Review for Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion - Complete Season 1
Kazé Entertainment’s opening gambit of 2013 bears a lot of similarity to their first significant release of 2012. Both are re-releases of titles previously released by other companies in the UK, both had limited initial releases down to distributor problems, and both get (for the time being) exclusive English language Blu-ray upgrades. Last year saw the Blu-ray debut of Black Lagoon in the UK, six months before the US release. Its initial release from MVM on DVD was limited due to the US licensor, Geneon going out of the distribution business, and several UK fans missed out on its balls to the wall action excellence as a result. Kazé’s re-release was overdue, but the Blu-ray upgrade that they sourced for it proved that certain older shows truly benefitted from the upscale process into HD.
This year, they kick off with the license rescue of Code Geass. Both seasons will be coming to the UK again, beginning with this Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion Season 1. It was initially licensed and released by Bandai, and their European subsidiary Beez here. It too suffered from a limited release before both companies went out of business, and it too was a title that many fans have missed out on as a result. Kazé’s re-release is certainly welcome, and once again, they’ve looked to Japan to source the Blu-ray discs, at this time a UK English language exclusive. Over the last year or so, I thought I had become used to the capacity of Blu-ray when it comes to anime, and had thought the limit was 9 episodes in 1080p HD to a dual layer disc. Kazé and the Japanese company that they sourced the masters from manage to squeeze the whole first series, 25 episodes, plus extras onto 2 discs. I have to admit that I wasn’t inspired by the mathematics.
Actually, I wasn’t inspired by the series in the first place, or I would have hunted down the Beez discs when it was first released. It’s my instant knee-jerk reaction to anything with giant robots in. Given just how much of anime has giant robots in, I’m constantly fighting my innate tendencies to roll my eyes and tut derisively, in order to give these shows a chance. Not every giant robot show is a Power Rangers clone, and not every giant robot show boils down to gleeful teens operating machinery without recourse to manuals and training, machinery that really ought to be in the hands of responsible adults. Unfortunately not every show is Evangelion either. I initially and automatically dismissed Code Geass, and only when the glowing reviews started trickling in did I become interested. By the time I was actively motivated to watch the show, the series was out of print, and Beez were out of business, which makes this license rescue most timely.
In an alternate world, 10th August 2010 saw the invasion of Japan by the Holy Empire of Britannia. The giant walking powered suits known as Knightmare Frames quickly overwhelmed Japan’s conventional defences, and the nation fell in the space of a month. Re-designated as Area 11 of the Empire, its very identity erased, the Elevens became second class citizens in their own home, ruled over by the aristocratic Britannians. But as with every ruthless overseer, resistance soon developed. Lelouch Lamperouge is an exiled Britannian prince with his own grudge against the Empire, as well as a desire to fulfil his promise to his crippled sister Nunnally, to create a peaceful world for her when she regains her sight.
It’s a terrorist attack that gives Lelouch the weapon with which to advance his timetable. Terrorists steal and make off with a container of poison gas, and the Britannians mobilise a force to hunt them down. Lelouch, playing hooky from his prestigious school gets caught up in the mayhem. It isn’t gas that has been stolen though; it’s a secret for which the Britannians would indiscriminately kill to protect. It’s a green-haired girl named CC. CC senses that Lelouch is the one that she has been waiting for, and bestows a gift upon him, the ability to force anyone to obey his will, a geass. With his keen strategic mind, and his vendetta against the Empire, Lelouch now has the tools to take the fight to the invaders. All he needs now is to find the resistance.
Kazé Entertainment release the 25-episode Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion Season 1 across 2 Blu-ray discs.
1. The Day a New Demon Was Born
2. The White Knight Awakens
3. The False Classmate
4. His Name is Zero
5. The Princess and the Witch
6. The Stolen Mask
7. Attack Cornelia
8. The Black Knights
10. Guren Dances
11. Battle for Narita
12. The Messenger From Kyoto
13. Shirley at Gunpoint
14. Geass vs. Geass
15. Cheering Mao
16. Nunnally Held Hostage
18. I Order You, Suzaku Kururugi
19. Island of the Gods
20. The Battle for Kyushu
21. The School Festival Declaration
22. Bloodstained Euphy
23. At Least With Sorrow
24. The Collapsing Stage
Code Geass gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p. What we have here is an anime that dates from 2006, and this isn’t a period where shows were being animated in full HD. Even today it’s a rare television show that gets such treatment. The series has been up-scaled for Blu-ray release and the results actually vary from scene to scene. It also seems to me that some scenes, particularly the credit sequence text, episode title cards, and eye-catch animations and some CG elements in the show have been re-animated at full HD, so great is the detail in them. But generally, Code Geass looks much like what it is, an up-scaled show. It is a very good upscale however, and with the DVDs at hand to compare, there is greater detail, smoother edges, and generally crisper visuals.
