Warning: (because I know from past Facebook posts how much some people hate this stuff) This article deals with an *anime* and was written as a way of returning a favor. If you do not like this sort of thing, if you detest anime no matter what it is about or what genre it falls into, turn back now, don’t whine about it later.
Probably the one thing that stands out the most for me was how every episode kept you coming back for more, building upon what came before it to make you eager to know what happens next. And, it was not like some shows that have many cliffhangers followed by no satisfying pay-off. No, in “Code Geass” things actually happen. So, overall, I approve. You liked the characters you were supposed to like, hated the characters you were supposed to hate and most major characters were quite complex so that eventually you see that our “hero” Lelouch has his dark side and many of the villains are not without their good points either. Even if you still believe them to be very much the “bad guys”, you can at least understand how they see themselves as something totally different. Except for Suzaku. Everybody hates Suzaku. And everybody should. Anyway, down to the business of politics.
In the alternative version of history in which this story is set, the world is dominated by three major powers. One, about which the least is said, is the European Union or at least some sort of alternate version of it which, we are led to believe, operates along democratic republican lines. The second-largest power is the Chinese Federation which is a nominal monarchy though, we are led to believe, is still rather communist or socialist in economic terms. Finally the most powerful of the three is the aforementioned Holy Britannian Empire which is a capitalistic, aristocratic, militaristic absolute monarchy. From a famous speech given by the ruler of this empire fairly early in the series, Emperor Charles zi Britannia, this super-state seems to be based on royal absolutism and social-Darwinian capitalism. I have joked before that Emperor Charles could seem like the bastard child of King Louis XIV and Ayn Rand. At one point in the series we briefly hear a schoolteacher talking about the battle in which the last British monarch was defeated and from maps we see that Great Britain itself is part of the European Union while the Holy Britannian Empire is based on North America and North America is referred to by Britannians in Area 11 (Japan) as “the homeland”. So, it seems as though the Holy Britannian Empire, the “bad guys” is probably intended to represent the United States of America.
The defenders of the Holy Britannian Empire are certainly the “bad guys” in this show but I have something of a history of being sympathetic toward if not outright siding with the “bad guys” in any number of movies and television shows. Of course, as the villains, the Britannians do plenty of horribly cruel things throughout the series, to say nothing of what the ultimate secret plan of the Emperor is, which actually turns out to have nothing to do with politics or global domination really. They treat subject peoples horribly (our story is set in Japan but we are to assume that what we see is standard procedure in other conquered territories), rob them of their rights, stamp out their national identity, segregate them and sometimes massacre them. However, there is also another aspect which many people may find surprising which is that the Britannians are also very meritocratic. Suzaku, “an 11” (as Japanese people are called) is able to rise to the highest rank in the empire simply by his own ability. We see other characters who seem to be of different races (it can sometimes be hard to tell in an anime) who have risen to important positions by their own talents and are treated as is appropriate for whatever rank or station they hold. Likewise, some of the aristocrats we see are corrupt buffoons while all those holding positions of real importance show that they have talent to justify their being there.
|Prince Clovis finds peasants such a bother|
As the villains of the series, though Lelouch himself is a Britannian prince, the Holy Britannian Empire does receive the most attention but I was also intrigued by what was told about the next largest rival of the empire on the world stage which was the Chinese Federation. Rather like how Britannia combines high-tech weapons and modern economics with barons, knights and sword play, the Chinese Federation seems to combine aspects of ancient as well as modern China. The nominal ruler is the childlike Empress (Tianzi) Jiang Lihua however, hearkening back to the days of the Han and Tang dynasties, it is the top court eunuchs that actually rule the federation. The empress herself is a mere figurehead who the eunuchs, we ultimately see, have no real reverence or even regard for at all, viewing her as ultimately dispensable. This is in stark contrast to Britannia where the Emperor is very much an absolute monarch and it is he who rules, usually through the persons of his many children.
|The Chinese Empress|
All of this is not far-fetched when one considers that Chairman Mao’s fourth wife, Jiang Qing, once had several imperial gowns made for herself in preparation for a visit by Imelda Marcos, First Lady of The Philippines, though she ultimately decided not to wear them as Mao disapproved. In North Korea we have seen the establishment of a Marxist political dynasty, complete with mystical folklore and even in Vietnam there was once talk of the current regime as a sort of new “Ho dynasty” (there was an actual one though it produced only two emperors) and at times have been efforts to portray successive presidents (who are not always the real rulers of the country) as some sort of reincarnation of Ho Chi Minh who has been raised to mythic, near god-like status. In the show, it is also interesting to note that the egalitarian, socialist policies of the Chinese Federation are implied to be praiseworthy but also shown to be quite ineffective with the federation being a generally impoverished country. We also see the monarchy being portrayed in a rather positive way with the little empress being a good, just and kind-hearted girl but who is being held prisoner by her corrupt and traitorous attendants. Similarly, while Emperor Charles of Britannia is certainly the main villain of the piece, we see that not everyone in the Imperial Family is so cruel, though there are those who are, if anything, even more devious.
In the end, from a monarchist perspective, I found nothing too objectionable about it. The setting and nature of the series tends to make me more tolerant since it is all so ‘make believe’ and detached from the real world. As stated at the outset, I found it an engrossing and entertaining show, intelligent, with plenty to “chew on” (as I like to describe such things), giving viewers much to ponder, discuss and debate whether one agrees or disagrees with any particular aspect or premise. If you are open to this sort of thing and not put off by all things anime (there is fan service, giant robots and at least one ‘magical girl’ so this is as ‘anime’ as it gets) then I would recommend watching it if you can. Whether you come away liking or disliking it, I think it will at least prove stimulating. If you are as twisted as I am you might even find yourself thinking that the Holy Britannian Empire doesn’t sound so bad in some ways but then, that should probably be cause for concern. Some characters will impress you, some will frustrate you, some will make you laugh (*cough* Lloyd *cough*), and some will make you sympathetic. And, if in spite of all their horrible deeds, you hear Emperor Charles’ speech and jump up shouting with the crowd, “ALL HAIL BRITANNIA!” then you just might be a … Mad Monarchist.