So, after slaving away and having no life for the past week or so, I’ve FINALLY finished my epic analysis of queerness in Code Geass (complete with links to clips from the series to back up my claims, which is fun).
Premise: Using queerness as a lens, I analyze Suzaku and Lelouch as Othered queer rebels and how the homoerotics of their relationship is at the center of a series that inverts our gendered, political, moral and ideological expectations
Disclaimers: I’m not going to try to prove Suzaku and Lelouch aren’t straight by citing every homoerotic scene between them. I’m using queerness as a tool to analyze the series because, as it turns out, queerness explains A LOT. I back up all of my claims, but instead of assuming everyone is straight until proven otherwise, I get a lot more done with the opposite assumption.
The essay is VERY LONG. I broke it up into sections so you don’t have to read it all at once. It’s also written on a college level, so while it’s super gay, it’s also super academic. After this, my tone get very serious/formal (even about pimping Suzaku’s ass, which is, you know, the beauty of the thing).
Obligatory spoiler warning! (for anyone whose life is still incomplete)
When I use the word “queer” I not only mean non-heterosexual but also anti-heteronormative/anti-patriarchal/anti-hegemonic/anti-ideological. In this essay, to be queer is to be a threat to mainstream society (a celebrated quality in Code Geass).
I use the term Other, capitalized, usually in the singular, to designate a pariah or exile, someone who is completely cast from society due to violating central tenants of that society, a concept I will explain further. I note this because, typically, the “Other” is any member of an oppressed group, but in this essay, even oppressed groups, like the Japanese who are colonized in Britannia, reject the Other. Although being “Othered” traditionally means to be distinguished from the norm by oppressors (when the Jews were Othered by the Nazis), to become Othered in this essay can also be an act of agency on the Other’s part, a phenomenon I discuss in more detail.
I cite relevant moments in the series with links to footage posted online like this (19:57) or this (19:14-19:33). Simply click the link (open in a new tab) and skip to the indicated time on the video to view. While I was able to use the official sub uploaded by Sunrise for all Season 1 citations, I had to link to fan uploads for Season 2, mostly from the dub. I’ve compared the dub and sub, and they are nearly identical in terms of translation most of the time (the clips are all less than 30 seconds long, too, so hopefully sub purists can bear it). Watching most of the clips is NOT necessary. You’ll probably remember most of my references and will only need to watch a clip if you don’t remember something I’m talking about or if I’m interpreting a specific visual.
Just a Ruckus in the World: Code Geass and the Queering of Revolt
It’s no secret that Code Geass (or “Gay” ass, as it’s colloquially called), isn’t the most heteronormative anime out there. The protagonist, Lelouch/Zero, with his theatrical gestures, camp fashion sense, feminine build, physical ineptitude and ambiguous sexuality, is the atypical hero of an anime that queers our gendered and ideological expectations. Even the show’s antagonist, the far more masculine, physically powerful and heteronormative Suzaku Kururugi, who (at first glance) fits the bill for conventional shounen hero, is pimped by the series’ creators for his prominently featured ass and embroiled in an intense relationship with the protagonist rife with homoerotic subtext. Suzaku and Lelouch spend much of the series pitted against one and other despite the fact they are both supposedly striving for the same thing (to change the authoritarian, empirical government that oppresses and Others them). The explicit difference at the heart of their conflict is the means by which they aim to do this (for Lelouch: by working to destroy the state by any means necessary; for Suzaku: by joining the state and working to change it “from the inside”). But I will argue that this is a superficial reading. The reveal that Suzaku killed his father, and that his idealism is a cover for his masochism and self-punishment, complicates any simplistic reading of his motivations and how they oppose Lelouch’s. In fact, it indicates that Suzaku and Lelouch, both queer men who commit patricide, differ most in the opposing ways in which they grapple with their Otherness. Inverting normative values and tropes, the series makes Lelouch, deceitful and queer-coded and a threat to society, the hero, and the Emperor, the Ultimate Patriarch with an obsession with truth, the villain. Meanwhile, Suzaku, the closeted Other in heteronormative, Shounen-hero garb, remains the antagonist as long as he denies and works in opposition to his own Otherness. Code Geass thus glamorizes an amoral protagonist who opposes the ideological ties, binary oppositions, value system and power structures of mainstream society, and whose ultimate triumph is realized in the seduction/recruitment of Suzaku, a closeted Other, cementing the never-ending insurgence of pariah against government.
In this essay, I will follow Lelouch’s recruitment/seduction of Suzaku, who transitions from a closeted Other working for his oppressors to an insurgent. To set a foundation for analyzing the queer Other as more than simply nonheteronormative but as an amoral and anti-ideological figure, I’m going to very quickly explain Genet’s depiction of the queer, exalted pariah.
I. Transformative Sins: How Lelouch and Suzaku Othered Themselves
In 1944, Jean Genet, a Gay French writer, penned Our Lady of the Flowers while in prison, during a time when being queer meant being relegated to the absolute fringes of society. In the book, he revels in the freedom of his mind, as he fantasizes and masturbates. Genet is a social exile: society has rejected him, not only for being gay, but for being an unrepentant criminal. But instead of mourning his banishment, Genet creates a world of erotic fantasies in which he glorifies murderers, prostitutes, pimps and thieves—especially the murderers. To murder, in Genet’s world, is to commit the most venerated of acts, since it is the most reviled in normative society. Using the lexicon of religion and the language of poetry, Genet describes the filthy as sublime, the destitute as wealthy and the horrible as hallowed. Genet’s world is not immoral, but amoral, as it has been cut off from our world and our values. As philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte explains in his introduction to the book, Genet, having been rejected by society, creates his own world with its own metaphysics, a metaphysics in which people do not simply do something, they transform through their actions. Thus, to commit a sin is to take on a new essence. The title character, Our Lady of the Flowers, is the Christ figure of Genet’s world who becomes canonized through the grossly sinful act of arbitrarily murdering an old man he robs. Our Lady, a fourteen year old boy, becomes a new person, as he has gains a new essence: the status of a holy figure in Genet’s world, a pariah in ours—to murder is to join the ranks of the Other.