What the Blu-ray provides that the DVD cannot is a much better colour rendition, and the images in this show are greatly enhanced in that respect. It’s brighter, fresher than and not as muted as the DVD. You also have a distinct lack of compression, and you can freeze any action scene and get a perfect still, unmarred by pixellation and mosquito noise. You also get a progressive playback at the correct 24 frames per second resulting in smooth, and unmarred animation, rather than an interlaced PAL conversion with 4% speed-up that suffers from that transition. Digital banding only occurs rarely in darker scenes, and aliasing was wholly absent. In that respect, this may be a stronger transfer than last year’s Black Lagoon, which I would have thought would have remained unassailable as an example of up-scaled anime.
It transpires that the character designs for Code Geass come from none other than CLAMP, the collective behind shows and manga such as Tsubasa, xxxHolic, Tokyo Babylon and X, but the angular chins and the large eyes are notably diminished in Code Geass, with just a hint of their trademark style getting through. It’s an impressive animation, full of detail and energetically animated. This isn’t one of those shows that resort to still frames when the budget tightens, and the overall quality of the show is always high. The world design too is of equivalent quality, and the giant robots and fantastic technology integrate well into this alternate vision of the near future. If you’re wondering at the white pizza boxes and blank advertising hoardings, this show was sponsored in Japan by Pizza Hut, but that sponsorship doesn’t extend outside the territory, and was removed. It’s a high quality show that really excels in the HD format.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
The audio comes in PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with player forced subtitles for the Japanese tracks, and player forced signs for the English track. Fortunately Blu-rays have a pop-up menu to switch between the two options, but as always with a Kazé disc, if you are hard of hearing and prefer the English dub, you’re screwed. I went with the Japanese audio as always, and found it by far the more preferable option, with some great voice actor performances and involving characterisations. The English audio I sampled from six random DVD episodes, and found it to be a pretty solid anime dub, working well for the drama and the action, but faltering a little when it came to the comedy. The stereo works well enough to convey the action, and the show’s music drives the story along, enhancing the emotional content without overwhelming it. The show also gets a set of very catchy theme songs.
Kazé and subtitles! It seems we always end up here. For once we have to be grateful for a story where the Britannian Empire invaded Japan, did its best to erase the culture and changed most of the signs to English. Because once more, Kazé’s subtitling is so low rent that they can’t simultaneously display captions and subtitles, and indeed have trouble when more than one person is speaking. If you’re watching in Japanese, you’ll note one caption in episode one that flashes by so fast that you need to be quick on the pause button, and one in episode 22 that also stays on screen for a couple of frames only. That is immediately followed by a caption that isn’t translated, and you’ll have to use the pop-up menu to change audio tracks and find out what it said. There’s also a flashing caption in episode 24 that you’ll have to pause to catch. The eyecatch text doesn’t get subtitled at all until episode 10, yet in one scene in episode 8, they do manage to get dialogue and on screen text showing simultaneously. The biggest problem is with the next episode previews, as it is dialogue that takes preference. This means that usually next episode titles only stay on screen for a few frames, and in two instances are missed out altogether. There are also a couple of lines of subtitles in episode 13 that are corrupted by weird characters, but are still legible, and the odd episode has the same thing happen to Cecile’s name.
Both discs autoplay trailers for Trigun Badlands Rumble, the first Berserk movie, and the forthcoming Bleach Movie 4: Hellverse. While the trailers are skippable, on disc 2 and on my Panasonic Player, I found that skipping forward on the Bleach trailer just played it from the beginning again. Either let it play, or use the menu button to skip it. Both discs present their content with animated menus. And like all Kazé titles, the discs lock their subtitle and audio content, and limit the user access to the disc. Also my Blu-ray player has a minor incompatibility in that the audio and subtitles often drop out at the start of each episode, and skipping back quickly remedies that.
Disc 1’s sole extra features are audio commentaries.
The episode 1 audio commentary gathers voice actors Jun Fukuyama (Lelouch), Yukana (CC), director Goro Taniguchi, and screenwriter Ichiro Okouchi to chat about the show. It’s early days as yet, and they steer clear or spoilers. It’s a light chat that focuses more on auditioning and recording dialogue, with some mention of how Code Geass differs from your usual anime in the way that it pushes certain boundaries.
Episode 4 sees Jun Fukuyama (Lelouch), this time joining actors Ami Koshimizu (Kallen), and Ken Narita (Jeremiah Gottwald) along with Sunrise producer Kawaguchi, for another light-hearted chat about the show and the characters. Be warned that this time spoilers are present, although more in the way of teasers than actual spoilers.
Episode 5’s audio commentary sees Jun Fukuyama, Yukana, Goro Taniguchi and Ichiro Okouchi return for a light hearted chat. This time it’s a more scene specific audio commentary, and once again there are a few teasers for what lies ahead.
