Back to MrAM's Blog

MrAM's Blog

Jun 21, 2015 12:08 PM
Anime Relations: Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch, Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch R2
Code Geass is ridiculous. Its central character is an over-the-top maniac, its plot is utterly preposterous, and its battles are lunacy personified. When it boils down to it, the show is essentially about a melodramatic teenager with a sister complex commanding a group of terrorists to bring down a world superpower commanded by a social Darwinist snowman through the powers of giant flashy robots and magical eye abilities. Along the way he has to face down is his former best friend, a guy with superhuman reflexes who commands an invincible white robot, as well as a whole empire populated by such colorful individuals as a purple-haired military commander, a pink-haired princess who goes on a homicidal rampage curtesy of aforementioned magical eye powers, and a green-haired half-machine man. He allies with an equally diverse group of individuals, such as a sociopathic assassin with a brother complex and a green-haired immortal witch. And, oh, did I mention that it’s one of my favorite anime?

To be honest, Code Geass fascinates me. It’s a series of contradictions. It’s a show that doubles as both popcorn entertainment, with all of the fanservice and flashy action scenes that implies, and a poignant, surprisingly meaningful exploration of human beings and society. It’s both very obvious and very subtle. Its plot developments are both spontaneous and well-foreshadowed. I’ve rewatched many parts of the show and am constantly taken aback by how much there is to uncover in repeated viewings, by how many new things I notice that totally flew over my head before. Basically, the point of this long-winded intro is that Code Geass, despite what its brainless exterior may imply, is a show worthy of analysis and dissection.

Thomas Jefferson, when he drafted the Declaration of Independence, wrote the now famous phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He, as did many of his contemporaries, regarded these as inherent rights that every human being is entitled to. The reason I mention that here, and in the title, is because I believe the last of those rights is the core and essence of all of Code Geass, the foundation that the entire show is built upon, the idea that all of its themes are derived from. Geass covers a lot of interesting topics and themes, but pretty much everything can be traced back to this one central idea. I intend to discuss of the show’s thematic threads in this essay, and thought I might as well group them all under the one broad category that they all fall under. At some points during this analysis my focus might seem to have nothing to do with the title, but that would be because I’ll eventually get back to it in the end, because, as I just mentioned, pretty much everything in the show does.

So, at its core Geass’s story is about the many different ways that human beings try to get what everyone wants: comfort, relaxation, success, happiness. Virtually everything that any of us does is to reach that one central goal. Religion, philosophy, morals, knowledge, and the like are all ultimately means that we use to achieve that. Code Geass takes advantage of this to explore a wide range of topics, while keeping them all connected to each other.

Truth versus lies is the probably the most prominent theme in the series. It’s present wherever you look, and it manifests itself in the protagonist of the show, the glorious Lelouch Vi Brittania. Now, Lelouch is a protagonist who thrives off of lies, mostly because it is the defining feature of his entire life. Charles (the tyrannical snowman mentioned earlier) once called Lelouch a “child drenched in lies,” and really, that is an apt description of him. Despite being a Brittanian prince, he lives a cover life of an ordinary student. Alongside with that, he also has the false identity of Zero, hero to the oppressed masses. He deceives people left and right, even those closest to him; it’s the only way he knows how to live. Lelouch reflects on the fact that he’s been living a lie since the day his mother died in the very first episode.

As the show progresses, the extent to which Lelouch’s life itself is a lie becomes abundantly clear, especially in R2. He has false memories at the beginning of season 2, and he imparts what amounts to false memories to one of his closest friends, Shirley. He has a false brother. His closest ally, C.C., was actually trying to force a curse on him all along. Most significantly, his quest for revenge is based on a lie, because his mother is technically still alive. His mother’s death, which later turned out to be false, is at the root of who Lelouch is. After all, Lelouch rebelled against his father and developed a deep hatred of Britannia itself because of his mother’s death. That hatred is a big part of what drive him to found the Black Knights and reignite the war between Japan and Britannia at all. That his core motivation was based on a lie meant that Lelouch himself, his very identity, was founded on falsehood.

Lelouch, the child who lies left and right, barely exists, since his has so many false identities and is surrounded by so much falsehood. Towards the ending of the series, Lelouch realizes that just as he manipulated countless amounts of people in his quest, so too did his own father manipulate him his entire life for his own ends. His mother, which he loved and idealized so much, really doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and is in reality a person concerned with her own satisfaction and nothing else. Lelouch’s life is ultimately a fake one, as the very foundations of his character and of his life are proven to be mere illusions and falsehoods.

And that’s precisely what his own geass is: an illusion. He uses it to cast himself in a favorable light, to deny people their free will and force them to do whatever he pleases. It allows him to build an intricate web of deceit and falsehood, whether through creating a villain (Euphemia the bloody princess) or a hero (Zero, fighter of justice). The irony of Lelouch’s quest of vengeance for his mother is that it its end goal is the truth. Lelouch wants to know the truth behind his mother’s murder, but to do so he becomes an impulsive liar.

Lelouch’s foil, Suzaku, is similarly characterized by deceit. Unlike Lelouch, though, it is not obvious at first that he is. In the beginning, Suzaku is presented to the audience as the stereotypical white knight. Even his mecha (named after one of King Arthur’s knights) is colored white (yeah, this one of Geass’s more blatant pieces of symbolism…). His purity is constantly juxtaposed with Lelouch’s callous slaughter of innocents and criminals alike. However, this image of the “selfless knight in shining armor” is nothing more than an elaborate façade. Cracks begin to appear in it near the halfway point of the first season, and it is shortly afterwards that Suzaku’s true colors are revealed: he killed his father as a child in order to end the Japanese rebellion. Far from being a selfless hero, he is primarily motivated by guilt and self-loathing. His grand actions of heroism are thinly veiled attempts at suicide, at a twisted form of redemption. Suzaku is living a lie just as much as Lelouch, and this is only intensified in R2, when he virtually throws away his identity to become a Knight of Rounds. He becomes as deceitful and manipulative as Lelouch. His hypocrisy is sickening, as he criticizes Lelouch for the very things that he is guilty of. Just like him, his life is driven by lies.

