Code Geass remains one of the most popular anime of its genre and generation even today, decades after its original run ended. However, anime fans remain divided on their views on the series due to its many infuriating flaws and inconsistencies. The exceptional world-building, character diversity, and great balance of fantasy elements are sometimes overshadowed by unnecessary nudity and ridiculous high school shenanigans that disrupt the story’s rhythm.
A major strength of Code Geass is its intricate and gripping plot. It does a great job of consistently building and maintaining the plot throughout the series. In large part, this is done by using its split narrative style with multiple character viewpoints to introduce dramatic irony into its storytelling and put it to good use.
What is dramatic irony?
A term from classical theatre, dramatic irony is a literary device that uses the difference between a character’s knowledge or understanding of a situation and that of the audience to create suspense in the narrative. This is usually effective in dramas and other mediums where the story is told using multiple viewpoints, and the audience naturally has a clearer and fuller view of events than any of the characters. On the other hand, it would be difficult to use in a story with a static first-person narrative style.
Dramatic irony has been commonly and effectively used in tragedies, some of the most popular examples being Shakespeare’s plays. In Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows that Juliette faked her death and is in fact alive. However, Romeo, unaware of this, cannot accept being separated from his beloved, and he chooses to kill himself in hopes of joining her in the afterlife. In othellothe audience is aware of Iago’s treacherous plot, even when Othello believes him to be honest and trusts his advice. Oedipus Rex is one of the best examples of dramatic irony, in which Oedipus spends the length of the story trying to track down his father’s killer. However, the public knows from the beginning that he himself murdered his father.
While irony in general is commonly used in cartoons, situational irony is much more common. The attack of the Titans is filled with situational irony. Eren, who claims to hate all titans, not only transforms into a titan, but also gains the power to control all titans, using it to wipe out almost the entire human population. In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Truth uses particularly ironic means to punish alchemists who practice human transmutation, like Colonel Mustang – the man with a clear vision for the country – who loses his sight. Of course, several forms of irony can be combined in one case, as in macbeth, where King Duncan claims he trusted Macbeth, only to be assassinated by him shortly afterwards. This is an example of situational irony as well as dramatic irony, as the audience is already aware of the prophecy of Macbeth murdering the king.
How Dramatic Irony is Used in Code Geass
During the first season of Code Geass, much of the narrative pits the two main characters against each other. Lelouch, a prince of Britannia, and Suzaku, the son of the last ruler of free Japan, grow up together underground in colonized Japan. As Lelouch becomes the rebel terrorist Zero who fights to liberate Japan only to serve his own ambitions, Suzaku becomes a soldier in the British Army and the pilot of the prototype knight Lancelot. Despite their many skirmishes on the battlefield, Lelouch and Suzaku are unaware of each other’s alter egos and continue to have a strong bond as individuals. The next sequence of events where they learn each other’s secret adds a lot of meat to the story.
Throughout the first part of the story, Lelouch’s estranged half-siblings are unaware of his survival, and the motivation for their actions in Japan is partly based on their feelings of remorse over the supposed demise. by Lelouch. However, these actions are actually aimed at capturing, or killing, Lelouch operating as Zero.
The greatest example of dramatic irony in Code Geass appears around the middle of the second season, where three characters – Jeremiah, Shirley, and Rolo – all act separately based on what they think is the right way to help Lelouch based on their past associations with him. However, instead of coming together in a way that would actually benefit her, their actions led to Shirley’s death – a particularly heartbreaking event in a series already filled with blood, blood, and death. Shirley dying in Lelouch’s arms severs the latter’s remaining bond with humanity and leads him to abandon all caution as he pursues his revenge.
Why Dramatic Irony Works So Well in Code Geass
A common theme in Code Geass is mistrust. The series’ many important characters all pursue their goals in their own way. Their inability to trust and rely on each other causes them to regularly resort to deception and isolated actions to advance their motives. This interpersonal discord provides many opportunities for storytellers to use dramatic irony to good effect.
This is further made possible by the wide cast of characters. The narrative is driven by multiple interconnected viewpoints, so the audience can see events from multiple angles – a privilege not granted to the characters. Unlike the usual “thriller” plot format of traditional thrillers, much of the suspense in Code Geass is built not on “who” but rather on “when”. When will the other characters realize what the audience already knows, and how will they react? This is what dramatic irony introduces into a story, and Code Geass benefits immensely.
Additionally, beyond the actions themselves, this literary device allows viewers to gain a deeper context of the characters’ emotions and motivations, much of which is not revealed to other characters. It adds depth to the impact of the series as a whole, where many secondary characters have limited roles in the overall story, but their personal tragedies leave a mark on the audience. Combining intrigue and gravity created by effectively using dramatic irony in its storytelling is part of what makes Code Geass one of the most popular anime of all time.