Kazé UK / Manga Entertainment
£39.99 (DVD: £29.99)
As one of the best-loved series of recent years, Code Geass has been perhaps one of the most lamented losses to the UK market since the demise of Beez Entertainment. But now, Lelouch is back, and this time he's trying to change the world in High Definition via a shiny new two-disc Blu-Ray release.
At the centre of Code Geass' futuristic alternate Earth, we find a single entity parading its dominance over virtually the entire planet - that entity being Britannia, because we all know that us Brits are always the bad guys and that Britannia rules the waves. The most notable recent conquest for this ambitious empire is Japan, which has been conquered and renamed simply as "Area 11". Seven years later, we come to join a young Britannian student named Lelouch Lamperouge - an intelligent lad who spends his time playing the aristocracy at chess when he should probably be studying, and clearly enjoying every second of the humiliation that he inflicts upon his opponents within the confines of that checkerboard battlefield.
When Lelouch witnesses an accident on his way back from one of these triumphs, he unwittingly finds himself embroiled in the midst of a terrorist plan plotted by a ragtag group of Japanese rebels - a situation that brings him not just a chance encounter with an old friend, but also with a mysterious hostage who grants him an even more mysterious power in the ensuing chaos. That power is Geass - in Lelouch's case an ability to control the actions of others, albeit with some notable implications. This seems to be exactly the power that Lelouch needs, for he is more than just a well-heeled Britannian student... he is, in fact, a boy with a thirst for vengeance against the entire Britannian regime and, most importantly, its emperor.
From here, the story really begins, as Lelouch quickly gets to work making full use of his new power with a view towards sending Britannia into disarray, starting with Japan. Of course, the road to revenge is paved with no shortage of pain and suffering, and with good friends, schoolmates and a sister whom he dotes on surrounding him, there's no shortage of sources for that pain to reach him no matter how hard he tries to hide his identity as his soon notorious alter-ego, "Zero".
All of this makes for a fascinating journey that works on multiple levels. At its most simple, Lelouch's actions and the rebellion that he mounts against Britannia makes for some enjoyable bursts of occasional action - it would be unfair to label Geass as simply a "mecha anime", but giant robots feature ever-more heavily as the show progresses to impressive effect at times. Dig a little deeper, and you have yourself a show that exudes shades of Death Note - replace Light Yagami with Lelouch and you have a compelling character brimming with the self-assured notion that he can change the world who is in turns detestable and a character you want to cheer on in the face of opponents who are equally difficult to pigeon-hole for the most part. This is no clearer than in the relationship between Lelouch and childhood friend Suzaku, which quickly becomes pivotal to the series - here are two individuals that want to change things for the better, but both have entirely different beliefs as to how it should be done, which quickly puts them at odds with one another and adds another tremendously entertaining aspect to the narrative of the series. Overall, there's so much that you could say about Code Geass and the story it tries to tell, so all-encompassing is its core concept and the world it builds quickly and skilfully, but that's a discussion best left until after the series has been watched, so I'll refrain from waxing lyrical about it in a mere review.
There really are very few weak points in the way Code Geass goes about its business - its over-the-top theatricality (ably demonstrated throughout by Lelouch himself) might irritate some, a suitable suspension of disbelief is required as the show progresses and we have sworn enemies still going to school together, and its light-hearted episodes may be effective in breaking up the tension and drama to offer a little relief here and there but that doesn't make them any less silly for the most part. This final point is perhaps more noticeable when the series is viewed in large chunks, but it's still not a major obstacle to extracting a huge amount of entertainment out of the series as a whole. In other words, Code Geass is a superb series from the start right through to its agonising cliff-hanger for the second season.
Despite cramming all twenty-five of its episodes (plus extras) onto only two discs, this Blu-Ray edition of Code Geass looks great for the most part. Sure, it isn't the most spectacular anime Blu-Ray you'll ever see, but it still represents a notable step up from the original DVD release, and with the exception of a few scenes that look as if they weren't created with High Definition viewing in mind which thus upscale rather badly the vast, vast majority of the series looks as colourful and clean as you'd hope for. Whether this edition is a worthy upgrade from Beez Entertainment's DVD release for those who own it depends on how much importance you place upon avoiding the pitfalls of PAL DVD transfers, but from a personal point of view it's a switch worth making. Despite a few subtitle errors here and there (most notably a couple of lines with some garbled characters) there's nothing that will ruin your enjoyment of the series along those lines, and while the Japanese dub is superb the English dub is pretty good in its own right too for those who prefer to watch their anime that way. Although the Blu-Ray release is missing text-free opening and ending credits (unlike its DVD counterpart), it's no slouch in the extras department with a slew of subtitled Japanese audio commentaries and both subtitled and dubbed picture dramas.
If you want a mildly intelligent, heavily theatrical rollercoaster ride, then you really can't go wrong with Code Geass - it's a series that delights in its twists, turns and sleight of hand, and the whole thing is helped along by a cleverly worked and applied core concept coupled with characters that keep you coming back before. With this new, improved Blu-Ray transfer to boot, there's no reason not to pick up this show and give it a shot if it passed you by previously as it's a truly great and frequently gripping viewing experience. For existing owners of the show on DVD, it might be a harder sell to dip in on the series again, but this is certainly as good a Blu-Ray release as you could hope to see, so if you're suitably tempted then you surely won't be disappointed.
English and Japanese stereo audio with English subtitle. Extras consist of a number of dubbed and subtitled picture dramas, and subtitled Japanese audio commentaries for episodes 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 14, 19, 21 and 25.