In many ways, 2017 is the year of Code Geass. The first season of the anime television series takes place in 2017 of the fictional Britannian imperial calendar, the real world Gregorian 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the show, and a compilation film trilogy and the mysterious sequel Lelouch of the Resurrection were announced for 2017. It remains to be seen if the sequel will surface by the end of the year, but for now the series is back in print on DVD and blu-ray as well as streaming via Funimation or Crunchyroll.
To celebrate, Karleen and Malia are looking back on Code Geass together with a series of retrospective discussions. The anime follows Lelouch Lamperouge, a banished prince rebelling against his father’s empire as the masked terrorist “Zero.” Lelouch seeks revenge for negligence in causing his mother’s death as well as his sister’s paralysis and blindness. Granted the magical power of geass by a mystical stranger, Lelouch can make anyone follow his commands. In his way stands Suzaku Kururugi, his long-lost childhood friend who allies with the empire as a mech pilot despite being native to its Japanese colony. There’s also Arthurian allusions, high school hijinks, and of course Pizza Hut product placement. Let’s begin with the heart of the story: Lelouch and Suzaku. Expect major spoilers for the entire series!
Karleen: Before we get into the topic of this post, I thought we could start with our history with the series. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion premiered in 2006, then its sequel season R2 in 2008. At the time I was only vaguely aware of anime airing in Japan, and only started watching CG around when R2 was ending in Japan and the first season was on Adult Swim. It came to me at a transitional time in my life; I had just entered high school. Such a lengthy original anime intrigued me, having mostly seen shorter original anime or adaptations of manga. I saw pretty fanart and lots of memes but I think it was the connection to CLAMP that convinced me to watch it? Then, I fell in love with the show. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I don’t think there’s been anything like it since. Even now recognizing its influences from past anime, I believe it’s something special. I loved it so much I watched it in Japanese online and then in English as the dub aired on TV. Even back then I knew it had problems, from laughable facial expressions to objectification of women, but its flaws fascinated me as much as its strengths. To me, CG encapsulates its own theme of duality: it’s “good” and “bad” at the same time.
Malia: For me, Code Geass came during a transitional time in my life too, though much later than you. I know I learned about it from you and another friend back in high school but I was never particularly interested in it for some reason, even as a CLAMP fan. I even remember watching the first episode back then and though I don’t remember disliking it, I think I sort of forgot to keep watching. So I just figured I’d never get into it. But then in my first year of college I rewatched that first episode during some anime club meeting on campus and said something about it to you. One thing led to another, and then we watched the whole show together while Skyping each other (first time for me and third time for you). And I ended up loving it so much? I sort of wish I had watched Code Geass earlier but I’m glad I watched it when I did. The show affected me in a way that I don’t think it could have if I had watched it at any other time in my life. This isn’t to say that I don’t think the show is compelling in itself, but rather that some things enter your life at just the perfect moment.
Karleen: I’m glad for when you watched it too, because then I got to revisit it four years later at a new transition in my life (as we were both first year college students). I’d become older than the main characters I thought were so “mature” the first time and could see them, their conflicts, and their world in a new light. I also got to hear your perspective as a new viewer, and watching over Skype lent itself to discussing CG over chat long after finishing that night’s episodes. That engagement was what I needed at a time in my life I felt very alone, and I think it strengthened our relationship. I just did the math and as of this year we’ve both been Code Geass fans half the time we’ve known each other? Soon the majority of our relationship will be post-CG, haha.
Malia: Aww. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I first watched Code Geass. My feelings about it are still so visceral! And I feel similarly about when we watched it together. Code Geass was so much fun and we bonded so much over it, but it also ended up being a point of significant reflection for me. CG (plus other factors) actually helped me come to terms with some mental health issues that I hadn’t ever considered seriously before, which is very odd to admit about a series that I would (lovingly) describe as “trashy” and “a hot mess.” But it is dear to me.
