Which Does The Series Embrace?
This is a response to Crusader from THAT Anime Blogs excellent if somewhat confusing to read article that relies on completely unrelated military history to segue into his point. That point raises the question of whether Code Geass can be interpreted as Nationalist Propaganda of the likes of Triumph Des Willen or D.W Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation. I think that while it is possible to interpret it in this manner to a certain extent, that it is also possible to inpret the oppositie depending on how you look at the way the characters and events are portrayed. Also I love playing Devil’s advocate….
Really, if they were trying to make a propaganda piece, there wouldn’t even be any attempt to portray any Britannian characters as at all likeable, all of them would just be like the Brutal Carares and the Ashford characters would all be like Nina. Likewise the leader of the Black Knights wouldn’t be a Britannian, but an Uber Mensch type Japanese person with no flaws trumpeting the righteousness of the great Nihon agains the great evil of Britannia. That’s not the case though and instead we are seeing shades of grey in character of all races. Consider how in the early parts of the Season 1 when Suzaku tried to join the academy the Britannian’s there were initially wary of him and wondered at what this shady fellow was doing there. By the time he proved himself a likeable fellow though, the academy had come to accept him and Millay, Shirley and even Nina (before her downfall which I’ll get to later) grudgingly welcomed him into their circle of friends. It seems here that they decided to judge him on the content of his character versus the race to which he belongs and this is what I think one of the main messages Code Geass is trying to send is.
Yes I’d argue that they are actually trying to diminish the degree to which the series can be construed as a propaganda piece and rather the end message is one that tries to preach tolerance. The real battle is not between Glorious Nihon and The Evil World, but one of freedom and rights versus oppression and the idea that some men are better than others by birthright. It actually seems to be arguing more for western values then Japanese values, because let’s face it, Japan isn’t exactly ahead of the curb when it comes to equality, there’s still very much a rigid caste system in place within modern Japanese society. This is something I think the country could benefit from hearing. Let’s look at how some of the other characters have been portrayed shall we?
Nina, the character everyone loves to hate is very much portrayed as in the wrong for her lack of tolerance for the Japanese. Consider the scene where it almost got her killed in the hotel hostage situation where the Japanese man was minding his own business keeping guard when she suddenly started freaking out and insulted him with the term 11 which she knows is a deragatory term and would provoke him. Her actions almost set off a chain of events that could have gotten her friends killed had Euphemia not stood up to defend her. Euphemia is a character who I liked to think of as an arbiter, one who tried to build bridges between the Britannians and Japanese who would not tolerate each other. Throughout her storyline she did little more then try to work for the good of all people and unfortunately her’s ended in tragedy because of the actions of two people’s who couldn’t work together to trust each other and for being the unfortunate victim of Lelouch’s petty revenge game. Her legacy did not die with her though and those who have interpreted it correctly have also been portrayed in a good light, while those who haven’t entirely understood it haven’t. I’d also like to highlight that once she passed into the realm of the massacre princess she was immediately killed off so as to not make any mistake that the creators were trying to glorify that type of belief status.
Interestingly, the most overly nationalistic Japanese characters of them all have either met quick deaths or unseen deaths (Urabe, the Japanese Liberation Front [group that took the hotel crowd hostage], Genbu Kururugi) or have been portrayed as fools (Tamaki). Likewise on the Britannian side, the most brutal and intolerant of them all have met quick deaths as well in Carares and Clovis as if they want to keep us aware that these men’s ideals should have no place in the world. On the other hand, characters from both sides that have shown tolerance such as Nunally who was always kind to the Japanese and Kaguya who befriended the Chinese Tian Zi (considering how relations are between Japan and China this should tell you something right here) have been portrayed quite nicely. It’s if they are trying to show that intolerance and oppresion is a path to destruction.
Karen is also an interesting character that highlights the ideal of bridging the gaps and discarding the idea of national identity. One of her early internal character conflicts was between her identity as a Half-Britannian, Half-Japanese character and she insisted that one be held up over the other and joined the Japanese Liberation Front. Eventually we reached the point where her mother was introduced and we learned how she reviled her for not standing up for her pride as a Japanese person. Eventually she learned the more important lesson though that her mother was just trying to do what was best for her and to allow her the best life she can, self-sacrifice and virtue in other words. Since then Karen has given a little on the pride front and even seems to have embraced both her heritages as a part of her being, without grudge or bitterness. It’s interesting to then that she was the one that provided the catalyst for possibly the biggest anti-nationalistic propoganda scene the series has had so far.
Episode 08 in the park where Nunally was trying once again to bring about the Special Autonmous Zone where everybody would have equal rights, both Britannian and Japanese, Lelouch was there this time not to stop it so that he could continue his revenge game against Charles, but to embrace it, and he wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for Karen. When he appeared he posed the question to Suzaku of what makes a person Japanese. Eventually Lelouch pointed out what Suzaku agreed with, that the term Japanese was just a title, and it was the values and beliefs that the people had that they determined to be Japanese which were really the key issue. Those values and beliefs in the right to freedom of choice and the right to equality with the Britannians were highlighted as more important then the title of Japanese as the people present then donned their masks to take on the identity and symbol of such beliefs in Zero and symbolically discarded their identity as Japanese people who would be participating in the zone to join him in exile in search of a place where they could solidify those ideals. Those who have interpreted Nunally’s (nee Euphemia’s) intentions correctly have also been portrayed in a positive light (Lelouch and Suzaku) for preventing another massacre, while those who have interpreted them incorrectly (Miss Rohmeyer and Nina) have been portrayed as in the wrong and the likes who would start a massacre (Rohmeyer with the gun, Nina with a bomb).
Really for all the arguments that can fairly be made about instances of nationalism, if you look at the actions of the characters in a different way you can also see an argument for breaking down those walls built by the manufactured idea of a nation and it’s people. The nation state is afte all a man made creation. It’s all really in how it’s interpreted and while I thank Crusader for bringing up the topic, I’d encourage him not to liken the fans of the show who would analyze it to the likes who would enjoy Birth of A Nation as it is somewhat unintentionally insulting. Especially since the purposes behind the two works are so clearly different and he is likening the events in this series to real life atrocites with power words in what I can’t help but believe is a bit of an attempt to distort the issue and appeal to emotion over logic.
Also if it was really Goro Taniguchi and Sunrise’s intention to trumpet the glory of Japan over the rest of the world, why would they organize a courtesy postponement of the episode that dealt with a coup d’etat and Zero and his Black Knights incursion in Chinese Affairs. Just another point to consider.