The name of Clamp wields a great deal of influence, enough that their connection to an anime series is enough to make most people sit up and pay attention, and with good reason. In the case of Code Geass, the well known creative conglomerate have lent their distinctive style to the series’ character designs with impressive results. The look is sharp, elongated and intensely dramatic, and for a story with dark, complicated undertones and an antihero who makes Light Yagami look like a bit of a softie, it’s no surprise that most people think it actually is a Clamp series.
It’s no shame to make the mistake. Sunrise Studio went to a lot of trouble to ensure Clamp’s efforts translated thoroughly across to the production, and developed much of the character backgrounds and story details with the group’s input. As a consequence, Code Geass is at heart classic Clamp material – the eternal, heroic dichotomy of good versus evil playing stylishly and violently out through two individuals who were once close childhood friends. However, it’s not merely this clash of opposing forces that the series showcases; it also brings into question the efficacy of violence and extremism as an answer to repression, and considering today’s political climate around the world, that’s possibly a little more confronting than most anime ever intentionally tries to be.
Set in an alternate reality where the ‘Holy Empire of Britannia’ has invaded and conquered much of the world, Japan is an occupied nation, its people reduced to second class citizens and its cities ruined slums. Forget the directionless frustration of the disaffected, dispossessed youth; Code Geass is more about the harsh reality of the grown up world – loss, inequality, repression, tyranny, powerlessness, killing. It’s a world not even adults know how to handle. Enter Lelouch Lamperouge, one of the conquering class but with a particular bee in his bonnet about how things ought to be done. There’s no one more able to take down a system than someone who knows it inside and out, and Lelouch has been just enough of a victim (a privileged, rich victim, but hey just because he still enjoys life as an elite doesn’t mean he can’t feel the plight of the little people) to want exactly that. Perhaps if he was an ordinary boy, it’d be a little difficult to believe he knows what’s best for everyone, but he’s far from ordinary, even before he inherits the mysterious ‘Geass’, a power which manifests itself by making people do whatever Lelouch wants them to.
To be quite honest, the idea of that kind of power in the hands of someone with as much single-minded determination, sheer inherent genius and inbred entitlement as Lelouch has ought to be making people kind of nervous, as in ‘substituting one evil for another’ or ‘Master Race’ nervous. Perfect in all ways except that part where he kind of borders on crazy and dictatorial, you can almost see it all heading towards Hell in an express elevator from the very first episode. And when Lelouch’s long lost best friend, the good hearted and mercilessly principled Suzaku Kururugi crosses his path, not only can you see it going bad, but bad in a really ugly way.
And boy, do you want to keep watching.
Maybe it’s the luxury of distance, the safety of analogy that makes what is basically the international news a thing of episodic entertainment. True to Clamp’s tendencies, the underlying themes here aren’t exactly frothy and low cal, but it’s not all angst and violence either. Feel free to enjoy the show for the incredible mobile suit sequences – especially when Suzaku gets into the experimental Lancelot frame, and the epic range of fascinating characters, each with their own closet of issues and secrets. Go ahead and enjoy the gorgeous fetishist look of the characters and the gorgeous, glossy look to the show. Feel free also to revel in the flair and chilling style with which Lelouch gets through life; he’s the coolest sociopath this season and Code Geass might not be made by Clamp, but it’s close enough to not really matter.