Code Geass’ metaphysics is very similar to Genet’s. Through the acts of subversion they commit as children, both Lelouch and Suzaku effectively Other themselves. “Otherness” like gayness or queerness, is an essence one can never lose or shake. To be Othered, is to become “something else,” forever isolated from society. Thus, Suzaku, like Our Lady, exiles himself from society with an act of murder: by stabbing and killing his father, the prime minister of Japan (20:35-21:00).
This is a transformative act. Suzaku moves from being a citizen of Japan to an exile of both Britannia and Japan—accepted by neither. The act is an extreme form of sedition, on a political, moral and sexual level, so extreme in fact, that Suzaku will spend the next decade of his life desperately working to revoke the power he asserted in committing it. The act is an offense on four levels:
Suzaku murders someone. By becoming a murderer, he has become a monster to mainstream society, and is, therefore, a social exile.
He assassinated the Prime Minister of Japan, the most powerful figure in his country. This, in of itself, is a rejection and usurpation of the normative power structure.
He committed patricide, destroying the most powerful male figure in his life, in violation of patriarchal culture, which emphasizes paternal lineage and deference.
He penetrated his father, and through penetration, killed him and demolished his authority—a subversive use of a phallus (20:46-20:56).
In a single act of subversive penetration, Suzaku’s masculinity has run amok, rendering him an enemy of the state and to patriarchy.
Lelouch similarly Others himself as a son defying his father (who, as I will discuss later, is the Ultimate Patriarch). By questioning the actions of his father, the Emperor, and blaming him for the death of his mother, Lelouch questions his father’s authority, and the authority of a despot—a violation in a totalitarian state. But what Others Lelouch is his willful resignation of his royal title and his refusal to compete for power in a socially accepted manner (1:18-1:46)—an unspeakable act in a society built on Social Darwinism where power is everything (21:30-22:00). As the Emperor then says, according to such a society, “[Lelouch] is dead” (1:46). He is a nonperson who has no rights. As a result, the Emperor physically exiles him, stripping him of his nationality and demoting him from human to political bargaining chip (2:10-2:20). After surviving the war his father wages on Japan after exiling him there, Lelouch hides from the government and completely erases his former identity, effectively becoming a persona non grata (3:39-3:49). He, like Suzaku, has no real identity, nationality or home.
So far, both are alike. Although Suzaku’s act of rebellion is violent and much more threatening, both are seen as exiles and impermissible Others. What they do next is where they differ and is what sets up the opposition between them:
Lelouch, as a child facing expulsion from the Britannian state and even further alienation through the experience of being a refuge in a foreign, demolished nation, vows to destroy the power structure that has dehumanized and Othered him (1:48). He recognizes his Otherness and the fact he is an enemy to the state and aims to destroy the powers that reject him. Years later, when presented with the power to do so in the first episode, he accepts it without hesitation, and uses it to commit murder. Upon becoming a murderer, he embraces his newly found seditious power (figuratively, as a murderer; literally, as the wielder of a geass) (21:48-22:23). This act of Lelouch’s is literally transformative: he is physically marked as Other (with the Geass) and signs an explicit contract binding him to insurrection (20:45-21:05; 21:22)—it’s Genet’s platonism made explicit.
Suzaku’s behavior, however, after committing his seditious act, contrasts completely with Lelouch’s, even as a child. The image that proceeds child Lelouch’s declaration of sedition, is Suzaku sitting—quiet, passive, self-pitying—as Lelouch’s audience (1:40). Suzaku has already killed his father, an authority figure, the thing Lelouch is now vowing to do. But now that Suzaku has done it, he fears his own Otherness and seditious sexual power (and will come to deny its existence). Later, he will enlist in the Britannian army, the very governmental weapon used to oppress him as a Japanese person (and exile), and will work on behalf of his oppressors.
But note that, while Suzaku, as a child, was able to kill his father when he rebelled against him, Lelouch’s rebellion was comparably benign, and he was, as his own father declared, “weak” (1:28). Lelouch had yet to acquire the power he needed to be a threat to society. Suzaku, however, already changed the world at age ten: as a result of killing his father, Japan surrendered to Britannia (18:00-18:20). Suzaku, in many ways, is a greater monster than Lelouch given that he killed his father as a child, with no prompting. At least Lelouch was cast from society, then nearly an adult when he became a murderer after the state attempted to kill him first—three times (figuratively, when his father declares him dead and without rights, indirectly when he wages war on Japan, then when he gets caught in the crossfire between the army and C.C.). But Suzaku claimed Otherness with little to no prompting and has had, since the beginning of the series, the ridiculous masculine power to defeat nearly anyone. Unsurprisingly, this monstrous power disturbs and frightens him. In self-hatred, disgust and fear, he will cling to denial and self-sacrifice, stifling his seditious power by cow-towing to authority and concealing his queerness.
II. Suzaku the Submissive: Erotics of the Closet
Suzaku has balked at the idea of becoming an insurgent, and instead becomes a masochist and submissive, who craves punishment for his defiance. He, as a Freudian would put it, upon achieving the ultimate Oedipal victory of killing his father (through penetration), fears his own phallus/masculine power and figuratively castrates himself through total and complete subservience. He becomes an object for Britannia’s use by joining its armed forces (12:00), an act of absolute subservience as a member of a colonized people. Firmly in the closet regarding his Otherness, Suzaku works to overcompensate for it by joining the state’s most conformist of institutions and becoming a cog in its machine. Although he may espouse ideals about changing Britannia “from the inside” (21:04), we learn from Mao, whose geass peers into his mind, that Suzaku killed his father, that all Suzaku’s idealism and heroism is a cover for masochism and self-hatred (21:14-21:38). In reality, Suzaku is punishing himself for his act of sedition and is purposefully exposing himself to suffering and danger. While wearing the mask of noble self-sacrifice, he punishes himself by enduring ridicule, derision and violence from both the Britannians at his school and in the army, as well as the Japanese people who dub him a traitor. In Season 2, Anya highlights how both Britannians and Japanese reject Suzaku, and she asks Suzaku if he is a masochist (9:58-10:18). His only real response is, “I am a sinner” (10:27). But as well as desiring repentance and punishment, he has also adhered to absolute passivity in an attempt to curb his seditious power, so he will not kill himself, though death is the end he seeks. Instead, by joining the army and refusing to defend his life, he, as Mao reveals, aims for a passive suicide. This stems not only from a desire to curb his masculine power through submission but also from self-hatred rooted in internalized queerphobia, hatred of Otherness and fear of his own subversive power—all which result in the most severe form of self-objectification.
