Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is an anime series created by Sunrise, with character designs by CLAMP. It has two seasons, and originally aired from 2006 to 2007. Aside from the anime, there is also a manga adapation, some novelisations, picture dramas, OVAs, and probably more that I've missed, but this site deals with the anime series.
In the world of Code Geass, the Holy Britannian Empire is a superpower nation that rules over a third of the planet. It has a powerful military and is constantly expanding it's territories. Seven years prior to the events of Code Geass, Britannia invades the country of Japan to secure the large amounts of sakuradite in the country - a rare mineral that is used to power the Knightmare Frame machines (the mechas in Code Geass). Japan is defeated by the superior Britannian military, and is colonised and renamed Area 11. The Japanese people became known as Elevens, and are now basically second class citizens in their own country.
However, despite Britannia overwhelming the Japanese with their military strength, the Japanese did not surrender straight away. In fact, they had been preparing a do-or-die resistance when the Prime Minister of Japan suddenly committed suicide (later shown that he had in fact been murdered by his son, Suzaku), leaving Japan leaderless and allowing Britannia to completely win the war. Consequently, there are still pockets of resistance in Japan seven years on, and unrest is rampant among the Elevens, who are treated incredibly harshly by the Britannians.
Enter Lelouch Lamperouge, a Britannian student who accidentally gets caught up in an altercation between the Britannian army and the Japanese resistance. He ends up trapped in the back of a truck carrying a mysterious capsule the resistance has stolen from Britannia. They believe it contains poisonous gas. When the truck crashes, the capsule is opened to reveal a mysterious girl, and when the Britannian soldiers prepare to shoot down Lelouch (as they believe he is a terrorist with the resistance) she steps in front of him, taking a bullet to the forehead. As Lelouch kneels over her body, contemplating his own impending death, the girl grabs his hand and opens a mental link with Lelouch. She proposes a contract with Lelouch - she will give him power; power that will irrevocably change his life. In return, she asks that he fulfills her one wish. However, she does give him a warning.
"The power of the King will condemn you to a life of solitude. Are you prepared for this?"
Lelouch immediately accepts the contract. The mental link with the mysterious girl is broken, and he stands up, ready to use his new power.
"I, Lelouch vi Britannia, command you, all of you, to die!"
Because, oh yeah, Lelouch is actually a prince of Britannia, although he's currently in hiding and using the alias "Lamperouge". And he hates Britannia. And he's going to destroy it. And this newfound power commands people to follow his word. All the soldiers he just spoke to? They happily shoot themselves in the head at his command. Lelouch immediately realises what he can do with this power - that is, take down Britannia - and thus begins Code Geass.
Lelouch Lamperouge is a seventeen year old student at the Ashford Academy. He is Vice-President of the Student Council and clever enough to not have to work too hard at schoolwork (although he's not so great at gym). He has friends and admirers, and he loves his sister Nunnally.
But who is Lelouch, really? He is Lelouch vi Britannia, the once prince of the Empire. When Lelouch was ten years old, his mother, the Empress Marianne, was killed in their palace. This irrevocably changed the lives of Lelouch and Nunnally. Nunnally was left paralysed and blind from the attack and Lelouch, filled with rage and grief, confronted his father in front of the court, angry that the Emperor wouldn't even visit his own daughter in hospital. The Emperor, Charles zi Britannia, has no time for this, and while Lelouch renounces his claim to the throne, Charles decides to send his two children to Japan (the place with the rich supply of sakuradite that Charles really wanted) where they could be used as political hostages.
In Japan, they face a hard life. Lelouch learns to clean, cook and sew so he can better look after Nunnally and because he doesn't trust the Japanese. He takes regular beatings from all the other boys, but eventually befriends Kururugi Suzaku - the son of the Japanese Prime Minister. It is around this time that Britannia completes its Knightmare Frames and invades Japan, no longer needing to be diplomatic. Lelouch and Nunnally's usefulness as political pawns has ended. Fearing for their lives, Lelouch took Nunnally and went into hiding and assumed the name Lamperouge. They were at some point separated from Suzaku and officially recorded as deceased. Eventually they were taken in by the Ashford family, a noble family that has fallen from grace, and manage to live a somewhat peaceful life for a time.