Episode 8 sees Jun Fukuyama, producer Kawaguchi returning, this time with Mitsuaki Madono (Kaname Ohgi), and Kazunari Tanaka (Tamaki) to get into a scene specific free-for-all.
Jun Fukuyama and Yukina this time join Character Animation Director Yuriko Chiba, Knightmare Designer and Mecha Animation Director Eiji Nakada, and Associate Director Kazuya Murata for the commentary on episode 11. Following a giggly start, this develops into a series of interviews about the various technical roles that the staff takes on.
Disc 2 has Audio Commentaries and Picture Dramas.
The commentary on episode 14 sees Jun Fukuyama and Goro Taniguchi with Animation Director Seiichi Nakatani and voice of Shirley Fenette, Fumiko Orikasa. This is another nice scene specific commentary, but they do stray a little further afield, with some interesting input from the actors with regards to how they developed their characters.
Episode 19’s commentary sees the return of Jun Fukuyama and Ami Koshimizu, this time with Takahiro Sakurai (Suzaku), as well as Assistant Series Planner Hiroyuki Yoshino, and Character Designer and occasional Chief Animator Takahiro Kimura, as they appreciate a fan service laden episode. Of interest is a little sidebar on how while animation may inform a character, sometimes voice actor performance can influence animation.
Episode 21 sees Bandai Entertainment’s Yukawa join Jun Fukuyama, Takahiro Sakurai and Yukana. This is probably the most frivolous of all the commentaries, with little of import discussed, and plenty of gossip flying. Stay tuned for pizza logistics.
The final commentary is on episode 25 and sees Jun Fukuyama, Takahiro Sakurai, Yukana, and Ami Koshimizu get together one final time to take a look back over the series and see how their characters have progressed.
Disc 2 also sees the Picture Dramas. There are 9 in total, set at various points in the series, and comprise the voice actors performing short sketches against still images. These vary from comic sketches to character backgrounds and episode prequels, and are well worth watching. There are 38 minutes worth in total here, presented in 480i resolution, with both English and Japanese audio.
All that’s missing here are the textless credit sequences, which you will find if you buy the DVD release of Code Geass. They aren’t exactly textless as Kazé stick player forced karaoke subs on them, and if losing them means we get 25 episodes squeezed onto 2 Blu-rays, that’s a sacrifice well worth making.
In one word, epic!
Code Geass is one of the best action drama anime that I have seen in a long time. I was glued to the screen for all 25 episodes, and even took in a few again to sample the English dub straight after, and it was still just as engrossing. I really would love to talk about this series, but this is one show that simply mustn’t be spoiled. It’s a grand, operatic, theatrical storyline, with larger than life characters, and grand themes of power and revenge, with lashings of juicy melodrama. If you could meld a sci-fi action drama with one of those eighties soap operas, throw in a bit of comedy, and whopping great giant robots on roller-blades, you’d get something like Code Geass. It’s a story that thrives on revelation and plot twist, and the juicy stuff is not the sort of thing that you reveal in a review. Let me put it this way. Watching this show, you’ll turn into a character from Friends, because I can guarantee that at least once in each episode you will shout at the screen, “Oh my God! You did not just do that!” The writers will inflict the worst kind of reversals on the characters, will take the show in unexpectedly dark directions, and convert any semblance of hope and joy to tragedy and despair, and make it all look natural, as if it was ever fated to be.
When the highlight of the first episode is an indiscriminate massacre, you should get the darkness of the show. But this also contrasts with the lightness of the show, with the protagonist attending an elite high school where the usual comic hi-jinks are liable to ensue, at least at first. It’s fast paced, action packed, with romance, drama, comedy, a rich and convoluted narrative, and did I mention that it’s epic? It all comes down to the most engaging, well-written, manipulative Machiavellian anti-hero to be seen in anime since Death Note’s Light Yagami. Lelouch Lamperouge is the main character in this show, and it’s his combined lust for vengeance and wish to create a better world that drives the story, and he’s got the messianic deranged laughter down pat.
At least in comparison to Light Yagami, Lelouch has a tangible reason beyond simple ennui to explain his superiority complex. For one thing he is a Britannian prince, and as a result of that status his mother was assassinated, his sister Nunnally blinded and crippled, and the siblings exiled to Japan. In exile he might have had a chance to build a life for himself, and indeed he had made a friend in Suzaku Kururugi, the son of the Japanese Prime Minister, but then lusting after a precious resource buried in Mount Fuji, Britannia invaded and absorbed Japan into its holdings, renaming it Area 11 and turning the inhabitants into second class citizens.
