Colonial Code Geass and Narnian Nerve Gas

‘Pizza Butt’ is an inelegant nickname. I propose ‘Beauttocks’ as an alternative.

You may recall that in the first episode of the first season of Code Geass, one of the resistance fighters, having been wounded, reaches out towards a button next to a picture of his family, mutters ‘Nippon banzai!’ and blows up the truck he’s driving. Now I am not Japanese, and in fact I have my doubts about the act of suicide, but I nevertheless found this moment rather stirring. The scene as a whole, however, is also rather disturbing – and not, I hasten to add, because of any patriotic fervour or jingoism, but for a rather subtler reason. This, remember, is the context: the resistance have got their hands on a container of what they think is a gas weapon from the Britannian military, and the lorry carrying it it is trying to escape through Tokyo’s old subway system.

Gas. Tokyo’s subway system. You don’t have to be Professor Plum to know why this combination of weapon and location makes Mr ‘Nippon banzai!’ seem rather less heroic, but for anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet, it was Aum Shinrikyo on the Tokyo Metro with the Sarin. This doesn’t mean there’s some kind of reductive equivalence being drawn between Area 11’s resistance and Asahara’s cult – though given Lelouch’s comparison of himself to the Messiah at the Battle of Narita it would be interesting to compare the Black Knights to a cult – but it does mean it’s very hard to look at the screen and go ‘Yeah! Nippon banzai!’ – and if you are doing that, you need to pay closer attention.

I’m not an expert on Japan, but I’ve been told that nationalism is one of the hot potatoes of Japanese politics, for fairly obvious historical reasons which I shall avoid mentioning like a dubious History textbook. This show is certainly prepared to talk about nationalism. As well as overtly handling it by featuring resistance fighters – or terrorists – it refers to those aforementioned historical reasons covertly: the day of the year that Britannia invaded Japan, August 10th, is the (real-life) anniversary of the day that Japan’s leaders decided to surrender in 1945, for example. I cannot, however, think of a moment of uncomplicatedly heroic nationalism in Code Geass. There’s always a figurative container of nerve gas unsettling things inside the resistance fighters’ metaphorical truck. In general, the Black Knights are characterised by dubious methods and blind obedience to two people – C.C. and Lelouch – who don’t see the liberation of Japan as an end but as a means.

* * *

Wider and Wider Still
‘Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.’
[And we think other nations have strange rituals!]

So much for jingoism. Let’s talk about empires. Code Geass‘s rather complex alternate history – you could accuse Okouchi of implausibility, if you thought plausibility and history had anything to do with one another – places Britannia in charge of the entirity of North and South America. Understandably, questions have been asked about Britannia’s connection to the United States of Reality.

How you react to this connection rather depends on your political views. If you think the USA is an expansionist power which likes to invade other countries to get its hands on their resources, then of course you’ll think that Britannia is a representation of America, because that’s what Britannia is. As it happens, I don’t think that that’s a fair description of the United States; I’d agree that the US doesn’t exactly have a shining track record, but it’s no Great Satan and it’s ethos is miles away from, and considerably more confused than, the Britannian Empire’s (of which more below).

So I don’t think Britannia’s just a thinly-clothed stand-in for the US. It certainly makes viewers think of the States, and it may serve as a vehicle for (thinly-)veiled criticism of certain recent events in US foreign policy. (For proper anti-Americanism, try Gasaraki, or Angel Cop.) But it’s up to the viewer to go ‘Yeah, the US is like Britannia, and therefore sucks!’ Or, alternatively, to go ‘Yeah, this show’s criticising the US, and therefore sucks!’ Both remarks fail to account for Code Geass‘s ability to muddy waters.

Code Geass isn’t a simple portrait of America’s foreign policy. But it certainly is a portrait of conquest and colonisation, which is one of the things that makes the use of a stylised British Empire so appropriate: we were lucky enough to be Top Nation at a time when it was more-or-less acceptable to go around conquering places and settling in for the long haul. Various features of the Empire’s rule play on the colonial process, including it’s use of collaborators: returning to the very first episode, the masked soldiers who are dropped in to ‘cleanse’ the Shinjuku ghetto are honourary Britannians, who are promised full citizenship as an incentive. And there’s Suzaku, of course.

‘Social Darwinism’ is the in-phrase to describe the ethos of the Britannian Empire, and it’s applied with considerable thoroughness, right down to the way that Emperor Charles (and that’s a bad sign) manages his family. I know I’m not the first to note that Lelouch himself runs along similar lines in his attempt to overthrow Britannia: consider his remark that the Battle of Narita is a good way to weed out the weaker Black Knights. However, unlike the state of most (if not all) historical empires, the Britannian system of values is more-or-less coherent: the strong should rule the weak, and the Britannians are the strong. Granted, it’s amoral, but you never hear them complaining when they’re defeated – though that is something Lelouch has yet to actually properly do. (This is reminiscent of Reinhard von Lohengramm‘s suggestion that he’d be happy to be succeeded by anyone who’s clever enough to usurp his position.) It’s a bit like an empire as it would be if Akagi designed it: not the White Man’s Burden but perhaps the Mighty Man’s Privelege.

* * *

‘Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor Shall my Sword sleep in my hand . . .’

