Just finished watching Code Geass (had surprisingly good self control over the past few weeks watching only as break time heh). Finished season 1 quite some time ago and refrained from commenting until I finished the entire series.
Code Geass is interesting. There are some parts of it which I really don't like and I feel it lowers the quality of the show. However, I would have to concede that the brilliant parts of it considerably outweigh the annoying parts, and so it shall have my recommendation. I still prefer FMAB as it felt more complete and doesn't have all the annoying flaws Code Geass has, but there are some parts which Code Geass definitely did better than FMAB.
So let me talk about what's annoying about Code Geass first
1) Plot armor
I understand that Lelouch is extremely manipulating, but come on. Seriously, the number of times people switched sides suddenly is just too silly. Yes, this show deals alot with politics and as such there are very complicated relationships and alliances. Changing sides, when there is a good and proper reason to is fully legit. Whenever someone unexpectedly shifts allegiance at a critical point for no previously hinted reasons though, what in the world? I feel so cheated when it happens, and you know what, it happens more than once.
And yes Lelouch is a mastermind, able to come up with excellent strategies. One thing that really drew me to this series was the strategy. Lelouch is really good and is often able to outsmart his opponents. Still, there are too many occurrences where Lelouch just barely got his ass saved, often by someone who somehow just happens to be at the right place at the right time. Seriously with this happening multiple times, sometimes it feels like Lelouch wins not because he is a genius but because he's just lucky.
Sudden changes in allegiance and salvation out of nowhere. These plot twists really ruin the quality of the show for me. When it comes to annoying plot twists though there is no greater than...
2) People who just won't die
Again, there are the legit cases that even though seemed strange at first, were very well explained later. Many other cases though people who totally should have died survived with no real explanation. I'm not talking about CC and her immortality in episode 1, I'm talking about very ordinary human beings who were clearly shown to have been killed but somehow just...don't die. Then they will appear again later, sometimes as quickly as the next episode, sometimes a long time later. It got to a point where every time someone died, no matter how obvious it seemed, I would have to question whether it really happened. Well, the good thing at least is that the series is more than capable of killing off characters, so at least I get to wonder whether people actually survive as opposed to 'nah, definitely not dead'.
3) Overpowered mechas
I get it yes knightmares evolved from 4th generation all the way to 9th generation in this series and each generation's knightmare clearly outclasses the previous generation's. Still, it feels cheap whenever a new all powerful mecha is introduced and it destroys everything. Doesn't happen all the time though and there's a good amount of balance often as well with all factions having their fair share of OP mechas, but it does get annoying.
4) Filler episodes
The fact that important plot advancement occurs during the episode doesn't count if 90% of the episode is focused on unimportant things. These are usually the more comical episodes involving Ashford Academy, but honestly, I don't find them all that funny. These episodes feel like a waste of time seriously.
Then there's that arc with Mao. It did kinda have a role because of who Mao was and what he stood for. The things that happened in those episodes did have its implications in future episodes. Still, it felt completely out of place. I felt that a character like Mao should have been better woven into the story, and those important events and revelations that happened because of Mao honestly could have happened without him as well.
What's worse than filler episodes?
5) Badly designed crucial episodes
Season 1 finale. What the heck was that. That has to be one of the most terrible endings to a season I have ever seen. Sure it makes alot more sense in season 2, but the finale arc of season 1 just packs way too much new information and explains too little until season 2. I can imagine the cliffhanger ending of season 1 being really epic in the right conditions, but so many things were fuzzy by that point it just felt...really bad. Really.
And the deeper mysteries about Geass. We all know there's probably something important in there and have been waiting for it's revelation, but the situations in which these things sometimes revealed themselves have felt too sudden. One moment a major fight is ongoing things are really intense, you are captivated by what is going on. Then everything forcefullly derails and the deeper mysteries of Geass come in. Too abrupt.
And goodness. The Euphy thing near the end of season 1. That was terrible, terrible scriptwriting.
Alright that sounds like alot of complains. Surely an anime with all those problems can't be that good right? Well, not true! There are also many good reasons why this is a good anime. Its a clear difference, because for the weaknesses, the points are pretty specific. For the strengths though, here we have broad literary concepts
Well, this may not be something which appeals to everyone, but I love to watch strategy instead of just plain fighting. Admittedly there are times when one OP mecha as mentioned earlier just wins stuff, but there are also many highly strategical battles. It is how war is done really. Lelouch is not your traditionally ass kicking protagonist, he can't fight for nuts. He is however a tactical genius and multiple times the fighting has been compared to a game of chess. Initially, Lelouch is pitted against easy opponents, but over time the challenges mount and he starts to face multiple tougher opponents.
