Should Themes Trump Logic – Code Geass’ Chess Treatment

Should Themes Trump Logic – Code Geass’ Chess Treatment


Hello & Welcome – To Replay Value Let me ask you a question – did Code Geass’
Chess Scene in the Chinese Federation bother you? Because it didn’t bother me and I was kind
of surprised to learn that it did bother so many people. Of course when I typically hear complaints
about the more outlandish moments of Code Geass, usually the major point is Lelouch’s
poorly timed joke as the apex of plot convenience – but Schneizel’s Illegal Move in the Second
Season, on top of all the other questionable chess moments in that sequence, definitely
ruffled some feathers. And that left me wondering – why? Why was this scene constructed this way, why
didn’t I care when others haven’t let it go years later, and what does this say
about how artistic license in fictional series interacts with elements that have real world
equivalents. The first of those questions has a pretty
clear answer – the team behind Code Geass valued the thematic and symbolic effect of
the Chess game over the actual rules and logic behind it. From the first scene of the show, elements
of chess had been used as motifs to inform us about characters – the Black King Chess
piece representing Lelouch, and from the way that he assigns designations to the resistance
group – pawns, rooks, all the way up to his ace Kallen who’s noted as the Queen – but
even then, she’s still a piece that he’s moving around the board – at least at the
start of the show. It’s useful shorthand for telling us how
strategically gifted Lelouch is, serves as a cool design element in his Zero outfit,
and how he views those around him as tools to achieve his desires. Hell at the beginning of R2 when he’s forgotten
his past, he uses white in his match against the noble and even refers to him as Black
King – proving that he’s completely divorced from Zero. One of the only times that we actually get
to see Lelouch play more than a single move in an actual chess match though, is against
Schneizel in the Chinese Federation – and honestly that fact alone should key you in
that Code Geass is more interested in using the language of chess for motific purposes
as opposed to actually showing competency regarding the game itself. But if you had any doubts – this match certainly
puts them away. For context, Lelouch as Zero challenges Schneizel
to this chess match in an attempt to secure the ability to use his Geass on all the guests
at this Reception – Schneizel accepts since if he wins he’ll obtain Zero’s identity. Those are the stakes placed on this and frankly
the show wastes no time in jumping to the conclusion, with only a few lines of banter
in between observers before we get to Zero’s stated political philosophy Schneizel acknowledges the sentiment and does
the same. This speaks to a kind of kinship between the
brothers, certainly in how similar they are and continues to establish them as foils. It also becomes a key-point of contrast, as
even though Schneizel does genuinely believe that a king must lead, frustrated with his
father’s focus on the ruins, he doesn’t take it to the logical endpoint that Lelouch
does – focused on maintaining the present as opposed to leading into the future, the
thematic conflict at the end of the series. But that’s just set-up for the move that
gets under people’s skin, which is when Schneizel – instead of accepting a draw (more
on why that’s fake in a second) – makes an illegal move by placing his King in front
of Lelouch’s, declaring “checkmate” – his own. Having the win handed to him on a silver platter
– Lelouch immediately focuses on how if he takes the King, he’ll have fallen into Schneizel’s
plan and how he’ll be humiliated by that – choosing to withdraw his king behind one
of his pawns. Schneizel states that the Emperor would have
taken the win with no hesitation, and that he’s learned something about Zero. And before we can learn how Lelouch would
respond, he almost gets knifed by Nina ending the scene. So thematically there’s a ton to unpack. Remember if Lelouch won he would basically
achieve total victory by being able to use the power of kings on everyone there, but
instead he gets so caught up in the small stuff, specifically his pride getting in the
way of his larger ambition that he fails to grasp it – something that the Emperor would
never do as confirmed by Schneizel being the primary lesson. In a larger sense, by moving the King behind
his pawn, Lelouch indicates that when he’s feeling behind the eight ball, he’ll hide
behind his subordinates and even place them in dangerous situations – which basically
happened at the end of Season 1 and again happens later in Season 2. We also learn that Schneizel may be a superior
strategist to Lelouch, since while not a total victory – he did gain something towards his
end goal, learning another bit about Zero as a person – all the while fighting Lelouch
to a draw, when the only person who could beat him in chess to this point was someone
who could read his mind. And finally that move reveals a healthy amount
about Schneizel as a person – choosing a decisive moment as opposed to playing it out to a draw
indicates the kind of commander he is, he’d rather lose and have it be interesting – something
that seems to be indicated as consistent by Odysseus’s line after the move is made. Those are the primary things we can take away
from this chess game, and it’s all to really set up Lelouch and Schneizel as equals, foils,
and as the final combatants – and in that regard I love it. I don’t care about the illegal move because
it’s so clearly being done for a dramatic point. But there is something about the chess match
that does bother me – and maybe it explains why people do care about the illegal move. In the aftermath of both players moving their
kings forward, we see the board state which is clearly in Schneizel’s favor, up a knight
