
Code Geass really couldn't have dropped at the perfect time for me. I had just turned 18, started college, and recently discovered 4chan and all its ups and downs (mostly downs). And I think that last part, for better or worse, was most instrumental to my inaugural Geass experience. This was the first anime I can remember watching as a community, week to week, with everyone chomping at the bit for the next episode. Everyone's keyboards were ready to tear it apart and meme it up.
Right after Fullmetal Alchemist (the original, correct 2003 version) Code Geass is a prime example of what I'd come to regard as a Watercooler Anime. Do jobs still have water coolers? Aw, jeez, I'm showing my age even more.

Regardless, the idea is Code Geass' appeal as a show was intertwined with the communal act of experiencing it with others. Talking about each episode after it aired, reacting to plot twists, throwing out theories, and, yes, reveling in the memetic ridiculousness of a series that just barely seemed to be hanging onto being taken seriously by a single long, lanky limb at all times.
It's a series that begs you to nudge the ribs of your nearest neighbor weeb and ask, "Are you seeing this shit?" That's probably its biggest strength—and I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment! A ton of legitimately impressive craft went into making Code Geass the lightning rod it was. You need no other proof than the legion of imitators that failed miserably to replicate its appeal or success. Code Geass had the juice. In fact, upon reappraisal, I'd say it still has the juice.
There's seriously no shame in a series finding success in being fun to watch with a group. That is, in terms of simple numbers, more entertaining than something you enjoy watching yourself. And that great group-watch methodology has been proven plenty of times over, from Samurai Flamenco to the recent Gundam: The Witch From Mercury. But like a pizza that pleases the whole crowd at a party, it's something you can only bake if you have the right ingredients.
Also, a lot of ingredients. All the meats. All the veggies. Hell, even some pineapple. Every Code Geass episode has at least a dozen things going on. We can argue how well it handles that juggling act, but it's almost always mesmerizing and propulsive. Moreover, it has a knack for knowing when it's time to shake things up and dump an entire bottle of hot sauce on the plot.
You know, I could make a pithy comment here about the statute of limitations being far up for Code Geass letting us go hog-wild with spoilers, but the fact is the memetic status of the show did that for us back during its inception. Like the inability of its cast to play chess, there are other major things that it feels like even people who have only heard of the show are still wholly aware of.

You couldn't swing a runaway cat in an AMV Hell compilation back in the day without a questionably tasteful Euphenator bit.
To use that example in particular, in the abstract, it's such a bullshit twist that reeks of edginess for edginess' sake. Yet in practice, the series' full-throated commitment to (literally) executing that development to its most melodramatic end—that fearlessness is what makes Geass rise to the top. No motivation, B-plot, twist, or asspull is too stupid to dismiss. It all earns the same Shakespearean treatment in the writing.

And when it works, some episodes can make you believe you might be watching the greatest television show of all time.
Man, I think about that line once a week. Like Lelouch's magical mind control, it's all a neat spell to be put under. The weekly, episode-to-episode way of watching the series back in the day was critical to its cred and a prime example of why that structure is essential to building these sorts of swerves. Code Geass is a series that would fall flat on its face if it were released altogether as a binge-model dump.

Reinforcing that, I watched the relatively recent compilation movies as a refresher for this column, and even as someone who remembered all the pieces on their own, seeing so many episodes of Geass crammed together with no breathing room resulted in what felt like a hell of a lot of noise much of the time.
See, I kind of figured that would be the case, so I did the smart thing and slammed back all 50 episodes over two days. My brain might not work anymore, but the experience reinforced my preconceived notions, so it was worth it. And that notion is Code Geass can only work as a 50-episode series. It needs all that space. It needs every precious morsel of student council shenanigans, just like it needs every second of Lelouch's stupidly byzantine strategy. Even better when you get both in one episode.
I don't know if I'd have the ability to go through the whole thing at that rate, but I'd be lying if seeing the truncated version of Geass didn't make me want to go back and review all those bits of scaled sensationalism. Perhaps while showing it to someone who hadn't seen it before, for that full vicarious experience.