Karleen: And now we’ve rewatched the show in full together this year, another four years later and finished with undergrad, for more reflection. (We also watched partway through R2 across parties with friends during undergrad.) As years go by my understanding of CG evolves and its application to my own life evolves too. This retrospective is just another step, but publicized this time. It may also be a culmination of all our discussions. The best place to start is the heart of the series: our protagonist Lelouch Lamperouge (AKA Lelouch vi Britannia) and deuteragonist Suzaku Kururugi. Although they are enemies, I wouldn’t call Suzaku the antagonist. Their common enemy is Britannia, and its imperialism and colonialism has forced them into opposing positions. It would be reductive, when CG is all about complexity.
Malia: I agree! I think while Suzaku being labeled as an “antagonist” isn’t technically wrong, as Lelouch is definitely the protagonist and the two spend most of the time in conflict with each other, it gets mixed up with the idea of “villain” a lot. It’s not that without him, then there wouldn’t be any conflict, but more that Suzaku’s perspective is so vital to the story as a whole. Ah, but I think I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. I just get so excited discussing him since he’s my favorite character. It’s funny because I remember you telling me before we started watching that I would like Suzaku but I never anticipated how intense I’d feel about him.
Karleen: I knew you would like him but I wasn’t prepared for how much either. It was refreshing after witnessing most people who watched CG absolutely despise him, even those who claimed to be invested in his and Lelouch’s relationship. I’ve always liked Suzaku and my appreciation and love for him has only gotten deeper over time, but Lelouch is still my favorite. CG plays with the concepts of “hero” and “villain” and I find him a compelling “villain” protagonist. In fact he’s my favorite character of all time, but I always feel like talking in-depth about Suzaku more. I suppose that’s because I feel the need to recognize and justify what a great character he is since he’s far less beloved than Lelouch (one of the most popular anime characters ever). Everyone already knows Lelouch is a great character and there’s been a lot said about him, but I hope we’ll add something fresh to those conversations now.
Malia: I definitely share that feeling. I missed out on most of the fandom by the time I watched CG but just hearing that Suzaku was hated by so many fans deeply shocked me, especially since he’s so important to Lelouch and vice versa (even when they hate each other, haha). I do love Lelouch though. He’s ridiculous in a way that I would usually either dislike or laugh off, but he’s actually so compelling that I really can’t fault the people who adore him. I know Light Yagami is a popular character for comparison, and I never read or watched all of Death Note, but while Light sees himself as above and separate from everyone else, I think Lelouch is sort of the opposite, even with his similar secret identity and grand vision of justice. His motivations are always very grounded in his emotions and personal relationships, even if he tries to frame them as bigger than that.
Karleen: Oh man, those comparisons to Light always bothered me. To me Light is a more symbolic character, while Lelouch is more human. Lelouch tries to detach himself from his loved ones to forge himself into a callous villain, but he can’t and it only makes things worse. In Death Note, emotions are weakness. In Code Geass, emotions are what makes someone human. He’s willing to kill people in the name of overthrowing Britannia, but gets emotionally knocked down a peg when he realizes that includes the death of a classmate’s father. It only puts Shirley in more danger as he realizes how much he cares for her. He can’t escape personal consequences because like you said, his motivations are personal to begin with as revenge against his father and Britannia by extension. They’re not only personal, but selfish. Is “selfish” too harsh? I want to be critical of him since other fans usually aren’t, haha. The root of his hatred for Britannia is his father didn’t mourn his mother’s death, disregarded his sister’s disability, and abandoned him and his sister as political tokens. Sure, he must hate imperialism, but at the end of the day the Black Knights and the Japanese population are means to an end for his family drama.