and 3 pawns, yet we hear the audience state that it’s an even match. That’s just blatantly false, I’m no chess
master but even I can tell that Schneizel should be clearly in the driver seat and that
no one watching has any idea what they’re talking about. I’m not even speaking to the lack of consistency
with the board, I’m not about to try and determine whether this point in time could
lead to this point, or the fact that this board state doesn’t match this one – cause
those are really small things that won’t be picked up by the average viewer. But saying that they’re evenly matched in
this game state is a clear indication that Code Geass is ignoring the game logic in favor
of what would be preferable to the story. And I think that’s just lazy, because there’s
nothing preventing them from creating an even board state that would lead to threefold repetition
– at least not thematically speaking. But whatever, if you’re like me and you
don’t really follow chess that moment happens so quickly you might not even be able to tell…but
what if you do really care about chess. Would a fictional work messing up basic knowledge
about the game you love get under your skin? I’d think it would, and by extrapolating
that, the thematic value of the illegal move probably is irrelevant due to the blatant
disregard for the rules. Since chess has been treated like our real
world version up and to this point – we expect it to be consistent with the chess we know
– there’s no reason for the audience to assume that there are any version differences
or alternate rules – which would create a new internal constant. Because of the thematic point it makes I chalk
it up as artistic license, but I can understand why for some this would ruin their suspension
of disbelief as we suddenly shift from external “Real World Chess Logic” to internal “Code Geass Chess” logic. But I also don’t think the team behind Code
Geass had much of a choice assuming that they wanted to make the points they did at this
extremely pressing moment in the show – as we can find by just interrogating what we
could change to make it all stick. And the reality is – I don’t have a great
fix because there’s no way to have a king checkmate another king in chess and removing
that removes most of the thematic value because the commanders themselves need to be at risk. The easiest solution is to establish earlier
in the show that in this universe – Kings are actually taken, game doesn’t end at
checkmate but rather the actual action of knocking down the King, something that would
thematically make sense given the state of the world and the Emperor’s ideology, and
that there’s nothing illegal about the move Schneizel made. It could have been done with Mao to show how
overwhelming mind-reading is as an ability. In this way, we establish the difference between
the real world version of chess and this universe’s. The alternate solution is to change out the
game entirely, but then we lose all of the easily accessible chess motifs and imagery. Because we don’t want to do that – that’d
be an even more massive change to the narrative – we can’t swap chess out for a game that
fulfills a similar role in a different story, like Gungi in Hunter x Hunter. In Gungi we similarly take the show’s word
that the played moves and strategies are all brilliant – the main difference being that
we can actually see the game board, watch the characters make moves and never doubt
that the rules are being followed because we don’t understand the game. This is useful because no audience member
could possibly know anything about the quality of the gameplay or closeness to the rules,
meaning that until Hunter X Hunter explains Gungi we’re left to focus entirely on the
thematics of the game and the characters playing it. There’s zero way to have your suspension
of disbelief broken by the game itself because it’s operating under internal “Hunter
Hunter World Logic”. That’s unfortunately not the case for chess,
nor would it be for Shogi or Go. The team behind Code Geass probably recognized
their limitations since they were using a real world game and that’s why they minimized
their chess moments as much as possible – in addition to having their focus squarely on
all of the elements we spoke about earlier. Again I don’t feel like a solution to this
problem is really necessary but trying to find out I think illuminates why there wasn’t
a simple answer that the team went down. Likely this was the best of a bad situation,
because any real solution that maintains the thematic qualities either needed to be implemented
far earlier or would require a complete reworking of the entire show from a cellular level. At the end of the day, I still value the thematic
elements of the illegal move over the specific rule violation, especially since the in-world
audience acknowledges that the move is ridiculous and no one treats it like the norm, more evidence
that it’s a dramatic choice – but the board state example I think perfectly encapsulates
Code Geass’ focus on chess, to use its visual language and strategic shorthand without actually
implementing the game itself . From an artistic license perspective – when we’re taking
elements that exist in the real world, we need to make sure that we’re changing them
enough to create a new internal logic that then needs to be adhered to, or accepting
that for a nonzero percentage of people – this will ruin their immersion because its been
too heavily ingrained. Flaws like this are part of why Code Geass
is so controversial and stuff like this certainly makes it a worse experience for those who
aren’t enraptured by the show. But for those that love it, it’s an inseparable
part of what makes Code Geass so special – that singular and all important focus on story
and character drama above all else – and frankly, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