Charles vi Brittania, Lelouch’s father, is guilty of lies as well. His entire goal in the show was to create a world without lies (we’ll discuss this in more detail later), because he saw it as the root of all of the world’s problems. Ironically, however, he lied and deceived just as constantly as Lelouch. He often spoke in his speeches of Britannia being a state that is constantly evolving and extolling that as its greatest virtue, despite constructing a plan that would have sentenced the world itself to a static existence.

A persistent motif in Code Geass that is associated with this theme is masks. They exist all over the show, both literally and figuratively. Lelouch himself constantly wears a mask no matter who he claims to be, as each of his identities is in some way a false cover. His alter-ego Zero wears a mask as well, concealing both his identity and his true emotions. Suzaku wears a mask in his everyday life, metaphorically speaking, through his constant deception of others. Shirley, after she regained her memories, becomes terrified and overly paranoid of the people around her, because she fears that they are all lying to her. In one of her nightmares, she sees everyone wearing a mask, which proceeds to fall off and reveal their true identities.

Code Geass emphasizes this theme of lies by alluding constantly to another famous work of fiction driven by similar themes. In this case, we are talking about Hamlet, by Shakespeare. Code Geass in general has a very Shakespearean narrative, but its connections to the famous author’s work are most obvious in Hamlet. Like the titular character, Lelouch is embarks on a quest for vengeance due to the murder of one of his parents. Like Hamlet, his uncle is the murderer of said parent. V2, Lelocuh’s uncle, is the counterpart to Hamelt’s Claudius. Suzaku is in some ways an allusion to Laertes, who in the play is a foil to Hamlet, just as Suzaku is a foil to Lelouch. Hamlet’s actions lead to the death of his sister Ophelia. Her equivalent in Code Geass would be Euphemia. Code Geass practically confirms this when Lelouch thinks to himself, as he shoots Euphemia, that she was his “first love;” Ophelia was a woman for whom Hamlet had passionate feelings of love. Laertes desires revenge for her, just as Suzaku does for Euphemia. Claudius convinces Laertes to seek revenge by attacking Hamlet, just as V.V. does the same to Suzaku in the closing episodes of season 1. In the end, it is Laertes who kills Hamlet, just as it is Suzaku that kills Lelouch. Even though the context and events are often dissimilar, the allusions do make the point of drawing a connection between both works’ theme of deception.

So, at this point it’s very clear that Geass is very preoccupied with lies and deceit. Now, what does the show actually say about them? What’s the point of their presence in the narrative? The answer lies with Charles and Marianne, whose ultimate plan turns out to be centered on precisely that. From the very beginning, it is hinted that Charles has some grand plan to change the world. Eventually the audience finds out that this plan has to do with a strange reality called C’s world. Before we get any further, we should probably delve into that.

It is never made explicitly clear what C’s World is, or where it even exists. It is implied, though, that the place may not even truly exist in the physical sense. It’s an abstract location, which can change its shape and form according to the people inside; we see Charles doing this several times while he is there, transferring himself from place to place, or altering his surroundings. It is implied that the power of geass originates from this place; seeing as the geass is a totally psychological power (we’ll get deeper into this later), it makes sense that it comes from a place connected to the mind. With all of that in mind, C’s world seems to be a visual and physical representation of a truly abstract concept (the mind). That means when the characters are there, they are not in their true physical forms.

Other information seems to support the above hypothesis. According to Charles and Marianne, C’s World houses the “collective unconsciousness” of all of humanity. This term immediately brings to mind the psychological theories of Carl Jung, who believed that a “collective unconscious” underpinned all of humanity; basically, it was composed of archetypes (which are ideas and images that have universal meanings across all cultures and ages) that all manifested in some way in the life of every human being, no matter the culture or time. Think of it as an eternal library of mankind, a storage of latent memories and knowledge that all humans share from their common ancestral past. Code Geass seems to have a similar interpretation of it; C’s World basically contains the thoughts and memories of every human to have ever existed, regardless of whether they are alive or dead. That is how Charles is able to speak with Clovis in episode 6 of the first season, despite his death three episodes earlier.

There are other odd things having to do with C’s World. Apparently, by using it Charles hoped to active what he called the “Ragnarok Junction,” which would transform the world. “Ragnarok” has its origins in Norse mythology, and basically refers to the destruction and rebirth of the world after wars and disasters. This is a fitting term for what Charles hoped to accomplish, as the successful execution of his plan would have resulted in a totally different world, one that is actually quite difficult to comprehend.
Now, C’s World itself looks rather odd: it is comprised of a stairwell floating in open space, with clear orange skies wherever you look. Above the stairs is a planet that looks remarkably similar to Jupiter. Charles states that in order to “kill the gods” that he needs to use “the Sword of Akasha.” Akasha is a Sanskrit word that means “aether.” Things get a little complicated here, so I’ll be lazy and quote a few things from Wikipedia (hardly a reliable source, but I think I’ll trust it here):

“In Hinduism, Akasha means the basis and essence of all things in the material world; the first material element created from the astral world, (Akasha (Ether), Earth,Water,Fire,Air,) in sequence). It is one of the Panchamahabhuta, or "five elements"; its main characteristic is Shabda (sound). In Sanskrit the word means "space", the first element in creation. In Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, and many other Indian languages, the meaning of Akasha has been accepted as sky.”

