Well, I ended up watching Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion on the recommendation of blog friend Tomsche. Now, right off the bat, I am familiar with the word geass from D&D, but since I had only ever read it, I always figured it was pronounced 'Jeez,' though in this they pronounce it gee-auss. Whatever.
In any event, Code Geass is a powerful story driven 25 episode anime (subsequently followed by a second season, but that's another post), following the exploits of a Highschooler in an alternate earth reality where a Britannian Empire has conquered Japan. An exiled Britannian Prince, Lelouch has sworn to destroy the empire and free the Japanese.
Along the way, Lelouch stumbles across an immortal witch named C.C. (pronounced C2, because, Japan). C.C. empowers Lelouch with geass, a spell which allows him to command anyone with whom he comes into eye contact. Adopting the persona of 'Zero' Lelouch becomes the mysterious head of the rebellion against the Empire.
- Character depth. The usual high school pseudo drama is, of course, present, but in most instances does have some actual purpose. Lelouch and the others always have motivations for why they are acting, which while sometimes convoluted, are usually pretty well thought out.
- Mecha with no arms race. In a lot of mecha genre franchises, who wins boils down to who has the newer shinier techno gizmo. In the first season of Code Geass, this is not the case. Lelouch often overcomes superior trained and equipped forces with cunning, will, and treachery. Zero and the rebels are simply willing to do what needs to be done to win. Additionally, judicious use of his geass allows Zero to pull off the 'impossible' in a plausible manner again and again.
- Subjectification of women. I know that's not the opposite of objectifying women, but I thought it sounded funny. After watching a lot of anime recently, it's nice to see a women portrayed as competent and not needing to be overly sexualized. As much as I love Evangelion, I sometimes get a little too much 'Gainax bounce.' If you don't know what I mean, look at Mari Makinami sometime.
- Subtext. This ties in with the above point a bit. Lelouch almost never comes out and tells the characters that are important to him how he feels, but it's there, if you know what to look for. In addition to his 'sort of' girlfriend Shirley (which, amazingly, produces one of the better dramatic moments in anime), his paradoxical relationship with mecha pilot Kallen provides some fun insight. He makes Kallen's callsign Q1, which is chess shorthand for 'Queen,' a little bit of subtle foreshadowing. In addition to the overt marital context, it implies usefulness and valuation. Pretty deep stuff, honestly.
- Knightmare Frames. The knightmare frames are small mecha, which seem lifted whole cloth from Votom or Heavy Gear, depending on your take. They even have the deployable rollerblades which I identify so heavily with HG. That said, I like that they are taken in stride as regular military units, not as super, untouchable, unmatchable doomsday weapons. They can, and are, destroyed by regular forces including tanks, aircraft, and even infantry weapon teams.
- Over the top. While I do get that an armed insurrection is sort of an 'all or nothing' type of deal, Zero as a character seems to paint himself into corners with tedious regularity. Instead of allowing potential allies to remain dignified or have face saving outs, he forces them against walls for no need. Also, he instigates what I call rock - paper - scissors confrontations in seemingly every episode where the difference between glorious victory and ignominious defeat hinges upon the smallest detail. This links with my next issue...
- Deus Ex Lancelot. I swear, I got really sick of hearing 'Lancelot...launch' at the end of every episode to signal that all of the progress the rebellion had just made was about to be thwarted and returned to the status quo. Remember how I said that there was no 'mecha arms race' in Code Geass? This is sort of the one exception, and my is it an irksome one. Eventually, Kallen receives the Gurren, a mecha of comparable quality, which negates this to some extent, but the problem never really goes away.
- Suzaku Kururugi. While we're on the subject of the irksome Lancelot, let's go ahead and include it's even more obnoxious pilot. A Japanese student who becomes an 'honorary Britannian,' Suzaku (hereafter referred to as Suzie Q) makes a meteoric rise through the military until he becomes pilot of the finest experimental mecha and the honor guard of a princess. In effect, he is snotty, superior, and a hypocrite of the highest order. He looks down on everyone who he sees as using 'contemptible means' to free their homeland, then sets about assisting in the subjugation of his own people for the empire that sustains itself through manipulation, class warfare, actual warfare, treachery, and venal cruelty. What's worse is he never really gets a comeuppance in any appreciable way, and just continues on thinking he's the most right and awesome guy. I hate Suzie Q. He's a vile traitor and tries to paint himself as some savior of his people when he is in fact a Quisling, proving the single greatest obstacle to their freedom.