Malia: Yeah! I think “selfish” is a good way to describe him. Lelouch’s goal of ending the Britannian Empire and his sympathy for the colonized Japanese people are good, but his heart is most invested in his little sister, Nunnally, having an untroubled life. And even then for a long time, she’s more of a pure figure placed on a pedestal than an actual human being to him. Though he does genuinely feel affection and care towards many people in his life, despite being bad at expressing those feelings to anyone who isn’t Nunnally. That stuff is what makes Lelouch so interesting! I love that he’s righteous and smart enough to instigate an anti-imperialist revolution, but also that he’s a control freak fueled by trauma and personal grudges. He has feelings, makes mistakes, and has more feelings, even as he tries to deny them. I don’t get fans who idealize him as simply amazing or badass, because while his schemes are exciting, that stuff alone isn’t engaging enough to warrant me talking about him years later.
Karleen: This is all so true. Lelouch would bore me if he were an all-powerful rebel, and not the brat he frankly is. Not to mention he can be funny! I love how CG can poke fun at him to remind you he’s just a mortal teenager who over-thinks and can’t physically exert himself. He can tell himself he commits “evil” in the name of “good” in giving Nunnally a future, when his real crime of idealizing Nunnally is so subtle even he’s not aware of it. But we’ll get to Nunnally in the minor characters post… The chess motif of CG manifests in how Lelouch sees everyone as his chess pieces, not just Nunnally. Even if he loves someone, he thinks in terms of using them. At the beginning of the show he rescues Suzaku assuming he will team up with Zero and can’t believe it when Suzaku rejects him, then the same thing happens with Nunnally at the beginning of R2. He’s so steeped in his own agenda and ideology, as he needs to be to succeed, that he can’t comprehend others could have different plans or disagree.
Malia: Oh yes, I was wanting to talk about the chess motif because I think it’s such a good symbol for Lelouch’s character and worldview. It’s usually a cliche shorthand to indicate intelligence, usually book smarts and/or creative strategy. Chess is still used similarly in CG; Schneizel and Lelouch’s chess match draw indicates that they’re both basically equals in intellect, but Lelouch’s objectification of people as tools for wartime adds another layer.
In the first episode, chess is a gambling game that Lelouch plays in order to wound the pride of arrogant elites and to placate his boredom. I think you can argue that though the stakes are higher and more personal, one of Lelouch’s biggest problems is treating the revolution in a similar manner. Often he considers people’s complexity and individuality (including his own) too late, hurting others and himself in the process. Additionally, in a game you either win or lose, and though Lelouch understands the gravity of “losing” meaning his own death, he doesn’t anticipate the grey areas that lie in between. That is, either winning or losing can be complicated in itself because, again, humans are involved, not chess pieces.
There’s plenty of examples to cite, but an easy one is Euphemia’s death, being a win for the Black Knights but also a tragic emotional loss for many characters that permanently affects the rest of the series. So though his chess skills may indicate Lelouch’s prowess in war strategy, it’s inadequate for the full complexities in the conflicts he faces. It’s a genuinely thoughtful use of a common motif that I don’t usually see. I think it also helps that, at least in my view, his arc ends perfectly (or did, I’m eyeing the third season warily) so everything just comes together for me.
Karleen: I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it’s brilliant. The Black Knights are disturbed to learn Zero can magically brainwash people, but his ability to manipulate without geass can be just as horrific. He doesn’t need to use geass to control Rolo, for example, though that had some hiccups. C.C. makes his desire to completely command others a reality, but even with geass it doesn’t always work out. Ordering strangers to shoot themselves or give him materials is easy, but he can’t shape the feelings of others if he doesn’t understand them to begin with. He commands Shirley to forget their relationship thinking that will save her from being involved with him, unprepared for her to fall in love with him all over again as they continue to interact.