Why ‘Britannia’? Well – and from this point on I should say I’m only expanding some ideas proposed by iniksbane – a good place to start would be McCarthy’s remarks in a recent Anime World Order podcast (I’ve transcribed her words, but the punctuation’s mine and I sliced bits out for flow):

‘England is kind-of like Japan’s Narnia [. . .] Everybody is very friendly, the villains all sound like Jeremy Irons. It’s not a real place. And I think that one of the things about being a small island with a very established monarchy and a very interesting racial mix which we try to pretend is completely homogenous – but which isn’t – is that we are a mirror for Japan.

We have a very traditional education system [. . .] we have a society of people who tend to be understated, who tend to be socially quite compliant, socially interested in keeping the peace between each other [. . .] and if you start to look at Japan as Japan really is, rather than Japan as most people perceive it: as a society with big regional variations – that’s parallelled [yes, that’s how we spell it ~ T.A.] in Britain; as a society with big economic variations across the country, in industries and in areas for posperity – so really we are very close to each other. [. . .]

And for that reason, I think that Japan has begun to use Britain as a mirror, as a way of saying things about Japan that they fear, or that they dread, or that they’re not sure of, by holding them up in Britain.

This seems relevant to Code Geass, particularly so since the ‘British’ elements in the Britannian Empire are taken from the fantasy of Britain, of knights, aristocrats and the Arthurian tradition (I’m sure Saber is rattling in her grave). In fact, there’s a certain Celtic tinge (fringe?) to the show, what with the Arthurian nomenclature for special Knightmares and Schneizel’s ship, the fact that the first member of the Britannian line was a Celtic leader, the use of Scottish place-names for mass-produced Knightmares and of course the ‘Geass’ – though the connection to the geis of Irish mythology has never been officially confirmed. Or denied.

[Incidentally, quite a lot of medieval Arthurian literature was actually written in France, which suggests that Arthurian Britain was serving as a kind of mirror back then too. And when the English did write about Arthur, they sometimes did it in a rather knowing way.]

So, if this fantastical Britan(nia) is serving as ‘Japan’s Narnia’, then Code Geass could be read as a ‘taste-of-your-own-medicine’ colonial narrative (and, trust me, Japan’s medicine was, at times, bitter stuff). One of the popular interpretations of The War of the Worlds runs along these lines: the theory goes that Wells has suburban Britain invaded by technologically advanced, mecha-piloting aliens as a way of saying ‘See? Not very nice, is it?’ And there are certainly colonial resonances in the book, such as one character’s prediction that the Martians will train some humans to collaborate with them in hunting the rest, and in the way the Martians eventually succumb to disease (disease being the way to die in the colonies).

* * *

And if you absolutely must apply Rule 34 to Beauttocks, please remember that she has a (vaguely psi-shaped?) stigma underneath her left breast. Titillation is one thing; inaccuracy is quite another.

Ultimately, while it takes place in a colonial setting, Code Geass is a cartoon about a few specific people, and giant robots, fighting. It’s not a non-fiction book about imperialism. What’s most visually memorable about this show are the attributes of its characters: Lelouch’s eye, mask and voice; C.C.’s hair, straightjacket and pizza obsession; Karen/Kallen’s Kasshu headband and Guren Finger; Suzaku’s snazzy white-and-gold uniforms, et cetera, et cetera. Perhaps because it is a story that primarily wants to be fun, Code Geass thumbs its nose at cleometrics and indeed at the marxist (small ‘m’) approach to history in general. It is not about mass movements but about the mistakes made by a few important people, whose actions affect vast numbers. It is a wildly entertaining tragedy. [The negative flip-side to this coin is that it’s also a story told in an extremely aristocratic style. The ones who have been chosen are (wo)men of destiny, and the rest are pawns.]

In fact, by being about the mistakes of a few people, Code Geass lines neatly up with one of my few strongly-held beliefs: that most of us spend a lot of our time screwing up to some degree, and only figuring out where we went wrong afterwards. Who really knows what’s going on? The Emperor, and perhaps C.C. Who isn’t morally blinded? Euphemia, through the sheer power of naïveté, (ironically) Nunally and perhaps the Emperor, in a rejection-of-morals way. The rest of the cast stumble along, doing their best. Although Zero, on one side, and the Purists, on the other, would like to persuade you otherwise, the factions are too morally and (for that matter) racially muddled to be reduced to ‘good’ and ‘bad’; freedom fighters don’t have to be nice people, and collaborators aren’t necessarily villainous. Countries and movements are ‘made up of a large number of individuals, who all have their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions’.

So while it’s worth recognising the colonial slant of Code Geass – and I’ve a sad feeling that there’s a lot more to say than I have said – it’s unwise to try to reduce things down to a purely colonial interpretation, just as it’s unwise to try to argue that Lelouch is superior to Suzaku, or vice versa. It’s partly unwise because, as I pointed out above, Code Geass is anime, not a thesis, and fiction tends to be confused about what it wants to tell you, because it’s too busy trying to give you a good time. It’s also unwise because, beyond the limitations of being entertainment, this particular piece of entertainment consciously works hard to complicate things. This is Code Geass: whittle everything down to catchphrases and you’ll find you’re handling intellectual Sarin.


This is all Bateszi‘s fault for asking difficult questions about Code Geass in the first place.

Well, it’s mostly his fault; the incoherency of the entry itself is because at the moment I’m revising for some exams with the focused attention of a man riding a unicycle slalom to escape from a swarm of wasps while eating peas with a cocktail stick and construing Pindar’s Odes. Into San-bloody-skrit.

Gratitude is due to iniksbane, whose own entry on the subject, linked above, examines Code Geass‘s place in the corpus of Goro Taniguchi, whose previous projects have also said some rather pointed things about poverty and exploitation. It’s an analytical method which I (try to) avoid, so it’s good someone else is around to do it so well. And I should also thank Hige for pointing out how the British and the Japanese both seem to have a sense of nationality which is implicit rather than explicit.

