|There is no Japan. There is only Area 11.
If that line sounds familiar, you have a long memory.
Some early reviewers complained about the anglophobia of this series. I’ve ingored it, as it’s is less in evidence through each of the four episodes I’ve seen. It turns out to be misplaced concern anyway; this isn’t America they’re talking about. (Oh no, not at all! It’s the ‘New Brittanian Empire’ which just happens to be based in North and South America, and be “the world’s only superpower.” Riiiiiiight.) The Empire has used its mechas (‘Knightmare Frames’) to conquer Japan and rename it “Area 11″; the people are no longer Japanese, they’re “Elevens.” It’s ruled as a direct fiefdom by the third-in-line to the throne, a rather arrogant princeling, and the Imperials treat the Japanese only somewhat better than the Japanese treated the Chinese during the conquest of the 30′s. (Oh, wait, that doesn’t appear in Japanese history books… my bad.) Anyway, when rebels bomb a facility, it’s described as a terrorist attack that killed eight people…and fifty-one ‘others.’ Sweet guys, those rulers. As the backstory develops, it becomes evident that their world diverged from ours sometime around the reigns of Henry IX and Elizibeth I. (OTL, I think Henry the IX reigned only two years before dying, and Mary succeeded, followed by Elizibeth. Sounds like Mary gets skipped.)
|Young Lelouche (or “Lulu” as hes known to his friends, Zero to his enemies.“I will destroy Brittania!”
Anyway, the character designs are by CLAMP, which stand in unusual contrast to mecha that look like they belong in Gundam. The eye adapts though, and Gonzo is sharp enough not to let the contrast be too jarring. The animation is good, there’s mild (and sometimes a bit more than mild) fanservice, and the voice actors are competant at their jobs; although take that opinion with a grain a salt since I don’t understand Japanese. The plotting has been outstanding, with every episode ending on a cliffhanger, although the last two have been inferior to the first pair. I do have one large quibble with the rescue in episode 4, but am willing to put that down to Lelouche correctly assessing his opponents actions. Overall, it’s difficult to discuss the show without getting into spoilers, but I will give it a shot. I simply do not want to give away those first two surprise endings, as they serve to define the story. Instead I’ll describe the first two thirds of the first episode, below.
|The only one I know is the redhead, Karen. Notice how differently she’s drawn compared to the next picture. As for the rest, haven’t met the woman in the back and the rest are just interchangeable redshirts as far as I’m concerned.|
Lelouche is the main character of the series, although it has an extremely large cast that appears to be divided into three groups; the rebellion, the Imperials, and Lelouche’s high-school friends–and yes, there’s some overlap. As seen in the opening segment of the first episode, he has reason to hate the Imperials, and has sworn to his friend Suzuku that he will destroy Brittania. I had assumed that Lelouche was an “Eleven” despite the name. Silly me. When the narrative jumps forward seven years, he is obviously a child of Brittanian privilege, attending a school that might put Ouran to shame. Already a tactical and strategic genius, he is making money through bets on his chess matches or other strategy games against unwary opponents, even nobles. His friend Rival makes all the arrangements, Lelouche shows up, destroys the unsuspecting mark in a game, and splits the proceeds. Although he still has his cynical disdain for Brittania, as a high-schooler, he’s not in any way about to get involved with anti-Imperial organizations (especially a bunch of terrorists like the Japanese Liberation Front). Evidently”Lulu” and Rival are also both on the high school’s student council as we get a look at the remaining three members, all girls, talking about their gambling. Shirley is annoyed with Lulu’s activities, and clearly thinks of him as hers.
On the way back from a match, they are nearly run down by a large truck being pursued by a police helicopter. Avoiding their motorcycle, the truck heads down a freeway off-ramp and straight into a half-constructed building. A crowd gathers to watch; upset at their indifferent spectating, Lelouche goes down to see if he can help. No police come, as the police helicopter has been waved off by the military, which is about to arrive in force. Of course, when the driver and passenger regain conciousness, Lelouch promptly falls through an open hole in the top of the trailer as they take off, with the miltary now in pursuit.
Of course, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, the rebels just stole the hottest new prototype mecha, one that the builders can’t duplicate, and he’s going to end up trashing the bad guys with it, right? BTDT, bought the t-shirt.” It’s certainly what I was thinking. Instead, there’s some funky large ball that looks like an old WWI contact mine in the forward cargo compartment. And where did that strange voice come from, just before the truck took off? Realizing he’s stuck in there and in danger from both sides, Lelouche hides as a readheaded girl emerges from the driver’s cab and proceeds to the rear compartment. It turns out there is a mecha in there; not a prototype, but an older model Knightmare. “Karen” sorties in it to buy time for the driver to escape into the old, wrecked city, but is quickly forced to retreat by the Margreave’s arrival in a newer model Knightmare. Meanwhile, a slightly kooky scientist and his assistant have figured out something’s afoot with the oversized reaction to this theft, and force the commander, General PatrÃ©, to confess that he and the Prince had a secret poison gas project underway–the rebels stole a batch of it. On the other hand, the scientist would like to help; he has this one-of-a-kind prototype Knightmare, and needs a special pilot for it…
|What’s behind door #2?|
The truck and the girl make their seperate escapes into the oversized sewers of the Shinjutsu ghettos where many elevens live in squalor, but as Lelouche tries to use his cell phone, the truck driver crashes. A “special squad” of elevens who have volunteered to earn their Brittanian citizenship by enlisting in the military has been sent in to search the area. One of them spots the crashed truck, reports in and goes to investigate. A brief fight with Lelouche ensues, and the soldier stops to remove his helment. Well, whaddya know, it’s Lelouche’s old buddy Suzuku! Their exchange of insults and deep politicial discourse is halted by the poison gas container suddenly breaking open to reveal…
Well, you’ll just have to watch the show (although you can probably guess after seeing the OP).
Lelouche is an anti-hero of sorts, who has a very simple goal in life. He’s bound and determined to overthrow the entire Brittanian Empire, because that is what it would take to make his little sister, Natalie, safe. Because he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, he suddenly gets handed the means to accomplish that goal. It would be dangerous enough in an average person, and Lelouche is anything but average.
|Lelouche. It’s this scene that hooked me.|
I won’t give away the ending of either of the first two episodes, but both of them were totally unexpected mind-blowers. It’s not that I didn’t expect something melodramatic to happen… I just didn’t expect what I got, either time. If I’d been watching the clues more carefully, I might have forseen the second one. On the other hand, I hear from bloggers who have seen the fifth episode raws, it appears that the show may be headed towards giving Lelouche . . .
A harem. Yep, by episode 4, he’s got at least two girls, a third just arriving, with one more that will arrive in episode 5. I think it’s intended for him to have one in each of the three groups, plus a fourth wild-card. (And I see a fifth possible.) Since one of them overlaps two of the groups (rebel-school), putting her in close proximity to another, I suspect the third will overlap as well (school-imperial), and a cooking contest may break out at any time. Supporting characters include the Margreave Jeremiah (leader of the ‘Purity’ faction–wants no non-Brittanians in the military), his lovely and cold-blooded assistant; Prince Clovis, a cynical TV producer, the girls of the council, and assorted rebels.
So far, this one’s my favorite of the new season, but it remains to see if they can keep up the tension in what is obviously going to be one of those decadant French Revolution shows, done animÃ©-style.