“The word αἰθήρ (aithēr) in Homeric Greek means "pure, fresh air" or "clear sky". In Greek mythology, it was thought to be the pure essence that the gods breathed, filling the space where they lived, analogous to the air breathed by mortals.”

“Bṛhaspati (Sanskrit: बृहस्पति, "lord of prayer or devotion",[1] often written as Brihaspati or Bruhaspati) also known as Deva-guru (guru of the gods) and Chakshas,[2] is a Hindu god and a Vedic deity. He is considered the personification of piety and religion, and the chief 'offerer of prayers and sacrifices to the gods' (Sanskrit: Purohita), with whom he intercedes on behalf of humankind.”

“In astrology, Bṛhaspati is the regent of Jupiter and is often identified with the planet.”

Clearly, the creators of the show drew a lot of inspiration from Hinduism, and the symbolism of the different aspects of C’s world are consistent in this regard, in terms of how they all tie back to it. With the above in mind, it becomes clear why the “Sword of Akasha” is what will be used to kill the “gods,” and the significance of the collective unconscious originating from Jupiter.

So, to get back on track. As is revealed towards the ending of the show, Charles is a man who hates lies. He uses them without remorse in his speeches because he accepts them as an integral part of human society, and as the cause of misery. In that case, he decides that he might as well utilize them while they still exist, because if he is successful, no one will ever have to worry about deceit ever again. That is, in a nutshell, Charles and Marianne’s big plan: create a world where lies do not exist. Charles’s hypothesis is that the deception rampant in human society is what allows for the perpetration of inequality, misery, misunderstanding, cruelty, and injustice. Eliminating that should, in theory, create world peace.

They intend to do it by essentially fusing humanity into one mind, into a group not unlike the “collective unconsciousness.” By doing this, they say, all masks (there’s that motif) would disappear forever. By removing the covers that people use to conceal their darkest secrets and their true thoughts, the truth about everyone and everything would be exposed. No one would be able hide anything from anyone else. In short, every single individual would have no choice but to show his true face, effectively eliminating the possibility of lies and deception ever existing again. In Charles and Marianne’s mind, this would eliminate the world’s problems once and for all.

It’s here that Code Geass makes a definitive statement on its theme of truth versus lies, through its lead character Lelouch. His confrontation with his parents in episode 21 of R2 is one of the most significant moments of his character arc and of the entire show, for many, many reasons, and this is one of the most important ones. Lelouch unequivocally rejects his parents, their philosophy, and their plan. This is in keeping with his character: after all, as was established earlier, Lelouch is possibly the biggest liar in the whole series. However, his reasons for rejecting his parents run much deeper than just preserving his way of life. Even though Lelouch does explain himself somewhat in the episode, the reality is that the narrative of Code Geass had already made a very compelling argument in favor of its stance long before this, all the way back in the midst of the first season, through the story of the deranged Geass user named Mao.

Mao is a character who generally isn’t very popular with the anime’s viewership, even within its own fandom. Most people seem to regard his “trilogy” of episodes (14-16) as unnecessary and borderline filler in a show that features almost none. The sentiment is understandable as at first glance, Mao doesn’t appear to too essential to the show’s plot. The one obvious development that he brought about was the revelation of Suzaku’s true colors, but even that could have been done via some other plot device. In my opinion, however, Mao is actually one of the most important characters in the entire show, and his story, as well as the themes that surround it, are relevant to the very core of Code Geass, fulfilling a variety of functions while also making the case for the position that the narrative takes over another season later.

Mao is the first Geass user the audience meets after Lelouch. He hogs the spotlight for about three episodes, starting with his intro in episode 14 and ending with his death in episode 16. He is a lunatic obsessed with C.C., who originally gave him his Geass and then abandoned him to his fate. The root of Mao’s insanity lies with that very same Geass: he can’t turn it off. Unlike Lelouch, who at the time had the Geass only in one eye, Mao has it in both, indicating his longer and more extensive use of it in comparison to Lelouch. He has evolved to such a level that he can no longer truly control his power, which allows him to hear everyone’s thoughts. This means that everyone is an open book to him, as they cannot hide their secrets. He can see everyone’s true self (sounds familiar?).

Before we proceed any further, I want to take a moment to note the many contributions that Mao’s story arc made to the overall plot, both literally and thematically, as it is a good example of Code Geass’s smart writing. Firstly, it foreshadowed Lelouch’s loss of control over his Geass down the line, an essential twist that dictated a radical shift in direction for the story. Secondly, it provided several crucial clues to the audience regarding the nature of the Geass and the contract involved with it, the most significant being that Mao had it in both eyes and that he had failed to fulfill C.C.’s wish. The tragedy of Mao’s character also drove home the theme of the Geass as both a blessing and curse as well as the inevitable loneliness that comes about as a result of possessing it (something Lelouch would taste excruciatingly slowly in R2). Mao was a man who wished to understand the people around him; by getting that wish, he was not only driven insane, but also doomed to eternal loneliness. The one person who remains immune to his mind-reading powers, and so a source of comfort, rejects him and in fact is the one who kills him in the end. Mao stands as an example to the viewer of the fate that Lelouch is condemned to if he continues on his present path, which establishes a very real sense of suspense in regards to what end Lelouch will ultimately come to. In addition to all of the above, Mao’s story brought to light much about C.C., helping to piece together a part of the puzzle that was her character.