However, Lelouch is just biding his time. He never forgot and he never forgave. It's in the opening minutes of the anime that he states that he will destroy Britannia. Lelouch was just clever enough to wait and bid his time. The Geass he gets from C.C. just means he can act before he ever could have anticipated.
And Lelouch is very clever. Another thing that's quickly established about him is that he is an accomplished chess player. There's many references throughout the series to chess, and for good reason. As a child, Lelouch would play chess with his brothers - easily defeating Clovis, but having difficulty beating Schneizel (and of course, Lelouch and Schneizel later go head to head in the battlefield). Now, as a Britannian student, he often plays games against older and presumably more experienced nobles, happy to take their money when he wins. Lelouch is incredibly intelligent, and he uses his cleverness and skills honed playing chess on real battlefields to great effect. He is an adept tactician, always planning several moves in advance.
Due to this cleverness, and probably due to being royalty and raised as such for the first ten years of his life, Lelouch is arrogant. He's a cold, calculating individual. He's also quite selfish - after all, his main motivations for wanting to destroy Britannia are to find out who killed his mother and to avenge her, as well as creating a better world for Nunnally. While not perhaps the worst motivations a character can have, what Lelouch is planning on doing - for better or worse - is to destroy the current world order, and he doesn't seem to care who he will hurt or kill along the way. Eventually he does realise that he can make the world a better place for all.
It is important to note that Lelouch loves his sister dearly. He nurtures and cares for her and what he wants is to create a world in which she will be safe and happy. Britannia has no use for someone like Nunnally - she is weak, a young girl unable to see and confined to a wheelchair and thus unimportant to someone like the Emperor. But to Lelouch she is the most important. He loves her unconditionally and destroys himself in his quest to create a world for her. But that's an acceptable consequence, for him. Despite his selfish reasons for creating a better world (after all, Nunnally would never have wanted her brother to kill for her), Lelouch does come to realise that his actions will benefit all, although he needs to be reminded by others that he's doing this for more than just Nunnally. Without Nunnally, Lelouch would be a much more unlikable character, because Lelouch tends to treat nearly everyone else as expendable pawns. There are, of course, some exceptions, and some of his callousness may also be a cover - Zero can't be seen to be weak, after all.
Even before he became Zero, Lelouch was accustomed to playing a role and lying to those around him. After all, he and Nunnally are students at the Ashford Academy under aliases. Very few people know of their true identity as Britannian royalty. And even while Lelouch shows disinterest in schoolwork, even before he became Zero he was playing the part of a popular and carefree student at school. Truthfully, Lelouch is indifferent to all this, especially after he becomes Zero. Things became more complicated once he became Zero, sure, but Lelouch was lying and plotting long before he ever became Zero. A funny thing about Lelouch - he lies to everyone while demanding the absolute truth from them.
Even with the other students, and those that are his friends, Lelouch presents a mask of a carefree student. In reality, however, he's rather detached from the mundane day to day school life, finding it trivial and unimportant despite the fact this his intelligence means he doesn't have to struggle at school. Obviously it becomes more a challenge to keep up appearances after he becomes Zero, especially as now he must also keep secrets from Nunnally as well as everyone else. Of course, Nunnally is the only one Lelouch vows not to lie to. She and Suzaku are also the two people he swears not to use Geass on...but uh, yeah, plans change, don't they, Lelouch?
So, who is Zero? Zero is a masked identity created by Lelouch - the mask has a nifty little sliding section over the left eye that allows Lelouch to use the Geass without revealing his identity. Lelouch unveils Zero in an incredibly dramatic and public fashion, and Zero quickly becomes the face of the Japanese rebellion when he forms the Order of the Black Knights. As the leader of the Black Knights, Lelouch now has his own personal army, along with them becoming a force to tackle Britannia. Zero also becomes a symbol more than a person - C.C. wears the mask a few times to conceal Lelouch's identity. And at the end of the series, Suzaku takes up the mantle of Zero, killing Lelouch and becoming known as the saviour of the world. At this point, Suzaku is thought to have been killed in action three months prior, and becoming Zero is indeed a heavy burden. Both Suzaku and Lelouch understand the powerful symbol that Zero has become, and use the belief that the people have in Zero to create world peace. Zero, this time with Suzaku under the helmet, once again becomes leader of the new Black Knights.