47 thoughts on “Should Themes Trump Logic – Code Geass’ Chess Treatment

  1. can we also not forget that what lelouch did in episode 1 "starting with the king" (witch is not possible)

  2. Excellent take, Replay. I often see people say that themes outweigh logic, and that frustrates me. We can have both. Great art and stories come from both: they don't work without the other.

    I think they should have taken the opportunity to establish another game. To save time, they can say it's inspired by chess, but with variations: it'd hardly be the most drastic difference between that setting and our own. They could have taken it as a moment to relate the game with its variations to the characters. e.g Lelouch decides he identifies with the not-chess King piece, but hates using it because it lacks utility. Schniezel may also enjoy it, but enjoy using strategies with it. Take that opportunity to foreshadow this very moment.

    But, hindsight is 20/20, and I respect some shows will stumble and have to make the best of bad situations. That doesn't make them bad, nor does it make them unlovable

  3. Em? But there is no lack of logic in the scene. Shneizel move was intentional surrender. Some players do that to show their submission and acknoledgment of enemy's skills. Both themes and logic works there.

  4. As a fan of both Code Geass and chess, I must say that I find this scene deeply infuriating and I don't agree that themes should trump logic, at least not to the extent it occurs here. I should preface though that I'm completely fine with the illegal move in itself, the problem is that everything leading up to that moment was so poorly written that the moment comes of as ridiculous and laughable and ultimately undermines whatever brilliance of theme and characterization the moment should have. At 5:13 you start talking about the absurd in-universe analysis of the board state and how maybe it explains why people care about the illegal move, and while I can't speak for everyone, it's absolutely true for me. Had the writers cared enough about chess to bother creating reasonable and consistent board states throughout the match with an even late game (at least at a glance) for the "evenly matched" part, I would've been more than willing to accept the illegal move because at least the writer's would've been meeting me half-way. This is made much worse by the fact that writing a game such that it had consistent and believable board states through out would've been EXTREMELY EASY to do. There are literally hundreds of thousands of recorded chess games with full graphical representations and comprehensive notation available on the internet for 10 seconds of Googling, find one with a relatively even late game and just use that as the template for the whole match. Even if there weren't any good online chess resources at the time Code Geass was written, there are still thousands of books written analyzing famous chess games and Grandmaster tournaments, just pick one up form the library. Had the writers actually cared enough to do the at most couple hours of research needed to create a believable game I would've been more than happy to meet them half-way when they wanted to take their creative license with the scene (and they really didn't even need creative license here anyway, an off-hand remark by Schneizel acknowledging the move is illegal and he just wants to see how Zero would respond would've fixed a lot of what's wrong with this scene). But when you want to extensively use something like chess for it's thematic, cultural, and narrative symbols but then go and show a frankly insulting level of disregard for how the game actually works I'm going to say "Go fuck yourself, your writing is shit and you should feel bad". They didn't have to know stuff like "en passant", algebraic notation, or what a Queen's Gambit Declined is, they only needed to sit down and play an actual fucking game and they could've nailed the scene with enough accuracy that it wouldn't come off as such an insult when they take a liberty with the rules. But because the writers couldn't be bothered to make a believable game, I wind up having trouble believing these character's are actual geniuses capable of incredible feats of logic when they're not even capable of a coherent game of chess.

    To summarize, the illegal move isn't the problem, its the poor and lazy writing used to support it that is. And when the writing supporting one of your most important character moment's is so bad even many novices can pick up on it, then it's absolutely going to undermine the believably and emotional investment I have in said characters.

  5. I don't think you got the point of the scene. The move is illegal.

    Schneider makes a point by doing an illegal move, stating that he believes leaders can be above the rules. That also means he wouldn't concede whatever he promised. His move giving the opportunity of victory to Lelouch was measured so that he can have a glimpse into Lelouch's personality.