Aside from all of that, as mentioned earlier, Mao exposed Suzaku’s true self to the world, but more importantly, to Lelouch. He proceeded to use the information against Suzaku, and the revelation of Suzaku’s actions as a child marked a drastic shift in the way the narrative framed the conflict between him and Lelouch, and it is when Code Geass itself began to peel back the layers of deception that it had intentionally constructed around Suzaku’s character to trick the audience, tipping them off to the true nature of the story unfolding before them. Finally, Mao’s actions during his brief arc had far-reaching consequences for a certain orange-haired girl: Shirley. She had her memories of Lelouch wiped, making him a stranger in her eyes and bringing an abrupt end to their relationship. It is not a coincidence that this loss would occur in the very same episode that Mao first appears in, as it ties thematically with Mao’s tale of loneliness, and it is but an teasing inkling of what Lelouch would experience in the later episodes. Mao’s actions remain significant even in R2, as they are what set off the chain of events that concluded with Shirley’s death, which, not coincidentally, was the death that set off in earnest Lelouch’s descent into true solitude, as he lost every single friend and ally around him one by one.

Now, back to Mao and his mind-reading ways. The reader will have no doubt realized its connection to Charles and Marianne’s grand plan. Mao’s Geass is a symbolic representation of it, an example of how it would operate on the micro scale. The frightening capabilities that his power gives him is made clear when he uses it to tear Shirley apart psychologically in the wake of her father’s death and attempted murder. His knowledge of her inner thoughts allows him to strike her where it hurts most; in fact, he manipulates her so severely that he convinces her that killing herself and Lelouch are the solutions to her trauma. Having her mask stripped away leaves her incredibly vulnerable, and Mao takes advantage of that to wreak mental havoc. He hurts Lelouch in a similar manner in episode 16, essentially torturing him psychologically. Suzaku probably has it worst, as Mao ruthlessly exposes his darkest secret. Suzaku literally screams from the terror of reliving that memory and sinks to his feet, the once super effective and competent soldier reduced to a quivering mess.

There’s a running theme here: over and over, Mao’s ability to look past a person’s cover to peer into their depths causes them intense pain. Everyone is naked to Mao, and he forces them to confront the evils that they hide away in themselves, the things that they don’t think about. Almost always, they snap, just like Mao too snapped a long time ago from being able to hear everyone’s thoughts. This is alluded too in episode 15 of season 1, when he hears the mocking and jeering comments that the police officers arresting him make in their minds. The insults touch a nerve with Mao, who shouts at them even more passionately. In Code Geass, as the aforementioned examples demonstrate, it would always have been a mercy to be ignorant of the truth.

That idea is actually central to the position that the narrative takes on the issue. Mao provides the audience with an example of the kind of world that would result from having the truth, from having the skeletons in your closet, revealed to the world. The end result is pain and misery. The message is that in many circumstances, things would have been better off had the truth remained hidden. And that’s exactly the main message here: sometimes, lies are necessary.

This is brought up in episode 15 of R2, when Lelouch confronts Charles. The latter tells him that there is no need to tell lies, to which Lelouch counters that people lie “in order to live.” In many ways, that statement is accurate. Society itself functions specifically because people are not entirely honest with each other, and more, because people act differently when the situation calls for it. Like the characters in Code Geass, we all wear masks, whether we realize that we do or not, and we switch between different ones whenever we deem it necessary. Social interaction is defined by that. The way you speak to your parents differs from the way you speak to your friends, which differs from how you interact with your teachers, which differs from how you act before figures in important positions of authorities. Even within each of the above categories, there are discrepancies. Depending on the nature of the relationship you have with friend A and friend B, there will be differences in how you treat them, whether explicit or implicit. We also alter our behavior depending on the situations we find ourselves in. Your demeanor during a wild party is sure to contrast sharply with your demeanor in a more formal setting, like a business meeting.

Social etiquette and socially acceptable behaviors factor into this. Ideas such as “rudeness” and “disrespect” are born out a core, unstated idea that underlies virtually every culture: total honesty is unacceptable. In almost all our interactions with other people, we temper our opinions, so often that we sometimes do not realize it. A close friend shows you a painting he made. You don’t think it looks very good, but you know that your buddy has devoted a substantial amount of time and exerted a monumental amount of effort on it, so you simply say that it looks “fine, or “good,” or you might even stretch it and straight up lie with “great.” We do this with virtually everyone we know, and they with us, because of a keen awareness that to do otherwise would be seriously injure another’s feelings. In some cases, the effects of one hundred percent, genuine honesty could be far costlier and impactful than just some wounded pride. There are reasons that adults sometimes lie to children about the reality of a tragic situation, to preserve their innocence and conserve their mental stability.

Code Geass makes the argument that society needs lies in order to maintain proper functioning. The horror of Mao’s Geass is very carefully utilized to support this point, and more significantly, to stand as a compelling counter to Charles, V.V., and Marianne’s belief that doing away with lies would automatically mean a better world. Mao’s power is a microcosm of the Ragnorak plan, and it provides the audience with a good idea of why exactly Charles’s preposition doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Far from creating a utopia on Earth, the Ragnorak Junction would lead to misery for all of humanity. Aside from that, it would also result in stagnation and decline. Lelouch implies, in his confrontation with his parents, that society not only needs lies to preserve its own order, it also needs them to progress and advance, to move forward. Charles’s plan condemns humanity to a static, never-changing existence, equivalent to dooming humanity to a living death. After all, a hallmark of the human species is its resilience and ability to adapt to rapidly developing situations, its ability to push itself further than before and reach new heights. Humanity needs lies in order to unlock its own potential.