His geass on Suzaku to “live” is by far the worst: it’s not a quick fix to Suzaku’s suicide ideation and only frustrates him more. Ignoring the coming sequel, I agree the resolution of his character arc as tied to the end of the show is perfect. I’ll admit right now I believe Lelouch died in the final episode because it makes more thematic sense to me, rather than him surviving through Charles’ code and whatnot. For a character to be introduced with a philosophy of “the only ones who should shoot are those prepared to be shot” and die after being responsible for uncountable deaths is quite poetic. I also believe he always had a plan like Zero Requiem up his sleeve based on this philosophy. He knowingly wants to become a villain, give up his personal life (although he’s not so good at that part as we’ve discussed), and create a “gentle world” for Nunnally; so where else would that leave him but to die? Perhaps he had other potential outcomes, but this one for sure when he thought Nunnally was out of the picture. Then again even when he found out she was actually alive, he still went through with it.
As “the demon emperor” he’s finally able to detach himself from emotional consequences and make everyone abhor him, but he spends his final moments emotionally open with Suzaku and Nunnally. The demon emperor is a facade (we’ll get to dramaturgy in CG eventually?), but he’s still carrying out awful things and it’s satisfying for Kallen, Kaguya, etc. to recognize him as the jerk he can be. The way he finally treats Suzaku and Nunnally, who he’s lied to and manipulated all along, like human beings rather than chess pieces is even more satisfying. I guess it would just break my heart if Lelouch were planning to be resurrected without their knowledge in that moment, as much as I like to acknowledge his moral flaws. Growing as a person and only expressing it right before death is beautifully bittersweet, but that has nothing on Suzaku’s fate. That’s enough about everyone’s favorite, let’s dive into the most divisive character
Malia: I always forget that Suzaku’s so divisive. This isn’t to say that he didn’t do awful things (particularly in R2) or that his ideology was correct, but he just has so much complexity, especially compared to some of the Britannian characters that Lelouch and the Black Knights fight. However, he is the primary opponent of Lelouch for most of the show so I can understand in that sense how people can hate Suzaku. I know we’re moving on from Lelouch, but I feel like he’s a character who can easily be loved by people who love noble, good-hearted heroes and people who like dark, fun villains. There’s an interesting balance to him that hits on a lot of great character points. But Suzaku is kind of neither?
He comes off as cheerful and sweet, but he believes just following the rules of the Britannian empire is the best way to end imperialism. He’s so stubborn about it too (just as much as Lelouch is about his ideas, but being wrong makes all the difference). He’s also not a strategic type, though he’s a good pilot, so he doesn’t have any melodramatic, complicated schemes to internally monologue about. He and Lelouch aren’t really rivals as Knightmare pilots (that’s more him and Kallen), but more in beliefs. Even his optimistic demeanor is sort of a sham given his actual misery and suicidal ideation, all coming from a horrible childhood mistake that led to the colonization of his country. This is going to sound funny from me but Suzaku’s not a fun character to watch. He’s not a power fantasy like Lelouch is.
Karleen: I definitely know what you mean about him not being fun to watch. Suzaku just makes me sad, since he is primarily a tragic character to me as a victim of colonization. It makes me cringe (and often upsets me) when fans call him “stupid” when he’s clearly traumatized and uneducated. He never catches a break like Lelouch does, which makes sense considering he is the oppressed one in their society. His position is a double-bind: no matter what he does, the Japanese and Britannians will both hate him. He’s had everything taken from him (his country, his future, his family, his only friends) and only continues to lose as the show goes on (his girlfriend and liege, his closest friend again, his newfound civilian life), but due to his traumatic guilt he sees complying with Britannia as the only option to regain anything.
But really, social progress is secondary to his personal atonement. Just like Lelouch, he’s knowingly a “traitor” to his people by taking on the role of a “villain.” Lelouch allies with the Japanese to destroy Britannia, Suzaku allies with Britannia itself to bring change from within. It’s cheesy, but they truly are two sides of the same coin. However, Suzaku does so publicly and has to face the backlash (from the Japanese as well as Britannians) personally while Lelouch has an alter ego. It’s analogous to how marginalized people are seen with their marginalized identities at the forefront no matter what they do. On top of that Suzaku makes his identity public on purpose, out of a mix of respectability politics and psychological self-harm. His reasons are rather unpalatable, which is probably what makes him unsympathetic to fans. (We’re supposed to be focusing on Suzaku but it’s hard for me to not compare him to Lelouch, who has a clear and moral motivation through Nunnally.) I don’t want to sound like a snob but I think understanding Suzaku as a character requires a particular grasp of racism and mental health. The first time I watched CG I certainly didn’t have the understanding I do now, though I didn’t hate him either.