It’s understandable then that Lelouch has a grudge against Britannia, and his family in particular. When we meet him, he’s attending a prestigious school incognito, and expressing his resentment against the invaders by playing members of the nobility at chess and beating the pants off them. It’s when he encounters a mysterious green-haired girl named CC and she gives him the power of the geass that his path to vengeance is opened up. It’s also here where we see just how the Britannian overlords truly see the Elevens that they belittle, denigrate and discriminate against. A resistance group has stolen what they think is a weapon of mass destruction from the Britannians, although it’s something a lot more dangerous. The Britannians want it back, and when the danger arises that it will fall into the wrong hands, they are happy enough to slaughter a whole district of Elevens just to prohibit that eventuality. Lelouch is caught up in this, the wrong place at the wrong time, and it turns out that his Britannian heritage isn’t enough to protect him from the violence. The first time he uses the geass, it’s in an act of violence himself, and the pattern is set for his vengeance.
It is a double edged sword though, as the geass, the power to demand instant obedience from whoever he chooses, only works once per person, and he has to choose his words carefully, lest the results aren’t what he requires. As the series progresses and his powers develop, it also turns out that the geass isn’t wholly under the control of the user, especially when he meets Mao, another user of the geass that is looking to reclaim CC as his partner, and who can’t turn his powers off.
He has the power to command obedience, and the strategic and tactical skills to stand up to the Britannians, but Lelouch needs some way to express these abilities, and it’s fortuitous that he encounters the resistance movement early on, and is able to gain their trust by helping them out of a perilous situation. Of course a Britannian face leading the resistance wouldn’t inspire trust, so the character of Zero is born, a masked figure to lead the resistance on its mission to reclaim Japan. For Lelouch, it’s just a means to an end, and despite some initial failures, he’s careful to disguise that from his followers.
It isn’t long before he becomes a thorn in the side of the Britannians, and they send more and more firepower against him. He also winds up facing his half-siblings, the other Britannian princes and princesses, which given his search for his mother’s assassins is just what he wants. The answers aren’t easily forthcoming though, and not all of his siblings are typical of Britannian policy. Clovis is a man more interested in art and the finer things than enacting his father’s policies, and as a result comes across as unfeeling and uninvolved. Schneizel’s reputation is harsh, but in reality the man is more reasoned and thoughtful, and it’s really only Cornelia who fits the stereotype of brutal and lethal warrior, although she too has a soft side. But her younger sister Euphemia grew up with Lelouch and Nunnally, and she’s a lot more gentle and likeable a character.
Early on Lelouch also encounters his best friend after a period of several years. The irony is that while Lelouch craves the downfall of Britannia, and the freedom of the Japanese nation, Suzaku has instead become a Britannian soldier, and thinks that the best way to change Britannian policy is from the inside, using peaceful means. He catches the eye early on of A.S.E.E.C, an experimental unit that is developing the next generation of Knightmares, the giant robots in the show, and he’s given a job as test pilot. It isn’t long before he sees action against Zero and his band of rebels. The irony is that he also transfers to Ashford Academy, so by day he and Lelouch are best friends, and in combat, the Lancelot that he pilots is the sworn enemy of Zero. Also going to Ashford Academy is a somewhat sickly girl named Kallen Stadtfeld, who also happens to be a Knightmare pilot in Zero’s Black Knights group, and while Lelouch soon learns her identity, she has no idea that Lelouch and Zero are one and the same.
This is just the set up for the show, and I could go on for hours more. There are plenty of other characters to write about, who all play their part in enriching the story. There are the other students in the school, the various characters within the Britannian hierarchy, the members of the Black Knights group, the other Japanese resistance groups, and all these characters have stories that develop through the series, many of them wear more than one face, and hide secrets and mysteries. It’s a rich, beautifully developed alternate world that is utterly compelling and engrossing.
It’s a brilliantly written story, grand, epic, and operatic that makes sure that each episode delivers answers, but leaves questions hanging, throws in plot twists so intense that your stomach will lurch at the breathtaking effrontery of it all. And the series ends on an almighty cliff-hanger that leaves you gasping with incredulity. Surely there is no way that they can resolve this. I think that Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is as close as anime has got to Babylon 5, one of my favourite sci-fi series. It has the same scope in its story, the same wit and intelligence, the same blending of comedy and drama, and the same ability to turn joy to tragedy at the drop of a hat, all backed by a sheer brazenness in the way that it develops its story and characters. At the point that the show leaves us, the second series can’t come soon enough. Thankfully we only have to wait until March.
You have to buy this Blu-ray. This good a series, at such an accessible price simply shouldn’t be missed. It’s probably being subsidised by Tiger & Bunny it’s so cheap. With Britannia ruling Japan, there isn’t even that much of a whinge regarding Kazé’s subtitling, and the image quality, while not reflecting a native 1080p source, is enough of an improvement over the DVDs as to make an upgrade essential rather than optional. Sheer anime excellence!