47 responses to “Colonial Code Geass and Narnian Nerve Gas

  1. Interesting post. I can’t really understand why people (Jason Miao for example) are so convinced that Britannia is America, actually. Unless there was something critical I missed in R1 (having not watched most of it), it seems like it’s meant to be the British empire, having conquered or otherwise absorbed America.

    Also, though I’m uncultured enough to have thought that geass came from D&D’s geas rather than Celtic mythology which I just had to look up now, I don’t see what else it could be. The D&D version in particular is just a dominating kind of curse that cripples or kills people if they don’t fulfill the requirements.

    One more thing: who do we pretend we don’t have an interesting racial mix to? I mean, we have “Indian” food shops all over the place. Multiculturalism and racial diversity is almost as much a part of English culture as it looks to be in America. From what I’m told, though, Japan is much more racially insular. I suppose that’s a minor quibble with McCarthy’s point though, it rings true anyway.

  2. I see Britannia as empire at its grandest and most oppressive. It mixes the efficiency of British imperialism with the grandeur of Rome. I don’t think one can really compare Britannia to any one country, as it’s really just every empire, every society that ever impressed its will and values on others, rolled up into one.

    Now the real question is, how does Code Geass get away with Romance of the Three Kingdoms communist China? That’s a mystery right there.

  3. In a way I am kind of glad I ended up having to take Science Fiction and Medieval Literature for upper division English I can understand some of the things you literature people talk about. At any rate after having to plough through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” I was under the impression that Arthur was a hero of Britain and that subsequent modifications were done so as a means to highlight the Chivalric values of the Medieval court hence why in later versions it is the Knights who come into prominence rather than a national Fantasy where Arthur pwns all.

    I have to say that Code Geass like a lot of historical fiction/national fantasy/alternate history tends to make me grimace with some of the decisions of the author. Code Geass reminds me of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” in that it is a power fantasy at heart where the little “insignificant” island at the edge of the known world is a world class power that dominates all the rest. The United States of Japan bullshit reminds me of how various civilizations after the fall of the Roman Empire all attempted to claim the Roman Legacy as their foundation, but now the 11s are claiming to be the heirs of freedom when they themselves submit themselves to a most undemocratic system under the hegemony of Lulu and C2.

    Being a military history nut I find that my enjoyment comes not from the whole historical fantasy, but just the desire to see an increasing body count and the amusement of how much bigotry against non-Japanese other they can squeeze in. Geoffrey of Monmouth did the same thing in demonizing the others to make the heroes even if they were flawed all the more noble. What both Code Geass and Geoffrey have in common is that they want their respective nations to be the new center of the world. Perhaps it is about colonialism but I still see this more as a national fantasy in the vein of Geoffrey of Monmouth rather than simply an overt criticism of colonialism. Having China as a communist state with an Emperor is almost as far fetched as having Parthians working with Romans to fight Arthur.

    In the end I find it more enjoyable simply to hope that the Britannians keep making piles of Eleven corpses. I don’t think there is much of a moral lesson at work here but if there is it is certainly lost when most viewers are melting between Kallen’s cleavage. At the very least the enough of the Britannian soldiery exhibit soldier values and habits. Besides I like Blighty and and all of the distinguished histories of their famous units such as the Black Watch and the Royal Navy. Such a pity that neither get much mention at all.

    I can more easily identify with social darwinism gone wrong than whatever Lulu is fighting for now. At least with the former you can despise a man for being and asshole regardless of race, religion, or creed. I imagine that since the Britannians are in the business of recruiting locals to augment their own forces it is not unlike what Blighty was going when they started enlisting Sikhs, and Gurkhas. Or the Romans when they recruited locals to form auxiliaries to support the legions. One of the more intriguing aspects that I found about colonialism is that it really was a mixed bag. The Raj was bad for the groups that were formerly in power but it was a sort of boon for the smaller groups who were formerly oppressed. It would have been interesting if those 11s in Britannian employ were zainichi Koreans, Ainu, Ryukyuans, formerly dis-enfranchised Japanese, and burakumin. If such utilization of the groups formerly oppressed was included in the Britannian modus operandi of colonialism it would have been by far a more interesting way to muddy the waters.

    As for Britain being similar to Japan I think it has something to do with national envy as well since little old Blighty did at one time have a vast global Empire and the most powerful navy in the world. I think the Britain is a more interesting place given that there is more openness regarding the different groups, Welsh, Scots, Angles, Saxons, Irish, English, etc. Unlike Japan back in the ye olde days Blighty was a stopping point for invaders of all stripes.

    I agree that the Britannian Empire is like a more oppressive Rome as I don’t recall much emphasis on recall purity when it came to being a Roman citizen. The Romans were only interested in taxes and tribute. The Roman way of conquering was either conquest or just leave well enough alone and get the allied monarch to will his lands to the senate upon his death.

    All hail Britannia!

  4. This was a really interesting post. Just a couple of thoughts on it.

    I really think the Brittanian/United States connection is extremely shaky. And generally has more to do with the opinions of the person watching it, than what’s actually there. First it assumes that the US has largely carried out campaigns of conquest. When in reality, mostly what they’ve done is instigate trouble in other parts of the world and make sure that they go in a direction that’s favorable to them. Which is what most countries do (especially in the Western world.) And they were no where near the power that Britian, France or even Spain was. The second problem is that it takes far too cursorary glance at the characters and the problems that they face. I think as pure anti-American propaganda it would be a lot more clear cut. (Which is your point, just rephrased.)