Lelouch's charisma and confidence make him a great leader to the Black Knights - who tended to flounder when he wasn't giving direct orders. It is this charisma that allows him to give orders and be obeyed even without the use of his Geass. Zero inspires confidence in his followers, and Lelouch's tactics mean they often succeed and gain great advantages for the Japanese.
For Lelouch as Zero, the end justifies the means. Zero's orders and Lelouch's actions as his civilian self are sometimes at odds with each other - for instance, Lelouch ordered his brother to make sure the army helped to help both Britannian and Eleven civilians who had been injured in an altercation. He also stopped a gang of Britannian youths attacking an Eleven. Yet he has little trouble giving orders that will cause the deaths of countless innocents (there is the incident with Shirley's father, but more on that later).
The mysterious power that C.C. gave Lelouch is known as Geass. This power manifests itself differently in each individual, and seems to be connected to their inner desires and personalities. Lelouch's Geass gives him the power of absolute order, allowing him to issues orders that will be unfailingly carried out. Geass can only be issued by someone who has an immortality Code, like C.C., and someone with the Code can only be killed by a Geass user who has reached their full strength, as the power of Geass will increase over time. However, not everyone is strong enough for a Geass. C.C. was giving various people a Geass in the hope that they would be become powerful enough to kill her and end her long life.
Lelouch's Geass is particularly interesting due to the limiting restrictions placed on it. He must have direct eye contact with the subject, which requires getting pretty close to whoever he wants to Geass. Additionally, he can only use it once per person. It's still incredibly powerful and useful, of course. Every Geass has it's downside (with the exception of Charles zi Britannia and his amazing memory altering Geass), but the Geass of absolute order is actually a Geass that only someone like Lelouch could fully utilise. He immediately learns the limits and duration of his Geass and plans accordingly. You could say that it's a suitable Geass for him because it's a manifestation of both his arrogance and his ability to plot several steps ahead and plan for alternatives - as he would say himself: all the conditions must be met before he can use his Geass.
The incident with Euphemia is, of course, an exception. It would never have happened if Lelouch had known that his Geass had just levelled up, even if he did turn the tragedy into something that he could ultimately gain from. Lelouch, as I've already mentioned, is very intelligent, and adapts and modifies plans as the conditions change. Even if it means he has to brutally murder his half-sister.
I've already spoken about Nunnally and how important she is to Lelouch. Never forget that she's his top priority and most important person ever. As for the rest of his family...out of his many half siblings, Lelouch spent the most time with Euphemia and Cordelia, and Clovis and Schneizel. He was particularly close with Euphemia, who he considers his first love. When she meets him again as Zero, she correctly guesses his true identity based on only a few sentences. She knows Lelouch well. Her sister Cordelia greatly admired Marianne, Lelouch's mother, and tried without success to find her killer. As for Clovis and Schneizel, Lelouch regularly beat Clovis at chess when they were children, but with Schneizel he had more difficulty - something that happens again when they meet on the battlefield, although Lelouch is eventually able to beat his elder brother and basically enslave him with the power of his Geass.
Euphemia's tragic end is Lelouch's fault. He accidentally uses his Geass on her, commanding her to kill all Elevens. This is right after Euphemia set up a Special Administrative Zone of Japan, which would restore some rights to the Japanese people (including letting them call themselves Japanese again). Lelouch had actually agreed to help Euphemia with the Administrative Zone after she told him she did this for Nunnally, but unaware that his Geass has become more powerful, he tells her that he could have ordered her to kill all Elevens if he'd wanted to and she'd have to do it. And oops, that's exactly what she sets off to do - right in the middle of her new Administrative Zone full of Japanese people. Lelouch, while horrified at what he's just done, is able to think quickly and lets the Black Knights believe that Euphemia has betrayed them. Lelouch shoots Euphemia, which eventually leads to her death. He regrets what has happened, but it doesn't shake his resolve and he vows again that he will destroy Britannia.