The movies' cuts are also odd in that they almost feel like they're trying to rewrite the tone of the series' legacy. Like I'm not saying they were intentionally removing all the most meme'd on bits of the show, but a non-exhaustive list of what they leave out includes:

Bunny Kallen The cat chase The hat chase Suzaku pleasuring himself with that fish Table-kun The million-Zero march Schneizel's illegal chess move And everything involving Mao and thus the scene that was the basis for the infamous soup store sketch

Geez, I didn't think the cuts would be that bad. That's an entirely different series at that point. I don't even understand the drive to make the show more serious/respectable because so much of the fun comes from how shamelessly trashy it can get. The lechery is part of its personality.

Okay, I'm remembering some of the other reasons people tuned into this show week after week.
You can make a drinking game out of this shot/angle alone. If there's a Knightmare fight in the episode, let's just say you'll find out why it's called Geass.

I have another important question about the movies: have they also removed the Pizza Hut branding?
Sadly, yes, though the menu items themselves are still rendered accurately, and C.C. still uses Lelouch's Amazon Prime account to order a mascot plushie.

Look, when we say Code Geass is cheesy, we mean so much it's filling the crust with it.
Man, that is such sadness. The blank pizza boxes are just not the same.
I need my mass murder and megalomaniacal manipulation sponsored by a wholesome family restaurant, dammit!
Luckily, at least on Crunchyroll, it looks like they forgot to scrub one episode, so the spirit of Pizza Butt still lives on in a small yet powerfully meaningful way.
The legacy of the original must linger. While plenty of other series like those I mentioned before can pull off the same sort of collective hit status that Geass did, just as many, like you said, have tried and failed. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't have trepidation that might extend to the forthcoming nu-Geass itself.
Oh, I have tons of trepidation. A pile of pessimism. A cornucopia of cynicism. There are lots of reasons for that, but we can start with the structural one. As I mentioned, Code Geass only works as well as it does because it was a 50-episode series. You can do things with 50 episodes that you can't do in 12 episodes or a single movie. Code Geass needs its colossal cast of characters and weekly mix-ups of betrayal and allegiance. It needs that sense of scale and that opportunity to get granular with its characterization.
Case in point, they tried a return, a resurrection, if you will, a few years ago off the back of those recap movies with a new movie that pretty well proved that Code Geass doesn't work as well consigned to a story that can be told in just an hour or two.

Okay, maybe it also didn't help that they were trying to do a continuation to one of the most gleefully, brazenly, absurdly self-satisfied endings out there.
I don't think I was that mad back when this movie debuted, but now that I've rewatched the show, I'm legitimately quite mad they caved and retconned Lelouch's death. Yes, I know the movies have their separate continuity and contain even more neutered plot elements, but the whole project reeks of the kind of cowardice that was so anathema to O.G. Geass. The show was stupid, yes, but it wasn't cowardly. It had stakes. It wasn't afraid to bloody its hands. That's why it was such an appointment viewing!
It's amusing to me that they had to reverse Shirley's death to make the resurrection happen, especially since the clipped content of the movies means she barely does anything in those despite her importance!

Not to mention, any continuity of the story would have to deal with how incredibly dumb the Zero Requiem project was. The original ending was brilliant in that regard, handwaving all of the complexities of the geopolitical sphere and focusing instead on the theatrics, i.e., the series' true strength.
I've always described Code Geass' approach as being akin to a stage play, with elements like Lelouch's posing and proclivities playing into that. When it tries too hard for the straight geopolitics angle, it just proves how much it was never meant to be something like Gundam, and you wind up with less-fondly remembered stretches like the China arc.

Lelouch of the Re;surrection seems to understand that Lelouch's ostentatiousness was a huge draw of the story's presentation, and that's almost a justified reason for bringing him back. But it just can't properly recapture the ridiculous magic. Even the absurdity of the main villain repeatedly killing herself to reset her evil plan isn't played for all it's worth here.