Before we delve into how exactly that’s the case, and how Lelouch acts on that philosophy, let’s take a moment to examine more carefully the story of Charles, Marianne, and V.V., as they were the masterminds behind the idea of humanity existing as one mind, and the main proponents, within the show’s narrative, of the opinion that lies are evil and breed evil. Basically, Charles and C.C. promised each other to always be totally honest with one another, to never lie, because they believed that is what caused the death of their own mother. V.V., however, soon became upset with Marianne, whom he believed was misleading Charles (the details of how exactly are left vague, except that he had become increasingly distracted with her). So, he murders her, and conceals the deed from his brother. However, since Marianne managed to transfer her consciousness to another body, Charles is able to discover the perpetrator. He is outraged by his brother’s hypocrisy, and it is what eventually lead him to take his brother’s life later.

There are very interesting parallels between this story and that of Lelouch, Shirely, and Rolo. The similarities are so precise that I’m left with the strong impression that they were deliberate. Consider Shirley; she can easily be seen as the counterpart to Marianne. She truly and genuinely loved Lelouch, and there are hints that Lelouch may have felt the barest semblance of such feelings in return; certainly he was grief-stricken when she died, and her passing pushed him just as far down the path of evil and destruction as Euphemia’s did. Lelouch, then, would be the counterpart to his own father, Charles. The logical conclusion would be that Rolo is V.V; this fits to a tee considering his role in R2 as Lelouch’s ‘brother.’ Once we view these characters from that angle, Shirley’s story takes on a greater significance. There is more to it than simply the death of another character; it transforms into a piece of elegant foreshadowing and attains greater thematic relevance.

Rolo, by the second half of R2, had come to truly love Lelouch as a ‘brother.’ He was highly dependent on him and did whatever he had in his power to help him. However, his ‘love’ was a bit twisted, manifesting itself in slightly creepy ways. More so, it was highly possessive. Rolo wanted to believe that he was Lelouch’s brother so much, and that Lelouch belonged to him and him alone, that he reacted with unwarranted hostility to any mention of Nunally, period. That was what ultimately drove him to murder Shirley, an action directly motivated by his intense hatred of Lelouch’s sister. In that sense, Rolo’s actions echo V.V’s. We see throughout R2 just how deeply V.V. values family, and more specifically, his brother. Like Rolo, he is somewhat obsessed with him, wishing to preserve their bond and promise at all costs, to the point of perceiving Marianne’s influence on him (natural, considering she’s his wife) as dangerous. That fear and hatred is what led to his cold-blooded killing of Lelouch’s mother. Rolo’s murder of Shirley echoes this exact plot point. The way it unfolded parallels V.V’s story closely, with a few slight differences.

Shirely’s death at Rolo’s hands foreshadows the reveal that it was Lelouch’s uncle (his father’s brother) who murdered his mother (his father’s lover). When we consider Charles and V.V’s initial reasons for setting out to “destroy the gods,” this becomes especially ironic. The two brothers originally decided to destroy the rampant lies that dominated the world because of the extensive misery they had to endure as a result of them. When speaking to Lelouch about this, Charles specifically mentioned his mother, with the implication that her death had a powerful impact on him and his goals. Ironically, V.V. repeated the cycle by killing Marianne, a mother to someone else, and then covering it up with the sort of deceit that he had once vowed to destroy, becoming a liar himself in the process, and giving birth to another (Lelouch). Just as his mother had been killed by the falsehoods that permeated the world, so too did V.V. sentence another mother to the same fate.

This naturally ties into the dominant theme of lies and the motif of masks that defined Shirley’s entire arc (and the rest of the show as well). Shirley, after learning the truth behind Zero’s mask, was forced by Lelouch to lose her memories, reduced to living the false life that Lelouch had for his entire existence, and more pointedly in R2. When her memories were restored ad she realized the truth about Lelouch, she became a terrified, frightened wreck, coming to see everyone around her as untrustworthy people harboring hidden intentions and beliefs (an observation that was actually very accurate). The chain of events set off by Lelouch’s original lie (wiping Shirley’s memories) are what ultimately resulted in her premature death, one of the finest examples in the show of Lelouch’s tendency to create his own tragedies (but that’s a discussion for another time). In the end, what truly killed Shirley was not Rolo’s gun but the deceit and lies she found herself drenched in. Her unfortunate end parallels that of Lelouch’s mother (whom she represents) as well as Charles’s mother.

Shirely’s death broke Lelouch, driving him to mercilessly slaughter the people in the Geass Order, even the children. His sanity threatened to completely break. It was after Shirley’s passing that Lelouch lost everyone and everything that mattered to him in quick succession. C.C., the Black Knights, Kallen, Rolo, his love for his mother, his own beliefs, everything. Shirely was the catalyst. The reason her death was so important to the narrative was because it marked the place in Lelouch’s life where he was truly beyond the point of no return. Shirley was one of the only people, if not the only person, who loved Lelouch for who he was and nothing more. She cared for him purely for who he was, not for what he represented or what benefits he offered. All the other characters viewed Lelouch through the lens of Zero or some other symbolic idea. Shirley was unique in that she represented a link to a better, quieter, and more peaceful existence: life at Ashford Acdemy, life as a normal citizen who has time to worry over the trivial. As long as Shirely existed, Lelouch had someone to turn to who could welcome him with an open embrace despite what he’d done, and for no other reason other than that he was Lelouch. Shirley’s death, however, slammed that door shut for good. It is no coincidence that Lelouch’s occasional adventures in his school never again occurred after; the last “school comedy” episode was the one that preceded Shirley’s end. It’s symbolic of the fact that with Shirley died any hopes for Lelouch of an unremarkable, pleasant existence. He had nothing but Zero, and all the lies associated with him, to live by.

