I love Code Geass. I’ve tried to keep this under wraps for a while, but I think a few people have discovered my shameful otaku secret. Not sure how they figured that out, I thought I had done a pretty good job of hiding it. So obviously I would have been hyped for Akito the Exiled, right? Well, funny you should mention that. Akito the Exiled was going to be set in Europe in the same world and same time-frame but with a different plot and characters, along with a different director and lead writers. So what they’re doing is taking out all the things people like about the TV series (Lelouch and his grandstanding, contrast between his ideals and Suzakus, the general ridiculous fast-paced nature of its plot twists and cliffhangers) but keep all the things nobody cares about (the art and animation style, the political backdrop, giant robots). But hey, why hate on a director trying to take a show in a different direction? Kazuki Akane is a hugely talented director, doing stuff like Noein. If you keep wanting every part of a franchise to look the same, you’ll end up circling the same drain Gundam has been for the past several years.
Having now watched the first episode of Akito the Exiled, I can quite confidently say that any fears of it being a significant departure from Code Geass-yness were misplaced. This show is still as gloriously dumb as ever.
First off, let’s do a quick background check to see where on earth we are in the Geass timeline. Knowing the alternate history that Geass takes place in was never particularly important for the TV series, but it seems to be a bit more relevant here. From my limited knowledge, in the world of Geass, Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo and conquered Britain. The British elite then all escaped to America, where I guess the Americans hadn’t starting dumping tea in the Atlantic yet and was still part of the British empire. They set up the noble elite, became a Darwinian nation and renamed themselves Britannia.
Meanwhile in Europe, Napoleon took over the continent (protip: You know it’s alternate history when the French actually win a war), but was then apparently dethroned and executed by guillotine. But, this being Europe, they never really sorted themselves out and ended up being a mess of factions and nobles and poor democratically elected leaders. Geass getting into some LOGH territory here, with the Good Dictator being better than a leader elected democratically by a bunch of total idiots (otherwise known as ‘French People’).
Now that we have the background knowledge, this current OVA takes place after Japan has been conquered, what with all the refugees lying around Europe. There wasn’t that much hint beyond what was revealed in this episode, but promo material said that these OVAs take place a bit between the two seasons of Geass TV. The next episode preview did show Suzaku going to Europe. My memory of Geass is hazy, but wasn’t it the case that Suzaku went to Europe after catching Zero?
Not that Geass is overly bothered with explaining everything. It’s an appealingly slapdash approach to world building. With the trend of overly explaining everything that causes people to bitch that the anime adaptation of their favourite light novel doesn’t go into the finer details of how this new fangled magic technology works, I’m becoming increasingly receptive to the Future Diary-approach to storytelling. As in, who cares how it works, it’s not even relevant to the story. People cry “PLOT HOLE!!!” when in reality they just didn’t feel it was necessary to explain exactly how a character got from A to B.
Akito the Exiled has still got plenty of Geass-y aspects to it. It’s still got those noodle people character designs that pull ridiculous distorted faces, like our token racist general here. Speaking of racism, it’s still as nationalistic as it ever was. Possibly even more so, there’s an element of almost anger to the nationalistic bent in Akito. For all its seriousness pomp, the costumes always give this air that the whole thing is a stage play rather than a tough war drama. It was particularly amusing when the posh people at the party started scoffing at the new girl Leila for wearing her military uniform to a fancy ball, even though her military uniform was way more ornate and meticulously designed than anything anyone there was wearing.
Where there’s been a major overhaul is the mecha battles. I think it’s safe to suggest that the mecha were never a key component to the entertainment value in Geass. It was more an anime that happened to have giant robots in it rather than being a Giant Robot Anime. I would say the same for Akito the Exiled too, but they’ve really tried to do something different with the action scenes. Their thinking must have been that CG mecha move weirdly, so to disguise that we’ll make the camera move constantly instead, as if it’s on a particularly violent orbit around the main character’s robot. This, combined with the spastic jazz music that plays through the fight scenes, makes be believe that perhaps these fight scenes will split opinion.
I fucking love them. Spinning the camera wildly to hide the awkwardness of the CG may be a trick of the eye, but gosh darn does it ever work. It gives the fights a lot more of a hectic feel, which ties in perfectly with the music. They’ve also done the thing I really like mecha fights to do and actually show us each move the mecha performs. It’s like the fights in Broken Blade, except instead of big cumbersome war machines, it’s now spider ninja robots. There’s lots of other little things too, like the striking use of colour, the contrast between the claustrophobic environment in the burning forest versus the open lake area, the water splashing up as they move around. The fights were exhilarating in a way the fights in the TV series never were. They were still exciting, but only because you wanted to see what happened to the characters rather than through strength of choreography.
Speaking of choreography, I really liked Akito’s takedown of the mecha in Paris, under the inexplicably green sky. Sure, there was more than just a hint of the Suzaku-esque super human powers. Jump out the back of an exploding mech into a rolling fall, fire a grappling hook onto the opponent mech and skate under it while firing a grenade launcher into its crotch. All he needed to finish it off was to deliver a spinning kick to knock the cockpit door off. But again, there was a clear direction when it came to the storyboarding of the scene. Oh, and they earn extra points for not pulling Leila’s jujitsu powers out of their ass when it was convenient and actually showed those powers at the start of the episode. I’m sure there’s a trope name for that, but I’m just going to call it Good Storytelling.
Flaws? Well, it’s incredibly dumb and silly…oh wait, you said flaws.
The characters aren’t doing a lot for me as of yet. Leila is a bit too perfect at the moment. She’s an abandoned aristocrat who cares for the Japanese and doesn’t like killing them but is good and jujitsu and is all noble and strong and calm under fire and everything. She doesn’t have a single character flaw. I quite like her commander, the dude rocking that beard, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because he quoted LOGH. Akito, the Japanese terrorist gang, the Chinese dude with the Geass, all share the exact same traits. They’re angry people who feel lost with their lack of a homeland.
That appears to be the running theme in Akito the Exiled. I was struggling for a word to describe it until now. I was going to go for ‘gritty’, until I remembered Akito skating under a robot and firing a grenade launcher at its crotch. The word I eventually came up with was ‘angry’. There’s a real frustrated resentment amongst the Elevens in this story. Leila wants to help the Japanese, but she doesn’t have that same burning anger and utter frustration at their position that Akito or the terrorist leader has. “We want a place to belong” he says as he shoots another guy in the face. Akito talks about helping Leila by burning everything to the ground. Not exactly what you’d call constructive solutions to their problems.
I’ve found with Geass that if you stop listening to the Japan part of it and pretend it takes place in Nationstanland instead, it’s easier to actually take the story in rather than laugh at all the jingoism. When it comes to nationalistic revolts, the fighting usually starts with economic issues first. See the Arab Spring, the Troubles in Northern Island, the Nazis etc. The Japanese in Code Geass would probably be fairly all right with losing their country if they lived happy lives, rather than in slums. They feel their lack of a country to call their own ties in with their lack of an actual real house. Now I’m about as anti-nationalist as you can get, but at the same time I ‘get’ it. I get the frustration that can come from that loss of national identity. Akito the Exiled is really focused on that. Heck, it’s in the name, it’s hardly particularly subtle about it.
And if that aspect to the Geass OVA doesn’t interest you, there’s always some fine Akito wedgies to gawk at.