All “Elevens” are colonized objects to the state, but Suzaku, unlike most of the Japanese, volunteers himself as an object for the state’s use as a soldier. Karren is presented as his inverse (13:00-13:21), because she, unlike most of the Japanese people, is rebelling against colonization, and, though given the opportunity to attain Britannian status as half white, rejects it (10:33; ). Conversely, Suzaku not only works toward assimilation (becoming an Honorary Britannian), but he also submits as colonized object to the absolute authority of the Britannian state. He self-objectifies, creating a double valance of objectification as colonized soldier. The state is only interested in using soldiers as objects, and as a Japanese soldier, Suzaku is completely dispensable. This is evidenced when he actually rebels in the first episode against the orders of a Britannian general, who then attempts to kill him. Note that this rare moment of rebellion (for Suzaku at this point in the series) is precipitated by his desire to save Lelouch (the queer Other he has feelings for), as he refuses the higher-up’s order to kill him (16:30-16:46). Also note that the rebellion is nonviolent (and falls in line with Suzaku’s adherence to passivity: to never kill) and that he ultimately yields to the soldier’s violence and does not threaten to overpower his authority (and almost, as he desires, dies as a result) (16:50-17:00). In contrast, Lelouch, in response to this violence, commits the seditious act of murder—worse, murder in defiance to the state, through which he gains the power to overthrow it.
Given that Suzaku’s sexual power is a threat to the state, the submission and objectification he endures, of course, is also erotic in nature. Suzaku takes his queer, murderous energy and directs it at himself, sublimating it into a desire for suicide as well as a thirst for punishment and submission. No other male character in the series is sexualized the way Suzaku is (just a few examples: 16:06; 17:30; 14:24; 14:50). Pimped in latex gear in throughout the series, Suzaku wears a fetishistic, skin-tight body suit that emphasizes his fuckable ass, which the government owns. He is, quite literally, the state’s toy, particularly Lloyd’s, who even refers to Suzaku as “a nice piece of equipment” (19:57). Submission to the state grants Suzaku honorary citizenship in Britannia, and upon becoming Euphie’s knight, it will allow him to strive for honorary heteronormativity, as well. When Suzaku is knighted, gossiping Britannians at the ceremony insinuate that Euphie’s sexual attraction to Suzaku is her reason for making him her knight: i.e., that he is a sex object at her service (“even a princess has needs, right?” (4:01-4:13)). Euphie, a woman, but a white, Britannian woman with political authority, is able to sexualize and objectify a colonized, Japanese man. Whether or not she takes advantage of this ability is immaterial: the fact alone that she can use Suzaku as a sex object (and that the state is what gives her that ability) speaks to the power imbalance underlying her relationship with him, despite her own good intentions. Euphie again and again asserts her ownership of Suzaku, insisting, “he is my knight!” whenever the state wishes to do something with him she opposes (usually justly: his death or unfair punishment). During one instance in particular, when she attempts to dissuade the state from arresting him, Suzaku stands passively, without attempting to defend himself, his fuckable ass featured prominently, again emphasizing his sexualization and constant submission (20:51)). Later, Euphie will even order Suzaku to love her (15:40). The order is not literal. Euphie is not saying Suzaku must, under his job description, fulfill her sexual desires. She is playing into the eroticization of power and Suzaku, the masochist and submissive, revels under this domination. It is, I would argue, the only sexuality he finds permissible: heterosexual and mandated. Euphie orders Suzaku to love her because it’s the only confession of love he, emasculated and castrated and completely submissive, can permit himself to respond to.
If Suzaku aims to curb his Otherness/masculinity, to punish himself for it, and to destroy it and possibly himself by fighting on behalf of his oppressor, then Zero, the out and proud incendiary queer, who works to tear down the oppressor, is his enemy. Suzaku, however, only is an antagonist in Zero’s eyes insofar as he is a weapon for Britannia, given that he is also a powerful Other, and thus, a potential ally Lelouch will again and again attempt to recruit. Accordingly, Zero will not allow Euphie, Suzaku’s beard, and an impediment to queer recruitment, to remain in his way. Euphie is the all too convenient heteronormative cover for Suzaku’s Otherness. Not only is she a member of the state, but, in their courtship, he literally becomes her white knight in shining armor, an archetype that allows him to be heteronormatively submissive as a man to a woman. By taking this heteronormative (yet submissive) posture, Suzaku is not only denying his queerness and Otherness to himself, but he is also curbing his subversive masculinity. It is not, then, surprising that Lelouch kills Euphie (4:10). He is the revolutionary queer—an enemy to heteronormativity. But it’s notable that Lelouch doesn’t purposefully deliver the geass order that necessitates killing her (15:48). The mark of his Otherness, the geass, acts of, seemingly, its own volition (in fact, its indicative of Lelouch’s own denial and self-resistance, which I will discuss later). The geass, symbol of his Otherness, becomes more difficult to control and more difficult to hide, further alienating him from society. And yet, although Lelouch may not have consciously wanted to kill Euphie, killing her falls in line with his subconscious motivations. As a subversive queer, Zero works, throughout the series, to out Suzaku, to reveal his Otherness and unleash his seditious and queer sexual power.