The impact of Shirley’s death creates a powerful argument for the validity of Charles’s plan. After all, it was what Charles was trying to crush that killed Shirley: falsehood and deceit. Through Shirley, the narrative crafts a compelling piece of support for the end goal Charles, V.V, and Marianne. That is why Lelouch’s rebellion against their plan is so massively significant. It does not come across as childish naiveté or unsubstantiated logic because Lelouch has experienced exactly what Charles did. Like him, he also lost his mother. Like him, he’d experienced endless grief, sorrow, and heartbreak as a result of lies. Yet, despite that, Lelouch picks a different source of action. He may have experienced even more pain than Charles, and yet in the end he decides that upholding such a lying world is worth it.

As mentioned earlier, Charles’s plan doomed humanity to a static, never-ending, essentially lifeless existence, something that Lelouch soundly rejected. Whereas Charles believes that happiness can be achieved by focusing on the past, Lelouch believes that it can only be attained through future effort and progress. Charles intended to forcefully subject humanity to an unnatural state; Lelouch, on the other hand, believed that humanity should be allowed to forge its own path free of interference, to make its own mistakes. Essentially, Lelouch was affirming the free will of people. The irony here is, of course, that Lelouch spent the entire show robbing people of the exact will that he supposedly sought to uphold. Lelouch’s beliefs and personal philosophy are hypocritical in the extreme, dripping with lies and contradictions- and that is precisely the point.

Code Geass makes the point that lying is an integral part of most individuals, that it is the gripping force that keeps society’s fragile order from collapsing. If humanity is left to pursue its goals through its own free will, it will inevitably resort to falsehood and deceit, just as Lelouch did. The crux of Lelouch’s argument, which itself is underlined by lies, is that that kind of world is fine. Not only is its existence acceptable, but it should be encouraged. Charles’s attempt to eliminate a crucial part of human nature is misguided. Rather than reject it, Lelouch accepts the very important role that lies play in the world order. It manifests in his philosophy, and it manifests in his every action. Ultimately, Lelouch achieves his personal happiness, as well as that of the rest of the world, through deceptions and lies. He does what both Suzaku and Kallen told him to do at different points in R2: to give himself fully to the false life that he lives, to immerse himself so thoroughly in his lies that he makes the lie a reality, by living it to its conclusion. That is how Lelouch fulfilled his dream of a peaceful world in the end: through the sheer power of deception. That’s how he died happy.

There it is…the pursuit of happiness. It’s what Lelouch’s parents were looking for: happiness. They wanted a better world, one that could allow them to live in peace and comfort, without the horrors that had gone before and that which still exist. It’s what Schniezal was looking for, in his own twisted way: world peace that could bring about a better state of existence for all. When it comes down to it, that was the motivation of virtually everyone in the show, and specifically of its biggest three forces in the endgame: Charles, Schnizel, and Lelouch. The narrative presents the audience three distinct methods of achieving the same goal: true happiness. Charles represents the past, Schniezal represents the present, and Lelouch represents the future. The last opening of the show reflects this symbolism, and the above three characters are even shown in that same exact order in quick succession. After all three viewpoints are presented, the narrative ultimately sides with Lelouch. Again, the irony here is delicious: Charles and Schneizel’s plans were both based on the oppression of humanity’s will, while Lelouch’s was the only which advocated for humanity’s freedom. As mentioned earlier, Lelouch was about as far from that in his actions as one could get. Schneizel pointed it out in the 24th episode of R2: Lelouch, the oppressor of free will throughout the entire show, stood in the end upholding the right of people to decide their own destiny based on their own will.

It’s here that it’s appropriate to make a detour in order to examine the meaning behind the show’s core symbol: the Geass. It’s not really a detour, though, because this relates very much to what we were just discussing very closely, as will be seen in a few moments. The word geass originates from the geis in Irish mythology, a cursed contract that binds a person to certain conditions. It goes without saying that this is an apt description for the Geass contract as we see it in the show; however, there’s a lot more to it than just that. It has a very specific and deliberate design, one that brings to mind a bird of sorts. This symbolism is accentuated by the fact that the geass literally flies out of Lelouch’s eye every time he uses it, calling to mind birds flapping their wings. The specific bird that represents the Geass is the crane. This link is established early on in the first season, in the scene where Lelouch meets C.C. for the first time since her “death.” What was C.C. doing then? Making paper cranes with Nunnally. Through this simple point the narrative is able to establish an association between cranes and Geass, since C.C. is the one who gave it to Lelouch, and as we later learn, has the Code.

The actual meaning behind this association was actually made clear to the audience earlier, in crucial conversation between Lelouch and Nunnally shortly before, in the third episode of the season. There, Nunnally informs Lelouch that she heard the wishes of a person who folded a thousand paper cranes would be granted. That one line summarizes the symbolic meaning of the Geass perfectly: a wish. Lelouch actually points this out explicitly to Suzaku in the last episode, where he compares the power of Geass to a wish. Nunnally tells Lelouch that her wish is for a gentler world, one where she would be happy. Lelouch takes that and makes it his own personal wish, the fulfillment of which would give him happiness.

That the Geass is a wish is reflected in the abilities it grants its various users. Over and over, we see that Geass is a truly psychological power in terms of how it is customized to suit the personalities and desires of the many that possess it. This symbolism is remarkably consistent. Lelouch, for example, was a man who lived a lie and who wished to change the world; fittingly, he was granted a Geass that made him capable of deceit on an unprecedented scale. C.C. wished to be loved by people, since she had been mistreated and rejected for so long; lo and behold, that’s exactly what her Geass enabled her to do: have people fall in love with her. Mao wanted to understand people; his Geass allowed him to know the deepest secrets of those around him. Charles desired the preservation of the past; fittingly, his power had to do with memory. Rolo wanted to stop and actually truly live a life he could personally find meaning in; his Geass allowed him to freeze time (or rather people’s perception of it). In all of these cases, the Geass ostensibly granted its users the desires that they believed would make them happy. In theory, the Geass is supposed to bring about happiness by fulfilling the wishes of those who have it.