    Would Lelouch be a sticker for the rules and denounce the illegal move, showing a lack of flexibility and understanding that in the real world there is no such a thing as absolute rules? Would Lelouch be naïve and take it believing he could get anything out of it? Would Lelouch still take it even without expecting anything, just for the sake of it as the emperor would? Or would he be proud and reject that victory?

    He chose the latter.

  6. Middle school me playing chess: places king right in front of enemy king
    friend: wait that's illegal
    Me: Noooooooo, it's completely allowed. It's just your choice whether to kill me or not

  7. Totally depends on the person, as someone who played and placed 1st in a Chess club all throughout my middle school years I wasn't one bit bothered by the thematic use/logical slaughter of chess.

  8. I could be remembering wrong but I thought it was stated lelouch never beat Schneizel in chess any time he played him

  9. It kinda reminds me of why I really dislike alot of sports anime, the only one I've watched and didn't dislike is haikyuu. Kuroko no basket just bothered me as someone who plays basketball and is a fan of the sport

  10. I don’t know if it ‘ruins’ the show or the drama of the moment.. entirely for me, but acting like you can wander into check without it being an illegal move is a very stereotypically beginner-ish mistake in chess. It’s sort of bizarre to see people constantly considered to be geniuses in the game to make mistakes that’d be embarrassing for a child to make and really pushes suspension of disbelief to the point that the show becomes almost farcical in that moment. But then I don’t think code geass’s drama was ever far from that sort of over-the-top-ness, so I agree it doesn’t really hurt if you’ve been very into it up to that point. Which I was, personally.

  11. It for real bothered me. (haven't started the vid yet).
    Maybe it's because chess is an actual real thing with clear cut rules. While people's suspension of disbelief towards robot fights and outlandish war schemes are a little more forgiving. Seeing a character who is meant to be smart, totally fuck up a game he's meant to be good at… just comes off as silly rather than thematically resonant.

  12. This was an amazing video, keeping the audience interested while talking bout ways it was well done and ways that it could have been done better and great osts

  13. I don’t get it why that bloody guy move king infront of king because you can’t move your king infront of king in real chess game

  14. The scene is perfectly logical, and makes absolute sense if uy consider that the pieces on the board are representative of

    a) characters of the show
    b) the battlefield that Lelouch and Schneizel are preparing for.

    Both Lelouch and Schneizel are perfectly aware of this analogy, and the audience should be as well, including the fact that both Lelouch and Schneizel are playing Chess in a way that called "metagaming."

    By placing his King in check, Schneizel wasn't losing the game–he was winning information. Lelouch's pawn is a metaphor for the Black Knights. Which ever piece Lelouch used to take the White King would tell Schneizel information about how Zero's psyche works. Since Zero retreated instead of giving out this information to Schneizel.

    Remember what Zero pledge to give up if he lost? To >> take off this mask <<.

    By putting the White King in check, Schneizel was simultaneously psycho-analyzing Zero, and hypnotically suggesting that Zero and Suzaku. Think about this rationally–do uy REALLY think that Suzaku would just up and join the Black Knights, all willy nilly? Of course not. Suzaku has a CONFIRMED history of assassinating people of authority who do what he views as the wrong thing.

    The game was never about winning the game–it was about analyzing each other's motives, strategy, and above all–emotions.

  15. I never paid too much attention to that scene — but I always saw it as him knowing it is an illegal move, and wondering what Lelouch would do in return. Like "ok, if I could move here, and you could kill me because of that, would you still do it knowing my pawn would kill you after?" And in return Lelouch backs off. In the "game" they are playing in real life, there are no rules.

  16. i feel that it could have been done better because it contradicts what makes shniezel lose later in the show. knowing zero most likely had a plan when betting over the game would make a loss undesireable.
    so choosing to lose and gain information about zero would not be worth losing one of their best soldier and falling in to their enemies plan.