Malia: I’m probably a little bit more sympathetic to those who look at his behavior and politics and roll their eyes. He’s the type of person who I would get frustrated with in real life, bare minimum, but he’s not a real person so my sympathy comes a little easier. Though I still get frustrated with him whenever I’ve watched CG, it’s hard not to be.
Karleen: Oh yeah, being frustrated with him and his decisions is one thing, because as the audience you’re meant to be. From Lelouch’s point of view Suzaku is going about everything the wrong way, and because Lelouch is the protagonist he’s framed as correct in feeling that way. You’re meant to feel the same frustration and confusion over Suzaku rejecting Zero as him, for example. But then I don’t think people move on from that stage? It’s no coincidence the same episode that emphasizes what a perfect team Suzaku and Lelouch make also reveals that Suzaku committed patricide and has a deathwish; together it explains how his past forced him into the Britannian military and has prevented him from joining forces with Lelouch. That’s one of my favorite episodes, so I think about it a lot. You realize when Suzaku rejected Zero’s rescue from execution, it was because it was the best way to die.
Lelouch better understands him after that and ideally the audience would too, but instead I have to read shallow takes about how Suzaku is a liberal. (Where are all the jokes about how Lelouch is a white guy anarchist?) CG isn’t so much a political or ideological debate between equals (like say, Light and L) as it’s about how imperialism shaped those politics and pulled two friends and potential forces of change apart. And of course, Suzaku does eventually give up on working within Britannia to ally with Lelouch. It’s all situational, as Lelouch abandoned his revolution to team up too.
Malia: Oh my gosh, I have so many feelings about that episode. I had always liked Suzaku from episode one. He’s sweet and lonely, and just really cares for others, but he also has this rigid, conformist sense of justice and morality. Then the reveal of his backstory and suicidal ideation completely broke my heart. Like you said, I felt like I better understood him and just how much pain he carried around, very much like how Lelouch carries around the pain of his family tragedy.
I’ve always loved characters that maintained cheerful facades in order to hide deep wells of angst, but Suzaku is such a good take on that archetype. His facade isn’t really that far away from his actual state of mind. The way he presents himself, as nice, noble, and self-sacrificing, suddenly turns into kind of a tool. Not to be maliciously deceptive or self-serving exactly, but to make his presence less of a burden on others. In the meantime, he can enthusiastically put himself in danger, as long as there’s a functional purpose to it, whether it’s serving in the military or saving his loved ones. It’s a self-destructive fallacy that was very relatable to me when I was in the pits of my mental health struggles, even though my circumstances and behavior weren’t nearly as extreme. The racial aspect to his trauma that exacerbates his self-loathing and isolation also struck a chord with me. You can tell he doesn’t have anyone to talk about these things with, nor does he feel the right to even do so.
So while I poke fun at him sometimes because his driving ideology really is ineffective and Lelouch really is right, I can’t really hate him. I can sort of see how someone can look down on Suzaku, as his compounding failures trace back to long before Zero even appeared, and he just doesn’t stop up until the very end. But I also can’t understand feeling that way. Like I said, I’m always frustrated when I watch him align with Britannia over and over again, but I’m also always so sad because he keeps hurting himself.