The tragedy of the “power of kings,” of course, is that it usually resulted in the opposite. Lelouch’s Geass was responsible for endless misery and tragedy. C.C.’s Geass erased the meaning of genuine love, rendering the affection she received from everyone void. Mao’s “understanding” of others drove him insane. Charles erased and modified people’s memories, forcefully changing their perception of reality and robbing them of their past. And so on. In keeping with the myth in Irish folklore, the Geass contract is often a curse rather than a blessing. Lelouch, however, is eventually able to use that curse to achieve happiness not only for himself, but for humanity, which became his new goal in episode 7 0f R2 (after he realized that he can’t only fight for Nunnally alone anymore).

To return to what we were speaking about earlier- the final conflict of philosophies in the show was that of Lelouch’s and his brother. Schneizel’s plan was very simple, very straightforward: the enforcement of a forced peace brought about by the threat of annihilation. He intended to subjugate the entire world through the sheer power of the F.L.E.I.J.A, a nuclear weapon. In his conversation with Cornelia in episode 23 of R2, Schneizel’s made it clear that he was more than willing to sacrifice “one or two billion people” to bring about a worldwide ceasefire. The way he saw it, humanity was naturally inclined to obedience to an authority, and so his plan would align perfectly with human nature. Schneizel’s sought to keep humanity locked in its present state, not moving forward or backwards, not progressing or regressing. It would be an unchanging existence, free of conflict but also free of positive change. Schneizel’s plans very deliberately paralleled Charles’s, in that they both condemned humanity to a static state of living. This is the main reason that Lelouch, and the narrative as well, rejects them both.

Code Geass is a very forward-looking show. Its personal philosophy is that humanity will always continue to seek ways to find happiness as long as it has a future. As long as people have the will, they will find the way, no matter how long it takes. It’s an evolving process, and as such it cannot be reconciled with any attempts to freeze time or return to a time from before. Code Geass compares an unchanging existence to a slow death, to a meaningless and empty life. This theme is present from the very beginning of the show. Consider episode 7, where Lelouch tells C.C. that before she gave him his Geass, he wasn’t truly alive. He simple moved with the motions, doing nothing, affecting nothing. Holding up a gun to his head, Lelouch says, quite boldly, that he’d rather die than return to such a hollow way of living. C.C. agrees with a wistful look on her face.

In hindsight, this scene is clearly foreshadowing the immortality of a person in possession of the Code. The point is brought up directly much later by C.C. in the 15th episode of R2, when C.C. makes it clear just how much of a curse an unending life is. To her, removing the possibility of death destroys the very meaning of life. Without an end, life is just a pointless sequence of events. Just like shadow cannot exist without light, life cannot be without death. We call our existence “life” because there it is finite, with the alternative of death. Without that, it is nothing but an “experience.” Note that that’s the same exact word that Lelouch uses when he describes the fallacy and invalidity of Schneizel’s ideal. The narrative makes a subtle connection between Schneizel’s plan and immortality, emphasizing their mutually hollow nature by drawing a parallel between them. Both are ultimately static and immutable, restricting development and advancement. As such, they are barriers that need to be cast aside.

It’s interesting to see just how harsh Geass is on the past and on those who strive to preserve it. Its attitude oscillates between mockery and anger, something which is especially obvious in the first season, where it was a very prominent theme for several episodes (though of course it is present throughout the whole series in general). In keeping with its progressive and futuristic outlook, one that it shares with its protagonist, the narrative viciously criticizes the Japanese for sticking to a bygone era. That is the fundamental purpose of the Refrain subplot. The thematic relevance of the drug isn’t very subtle. Just consider the effects it induced in its users: hallucinations of the past. It convinced its victims that they were living in a time that they perceived as better, before the difficulties of their present existence. In short, it was a form of escapism, an attempt to gain happiness by revisiting the past.

This attempt to acquire happiness by sticking to past glories is mocked relentlessly by Code Geass’s narrative. The Refrain drug is just one example of this. The JLF (Japanese Liberation Front) are another example of this. Lelouch explicitly criticizes them for sticking with outdated and backwards methods, such as slaughtering hostages. The apparel of the JLF members reflects this old-style mentality: they are old-fashioned military uniforms, with the old Japanese flag emblazoned on them. That the JLF stick so dogmatically to traditional Japanese symbols and mannerisms is seen as no more than detrimental traditionalism by both Lelouch and the narrative.

In the end, the Japanese people’s efforts to preserve their national dignity, and thus achieve a modicum of happiness and satisfaction, by mindlessly depending on past glories is seen by Code Geass as petty and pathetic. The show as a whole displays a consistently modernistic viewpoint, and more so, demonstrates a firm belief in the idea that happiness can only be attained by looking forward and pursuing future goals. Looking to the past, or sticking with the current status quo, are seen as foolhardy methods of acquiring a happiness that is ultimately false and hollow. Change, argues the narrative, is essential to the pursuit of happiness. Stifling that could only lead to misery and sorrow. Yes, change is often painful, but the end result is far greater than anything the other two options could hope to aspire to. As such, it makes sense that the narrative regards Charles and Schneizal as invalid in their beliefs and in their plans.