III. Homoeroticism and Violence: Lelouch’s Recruitment (Seduction) of Suzaku
Throughout the series, Suzaku’s denial of his Otherness is extreme and frustrates Zero’s efforts to recruit him. It isn’t odd that so many fans find Suzaku hypocritical or self-pitying—he is. Lelouch has owned that he has been radically Othered and he knows it’s him against the world and acts accordingly. Suzaku has not. When Suzaku is blamed for the assassination of Clovis, in all his self-hatred and desire for punishment and submission, he passively accepts being wrongfully imprisoned and sentenced to death by a corrupt justice system and is angered by Zero’s interference (18:55). Then, when Zero tries to recruit him (like the subversive gay man he is—and in heteronormative culture, when a queer man recruits another man, it’s a seduction), Suzaku resists, refusing to join him and condemning Zero for killing Clovis and for using unjust means to save him, even though he was saved from an unjust execution (20:23). This, of course, makes Suzaku a hypocrite given that he killed his own father for similar reasons. He is also completely blind to the irony of wanting to turn Zero into the authorities, the man who just saved him from the unjust treatment of those same oppressors (24:45). Suzaku is in denial: he, like a closeted gay man, overcompensates with his over-the-top, faux idealism and straight-laced self-righteousness, disguises his queerness by briefly taking on a female love interest he never makes a sexual or romantic move on, pledges allegiance to the totalitarian state and patriarchy, and cultivates an unthreatening and normativized masculinity. Zero, however, is the gender-renegade—his clothing dandyish and his mannerisms flamboyant: the greater the act of rebellion, the more theatrical his gestures become. Just as comicbook writer Frank Miller dubs the relationship between Batman and the Joker a “homophobic nightmare” in which the Joker is a distorted representation of the subversive gay scene with his “dapper” style, “outrageous makeup” and love of chaos, and Batman is a grim, tortured and repressed personification of the closet fighting to restore order (Wheeler), Zero revels in camp, flamboyance and rebellion while Suzaku is austerely penitent and adheres to rigid self-discipline and works to preserve “the rules” of the heteronorm.
Because this antagonism is centered around queer identity, Lelouch and Suzaku’s rivalry is deeply erotic in nature. Upon learning Zero is Lelouch and apprehending him for the first time, Suzaku tackles and straddles Lelouch, suggestively, legs spread, while wearing his fetish gear, his pelvis grinding into Lelouch as he struggles to restrain him (1:26). This erotic domination is acceptable given that he’s doing it under the authority of the state and to stamp out queer sedition. In fact, this violence is sanctioned not only by the state but also by heteronormative culture, as Suzaku is avenging his beloved beard, Euphie. However, because this violence and rage threatens to unleash Suzaku’s latent murderous power, it has the potential to endanger the state. Only by keeping it under the government’s muzzle, can Suzaku remain in the closet as Other. He gets dangerously close to coming out near the end of Season 1, when he explicitly intends to murder Zero. He confesses this subversive desire to murder, that corrupts his own self-restrictive principles, to Lelouch, who he already, as we later learn, strongly suspects is Zero (20:53-21:03), rendering the conversation a subliminal, subconscious sexual preposition, if one reads his violence and hatred as homoerotic. Suzaku confesses that he is “controlled by hate [lust],” which has subsumed his self-discipline, and divulges his subversive desire “to kill [fuck] a man” and his intention to “become a murderer [queer].” Lelouch validates this desire—“you should hate [fuck him],” he says, knowing that the object of Suzaku’s hate (lust) is himself (20:30). Without an erotic subtext, the conversation is nearly incomprehensible: why would Suzaku call up Lelouch, who he subconsciously thinks is Zero, to tell him he will kill him? And why would Lelouch, physically weak and best friends with Suzaku, encourage his dearest friend and Britannia’s strongest soldier, to go ahead and do it? An erotic reading clarifies their motivations: Suzaku is like a closeted gay man calling up his friend to confess his homosexual thoughts, with the conscious hope that the friend will shame him for them, when, subconsciously, he knows that his friend, too, is gay and wants him. Suzaku describes his intentions to kill like a closeted gay man painting his homosexual thoughts as sinful, expecting his friend to agree, when the friend says, “no, those thoughts are good,” causing him both surprise and gratification (21:00-21:17); his drive throughout the series, to have his queerness shamed or stifled, is constantly at war with and betrayed by his unacceptable and subconscious desire to have it satisfied. This read also explains why Lelouch, physically weak, encourages Suzaku to try to kill him. If we read Lelouch as incendiary seducer, it becomes clear he will resort to any method to unleash Suzaku’s latent Otherness, even if it means goading him into committing a murder, even if the victim of that murder is himself.
However, given that Suzaku and Lelouch’s relationship is also characterized by friendship and a shared queer identity, Lelouch’s initial efforts to recruit Suzaku in the series are peaceable and straightforward. First, he asks Suzaku to join him after saving him from being executed for Clovis’ murder; then, he plans on making Suzaku Nunnally’s knight after they saved her together, and notably, now that Mao has revealed Suzaku is a murderer. Now that Lelouch knows Suzaku is an Other like him and plans on coming out as Zero to Suzaku and asking him to become Nunnally’s knight (6:55; 15:38)). But, in that very episode, Lelouch will discover Suzaku is the white knight and not only a self-hating queer but an asset to his oppressors, and therefore, his enemy (18:00-18:16). This discovery, however, does not discourage Lelouch’s attempts at recruitment, because he, the amoral, anti-ideological revolutionary, doesn’t care about the means to achieving his ends. In fact, now that he understands the extant of Suzaku’s repression and self-hatred, he resorts to trickery and manipulation, by trapping Suzaku, in the very next episode, with the Gefjun Disturber and playing on his feelings of guilt. When he corners Suzaku into a conversation, he dubs the peace that resulted from Suzaku killing his father the result of the “selfish decision of whoever killed him,” stating that the “will of the people was stolen from them by a lone criminal who broke the rules for his own selfish reasons” (18:14-18:32). It’s clear that Lelouch, as usual, doesn’t believe anything he’s saying. He is, in fact, very much like the selfish killer he describes, but he, like any good seducer, knows what’s enticing to his object—in this case, guilt and penitence. And it’s working: Suzaku’s posture eases, his guard goes down, and when Zero then steps close to Suzaku and practically whispers, “there’s only one way to atone for that,” Suzaku emits a gasp of desire (18:37-18:53). But, of course, Britannia steps in and orders Suzaku to sacrifice himself to kill Zero and that’s way too tempting an opportunity for punishment: Zero can’t compete (19:14-19:33).