Lelouch and Suzaku became friends when they were ten years old - after a bit of a bumpy start. When they meet again seven years later, they rekindle that friendship. However, Lelouch is unaware that Suzaku is the pilot of the Knightmare Frame that keeps causing the Black Knights trouble, and Suzaku is unaware that Lelouch is actually Zero. Lelouch (as Zero) also tries to convince Suzaku to join the Black Knights, but Suzaku wants to change Britannia from within. Lelouch, while frustrated at this, still respects Suzaku. He believes Suzaku is the one other person who can take care of Nunnally, and is planning to ask this of him. However, all bets are off when he discovers that Suzaku's real job with the Britannian army is as a Knightmare Frame pilot, and one working constantly against the Black Knights. Also, despite Suzaku being one of the few people Lelouch didn't want to use his Geass on, when the situation gets dire, he casts a Geass on Suzaku, ordering him to live. What he didn't realise what that Suzaku often wanted to die, loathing himself for killing his own father and believing it was his due. Suzaku resents this Geass.
Suzaku also becomes close to Euphemia and the two start a romantic relationship. She also names Suzaku as her Knight, angering Lelouch even more at this perceived betrayal. Euphemia's death is something Suzaku cannot forgive, although he and Lelouch work together to stop Charles' plan and later works with Lelouch to take part in the Zero Requiem. Lelouch asks Suzaku to take on the identity of Zero, even though he knows what a burden it is and how much he is asking of Suzaku. The two do come to a peace, of sorts, at the end.
C.C. is the mysterious witch that grants Lelouch his Geass and completely changes his life. Their relationship starts out cold, and it takes them a while to begin to understand each other and become true partners. She's led a long life with much loneliness, but Lelouch comes to truly care for her. He promises to fulfill her contract, and she comes to trust him and comforts him when no one else can.
I've seen it said in various places that while Shirley falls in love with Lelouch and Kallen falls in love with Zero, C.C. is the only one who truly knows and loves them both. And that's a general assessment I'd agree with, although I don't particularly care for romance in my Code Geass and it's all left purposely ambiguous for different people to draw different conclusions based on their preferences. While Lelouch cares for all three of them, I don't think romantic entanglement is a high priority for him.
Kallen is the daughter of a Britannian man and a Japanese woman, but she always considers herself Japanese. She is a member of the Black Knights and a masterful Knightmare Frame pilot. She initially dislikes Lelouch while admiring Zero, and it takes her time to reconcile her feelings for the two after she discovers they are one and the same. The two are quite similar in some aspects - they both have masks and present different faces to different people.
Shirley is a regular student at the Ashford Academy, and has had a long-time crush on Lelouch. She's a normal, everyday girl, and represents the kind of life Lelouch could have had if he hadn't become Zero. Lelouch struggles with the impact he has in her life - firstly, he's responsible for the death of her father, and then her death grieves him greatly. He tries to use his Geass to force her live, but to no effect. Her death motivates him to wipe out the Geass Order.
Ah, Lelouch's fake brother. Rolo is introduced at the start of the second season. Lelouch's memories have been wiped by his father's Geass, making him forget ever being Zero and Nunnally. Rolo has actually been assigned to keep watch over Lelouch to ensure his memories don't return, but comes to genuinely love Lelouch when he keeps treating Rolo as his real brother. Rolo's life has been lonely, and this is the first time he's experienced something like this.
When Lelouch gets his memories back, he is furious at this impostor, immediately needing to find out where Nunnally is. By using his usual manipulative tactics, he gets Rolo completely on his side while all the time knowing he's going to dispose of him for trying to take Nunnally's place. Rolo becomes completely devoted to Lelouch. And then Rolo kills Shirley in a fit of jealously after she regains her memories and wants to help Lelouch reunite with Nunnally.
Lelouch tries and fails to kill Rolo for this, and their relationship deteriorates further when Rolo tells Lelouch that Nunnally is dead. She isn't, and Rolo did want her to die, and he probably did believe it at the time. Lelouch explodes at Rolo, not wanting his comfort and telling him that he's tried to kill him several times.