  17. Well this kinda a odd thing to point out but the only ILLEGAL move being made here is Shniezel moving his king that far with one move cause well a kings movements are limited to moving one space in any direction (asides from a few moves such as castleling) but aside from that Lelouch could actually win that battle no not by check mating the king with his king as even code geass does atleast know that is a rule that CAN'T be broken and rather he can win by taking Shniezel's king with the pawn to the right (Lelouchs right) of Lelouchs king piece meaning Lelouch did actually have the win but at this moment in the story Lelouch is unwilling to take the victory knowing he would full well be able to bend everyone to his will simply for the fact he know how the power of the king can truly twist and hurt the world he lives in as it almost infects his life and causes up chaos (examples such as this are as followed Euphys murder spree, the curse placed on suzaku, the Shirley problem, orange boy etc etc) he know he could win and full well win but it wouldn't mean a true victory kind of like the pride thing you mention but also for the simple fact the it's not what Shirley would want it's wouldn't be the world Shirley wanted only a false world of peace. Which is foreshadowing as to what Charles is trying to do by making everyone lose all there feelings and there sense of self it's a false peace a false world a lie, which oddly enough makes it a contradictions that the world that has no lies is actually a world of a lie. ANY ways basically the only ILLEGAL move was Shniezel moving his king that far Lelouch could win by taking it with his pawn.

  18. The game is actually evenly matched, or rather almost evenly matched, the most effective way to execute check mate at this point is for either opponent to acquire a queen by reaching the end of the board with a pawn, and both sides have a rook, a pice infamous for being very useful in late game, specifically for its ability to nullify pawns (due to how easy it is to eliminate them in a open space, leluch could very easily eliminate all of schnitzel’s pawns, and knight (seing as a knight is most useful in early to mid games) só effectively, they are almost evenly matched, being that they are balanced in how useful their surviving pieces are, based on this evidence, it does seem that a draw is most likely to be the result of the game

  19. Code geass actually annoys me because of the emphasis put on the king, this is mostly because of my own beliefs about the king, those being that the king represents the goal, not the leader, one must not threaten the end goal to allow the means to be secure (unless it is explicitly beneficial to the goal), this annoys me most in this anime, because of leluch’s ideology of the ends justify the means, why in the world, would he risk the ends simply to protect the means? It actually partially pulled me out of the show whilst watching,not too much, I do still love this show to death, but it kept nagging at the back of my head from the first episode

  20. Lelouch's joke resulting in a massacre never bothered me. I was bothered by how often Lelouch made silly mistakes and only survived because of luck or because CC had to save his ass.

  21. That, or the rule was broken and both sides decided to just role with it. IT would show that one side is willing to cheat/play dirty for his goals while the other acknowledges such can happen and is prepared to react to it accordingly

  22. I'm one of the people who absolutely love chessssss. But performing a move that sacrifices your king by moving it to B5 in this case being Red block instead of a white block. This is known as a illegal move like this content creator tells us, but you need to understand that you get chess players with a really good Logical Brain and way of thinking. And then you get those whose really creative and outgoing with their moves… You should also not get this under your skin in my oppinion. That being said, people who got this under their skin and couldn't get a possibility on why he did what he did shouldn't play chess or shouldn't consider to think that they can figure out every possibility. Your chess players ACT LIKE IT.

  23. For me, the main problem with the chess scene was that the show had previously demonstrated a very impressive use of chess metaphor during the game in the first episode. Seeing the lack of attention to the Chinese Federation chess game when they already did such a good job in the first episode was very disappointing.

  24. Everyone is Overanalyzing this… You have to knock down a king .. a point neglected In the video. Not all version of chess are the same.. online chess you literally can't make that move.. meanwhile in real life you can place the king there basically forfeiting the match, if the opponent takes or knocks down the king which zero didn't.. not that difficult to understand and not illegal

  25. It is an illegal move, however, that’s kind of the point. They are both heirs to the throne. They make the rules, and own the consequences.

  26. Why don't they just stick to the GO instead? That's what they look like they are doing with those sketchy chess strategies. Or they should have just used Shogi in the show instead.

  27. The real problems are when Lelouch just brings down random pieces into the board and completely disregards the rules of chess and stuff. This last move isn't actually about chess

  28. It's amazing to think that people are still discussing this show after so many years. Truly a timeless series!

  29. The audience doesn’t even need to know anything about chess or it’s rules to understand this scene. Schneizel is willing to sacrifice himself the king to win and lelouch at that point didn’t capture the king because he’s childish and didn’t want schneizel to feel like he won. This gives him info about what kind of man Zero is

  30. Omg I’m watching this waiting for the link between Trump and Code Geass and then the moment you realize you’re dumb…

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