Two episodes later, Zero will kill Euphie and convincing Suzaku to join him, even through duplicitous means, will become impossible. Perhaps it always was: the only way Lelouch can seduce a closeted queer Other like Suzaku, who has eroticized the closet and his submission, is to either satisfy his masochism or to reawaken his sadism. Given that the former is Suzaku’s means for remaining fully in the closet as a self-loathing, self-punishing queer, only the latter can force him to recognize his Otherness. Looked upon this way, killing Euphie was, besides the offing of a sexual rival, instrumental in Zero’s recruitment of Suzaku, as it redirected Suzaku’s sexual energy from repression (straight-acting) to expression (homoerotic violence). This explains why, after Suzaku unmasks him, learns his identity, then disarms him, Lelouch smiles as he lies on the ground in a sexually submissive position, as Suzaku approaches, looking ready to kill him (1:40-1:44)). Given that Suzaku’s passivity and nonviolence is a levee for his seditious masculine power, and Lelouch has broken it down, it is evident that Lelouch’s attempts at seduction are beginning to work.
But Suzaku does not kill Lelouch, which would result in embracing his status as Other. Instead, in compliance to the state, he binds Lelouch, the revolutionary and subversive queer, and gives him over to the authorities (1:58). He demands a promotion in status for doing so and becomes a Knight of the Round. Here, he obtains authority, but he has done so within the confines of the existing system, so this isn’t an incendiary act, especially since, in a totalitarian state, the only real authority belongs to the dictator. Further, as a colonized subject, any power he acquires from the system require he partake in his own oppression, his status as a colonized doesn’t completely disappear, even as he ascends in the system of his oppressors (as Anya points out (9:58-10:18)). The power he obtains comes only through acquiescence. That said, given his previous passivity, the fact Suzaku gained the volition to hunt Zero down with the intention of killing him, despite the state’s wishes (even going so far as punching Lloyd and stealing the keys of the Lancelot to do so (7:02-7:22)), and even allowed himself enough agency to seize power, indicates a huge shift in his character. Even within the bounds of Britannia’s power structure, the fact his homoerotic rage trumped the interests of the state, if only temporarily, sets the stage for unleashing his masculine power.
IV. Suzaku’s Empowerment as a Queer Other: A Murderer Reawakens
Throughout the series, Suzaku undergoes a process of self-actualization. At the beginning, he is almost wholly passive, leaving Lelouch to be an active agent to save him from his own suicidal tendencies. In Season 1, Lelouch saves Suzaku from death by the state three times: in the first episode from the army; later, when he is sentenced to be executed; and when Schneizal orders Suzaku give his life for Britannia and Lelouch geasses Suzaku, ordering him to live (21:20). In the third case, Zero’s Geass effectively robs Suzaku of the ability to commit suicide. Again, queerness becomes a useful metaphor. Being forced to fight for his life puts Suzaku, even if against his will, in partial opposition to the state, as a queer forced into a simulation of self respect. Lelouch, unable to seduce Suzaku after tempting him with self punishment (remember, with the Gefjun disturber), molests him with the power of his geass, forcing on him the incendiary act of choosing his life over the state. In Season 2, we see Suzaku brood over Lelouch’s motivation for doing this (5:50). Like a closeted man molested by another man, Suzaku is thrust into confusion, forced to feel the stirrings of sedition.
When Lelouch comes to Suzaku for help at the Kururugi Shrine and Suzaku has the opportunity to question Lelouch about his motives for geassing him, a major reversal in Lelouch’s and Suzaku’s sexual dance of dominance and submission occurs. Lelouch, a dominating, empowered figure, gets on his knees and begs Suzaku to help him protect Nunnally, placing Suzaku in a position of power. When Suzaku steps on Lelouch he becomes the dom (10:02-10:16). (He even commands Lelouch: “you will answer me: why did you use your geass on me and make me live!” (11:24)). It’s a role reversal, more so than Suzaku’s domination of him discussed earlier given that Lelouch is submitting willingly. But more importantly, and most indicative of the greater transformation to come, Suzaku identifies with Zero, the liar, acknowledging, for the first time, their shared Otherness. When Lelouch claims that he killed Euphie on purpose and committed various other crimes and manipulations, Suzaku sees himself in Lelouch (“the look in his eyes, I know that look: the look of torment that comes from bottling up a lie,” Suzaku thinks, as he reflects on killing his father and joining the army (12:00)). What indicates the absoluteness of the role reversal is how, now that Lelouch is weaker and wavering in his purpose, Suzaku encourages Lelouch to exert his subversive power and embrace his identity as the Other, by continuing to “carry on the lie” and do his “job” as Zero (0:00), although, notably, he characterizes doing so as atonement). Further, Suzaku even agrees to join him, but just as the two are about to join hands, the state yet again intercedes in preventing the queer alliance (00:27).