    Although you do make an interesting point about Arthurian myth that I hadn’t really thought about.

    And I think the hard part with analyzing Code Geass in general is how gray and murky it is. I mean there isn’t any real dictums in the whole piece.

    @Shiri – Interesting. I thought the geas spell was supposed to make you do something. I mean there’s been a gap between when I started playing and when I started playing again. But I heard about it first through D&D as well. But then again I had a DM who’d spent too much time reading Bullfinch’s Mythology and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

    See, I don’t know whether Japan is really all that insulated. A lot of Japan’s culture (Zen, the warring states period, etc, etc.) actually comes from either China or China by way of India. Even their Fantasy is drawn from China.

  5. Quite right, but that’s not really what insular means in context. By insular I mean hearing about gaijin being looked down on and treated with suspicion and paranoia. I think I ended up reading a few links I was directed to from Dark Mirage’s blog at some point and seeing a few first-hand accounts of being accused of bike theft and…I forgot the details so I’m not really going anywhere with this but if you read it too you’ll know what I mean.
    Now in England we do have a bit of that too, especially in London and pertaining to “pakis”, but most Asians, European foreigners and black subcultures consider themselves, and are considered, just British. It occurs to me as I write this that I might be cheating by looking from an insider’s perspective at Britain and an outsider’s at Japan, but there you go.

    And yeah, I always thought geas was a fantastic idea for a spell, but I was playing hack & slash style with a bunch of other 14 year olds so I never got to use that kind of thing.

    As for the American stuff: maybe it’s just a symptom of Americans thinking their country is likely to go for conquering the world (and succeeding) on some level, rather than thinking backwards in time as a comparison to Britain, heh.

  6. This is a very incisive post.

    Anyway, did anyone think of analyzing Geass in postmodern terms? A lot of people here think about Code Geass in terms of colonialism and postcolonialism. But what if the deliberate murkiness served as some form of postmodernism?

    What if the series was conceived just for the sake of what the writers wanted to show? No colonialism, no Arthurian myth, just some badass fighting in a badass story. I would certainly understand the reason why things are made murky – it’s because it was meant that way, because meaning does not come only from the self (which is why there are questions on Brittania as US or Brittania as UK). If it tried to eschew the congealment of meaning – it’s just a good story, and maybe that’s what it is, nothing more.

    Just playing a little ‘devil’s advocate.’ :)

  7. Code Geass does reflect a lot of different themes and topics, but it doesn’t really dig that deep into most of them.

    Not even meant to do so, I’d add, though the writer and the director probably do consciously implement them all the same.

    But it’s still rather interesting to read what other people have to say about it, including the different interpretations we can see down here in the comments section.

    As for China in Code Geass…I guess the Emperor is just a figurehead while the Eunuchs implement ostensibly egalitarian policies…while hypocritically maintaining their own status. *shrugs*.

    Who knows, but that’s the most sense I can make of it.

    Still, there’s too little information, and I’d bet the staff gave more thought to Britannia (and its history) than to any of the other factions anyways, Japan itself potentially included.

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  9. @ Shiri: Prefacing my remarks by saying that of course I’ve no idea what other people are thinking, my best guess at a possible reason for the misconception that ‘Britannia = America’ would be insular geography – an inablity to imagine that something doesn’t involve your country (like a paranoid sometimes thinks everything is related to him in some way).

    Living in east London I’m not entirely sure what McCarthy meant about ‘racial mix’ either. Japan’s apprently noted for its ethnic homogeneity. Maybe it was something to do with both countries’ attitudes to racial division, but I’m not enough of a Japan expert to venture an opinion.

    @ Demian: That’s a nice way to read it, as the most striking elements of all empires combined into one giant imperialist machine. I still think the British stylings may be connected to this idea of ‘Japan’s Narnia’, though. As for China, Code Geass seems to have taken parts of the fantasy of China (eunuch, taciturn sword-wielding martial artist) just as it’s taken parts of the fantasy of Britain .

  10. @ Crusader: Literate soldiers are in good company – I’m sure I read somewhere that Alexander the Great kept a copy of the Iliad with him on all of his campaigns. What you say about the progress of Arthurian literature more-or-less matches the potted history we were given: it started with the so-called ‘chronicle tradition’ of people like Geoffrey, making up history to glorify the country and link rulers to a fictional past; then as you say people began to write more about the knights around Arthur because they wanted to glorify chivalry and study the way courts worked. With Thomas Malory at the end of the medieval period, the two traditions get squashed together into one giant prose monstrosity.

    Code Geass is certainly implausible – fantastical, in fact; I can see how it might seem ridiculous to anyone who actually studies military history. I’d hesitate, however, to declare it a naional power fantasy quite like the History of the Kings of Britain – we’ll have to see if Japan comes out of the story well. If it’s a national fantasy, so far it’s been more of a masochist one.

    I don’t know about the ‘United States of Japan’ thing – is that the actual translation (is it the same terms that the Japanese use to translate ‘United States of America’), or was it the fansubbers? If it is in the show rather than in some fansubber’s mind, then it’s still not really claiming a legacy of freedom because in Code Geass‘s world there is no such legacy. Though it would still function as a reference for the viewers to the real USA.