The motif of time present throughout the show is related to this, a natural occurrence considering that past, present, and future are all labels used to classify time. Many of the show’s more prominent symbols are related to this. Just look at images that flash by whenever C.C.’s mind is invaded or she invades someone else’s: a clock, a gong, things occurring and then rewinding. All of those odd images are symbolic of the theme of time, which is particularly relevant to C.C’s immortality. We return to the idea of immortality as a static state of existence, rigid and unchanging. In other words, a state of frozen time. This is where Suzaku’s watch comes in. He inherited it from his father, a memento that he keeps with him to remind him of his deceased parent and his own past sins. The most significant aspect of it, however, is the fact that it is broken, its hands frozen in place. It’s symbolic of Suzaku’s inability to let go of his past, as well as the fact that his entire present way of living is based on his murder of his father. Up until Eupehmia’s death, Suzaku lived in the past, desperately attempting to redeem himself for his evils. Note that in the aftermath of his lover’s death, Suzaku finally quit adhering to his own personal philosophy, throwing it out the window for the sake of vengeance. There is a brief shot in episode 23 of the first season of the deceased Euphemia, with Suzaku’s watch placed on her chest. The obvious meaning is that Suzaku has left behind his past with the blood-stained princess. This whole theme is alluded to in the finale of the first season: note Suzaku’s visceral reaction to Lelouch’s assertion that what’s in the past is said and done and so irrelevant.

Rolo’s Geass is another example of the narrative’s extensive focus on the concept of time. Like Suzaku’s watch, Rolo’s power symbolizes an instance of frozen time. Rolo’s character arc itself is representative of the show’s rejection of an unchanging status quo. He goes from a sociopathic assassin who carries out orders mindlessly to a passionate individual who affirms his free will with his last living act. In the end, Rolo broke out of the rigid mold that he had been crafted into, refusing to be a reflection of his own Geass, which he ironically uses to successfully fulfill the action that marked his liberation. This thematic thread on time, and its suspension, comes to the forefront quite dramatically during the Lelouch’s confrontation with his parents in C’s World. Lelouch’s command to the collective unconscious of humanity is that that needs t be noted: “Don’t stop the march of time!” Over and over, Code Geass glorifies the future and the importance of moving forward. The solutions to the problems of the world and the problems of the individuals are not found in what has gone before, but in what will happen next.

And now we come to the final segment of this analysis: Lelouch’s final scheme. We’ve reiterated the point that Charles and Schneizel’s plans were fundamentally flawed according to the show’s worldview quite a bit. Now, then, how exactly did Lelouch go about creating a “gentler world,” and why does the narrative ultimately support his actions? The Zero Requiem, Lelouch’s last and greatest plan, is thematically perfect in how it brings together most of the show’s biggest ideas in one conclusive ending in a demonstration of elegant harmony. It could be approached and dissected from several angle (and I intend to devote an entire blog post to it in the future), but for now we’ll focus on just one: the relationship between truth and lies. As mentioned earlier, it’s arguably the show’s most prominent one, so it is fitting that such a major part of the Zero Requiem would revolve around it.

Back in episode 17 of R2, Suzaku told Lelouch to atone for his lies, and the devastation they caused, by turning them into the truth. He told him to embody them, to live by them, until what was mere illusion became reality. And really, that’s what the Zero Requiem was: a mass deception, Lelouch’s most elaborate lie. It was really nothing more than a grand performance, consistent with Zero’s over-the-top demonstrations. Lelouch cast himself as the villain, the obstacle to be overcome, and the rest of the world as the struggling heroes. He won and subjugated all, until the hero of the masses, Zero, appeared at the 11th hour to save the day and restore peace to the world. It played out like a scripted narrative, feeding into its nature as a play acted out on the world stage. That the Zero Requiem feels like so similar to a theatrical performance is not a coincidence; not only does it fit Geass’s melodramatic nature, it also represents, symbolically, the theme at its core: the power of lies. A staged play is by its nature false, an idealized imitation of reality. The twist here is that Lelouch’s deceitful actions are what bring about true, lasting change to the entire world.

Lelouch’s death, just like his life, is a lie. He establishes a legacy of hatred and vile cruelty, ensuring that he’ll be remembered as a demonic murderer, all the while concealing that he was the creator of the identity that became synonymous with heroism and peace: Zero. More so, he chose the manner of his own death, yet to the world, it came about in violation of his will. Suzaku’s story, too, had a false end. To everyone who ever heard of him, he is dead and gone, killed in the service of a bloodthirsty dictator. The reality, of course, is that he now carries the mantle of the world’s greatest hero. The cruel irony of his position is that he, like Lelouch, will forever be cursed in the hearts of the people and in the annals of history, never to be thanked in his role of bringing about global peace. It is a fitting and beautifully poetic punishment for both, as their fate is identical to the one suffered by the innocent Euphemia.

In the end, it is a lie astounding in its magnitude that frees humanity and allows it to move forward into the future. It has been freed to make its own choices, for better or for worse. What's important is that it has the will to make those choices, to dictate its future, a will that would never have existed had either Charles or Schneizel had their way. That freedom is what will allow human beings everywhere to keep pursuing happiness. Geass’s conclusion is the ultimate validation of Lelouch’s rejection of both his father and his brother, as it very deliberately has it that falsehood is what brings peace to humanity in the end. It is not just the preservation of masks that ensures people’s continued survival, but the deliberate use of them that acts as a force of liberation. Zero, the ultimate personification of Lelouch’s lies, emerges at the end as the symbol of hope for people everywhere, and as the one to symbolically destroy the oppressive chains of the past through his killing of Lelouch. At the end of the show, widespread hatred has, for the time being, been completely erased, and it is no coincidence that the second-final shot of the entire anime is that of Damocles, the vehicle that Nunnally deemed a symbol of the world’s hatred, disintegrating into nothingness in front of the sun. And of course, the fulfillment of humanity’s wish for happiness could have never been fulfilled had it not been for the power of Geass.

The pursuit of happiness, indeed.
Posted by MrAM | Jun 21, 2015 12:08 PM | Add a comment