Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (コードギアス 反逆のルルーシュ) is a 50-episode mecha-action series split over 2 seasons, from 2006-2007 and then 2008. It was made by Sunrise with direction by Goro Taniguchi and character designs by CLAMP.
In an alternate timeline which sees the world divided between three superpowers thanks to their usage of mechs called Knightmares the Holy Brittanian Empire invaded Japan and renamed it Area 11 after a swift take-over a decade prior. At the time a young Brittanian prince named Lelouch was living in exile in the country with his blind younger sister and swears revenge against his father for the affair. Now a high school student living incognito he happens upon a strange girl one day being hunted by the military who gives him the power of ‘Geass’, which lets him issue absolute orders to people brainwashing them and gives him the means to advance his revenge scheme by working with Japanese rebels in disguise to overthrow the Brittanians. At the same time a former childhood friend of his from Japan has begun working with the Brittanians in an effort to help his people from within the system and the two find themselves directly opposed without knowing it.
Code Geass lives and dies by Lelouch, he is the central figure in almost everything going on 1 and he’s not the kind of ‘protagonist’ you see almost anywhere else. Conventionally speaking he’s closer to a villain considering how underhanded and cold his schemes are not to mention the number of people hes using and sacrificing for his own personal vendetta. Thankfully he lends an air of intelligence to the show too, his schemes have real thought behind them where you can see how he’s able to take a ragtag group of rebels and actually make them into a legitimate fighting force through cunning lending the battles the kind of thought which has become all too rare in giant mecha shows that get overrun with ‘god mechas’ running around.
The supporting cast is a pretty deep bench too. Childhood friend Suzaku’s reasons for working with the Brittanians make sense, younger sister Nunally manages to be endearing without descending into saccharine considering her conditions, and the Brittanian rivals are menacing without being mustache twirling (for the most part).
There’s also a certain air of unpredictability, what has more commonly become associated with Game of Thrones, in that the show is not afraid to upset expectations with killing characters. The show does a great job of selling the impact of the war on everyone as it spreads, both as characters lose friends and as Lelouch has to come to terms with the number of people he’s killing for his goals.
In a nutshell, consistency. The first half of season 1 is really good, then hits a bit of wheel-spinning and filler episodes for a good stretch from ep 16-22 before setting itself up for a great season 1 finale which then turns into one of the worst season finales possible. 2 Season 2 starts off much slower, taking it nearly halfway through to really start ramping things up before leading into what is one of the best last 6 episodes and indeed series finales possible.
Similar to what was mentioned above with its tendency to kill characters that really extends to background characters. In the first few episodes alone there is a massacre of civilians, and there are more before the show is done, which will its mostly happening off-screen can still be a bit much for some peoples tastes.
And thats it. What? The character designs? FINE, we’ll talk about those. The first complaint you’ll usually hear people level against the show is that everyone looks elongated and long-limbed in weird ways (because CLAMP was firmly in their xxxHolic design mode) making many people not even want to watch the show. This complaint is almost always by people who’ve never watched any of it since in actual animation its really not that strange and the mechs look fine anyway.
Weeb Level: 3/10- purely on the sense that a giant mecha show like this is pretty Japanese.
Fanservice: Its Japan, there’s some quick underwear shots when people are changing clothes and at least one silly (read: commonly ignored) episode where they go to an island.
Quality: 8/10- The inconsistency is the kicker here. There are several episodes and parts which are endlessly rewatchable, you just need to get through it all once to realize which ones you can skip later on.
Where to Watch: Funimation has the whole series and the OVA (which you dont want to watch). They also have the license for the movies which end up having an alternate ending to the show, but those are still Blu-Ray only and not streaming currently.