Lelouch Lamperouge, Siscon Machiavelli

The Eyes

This entry, like many others, began as one of ‘those’ comments on someone else’s blog; you know the type, a comment which makes you run Notepad so you can save drafts and print proofreading copies, a comment which stretches down the narrow comment field like the ever-rolling stream of time itself. The blog in question was iniksbane’s. His remarks on Kaiji and Lelouch prompted me to once again enter the field wearing Code Geass‘s token.

Kaiji and Lelouch both seem to defy categorisation – almost always a good thing, when it comes to characters – and I hadn’t considered comparing them. I think iniksbane neatly nails down Kaiji’s character: Kaiji has a clearer vision of the choices he’s faced with than the other debtors, hence his realisation that pushing someone off his girder and then apologising is stupid, but he’s incapable of being the cold bastard that he’d like to be (and perhaps that the yakuza would like him to become too). In fact (extemporising here) part of Kaiji‘s appeal is that Kaiji sometimes manages to fight his oppressors’ dehumanising systems by becoming more rather than less heroic in his behaviour.

Normally I try to restrain myself from looking too closely at characters, but I’m not so sure I agree with iniksbane about Lelouch. I’ve struggled to describe Lelouch in the past, but I’ll take another wild stab at my own understanding of him here (spoilers ahead, of course).

Lelouch is plagued by a contradiction between his motivations and his method. Lelouch’s motivation is familial affection (viz. his vision when he thinks he’s about to be shot in the first episode), and Lelouch has two goals: to avenge his mother and to protect Nunally. Lelouch’s chosen method, the amoral and Machiavellian manipulation of an entire country, requires him to become the inhuman character, Zero. (What is a zero but an absence? What is his mask but, unlike the masks of many other heroes, the total absence of a face?)

The Mask

Zero – the Zero that Lelouch wishes to be – has no emotions, so that he can ‘spend people’s lives like chess pieces’, which is (as far as Lelouch is concerned) the best way to fight a system which spends people’s lives like chess pieces (the Britannian form of social Darwinism). Of course, Kaiji would see things differently, but then (although he starts out as a loser), Kaiji is a (physically and mentally) more mature character. Lelouch is very intelligent, but he’s also a teenager, and very intelligent teenagers have a tendency to overlook things, like the ability of a childhood friend to run along a wall while dodging an auto-targeting machine gun despite the fact that said childhood friend claims to be ‘only in the engineering corps’.

Another important thing that Lelouch overlooks is the paradox of wanting to become Zero. He wants to become Zero in order to pursue the goals of familial affection, but in order to successfully be Zero – spending people’s lives like chess pieces – he has to abandon affection of all kinds. Zero’s not a human being, he’s an existence dedicated to getting more power. In fact, Zero’s insane. It’s the relatively familiar idea of the hero who sacrifices what he’s fighting for in order to fight at all, although it’s packaged very well. A third thing that Lelouch overlooks is the problem of if or when his Geass might grow in strength enough to be an inconvenience. Am I allowed to say things like ‘hubris’ and ‘hamartia’ yet?

[For this and other reasons, my one and only prediction for the second season is that Lelouch will lose either his left eye or both of his eyes. Predictions are a mug's game, but I can't resist making this one.]

When the human excrement impacts on the rotating, ceiling-mounted air-cooling device in Episode 23, we see Lelouch successfully abandon Zero, only to have his success undermined by that third oversight. And for a while in the two closing episodes it looks like he’s become closer to Zero than ever before (and considerably less sane, too). But when finally faced with the difficult choice that he’s set up for himself – be Zero, abandon Nunally and conquer Tokyo, or be Lelouch and rush to Nunally’s rescue – he chooses his ends over his means and abandons the Black Knights to their fate at the hands of the resurgent Britannian garrison.

Second Season Promo
I don’t know what’s more confusing, the placement of a flower-wielding, wasp-waisted bishonen among fanservicely beauties, or the fact that the New Boy appears to be dancing in the background

Unfortunately by the time of the final Mexican standoff the dramatic preceding events have made it much harder for Lelouch to unmask himself, to divest himself of Zero quickly and easily. This is why we are presented with Lelouch as an arrogant, almost-incoherent, manic walking bomb in the closing scene. Reality repeatedly pointed out to Lelouch that he couldn’t have his cake and eat it too – be an inhuman, unfeeling monster (a Machiavelli) in order to be a loving brother (a siscon)¹ – and Lelouch ignored reality. The result is a tragic parody of a human being, a masked actor who’s become the part he thought he was playing. (And there certainly are a lot of actors in Code Geass, which is a very self-consciously theatrical series all round. But that’s a topic for another day.)