I especially appreciated some of the season 1 episodes against Cornelia, and really liked the wars fought in the last two arcs of season 2.
A couple of themes interesting things are explored in Code Geass. I can't go into too much detail about them without spoiling the show though.
The first is about truth and lies. Masks and unmasking is a repeated motif in Code Geass. Many characters lead secret lives in the show, the most obvious one being Lelouch and two others that come to mind being Kallen and Suzaku. Characters hide behind facades, creating an image of something they are not, while coming up with plans to push their agenda forward. Revelation of identities is a big deal in the show.
The second theme is about ideals vs reality. The characters in the story are motivated by strong ideals, ideals which they will fight to death for. More on this when we hit characterisation. However, these ideals often fall short in reality. Lelouch for example believes that anything goes, as long as the most important final objective is met. To him, it is the results that matters, not the means. This philosophy would sometimes come back and haunt him though, as you will see in the series.
The third theme is about a better world. Again, very much related to characters, as well as the theme of ideals vs reality. I would say that almost all of the characters in some way (some more stretched than others) have a vision for a better life for humanity.
Since I've been teasing it, I'll touch on this first. Lelouch. Suzaku. Kallen. Corenelia. Schneizel. Charles. Tohdoh. Ohgi. All of them have one thing in common, they are fighting for what they believe is right. Sure there's elements of greed and power for some of them, but all of them believe that whatever they do will be for the betterment of humanity as a whole.
Yet, they fight each other. Alliances change. People betray one another. I think this is something really well executed in the show. These characters have different ethical beliefs. Lelouch's, which I have already mentioned, is put in direct contrast with Suzaku's 'change from within the system' belief. They all want to make things right, but have different understanding of what is right and what is not. Code Geass brilliantly displays how these different beliefs come into conflict and how they play out.
Even more minor characters have clear personalities. There is great character development in the series, seeing how not just the important characters but all characters grow and start to question the things they believe.
I also particularly like how Lelouch is the main character. His morals are questionable, and it raises questions about how one can ethically rebel against a system that oppresses? Sure Suzaku seems to attain much success, but how much of his success is because of the damage Lelouch causes in the first place? He wouldn't receive much recognition if not for what he has does in the battle against the black knights.
And if you're like me, there will be plenty of moments you really hate Lelouch. And yet, you watch on. How many shows make you hate the protagonist but causes you to keep following it? I have to attribute this to the fact that indeed Lelouch is not a flat character so you can't just all out hate him, because even as you hate him, you understand him. It's an inversion of the norm, especially since plenty of times the morally upright Suzaku feels very much like the enemy. But that's the point really. At the end of the day, there isn't really one purely good or purely bad character. There isn't a faction which can really be considered to be the righteous one (a good reason why a good amount of allegiance switching occurs really). There is no right or wrong, but a huge shade of grey which discomforts viewers and forces the questions of ethics on them.
I really have lots to say about the characters, but I can't. You'll have to experience it for yourself.
One last thing about characters, I like how even though there are various arcs in the series, it isn't about beating an enemy then forever eliminating him and moving on to the next boss kind of style, familiar in many animes. Old opponents are revisited time and time again (though sometimes admittedly through the annoying unkillable people flaw). Characters are not created mindlessly and thrashed, but are given time to develop personalities and motivations.
I'm a sucker for good endings. A conclusion is I believe the most important part of any story telling medium. Unless your conclusion leaves people satisfied, the entire content from the start till the end is worthless. The first season of Code Geass had a terrible ending, which really did ruin my mood for the show for quite awhile despite having enjoyed the rest of the episodes for awhile. It was part of the reason why I held back on watching the second season for so long.
The ending the second season is one of the best endings ever however. I would rank it on FMAB level heh (and I REALLY loved FMAB's ending). To me, an ending must be real and impactful. Code Geass meets both of these requirements very well. No 'and they live happily ever after' endings which is everywhere and I absolutely cannot stand. If Code Geass had done that, a show with so wars and death everywhere, it would have been way too cheap. At the same time, it wasn't a 'bad' ending which made everything sad and gloomy. I'm not sure if this is quite accurate, but I would say it brings catharsis. A satisfactory conclusion that is poignant and makes you think in a little more in detail.
And prompts you to spend a good amount of time writing a blog post.
Ranked #2 for my favourite animes of all time!