Karleen: He’s a fascinatingly multifaceted character for all those reasons. When I encounter a character who’s righteous out of secret guilt, I find myself unimpressed when it’s not as extreme as Suzaku’s case, haha. Nothing’s really as bad as killing your own father and contributing to the colonization of your nation. Becoming the Knight of Zero, reviled by the world as a symbol of dictatorship, is the culmination of his inescapable past and all he’s set up to make people hate him. Suzaku can fully embrace it, since he can leave it behind by faking his death and taking up the role of Zero. His wish to die finally comes true, but with an unplanned rebirth. He finally kills Lelouch like he wanted, but as agreed between them in an elaborate plan and he even weeps for him. It’s another element of the show’s ending I find poetic.
In a way Suzaku is “free” from his baggage, but he’s apparently unable to personally connect to others now (except possibly Nunnally). Even in politics I imagine the new Zero as more of a figurehead, but this is all speculation. In the alter ego and marginalized identity analogy, I suppose that means if you anonymize your identity you depersonalize and lose human connection. He’s a tragic character with a carefully bittersweet conclusion, so he makes me sad to the very end.
Malia: I love the end to Suzaku’s arc. There’s so many layers of irony, tragedy, and parallels to Lelouch entwined together. Though the timeskip that glosses over Lelouch convincing Suzaku to join his plan (with C.C.’s assistance) is kind of a glaring cop-out, their final alliance is still so satisfying. This is speculation too, but I feel like Lelouch literally planning his own death must’ve been the primary aspect that convinces Suzaku to change sides. Even though he hated Charles and Marianne’s plan, he’s still hostile to Lelouch after they disappear. I think only once the efficacy of the Britannian Empire was totally destroyed in his eyes and Lelouch demonstrated his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring peace (particularly with no public redemption or glamor), then Suzaku could join him. They finally become the perfect team that’s been eluded for so long, but they’ve also backed themselves into a corner where there’s no hope for them to return to the mundane happiness they previously had once they achieve their goal.
Karleen: They could only reach the ends they did through the other. As I said before their relationship is the core of the story, so my love for the relationship and the show go hand-in-hand. They’re simultaneously the best of friends and the worst of enemies. It was my introduction to this particular dynamic, at least to this extreme (i.e. trying to kill each other). “Rivalries” like Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy didn’t engage me since I didn’t see any emotions there besides antagonism. What appeals to me about Lelouch and Suzaku is they were friends in the past, and you can tell they would still be friends if not for their situation. There’s a The Fox and the Hound feeling to it. It makes their strife compelling! You want them to reconcile no matter how much they hurt each other, which is why the ending is so satisfying.
I wasn’t sure how candid I was going to be about this, but I think it shows how deeply invested in Lelouch and Suzaku I am to say they’re my OTP. It’s funny though, since I don’t see them in a romantic light until the very end. I’m at odds with a lot of my fellow fans (on top of how much I love Lelouch and Suzaku’s relationships with Shirley and Euphie respectively). There may be romantic feelings, sure, but they can hardly maintain a friendship over the course of the show, much less a romantic relationship. Both of them keep others at arm’s length, particularly Suzaku due his self-hatred that only allows people (Euphemia, etc.) to love him with force. Meanwhile, Lelouch has a habit of not realizing how much he loves people (Shirley, etc.) until it’s too late. This essay puts it in better words than I can: “where does the BFF thing turn into a lovey-dovey romance thing? The answer: it doesn’t. […] Even if there wasn’t so much conflict between them, they just don’t have the kind of relationship that invites conventional romance. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.” The whole manifesto is the most nuanced and evaluative essay about Lelouch and Suzaku’s relationship out there, despite being written before R2 aired. The lead up to Zero Requiem gave them lots of time together to reconcile, romantic or not.
Malia: Oh boy, shipping! Suzaku/Lelouch is probably more formative of a ship than I’d like to admit. They’re just kind of awful haha. They’re childhood best friends but their relationship is too complicated and fraught to have a happy ending. But then they’re still so intimate, and sometimes even tender. Like you said, they keep hurting each other but you also always want them to make up with each other.