    As you say, imperial rule wasn’t an entirely negative process, and it would be very clever indeed if the ‘Honourary Britannians’ were zainichi Koreans, Ainu, Ryukyuans, formerly dis-enfranchised Japanese, and burakumin. Though I wonder if that would be too controversial for Japan – more fool them, if that is the case.

  11. @ iniksbane: Thankyou. You put the problems with the US/Britannia link very succinctly. My impression of recent US history is that it’s one of usually self-interested but not evil intentions, which is how most, if not all, countries behave. Apparently there are remote parts of Pakistan where the UK and the Queen still fill the role in the popular imagination that the US and Bush serve elsewhere.

    And a Bullfinch-reading DM sounds quite fun. I played a little D&D at school with fellow Classics students (I’ve observed geekdoms tend to coincide like that) and we were rarely stuck for inspiration.

    @ Shiri: I knew a teacher who spent some years in Japan and she said that – while it varied enormously – yes, there is a certain amount of (as it were) ‘active’ xenophobia in Japan, especially perhaps from police and beaurocrats. I’ve seen vaguely similar things happen in Greece, although there it depends on what you look like (Albanians can get a pretty raw deal). Though almost all Greeks are astonishingly hospitable.

    @ Michael: As I’m trying to analyse, I can’t really accept any explanations based on what the writers wanted – Death of the Animator again – so I have to disagree on methodology. In fact I avoid using the word ‘postmodern’ altogether, because it means so many things to so many people that I find it unhelpful.

    If you’re suggesting that the murkiness is an attempt to refuse meaning, then maybe that’s what I was trying to get at with my final section: it’s partly engaged in undermining itself – a Hillis-Miller point, perhaps.

    @ Camario: Yeah, it’s a very surface show. But I suppose I find it fun – and challenging – to dig into that shallowness and see what I can make of it. And as you say it’s interesting to see get other people’s takes on the same thing.

    Your explanation of the situation in Code Geass‘s version of China sounds plausible, given the information we have (I’m guessing we’ll learn more as R2 continues). And I’m willing to bet Britannia took the lion’s share of the writers’ attention; in a sense, they were inventing a culture based on the fantasy of Britain, whereas all the viewers (in Japan) knows what Japanese culture is like.

  12. I remember clearly that a japanese on AnimeSuki said that one of the producers of CG1 was known leftist very hostile to the nationalists of the LDP&co.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes sense.The united of Japan open to everybody is certainly not the dream of your average nationalist.

    Anyway, great job.I really didn’t see the connection between the first ep and Aum.You have an impressive brain.

  13. Oh man, I just love your posts. I can feel my brain moving XD beautiful… you know you’re going to end up wedging Code Geass into my top 20 lol.

  14. @The Animanachronism
    As far as a masochistic power fantasy goes, well they are the people who brought us dakimakuras and love hotels…Besides the Saxons weren’t always on the losing side.

    In all seriousness though the Britons did not get a happy ending, merely the promise that Arthur would one day return and subsequent authors have cast doubt on Geoffrey’s claims. Let us not forget that Geoffrey’s last laugh was at the Welsh, the successor of the Britons. They don’t have to “win” per se, but they just have to keep hoping that their Lulu-Jesus will one day return and fight at Armageddon.

  15. Hey, Daniel, don’t be mad at me … (because it seemed as if you were)

    You seemed mad in that comment of yours at my site. I was … only playing with my head. :c


    I meant no insult, though. Honestly.

  16. @ ZeusIrae: It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that some of the staff are left-leaning. The only faction in Code Geass which really suits real-life nationalists would be the older, pre-Zero resistance fighters who were defeated at Narita and who took hostages at the Sakuradite conference hotel.

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: Thankyou! It’s really encouraging to hear my posts are thought-provoking.

    @ Crusader: Fair point. Interestingly, these heroes who go off promising to return to save their country crop up all over the place.

    @ Michael: Sorry! I can only plead that I was under the influence of not-enough-sleep at the time, and ‘postmodernism’ tends to set me off.

  17. “Code Geass isn’t a simple portrait of America’s foreign policy. But it certainly is a portrait of conquest and colonisation, which is one of the things that makes the use of a stylised British Empire so appropriate: we were lucky enough to be Top Nation at a time when it was more-or-less acceptable to go around conquering places and settling in for the long haul.”

    I particularly liked this part. Because it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking (Brittania=Imperialism at it’s worst)
    This is a really good post. I’m really happy that someone (yourself) has commented on the politics of Code Geass. I myself comment more on the emotional spectrum of the show (because I love the character’s emotions)

    I remember when the promotional materials were first shown on youtube and one user said something like:

    ‘The head writer is sympathetic to North Korea. He’s influencing this anime to express his hated”

    Obviously referring to the whole “Brittania=US”.

    And your earlier post on what Lelouch was reading (Divinia Comedia) surprised me because I wish I had noticed (the Divine Comedy is one of my favorite pieces of literature…..for what it’s about…I haven’t read the entire thing)

  18. I’m not sure if anyone’s posted about the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of Code Geass, so I’ll just go on an post anyway.

    I share your viewpoint on the inability to label a side as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in Code Geass. However, despite ‘muddy waters’, I do feel that we can label a side as ‘bad’ or ‘worse’. In my case, I would see Lulu as ‘bad’, and Britannia as ‘worse’.

    As for your connecting Code Geass’s Britannia with American (and other) imperialism, I’m sure many of us have had the notion, just not enough to write up such a lengthy article on it. (Well, I guess that’s why we depend on you. ;p)

    Anyway, I’m going to just enjoy my Code Geass. It’s thanks to you that I finally understand why the Norton Critical edition of Heart of Darkness had over 300 pages of analyzation. (As opposed to the 76 of the actual book.)