Just as he is about to rebel or give in to his seditious desires, Suzaku again becomes convinced that defying authority is wrong and that he must repent for his inconstancy. Kanon tells him that Schneizal knew that following Suzaku would lead them to Zero because he has an “unusual relationship” with Zero (3:40), and chastises Suzaku for failing to inform them about Zero’s identity and his geass. It isn’t surprising that Schneizal, practically canonically gay but in deference to the state’s hegemony (0:45-0:56; 2:24-3:11), is able to identify queerness in Suzaku and Zero’s relationship, and sends his partner to scold Suzaku. Characteristically, Suzaku eats the shaming up, and, seeking penance, asks, “what can I do?” because, as a Knight of the Round, the state can’t give him the punishment he desires for yet another “sin of his heart” (9:04), as Kanon calls it. As a gay man who has internalized the tenants of heteronormativity, homosexual feelings are sinful to Kanon, if they are in defiance to the state. Schneizal and Kanon take on the role of heterosexual oppressor by using their homosexuality to play thought police: they know that, in Suzaku’s heart of hearts, he is not loyal to authority, and his feelings and affinity for Lelouch threaten whatever loyalty he has left. The ploy works. Once again balking at the potential for subversion, Suzaku then wonders if he will “have to” use the F.L.E.I.J.A on Lelouch (9:46)—to again pledge absolute allegiance to the state and “repent” for his “sin.”
The irony of course is that Suzaku, at the peak of his desire for atonement, right when he is about to give his life for the state once again, is forced by Lelouch’s geass to fire the F.L.E.I.J.A at Lelouch and his soldiers in order to save his own life (6:50). The geass that gives Suzaku, an impermissible, self hating other, the drive to live, has now freed him from his own restrictively passive principle: to never kill. Suzaku did not choose to kill millions of people, but a closeted Other, when molested, can still feel arousal. For many viewers, Suzaku’s character now becomes incomprehensible: first, as he stands in the crater left by the warhead, he appears remorseful and contemplative over what he has done (8:40; 1:17), then, later in the episode, without explanation, he starts laughing like a villain, like Lelouch (8:23). But this “villain” is who Suzaku was all along: a murderer, the Other. His Genetian essence was there all along, waiting to be unleashed. At this point in the series, after Zero’s geass has reawakened his murderous power, he is simply a major step closer to accepting his Otherness. The next episode, in fact, opens with Suzaku contemplating the murder of his father, the site of his Othering (00:04). He then denies the blame for his latest murderous act: using the warhead. “No! It was the geass! The power that can twist a man’s will…” But finally he admits, “in the end, it’s just the same…” (00:45), because, ultimately, that will was inside him waiting to be unleashed. We see this newfound acceptance of sedition in action when Suzaku states that, if Schneizal gives him the order, he will assassinate the Emperor (1:08-1:16). Only notice, of course, that Suzaku will still only kill under the order of a new figurehead who is just as much of a fascist as the one already in power (Schneizal states that people “want to be controlled by their nation, their religion, their traditions and by figures of grand authority” and “the emperor of Britannia must play this part” (2:12)). Still, Suzaku’s subversive power unleashed and unchecked, sets the stage for the big reversal to come. But, still in the throws of submission, he can’t do it without Lelouch, who will bring out his desire to dominate. And that can happen only when Lelouch lets go of his own final ties to mainstream society.
V. Abandoning Ideology: Rolo Brings Lelouch to the Other Side
Though truer to his Otherness than Suzaku, Lelouch is also driven by a form of delusion: he has convinced himself that, if this society has exiled him, then he can destroy it and create one in its place that will accept him and anyone else (in particular, Nunnally) who is Othered. Nunnally symbolizes this vision as she is completely disabled and the poster child for the denigrated “weak person” Britannian society rejects (1:29). The conflict that arises between saving Nunnally and overthrowing the Britannian empire represents the contradiction between this vision and Zero’s drive for destruction. When Nunnally is appointed as the Viceroy of Area 11, she becomes, oddly enough, an enemy to Lelouch (7:20-7:31); in fact, Nunnally’s rejection of Zero almost causes Lelouch to abandon his efforts (4:53-5:13). In fact, it’s the Emperor’s decision to take Nunnally hostage that debilitates Lelouch to the point where he goes, on his knees, to Suzaku and begs him for help (10:02). He is not just desperate to save his sister, but finds his ambitions compromised by the strong, surviving connection to heteronormativity that she represents (ideology). His incendiary passion (and incendiary power), in the face of this conflict, flags. Only the rekindled, homoerotic rivalry between him and Suzaku relit, ironically, by the government’s intervention, can fire him back up, because it convinces him that he has lost his only friend (5:03), which makes him better able to accept the true state of the pariah/social exile: isolation.
A major spike in the conflict between Nunnally and Lelouch’s plans, or idealism and anti-ideology occurs after Lelouch becomes convinced the F.L.E.I.J.A warhead Suzaku fired killed Nunnally (the faux ideology supposedly driving him) (8:46), and the Black Knights (who also provide ideological justification for Lelouch’s actions) turn against him after discovering his deception (2:49). These events intersect to cast such doubt in Lelouch that he, like Suzaku, becomes passively suicidal. When the Black Knights turn on him and are prepared to kill him, he not only attempts to sacrifice himself in that moment to save Kallen (3:58), but, after Rolo interferes, Lelouch insists he has “no reason to live anymore” (5:35), and tries to get Rolo to give up trying to save him. Rolo saves him anyway. Notice, that, in this relationship, in this moment, Rolo is what Zero is to Suzaku. Rolo, perhaps the most Othered of all the characters, is the person who will set Lelouch back on track:
An orphan (i.e. unwanted outcast, without familial or social ties), Rolo was taken in by the Geass Order (a secret society run by the Emperor), given his geass at a young age and turned into a weapon (2:21; 1:29-1:50). Unlike Suzaku, who committed himself to the state in order to closet his own Otherness from society, Rolo was practically a social exile from birth, despite being in the employ of (and in many ways created by) the government. What makes him so dangerous is the fact he has no social obligations or political allegiances whatsoever. He is a seditious bomb just barely kept in check by the fact that he’s simply been acclimated to violence and the most immediate and habitual outlet happens to be sanctioned by the government (2:33-2:54). Othered, and like all prominent Others of Code Geass, queer as well, Britannia’s big mistake was putting him in close proximity to Lelouch, another queer Other like him (2:56-3:10). As a result, his newly found religion is a seditious love, murderous and obsessive, with Lelouch, the enemy of the state. And he isn’t just a murderer like Suzaku or Lelouch, but he is a murderer by training, a murderer by employ and a murderer by philosophy. Murder is how he moves through the world: and murder is the only expression he knows, even for love.