The foundation of their relationship, that summer at the Kururugi shrine, is so innocent. Particularly for Lelouch and Nunnally, since it was after the most devastating trauma of their lives, it’s not hard to understand why the two of them would always care for Suzaku, even if they only spent a single summer together. Suzaku’s a bit more ambiguous but I think it’s safe to say he didn’t have any close friends before Lelouch and Nunnally. I think for him they represent the time in his life before he killed his father. There’s a unique intimacy between the three of them in knowing each other during those particular parts of their lives. Their friendships represented those better, peaceful times. The particular tragedy of Suzaku and Lelouch’s relationship though, is how they were separated by the external force of colonialism, but their opposing viewpoints on that keep them apart, even if they both similarly long for that time.
I should note that I think with Nunnally, she’s always perceived by Suzaku and Lelouch as someone who needs to be taken care of, so she’s never on equal level with them even if she’s part of that childhood trio. The show frames her relationships with Suzaku and Lelouch as a symbol of purity and love, sometimes to the point of being a bartering chip between the two of them. This dynamic is best exemplified by the episode that shows Lelouch and Suzaku working together to save her. Though, as we’ve said earlier, we’ll talk more about Nunnally later. (I just love her a lot.)
Karleen: Their peaceful friendship is all the more poignant considering they clashed when they first met. How they became friends over the summer at the Kururugi shrine is mostly explored in side materials, rather than the show itself. Sometimes exposing an origin feels cheap or shallow to me (such as in the Star Wars prequels or Dangan Ronpa 3), but I enjoy them in this case. Nunnally posits that Lelouch and Suzaku became closer through both caring for her, so she’s always been an apparatus of their relationship. I guess it makes sense she has an uneven position in their trio since she is a different age, but it’s still awkward.
Anyway, in the side materials it becomes apparent how drastically the invasion of Japan traumatized and changed Suzaku and Lelouch, by essentially trading attitudes. Suzaku went from boisterous and prideful to reserved and ashamed. Lelouch was already bitter about Britannia, but his compliance transformed into aggression and vengeance. They’ve changed so much it would be impossible to ever recreate the relationship they had, because they’ve become different people. There’s a constant undercurrent of mourning who they used to be and what they had throughout their interactions. And they judge each other because they see their “immature” selves in the other. When Lelouch looks at Suzaku, he sees a political pawn. When Suzaku looks at Lelouch (after he knows Zero’s identity), he sees a rash murderer. I can’t buy when fans pin their emotional distance or hostility purely on internalized homophobia or jealousy of girl love interests when there’s much more going on. It’s still a show about colonialism and its consequences.
Malia: Haha, I agree. I feel like some fans forget that colonialism and racism are the foundations of…the entire show. And they’re such meaty issues too when it comes to them. We’ve mentioned them earlier, but I always think that their racial experiences, given that Suzaku’s marginalization in being Japanese and Lelouch’s privilege in being Britannian, are much more present and salient for exploration than internalized homophobia. I mean, given CG’s own issues with misogyny, I wouldn’t dismiss homophobia as something not worth talking about, but there’s many more things going on with Suzaku and Lelouch than that. Certainly, the unique suffering they’ve both gone through is one of them.
On that note, there are so many layers to the baggage that they project onto each other, even though you want them to open up and make amends as soon as possible, it’s hard to really imagine them doing that, particularly, as the series goes on. Their conflict changes from not just being about their respective pasts or beliefs, but also to include their personal, specific grudges against each other, especially by the beginning of R2. Their politics become second to the cumulative pain they inflict onto each other, making a pragmatic alliance more out of reach. In a way, it’s frustrating to watch interpersonal issues get in the way of the bigger picture, and yet I can’t blame them for getting upset at each other either. The messiness of humanity and politics is a big part of the story anyway.