  19. Pingback: anime|otaku » Blog Archive » The Lunar New Year: (1) We murder to dissect

  20. @ avisch: Thankyou. As Nagato says, it was probably inevitable that someone would write about Code Geass‘s colonial resonances – indeed, I’m sure others got here before me. And finish the Divine Comedy! Worth every minute spent reading it.

    @ Nagato: Certainly Britannia has so far caused more pain – and Lelouch’s question to Guilford in the 4th episode about becoming evil to defeat evil suggests that Lelouch himself is well aware that he’s not especially morally superior to his enemies. Personally, I think Lelouch would be just as bad as Britannia if he had the same amount of power and control, but there’s no real evidence either way in the show for that.

    And I have that edition of Heart of Darkness! I think after Achebe famously declared that the book was racist the critics really kicked off, and it’s apparently one of academia’s most-studied books. They tell me it’s impossible to avoid having to write an essay about it at some point.

  21. Minor trivia here – the superpowers of Code Geass are all very exact parallels to the three totalitarian states in 1984, except for the fact that Britain belongs to the E.U. and not Britannia in Code Geass. Other than that, of course, there are few similarities, but still.

    As a colonial superpower, I’d say Britannia isn’t half-bad. Compared to the atrocities committed by other imperialist states – in real life – have been a lot worse. For one, there have as of yet not been any signs of genocide committed by them.

    Pretty much everyone in Code Geass act in a “the ends justify the means” manner. Bad ethics, delightful drama.

  22. What the cakes? Seems my grammar was worse than usual in my last post. Barely readable.

    So, to restate:

    Minor trivia here – the superpowers of Code Geass are all very exact parallels to the three totalitarian states in 1984, except for the fact that Britain belongs to the E.U. and not Britannia in Code Geass. Of course, the similarities pretty much end at geographics.

    As a colonial superpower, I’d say Britannia isn’t half-bad. Compared to the atrocities committed by other imperialist states – in real life – they are close to beneficient (speaking very relatively). For one, there have as of yet not been any signs of genocide committed by them.

    Pretty much everyone in Code Geass act in a “the ends justify the means” manner. Bad ethics, delightful drama.

  23. Nice point on the 1984 factions. I didn’t spot that.

    I’d say the ghetto clearance in the first episod qualifies as racially-motivated mass-murder, as do the events at the close of the first season, but wholescale genocide is perhaps slightly beyond what we’ve seen so far.

    I always thought ‘the ends justify the means’ might be necessary for governmental thinking, but made for bad personal decision-making. Of course, in Code Geass nearly all the decisions are personal, but the cast have such stature that the effects are wide-ranging. Maybe that’s what I meant when I said ‘aristocratic storytelling’.

  24. IIRC, Britannia came around because ‘America’ as we know it doesn’t exist, due to the vagaries of Alternate History – namely the American Revolution failed, and the British monarchy fled to the North American colonies in the wake of a European invasion of the Home Islands due to the EU having established itself a few centuries early. This is covered in one of the extras in the DVD’s for Season 1, IIRC. The fact that the Americas happen to be leading an invasion of other countries is an unfortunate consequence of this.

    Britannia’s internal policies are rather oppressive, depending on which Area you’re in – Area 9, IIRC, became a large penal colony (think pre-1800’s Australia) and a senator from that area who’d argued against it was assassinated after speaking out in parliament about it by a certain Geass user who worked for the Britannian intelligence agencies.

    Area 11, after losing a war and having its prime minister killed, basically became WW2 Lebensraum for the Britannians – the natives are isolated in ghettos, and treated as second-class citizens. Any genocide is mostly passive, with the primary factors for resentment being the Japanese culture having been somewhat xenophobic before being conquered (thus leading to a resentment at the idea of foreign domination) and now is suffering from a case of injured pride as much as the overt imperialism of the Britannians.

    Nunally and Euphie are probably the most humane characters there… but even they have an attitude of superiority towards those they wish to govern – their policy basically being one of benign despotism, as those who they rule are probably not capable of ruling themselves (which is why they’d need educated Britannian leaders, rather than bringing an Eleven up into the role although Suzaku’s getting close to being able to do so due to his favor-currying).

  25. Camario: The way the Chinese Federation is portrayed here reminds me less of a mix of British romantic novels about the country and more of a China which did NOT lose to the British Empire during the Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion – and which maintained enough cultural flexibility to accept outside technology… which the Qing/Ching Dynasty was incapable of doing during the last century of its existence. Perhaps the Ming Dynasty did not fall here, or else the early Manchus kept the vitality they had as a ‘barbarian’ people without falling into the superiority trap that they did after the death of Kangxi… thus isolating themselves from the outside world, and in doing so created the conditions which allowed the British Empire to make their mark (read: knock the stuffing out of) Chinese military might in the 19th century.

    The Eunuchs, from what I can tell, are basically the equivalents of the Mandarins of the Qing dynasty in terms of status and influence… minus the whole ‘family’ thing, although eunuchs did gain quite a bit of power during the Qing period as advisors.

    What may have happened here is that they, as generals and advisors, were able to isolate the Imperial family to the point where its power (the military) was kept firmly in their hands, which is where ‘loyalists’ like Li Xiangke come into play – he is loyal to the THRONE rather than to the Mandarins/Eunuchs. I see it as a parallel to how the Imperial family was sidelined by the military junta during the early part of the 20th century in the real world, which was what led to the conditions that created the Japanese Empire of our history.