Despite being an Other himself, even Lelouch is still too normativized to be anything but repulsed by Rolo. This repulsion intensifies into hatred when Rolo kills, unsurprisingly, Lelouch’s major heteronormative bond to society: Shirley (2:57-3:14). After this unforgivable act, Lelouch attempts to kill Rolo (4:12-4:25), mirroring Suzaku’s drive to murder Zero after Euphie’s death. But, later, once Rolo sacrifices himself for Lelouch and professes his feelings for and loyalty to him (6:13; 7:35-8:05), Lelouch can no longer Otherize Rolo as the state has, as a tool. Upon closing this gap between himself and this Other, he is able to obtain an affinity for Rolo and seems to forgive him for killing Shirley, even refering to himself as Rolo’s big brother after he dies (8:09). He creates a grave for Rolo and lists him among the loved ones he has lost (8:32). His admiration for Rolo, in fact, at this point in the series, exceeds that of anyone else, as he states Rolo is the only one who never betrayed him (23:34-23:55). This fact is unsurprising given that Rolo is arguably the only character who has a more uncompromising attitude toward his own Otherness than Lelouch does. Furthermore, he thanks Rolo for giving him a chance to live (and I would argue, convincing him that he should live) (8:47). As an important queer figure, Rolo loosens Lelouch’s ties to heteronormativity, by killing Shirley and replacing Nunnally. Once Nunnally’s literal replacement imposed by the state, he becomes her figurative one in defiance to it. After what Lelouch takes to be Nunnally’s death, he is able to continue to live and fight without her, thanks to Rolo, her queer replacement, which shows Lelouch has finally admitted, even if subconsciously, that she was not the real reason he was doing this in the first place. His original, stated prerogative was to destroy Britannia (1:48), and that’s what it always has been.
Furthermore, the fact Lelouch ultimately accepts and admires Rolo, a completely unrepetant and amoral murderer, indicates his nearly complete divorce from normative society, and his own anti-ideology and amorality. Although Zero publicly fights in the name of the oppressed, the dehumanized and the weak (who Nunnally symbolizes), he constantly compromises these ideals behind the scenes to get results. He is a pariah, not a hero: antithetical to normative hegemony, colonization and order. Binaries like selfishness/selflessness, good/evil, truth/lie don’t ultimately mean much to him. Throughout the series, he mocks idealistic characters and revels in chaos. He only uses ideology as an ends to a means―to get people to join and support him―not the other way around. No cohesive ideology, or even set values such as family, matter. Later, when his father points out the amorality of Lelouch’s position (“good and evil intentions are on either side of the same card”), Lelouch will simply assert his position, if you can call it that, in the negative: “I will always reject the world you [the authority figure] envision” (5:43). He will use any means necessary to overthrow the powers that be, the system as it is. Whatever flag or banner under which he has to do so is of little consequence to him. He, like Genet’s Lady of the Flowers, is society’s pariah and the Others’ messiah. Likewise, his motives cannot be understood or judged according to our morals or values―or even those of the colonized, who are eventually shown to be a microcosm of normative society as a whole, and will ultimately turn against him, the exile, in the end, when his true amorality and anti-ideology is revealed (00:35). He, like Genet’s criminals, is amoral, apolitical and anti-ideological—a true social outcast.
VI. Other as Destroyer: The Culmination of Queer Seduction/Sedition
Code Geass turns a lot of what we’re used to on its head, queering our notions of morality/immorality, strength/weakness, truth/lies, good/evil—at the core of this, like at the core of Genet’s world, is queerness. Lelouch, who resembles the coded gay villain in his dress, mannerisms, dandyism, cunning and ambiguous sexuality, and, like the queer villain, is a threat to the heteronormativity of the would-be/traditional hero (Suzaku), is the celebrated protagonist of the series. Meanwhile, the villain of the show, the Emperor, is patriarchy personified. Not only does Charles disdain weakness, but the core principle of his ideology is hegemony: “all men are not created equal” (20:40). He is the alpha male, having cemented his patriarchal legacy through numerous off-spring (with his one hundred and eight consorts) and fortified his dominance through violence, force and oppression. Then, it is revealed that, all along, Charles has schemed to rid the world completely of lies and individualism. In carrying out the Ragnarok Connection, the most extreme expression of paternalism and control, Charles names himself God (the Omnipotent Patriarch) and takes the fate of all humanity into his own hands. In his ideal world, there are no lies, there is no privacy, no sin or crime, no individuation or differentiation. There is no deception, no performance, no “personas,” and therefore, no Zero (2:40; 3:30). The Ultimate Father has decided how his children should live. What makes his actions heteronormatively driven, as well, is the fact they are done in the name of his relationship with Maryanne (9:31-9:40). V.V., who mirrors Rolo in his murderous obsession with his brother Charles, attempts to kill Maryanne (6:25-6:55; 7:27). In perfect contrast to Lelouch who eventually accepts the queer and murderous Rolo and continues on the path of the Other, Charles has, just as V.V. accuses him, “been lead astray by a woman” (6:52): he uses V.V. and betrays him in order to conduct a plan that will eventually reunite him with Maryanne. Lelouch will give up heteronormative relations in the name of sedition, ultimately favoring Rolo queer amoral love over Shirley’s, but Charles, although originally intending to change the society he was in, is quite literally led astray as V.V. says he is, to become the very thing he once opposed. V.V. is to the Emperor what Rolo is to Lelouch and what Lelouch is to Suzaku: the symbol of a greater Otherness, a greater Queerness that will lead them to become a necessary force for chaos. The Emperor is Lelouch and Suzaku if they had continued playing at being straight: led astray by heteronormativity, committed to hegemony, order and force.