Despite this, I never doubt the mutual love between them. Maybe “love” isn’t quite the right word, more like “care.” I think love does return by the end of the show (though very changed) but their relationship really goes through the ringer for most of it. I think Suzaku and Lelouch, both as individual characters and as a relationship, are the best CG gets when it comes to humanizing the politics it discusses. Their visions, methods, and beliefs are all grounded in these personal experiences that are valid but incomplete. It’s a super melodramatic story but the emotions feel real?
Karleen: The melodrama is what makes it feel real, I’d say. The extremities create a greater impact on your emotions. I’m someone who approaches fiction from an emotional and character standpoint to begin with, and I think CG speaks to that since characters are highly and personally motivated. Lelouch and Suzaku circulate through many relationships (friends, enemies, allies) and feelings (love, dis/trust, betrayal, hatred, acceptance, etc.) that results in an emotional journey for the audience as well. It’s funny how my reactions to scenes between them have evolved the more I rewatch the show. Actually it’s not just that I rewatch, but that I’ve grown older and see them as the immature teenagers they can be. I always feel the frustration and grief of their conflict, but now that I know their resolution on the horizon I sometimes enjoy when they fight. They’re both in need of criticism for their behavior, and the other is the best one to provide it. Yeah Lelouch, tell him he trusts Britannia too much! Yeah Suzaku, call him out for lying and manipulating!
Their conflict paradoxically leads to their alliance, as seen in R2 when Lelouch begs Suzaku to save Nunnally at the shrine. Suzaku can’t forgive Lelouch’s lies (not to mention killing people), so encourages him to live up to the lie as Zero. He’s lived his own lie that his father committed suicide, so he knows it’s possible. That confrontation ends in betrayal again, but planted the seed that would grow into Zero Requiem much later. It’s like their bond from the summer they met is so strong that quarreling brings them closer, rather than apart. Back in the first season they learn more about each other, their motivations, and their ideals fighting as Zero and Lancelot than they did at Ashford and it creates a certain intimacy. Only death could separate them, but even then the culmination of their reconciliation is Suzaku killing Lelouch. It’s fitting their relationship is so paradoxical, since they exist as paradoxes themselves (a Britannian prince who hates Britannia and a Japanese native who supports Britannia).
Malia: That’s so true. The way I talk about it, they’re so dysfunctional, and usually I’m the type that gets annoyed with prolonged relationships filled to the brim with conflict. However, like you said earlier, their relationship isn’t just antagonism, there’s so much more, even within their conflict. Despite their differences, including their respective privileges and marginalizations, and then their fluctuating statuses of power over the other, they still always feel equal to me. CG explicitly points this out, but they have a certain chemistry that lasts the entire show, despite and because of everything they go through. They’re irrevocably tied to each other in a way no one else can replicate. I think that’s why the ending’s so powerful. No one else could pull it off and neither of them trust anyone else to do what they do. I generally don’t like to phrase things this way, but they’re basically soulmates.
Karleen: I don’t like the word “soulmates” much either, since it conjures the image of two people destined to fall in love before they ever meet. I can be a hopeless romantic, but I find that boring. I prefer the Lelouch and Suzaku sort of “soulmates,” who were not fated to meet but are “bound by fate” in that their early encounter informs their relationship the rest of their lives. Their meeting had en (縁) and occurred at significant times in their lives as you explained before, so they’re drawn to each other no matter if they’re at war or at peace. Like I said, they were my introduction to characters emotionally connected despite antagonism and remain one of my favorite cases. I hope I’ve made it clear why I love them and their relationship so much in this post.
Malia: Same! It’s so hard condensing five years worth of feelings about these two into something articulate, but I hope I’ve managed. I just adore Suzaku and Lelouch so much. They’re so fascinating and important to me. Though I’m also excited to talk about the other aspects of CG, including the stuff I dislike. This part of the retrospective really makes this show sound fantastic, and in some ways I think it really is, but oh, is it also really bad at a lot of other things haha. There’s still other good stuff to talk about though, and it’s all worth a look, so I hope everyone looks forward to our next part.