    Crusader: I think part of the hostility borne for Britannia is due to the fact we mostly see the nobles and people immediately around the Emperor, who are (to put it mildly) completely unlikeable bastards. Between that and Charles vi Britannia’s need to be have his succession determined by a form of ‘social Darwinism’ which is particularly lacking in humanity is enough to taint all of the Britannians with the same brush… much like how a lot of ‘friends’ overseas see America as the land of White Crusading Christian Soldiers due to the acts (and words) of a certain big-eared President. Euphie MAY represent the majority of Britannians in her opinions, and even she comes across as a bit of a white (Britannian) supremacist due to the way she talked about Elevens and her attitudes.

    Lulu’s not exactly a nice guy, but compared to that lot he’s likeable, even if he IS using everyone in a way that makes his daddy’s heart swell with pride at how well this son turned out.

  26. @ Haesslich: That’s essentially it, according to Wikipedia and my own hazy memories of the DVD specials, yes. I don’t think lebensraum was Britannia’s motivation, though because (leaving aside the fact that there is no room in Japan, and there’s quite a lot of room in America) I recall Sakuradite and Japan’s having put one over Britannia some years before being mentioned. But the ghettoisation and genocide of neglect are right on.

    To my mind we’ve never had conclusive evidence either way on Nunally and Euphie: it could be they plan on helping the poor Natives who can’t help themselves, or it could be that they want[ed, in Euphie’s case] to become rulers because they’re aware that that’s the only way to push Japan towards freedom without using war.

    I like your theory on loyalty to the Chinese throne vs. loyalty to the Chinese system. Will store away for future thought.

  27. Animanachronism: Lebensraum wasn’t just for land to live in, IIRC – it was for the resources that the Third Reich required to prosper after years of crushing debt and runaway inflation. Thus taking over Japan to secure its supply of Sakuradite would count under this policy – given how the Empire feels about moving whole populations around for its own benefit (like setting up penal colonies, and relocating all Elevens to ghettos in order to use the land for ‘better’ purposes).

    Li Xingke seems a bit more sympathetic than most villains/uneasy allies in the series, since I CAN understand how he feels about the Mandarin/Eunuch system and how it seems to have grown extremely rigid and the way the Eunuchs appear to be almost like the Manchus of the last few years of the Qing dynasty. Whether it’s because he’s truly loyal to the Imperial line, or because he’s a patriot who wants to keep his country from falling under Britannian or European domination, or even because he sees this as a way into the upper levels of the power structure doesn’t really matter as far as the storyline goes; the end results will be the same for Zero and Area Eleven; tacit support of the Rebellion, which in turn diverts the Britannian might away from the shores of the Chinese Federation.

    Personally, in his shoes, I’d probably have started trying to undermine the Eunuchs ages ago, if I were either a patriot or loyal to Tianzi and/or her position. Zero’s Geass has proven quite useful in removing one Eunuch, and if they can topple enough of them the infighting for power amongst the survivors and the chaos that will result in would let someone else with some military backing sweep into power. The problem THEN would be holding the country together while solidifying control, or keeping the rest of the military and the country’s power-blocs loyal to the Son (Daughter) of Heaven.

  28. Pingback: Code Geass R2 06: Don’t mention the war! « Lostlink ~ Wrong Way To Japan!

  29. That’d be my all-too-literal reading of the German letting me down, then. I remember reading that by the final years of the War the Germans were desperately working on things like synthetic petrol.

    Li Xingke has behaved decently so far. We haven’t seen him do anything particularly nasty, especially by Geass standards. Furthermore, given that, after 06, the lolita factor will now be attracting hordes of fans to Tianzi’s cause, if he’s loyal to her personally he’ll swiftly rise in the fandom’s eyes. Plus he gets bonus awesome points for being all martial arts-y with that sword of his.

  30. Animanachornism: the reason Hitler got power in the first place was because the ruinous terms the Treaty of Versailles set for the German economy – they had no money, no resources worth talking about (anything that could be used ended up lining industrialist pockets in other countries) and no hope. Plus injured pride from being reduced to what we’d call a Third World economy after enjoying its status as a major economic power for about forty years prior to the end of the war. It didn’t help that the Weimar Republic was so fractured that NOTHING got done, which further frustrated the general populace as things got worse and worse for everyone.

    It was the revival of the German economic engine which gave the National Socialist movement its popularity, along with Hitler’s innate charisma. He and Goering further helped things along by creating scapegoats amongst certain sections of the populace… but it was the booming economy which REALLY helped things along. For that, he needed the resources that Poland and Austria offered in terms of minerals and resources, along with what he could get out of France and Norway (some stats have the latter having lost 20% of its GDP to the Nazis). The wartime buildup (equipment, infrastructure, et al) was important, but Germany for the most part lacks the resources which he would have needed to keep things going. Lebensraum as a policy thus was more about feeding the German economic engine, and providing goods relatively cheaply (in comparison to pre-WW2 levels) to Germans more than it was about places to live in… unlike current-day Israel, where the land to live in (lebensraum) IS a big deal, and why more Orthodox settlers as well as ultra-nationalists fight so hard against the idea of even giving up one centimeter of land.

  31. Ah, I remember studying the Treaty of Versailles at school. I recall that there was a school of thought among historians which argued that it fell between two stools of leniency and severity: the treaty irritated the Germans and left them resource-hungry without disabling the country in the long term.