Rolo ends up saving Lelouch's life, and proving his devotion to him once again when he continually uses his Geass over and over to get Lelouch to safety after his true identity and power is revealed to the Black Knights. This takes it's toll on his body and he eventually dies. Lelouch lies to him in his final moments, telling Rolo that he didn't mean what he said before. Lelouch acknowledges that Rolo was the brother of Lelouch Lamperouge, but not of Lelouch vi Britannia. He also vows not to let Rolo's sacrifice be in vain.
Lelouch gets to killing very quickly. It's actually the first thing that he does when he receives his Geass. After ordering a group of soldiers to kill themselves, he uses his Geass to get close to Clovis la Britannia - his half brother and the then Viceroy of Area 11. Lelouch questions Clovis about the death of Marianne, and then kills him. The following day, Lelouch does experience some nausea as he recalls what he did to Clovis, but it seems to be more of a physical reaction to the violence, and it doesn't seem to bother his conscience for any length of time. Clovis, by all accounts, seems to have loved Lelouch and respected Marianne a whole lot. He didn't deserve what Lelouch did to him, and Lelouch never really shows any remorse for his actions. What actually makes Lelouch think about the consequences of his actions is when he inadvertently kills Shirley's father (along with plenty of other civilians) during an altercation between the Black Knights and the Britannian army.
Through a series of events, Shirley becomes aware of Lelouch's secret identity as Zero, and thus finds out that the person she's in love with is the one that killed her father. She struggles with this knowledge, as anybody would, and Lelouch ends up using his Geass on her to erase her memory of him completely. He does this knowing it will also erase her love for him, but also knowing it will bring her some kind of peace. He can't, after all, bring her father back to life. But what this does is show him the harsh consequences of his actions, and how what he is doing is affecting ordinary people who never signed on for this. Lelouch has said that he despises pointless violence, but it was through what he believed was justified violence that killed these innocent people. And now he has to see a friend suffer for it.
In the end, it doesn't change his course, although it does make him temporarily question himself. Lelouch is set on his path, and many more people will be hurt by his actions. Even Nunnally comes to think of him as a monster at one point. But again, Lelouch pushes past that, because he knows what goal he's working towards and that will justify his actions.
The end of Code Geass can be read as ambiguous. Lelouch has become Emperor - he has succeeded in making the entire world hate him and uniting everybody against him. He is considered a tyrant, and has successfully focused the ire of the entire world just on him. Now that he's given everyone a common enemy, Lelouch prepares for his final plan: Zero Requiem. Two months after becoming Emperor, at the public execution of his former allies, Lelouch is assassinated in front of the world. Suzaku, in disguise as Zero, stabs Lelouch. The tyrant is dead, the world is at peace. Zero is the saviour, and the symbol of this new world order. Nunnally becomes the 100th Empress of the Holy Britannian Empire.
However, there has been some controversy and discussion over the ending. The big question is this - did Lelouch really die? Or did he receive his father's immortality Code back when they fought in the World of C? Was this Code activated when Suzaku stabs Lelouch, meaning he wouldn't die from the wound and thus allowing him to transmit memories to Nunnally in those final moments when she touches him (much like C.C. - another individual with a Code - did to Lelouch at the start of the series)? So would this make Lelouch the driver of the cart that C.C. is travelling on in the final scene of series? Is C.C. talking directly to Lelouch and not just whimsically speaking to the deceased as we humans sometimes do?
So many questions.
Personally speaking, I believe Lelouch is dead. I think it's a fitting end for him. I also believe that in this case, Occam's Razor applies, and the simplest and most straight forward explanation is the correct one. Lelouch was stabbed and he died, the end. There are too many questions and leaps of logic for it to work completely in my mind. However, the ending is vague, and how immortality and the Codes work is never fully explained to my satisfaction, so I can understand why people have interpreted it differently from myself. After all, Lelouch is a master liar and manipulator. It's not a crazy suggestion to say that he could have plotted one final deception. I know that he set himself up to be a martyr and bring peace to the world and yadda yadda yadda, but Lelouch was kind of a dick. However, despite that, I think it lessens the impact and sacrifice of what he's done to have him be alive and immortal. For me, the ending is more powerful and meaningful if he's dead. Rest in peace, Lelouch.
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