As Charles unveils his plan to rid the world of deceit and evil (which Zero, as the yin of the world, of course, opposes), he reveals that he used Lelouch as a pawn to lure C.C. out in order to make it happen. Thinking of the meaninglessness of the Black Knights and all the blood shed between them and a foe whose only prerogative was to use him as a lure, Lelouch says, “I was just a nuisance, just a ruckus in the world” (10:42). The description is quite accurate, but it’s clear by the disappointed tone in which he says it, that he has yet to understand the importance of that role. In fact, he almost seems ready to let his father’s plan unfold, when Suzaku, taking a newly-found initiative, asks Lelouch why he wanted “to control the world,” and says, “aren’t you just using Nunnally as your excuse?” Lelouch admits this is true (0:14-0:31). This reveals his inherent antitheticality. It’s the first time he admits his complete opposition to the mainstream world of ideology and allegiances. He finally owns he is a chaotic force and realizes that all he need do as a nuisance in the world is oppose authority—what he has been doing all along as Other. “I need to reject something,” he says, “I—I reject you! I reject everything you believe!” (1:06-1:34). He rejects his father and mother and thereby rebels against the heteronorm, family, authority, patriarchy—all of it. Both Suzaku and Lelouch oppose their most extreme expression of control, a disintegration of the individual, where no one can lie or be false: a place very unwelcome to two liars (2:09; 3:30). This rejection is all it takes, once Lelouch poses a request for rejection to the collective consciousness of humanity, the world keeps on spinning, and the Emperor disintegrates.
Upon the defeat of the Emperor, C.C. asks Lelouch and Suzaku what they will do now. She points out how they were united against a common enemy, but that something may stand in the way of them working together. Suzaku says, wielding his sword, “I know. Lelouch is the person who murdered Euphie.” What reveals the feebleness of this objection is Lelouch’s response and the fact that it is sufficient: “what of it?” The camera cuts off here (6:10 -6:32). Next thing we know, Suzaku is working under Lelouch, the new emperor. We don’t see their interaction in C’s World, partially because they were planning Zero’s Requiem, which won’t be revealed to the viewer until later, but also because “so what” is really all Lelouch need say. Euphie was the beard. Suzaku was only tethered to her so long as he accepted the values of heteronormative society. The fact he rejected being joined with her when Maryanne tempted him (1:14), and that he dismisses her now, particularly under no ideology or even logical or emotional reasoning, indicates his acceptance of amorality and anti-ideology. He becomes Lelouch’s knight (8:18), a sort of queer subordinate of sorts, which entails submission, but queer, nonheteronormative, seditious submission. Considering the sexual connotations “knight” has in the series, Lelouch has clearly made huge headway in his seduction of Suzaku; although, as I explain below, the Othering of Suzaku isn’t yet complete, especially since Suzaku is still playing at being a subordinate of Lelouch performing as oppressor.
Suzaku’s transition, from committing a seditious murder, spending most of the series in contrition for it and slowly regaining self-acceptance and empowerment, doesn’t come full circle until he penetrates and kills Emperor Lelouch much like he did his own father. By publicly assassinating the greatest authority figure in a totalitarian state, in the garb of the flamboyant revolutionary, he finally fully embraces his status as Other—particularly given the erotic, penetrative nature of the act (4:57). In fact, Lelouch bestows this status onto Suzaku in a homoerotic rite, when he leans against him and caresses his face, smearing it with blood (5:15). This transformative moment is the culmination of all of Lelouch’s efforts to seduce/recruit Suzaku, first in encouraging Suzaku to join him, then to fight him, to kill him, to work under him, then, finally, to succeed him. Lelouch literally marks him with the blood of the exiled: he is outed. And through defiant penetration, Suzaku has regained his seditious phallus, and will fight everyone and everything as persona non grata, as no one, as Zero, the empty integer, the empty identity, the incendiary of no allegiance, the symbol of revolt people will only follow as long as they perceive it as ideological (which the mob does when it cheers after he kills what they revile (7:28)).
The only way Suzaku can become Zero is by killing Lelouch, (at least Lelouch the Emperor as a public figure—whether Lelouch literally died is a subject of debate—what matters is that the symbol of the fascist society is destroyed by the symbol of insurrection), even though Lelouch is also Other and is the totalitarian leader only through performance. Likewise, the only way the symbol of Zero can live on is through opposition to a status quo. The Other can never be an accepted part of organized society, which is why, upon becoming Emperor, Lelouch must give up his title of Zero if he wishes it to live on, and why he is unable to retain his status as ruler, as well. Lelouch’s stated goal as a child was to destroy Britannia (1:48). To tear down a system, not to create one, was his original and only real prerogative. He is only antithetical and anti-ideological, chaotic. As Lelouch himself states, “I destroy worlds” (6:25—I read the phrase that follows, “create worlds,” as a command to everyone else). He, an Other, cannot lead or create a society or government, or even have an acceptable place in an organized system. Once revealed to be amoral and anti-ideological, Lelouch is repulsive to society (as Cornelia says: “Lelouch the demon is dead” (6:54)). In fact, in regaining his personal identity as Lelouch vi Britannia and forfeiting “Zero,” his universal identity, his amorality can only be perceived as immorality. He can only be the Undesirable, the Criminal, the Reviled. But this figure turns out the be a necessary evil (“all the world’s hatred and evil has been thrown upon you,” Karen says to a deceased Lelouch, as she thinks about much better the world is now (8:25)). But the scene of peace and prosperity shown just after Lelouch’s death is a mere temporary respite from an endless cycle of oppression and revolution, a cycle Zero/the Other is an integral part of. Otherwise, Lelouch would not need to make Suzaku his successor; otherwise, his assertions that the new Zero will “no longer be able to live as Kururugi Suzaku [and] will sacrifice all [his] own happiness for the world…eternally” (5:25), would mean nothing. Suzaku and Lelouch are, as Zero, like Genet’s Lady of the Flowers, the pariahs of our world, the messiahs of the damned. A human so amoral is repulsive. But Zero, the symbol of Otherness, queerness, and insurrection, lives on as long as there is a system of oppression to oppose.
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