  32. I’d have leaned more towards the severity side than leniency. What they didn’t do, and what the Americans DID do after the Second World War, was intervene more in post-war Germany and try to create some positive economic growth as well as dropping in a system of government which was less prone to being taken over wholesale (and slightly more efficient than the Weimar Republic) to stabilize things. As a result, Japan and Western Germany became strong allies, especially with the former kept somewhat militarily weak in the face of a surging China and Russia… which wasn’t the best policy either, and is backfiring somewhat now.

    Basically, the Americans and the Allies left no room for the growth of the structures and inefficiencies which allowed the Nazis to come to power in the first place, unlike the previously ‘hands off’ Treaty of Versailles which forbid the Germans from owning or developing U-Boats but which didn’t leave behind the monitoring apparatus to prevent it – a fact that a certain German exploited to create one of the most efficient U-boat navies of its day.

    As for Ling Xingke, I can understand his position better after seeing how the Empress is trapped in Luoyang here. I do wonder what happened to Beijing or Xi’an… but realize that the Eunuchs probably administer things from those two cities, which includes the military command centers. Luoyang, by contrast, is relatively isolated in its location towards the center-right of the country and is a traditional capital which would fit with her stature as the Daughter of Heaven… but which is also relatively isolated compared to the more plains-centered Beijing or Xi’an, with the latter being something of a transportation nexus in our version (and possibly theirs).

  33. Good point. I know that – in Europe, at least – after WW1 there was a sense of exhaustion and a desire to avoid war forever at all costs, which worked against any urges to intervene in Germany’s affairs. Some of the novels I’ve read from the period have been very, very pacifistic, and I can see why. After WW2 there was a very clear ‘next threat’, I suppose.

    I’m hoping we see some action on the Chinese mainland later in the show, so we can learn a bit more about Geass‘s version.

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  35. Pingback: Not Elevens, Allusions « The Animanachronism

  36. i see lulu looks at the world and the things he does or will do like a chess game, being a great chess player myself and paying close attention to everything going around in the episodes, i see in every one of his actions/descisions at least five possible different ways he could handle them, but everything is very complex, for unlike in our case, normal life people. to make things more clearly, first episode he is given the choice of the geass power take it or not, there he had no choice take live on, don’t die and end of story, so picking the geass, he know is given another set of choices, he could make the soldiers around him help him get out of harms way and help CC out as well or the one he chose which was to order the soldiers to commit suicide, there after he is presented with an obstacle, Villeta comes and sees him with the bodies, he could have told her that he was kidnapped by terroritst and she most likely would have helped him out of the shinjuku ghetto, no he lies, makes her get out of her knightmare and uses her geass on her, which at the end leads in him being suspected later on by Villeta who remembers encountering a school boy and then her knightmares gone with no idea of what happened, these choices which started it all led him to his capture and the temporary stop to his plans, by which then had he chosen the right moves would probably have the Brittanian empire under him and his revenge on his father, and would have his sisters euphie and cornelia with him and with his brothers schnezeil and the other ones which i can not remember their names, his friendship with suzaku would be still strong, and life would be sweet for him, powerful and mighty under his throne.

  37. also another thin, lulu shouldn’t have killed any of his family or tried hurting them without knowing the real truth, for we saw in one episode that euphie and cornelia still loved and thought about their ”late” siblings lelouch and his sister, tragic that lulu used the geass on euphie accidentally, and killed her later. i’m betting that had he told euphie, or cornelia of who he was things would have turned out a lot better. advice to all, family is life, blood, love, don’t mess it up, see what happened to lelouch.

    • It was tragic that Lelouch used his Geass on Euphie accidentally, but besides that I think he did good…he did what needed to be done.
      Family is very important and usually the only people who will always stand by you, however his siblings were blood related but that doesn’t make them Lelouch’s family.

  38. wow, man u realy put allot of youre thouhgts dwn, kinda cheesy though but ur rigth about harmin family

  39. 1101011110101111000101001100101000010101001010101010101001111000101010101000100111101010100010100101010010101010101011000011110101

  40. @ lord: A sequence of choices (or, since you mention chess, moves) does seem to be a good way to read Lelouch’s progress through the story. One of the solid things about the (otherwise quite wacky) writing is that the momentousness of the consequences tend to increase from decision to decision.

    Lelouch probably could have made things easier by revealing his identity, but (a) then we’d have no story and (b) it wouldn’t fit with his desire to become the emotionless Zero/persona. Personas are a great theme when you want (like Code Geass does) to appeal to adolescent viewers.

    @ trey: Funny how you and lord share the same email address.

  41. where did u find that pic of suzaku???

  42. I searched for kurugi_suzaku on and trawled through the results until I came to this image. Hope that helps.

  43. Pingback: GE 999 eps 007-010: Marx, Shinto and the Zero Warrior « Kritik der Animationskraft

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  46. Cool Post.

    I think it’s interesting how everyone interprets Code Geass in many different ways and from completely different angles.
    I thought Code Geass was at its best when it posed questions of good and evil or simply morality. Though this might just be because I’m into philosophy.
    Lelouch is one of my all time favorite characters. Even more so than Light. I enjoyed watching questioning himself and his actions throughout the series. It was just as enjoyable to see him grow in power and audacity. At first he thought that he could take Britannia down by himself, then realized he needed and a group, which of course he acquired and transformed it into an organization and one of the world’s strongest military powers.
    His staged death was a needed. Without it everything he had done up until that moment would have been for nothing, he would have just been another tyrant to take power.
    Though I hope he really didn’t die.


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