So I suppose where I differ most from iniksbane is that I never thought Lelouch especially cared about what happened to Japan, except as far as it affected his own plans (to defend Nunally and kill his father). Lelouch did form some attachments to the Black Knights but not, I feel, very many, and he was prepared to abandon them when Nunally was at stake. But I think the idea of recapturing emotional distance is a useful one, although I would remove the ‘re’: Lelouch is constantly trying to capture an impossible emotional distance.² Lelouch is an emotional teenager seeking to be Death Note‘s Light. But Light really is inhuman, though not infallible, and is motivated by far more abstract ideals: Lelouch hates his dad and loves his sister, but Light hates crime. [Also, Death Note has too much exposition and too few mecha. Talking makes my brain hurt.]

Anyway, roll on the second season (and here’s hoping the earlier timeslot doesn’t blunt Taniguchi‘s bombastic pen).

Notes

1. I’m intentionally misusing ‘Machiavelli’ and ‘siscon’ here. Machiavelli wasn’t as evil as his detractors would have you believe, and (doujinshi excepted) there’s no real evidence that Lelouch loves Nunally in any non-fraternal way. ‘Siscon Machiavelli’ seemed like a good, if hyperbolic, way to sum up his attempt to combine affection and emotionless pragmatism.

2. This is a good example of someone kicking reason to the curb when he really shouldn’t.

15 responses to “Lelouch Lamperouge, Siscon Machiavelli

  1. Anyway, roll on the second season (and here’s hoping the earlier timeslot doesn’t blunt Taniguchi’s bombastic pen).

    It’s a 5PM slot and there are bunny girls in chains. I’m not too worried ;D

  2. Sorry to double-post, but siscon would apply to Lelouch because he did actually love Euphie (this was affirmed by some of the DVD specials, including the Best Phrase section on the second DVD magazine).

  3. I think more where I think he cared about Japan is kind of through relationship. I mean he ends up becoming connected to the Black Knights and actually caring about them. Hence, he ends up trying to serve their ideals. Now whether he really agrees with them or not, that’s a tough call. Although your point about him abandoning them to save Nanally at the end is well taken.

    And I do agree with your point about Zero, and the mistakes that Lelouch makes. Honestly you probably said it better than I could have :)

  4. @ flou: Don’t worry about double-posting – as a matter of fact, it boosts my comment count, so I’m all in favour of it(!) I haven’t seen the DVD specials, but thanks for pointing that out. Also, now you’ve reminded me, when he shoots her he says (according to fansubs) ‘Goodbye Euphie. You were my first love.’ As for content, I suppose chained-up bunny girls is a good start, but I’m hoping there’ll be the same willingness to throw everything plus the kitchen sink into the first episode, just as the first episode of the first season featured ghetto clearances, soldiers slaughtering children and a bloody mass suicide.

    @ iniksbane: I hadn’t thought of that, but now you point it out I suppose the Black Knights do get something out of being manipulated by Lelouch; Japan’s nearly freed (from Britannia, at least) and this wouldn’t have happened without Lelouch deciding to use the resistance fighters as his chess pieces.

  5. Aw! It’s too bad you didn’t like Death Note. I thought that was an excellent shounen series and it was awesome how exciting they made it without resort to a single scene of action (unless you count Light’s dramatic hand-swipes.)

  6. Lelouch is probably one of the most frustrating protagonists in any anime, because he can be both incredibly smart and incredibly stupid. Most of his problems could of been solved by the simple foresight of getting a bodyguard for Nunnally, though as you say this act would perhaps contrast with Lelouch’s wish to protect Nunnally in an innocent world.

    I would argue that it is Lelouch’s own hubris (if you won’t use it I will) that leads to his overlooking the simplest manners. That hubris is present straight from episode 1, with the chess match against the nobleman, up to the bomb-laden confrontation with Suzaku, where Lelouch actually thinks Suzaku cares about his life anymore. To refrain this comment from becoming one of those notepad posts, I’ll just say that Lelouch’s pride has already caused him to fall once, so it will be interesting to see how much higher he’ll go in S2, and subsequently how much farther he’ll fall.

  7. @ Shiri: I should be a little fairer and say that I didn’t like quite a lot of Death Note. I did indeed enjoy the mental duels between L and Light. Also there was a brief car chase and some sniper-rifle action at one point (plus those epic hand movements, of course).

    @ Demian: ‘frustrating’ is a very good word to use, and I’m wondering why I didn’t think to use it myself now, because it’s associated with Othello and Hamlet. I’m interested to see whether Lelouch goes through a similar process in R2 too, though I wouldn’t put it past Taniguchi to do something surprising (which obviously I can’t think of, because otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise).

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  9. It is the mistakes that Lelouch made that makes him more believable and more close to being ‘real’ as a character, unlike Light in Death Note that seems to be able to always predict the future.

  10. Yes. Light was irritatingly perfect, while part of Lelouch’s attraction is that he manages to screw things up quite regularly.

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  14. Given the ending of the show, I think the past tense would be more appropriate.

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