If this had been in the show, it would've had a montage of people posting edited gifs.
The moment when she ices herself and zips back in time is the first scene in the movie that exudes some of the classic Geass magic. Too bad it happens over an hour into the film. I saw the premiere of this at Sakura-con back in 2019, and if you had asked me yesterday what happened in it, I wouldn't have been able to tell you a single thing. That's a travesty. The worst thing Geass could be is forgettable.
I can still remember major plot points and minor goofs from the TV series I watched over a decade ago. That's the staying power you hope for from something like this.
My rewatch today didn't do Re;surrection any favors either. It has none of the spicy interpersonal drama that made the TV series so electrifying. The most we get is a scene of Suzaku punching Lelouch, and then everyone is cool with each other again. That's boring! They should all be playing 5D chess and wrestling with their competing/complementary desires to kill and/or screw each other.

Also, there's the unforgivable missed opportunity of introducing a Geass womb tattoo, but not slapping it on Lelouch. Do they even understand why this franchise got so huge?

Look, we all remember Suzaku's pilot suit. Leaving out details on guys' groins is arguably part and parcel of the legacy of Geass. Certainly, it is an area where it should have evolved over ten years later.
Spinzaku's endowments lie elsewhere, namely in his ability to Spin. My other major trepidation about the upcoming Rozé of the Recapture is the lack of overlapping staff. Code Geass, like any anime, is a product of the specific conglomeration of artists who brought it into being. It's people, not franchises, that are important. So I'm skeptical of a new series lacking director Goro Taniguchi and writer Ichiro Okouchi.
Say what you will about them; those guys know their way around appointment television. Taniguchi collaborated with all-timer Kazuki Nakashima on Back Arrow, which not a ton of people watched, but me and the bruhs on my feed had a blast with it.
Count me amongst the Back Arrow defense squad.
Meanwhile, Okouchi was responsible for Witch From Mercury, which might as well be Sunrise's true successor to Geass in terms of modern social media shockwaves.
The dude is prolific and highly variable, but when his stuff hits, it hits. I mourn the 4-cours Witch From Mercury we would have gotten in a more just universe. That could've been an even truer successor.
That's all to say that the staffing is my biggest concern, too, least of all because I've already experienced a 1:1 comparison for it. I had a great time with Ichiro Okouchi's Princess Principal a few years ago and was jazzed for a follow-up. But when I finally settled in to check out the Crown Handler movies, they felt lacking in the same zip, at least partly down to Okouchi's writing duties being taken over by Noboru Kimura.

The same Kimura who's now inherited Geass from Okouchi for Rozé of the Recapture.
Also worth noting is that we've already had a Geass spinoff with a different creative team at the helm: Akito the Exiled. I've never seen it, and I've never seen anybody talk about it. I think that says it all.
Look, I don't want to be too down on Rozé ahead of its streaming premiere (though not for nothing, the first part of its movie cut didn't even crack the top 10 in Japan's box office during its opening week). At the absolute least, one of the newer trailers shows the marketing team behind it knows how to appeal to me specifically.
I can also throw my support behind the addition of gyaru selfies to the Geass extended universe.
Though she really ought to be taking that with one of Geass' famous fucked-up skinny side-flip phones.

Either way, I'll reserve judgment until later this month, but I know you can't go home again. The good news is that even a new Code Geass that doesn't set my timeline on fire can't use its powers to erase the only partially ironic fond memories I have of the original. I mean, even all this has only reinforced my desire to go back and rewatch the real Code Geass myself. Last of all, because the recap movies were never dubbed, I missed out on reliving some all-timer lines.

I will second that dub recommendation. That's how I watched it this time, and not only is it a great cast, but it also helps the episodes go down even more easily (especially if, for some reason, you need to watch the entire thing in less than 48 hours). Seriously, don't even bother with the recap movies. Just put on the show, and you'll be binging it in no time. It's ridiculously watchable. A relic of a bygone era. A roller coaster like no other.

There's plenty to criticize about Geass overall, but as an experience, especially in a group, there's nothing else like being on that ride. Huh, that reminds me, not knowing how Rozé of the Recapture will turn out means this column is technically stopping on a cliffhanger, so there's only one way to end it in this case.


See you in eight months, everybody! We'll be right back in school, acting like nothing happened!

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