I love chess. Ever since I was 7, I played my father every day, and for 4 straight years I played and played until I could beat him soundly (which, afterwards, I started playing at school, and eventually, a brief varsity stint). It was a funny way of learning how to play a game, but believe me, I enjoyed every game and learned valuable lessons from my playing.
I remember why I fell in love with Code Geass in the first place–Lelouch plays chess, and is damned good at it. The show starts with a particularly memorable scene for me: taking over a chess game on the losing side, Lelouch sees the board, and quickly comes up with a plan to end it. Forgetting that this is an anime, my mind evoked images of Capablanca. And his bold statement on Kings setting an example by moving first before the lesser pieces increased my admiration. Sure, it was very un-chess-like (you don’t maneuver the King offensively until most of the pieces have been cleared away from the board), but revealed to me a keen mind on leadership.
Lelouch is smart, daring, and willing to take risks. That was when I told myself, “this guy is awesome.”
I watched more of the show. I loved the whole of R1 (yes, even the Mao arc), and eagerly waited for more. And then R2 spoiled my fanboy dreams by destroying my suspension of belief. Sunrise didn’t do their homework, and just used my beloved game as a device to show how smart Lelouch is. There was no grandmaster-level game with dazzling combinations, only magically teleporting pieces and illegal moves. The chess was a lie!
The aftermath of that episode left me in despair, until a friend approached me and asked me to teach him chess. “Why?” I asked. He told me he was going on a blind date, and that the girl stipulated a chess game in which the outcome would decide if he was fit to continue dating her. Naturally, I was bewildered at such an idea, but why not? Indulging myself in a few educational games with him might remove the bitter aftertaste that R2 had caused me.
After the crash course in chess, I bade him good luck as he set out to conquer the heart of this anonymous girl with chess pieces in hand. Later that night, I casually asked him how it went.
His answer: “She creamed me, but said that I’m welcome to try again.”
“So there’s hope!” I said. I immediately thought of more lessons to teach, and whatnot. Opening, midgame, and endgame strategies, the works.
“Nah, it’s okay,” he replied. He told me that the girl was a fujoshi who had mad fan-love towards Lelouch, and as some kind of sick fantasy, played chess whilst projecting the other side as Schneizel.
I still facepalm over the whole thing on occasion. Hell, I’d accept the whole “beat me in chess for more dates plz” idea, and would even proxy for my friend if I could (lol?), but the underlying idea is just. So. Wrong. My noble aspirations towards the game have become a joke that which an entire legion of Lelouch/Schneizel fangirls trample upon continuously. From now on, my playing style shall be forced to include fabulous gestures out of flashy fianchettos. Curse you, Sunrise!
Given these terrible experiences, I still wish for an anime that centers around chess, but respects its rules and doesn’t treat it as “lol +1 skillset for genius character”. Even if the protagonists are all males and we’re shown nothing but poker faces and piece-moving, clock-pressing chess action, I’d still watch it. Come on Japan, I know you can do it. We had shogi. We had go. Someday, maybe.
So, here’s a couple of questions for you, dear reader:
- Knowing the chess screwup in R2, do you still appreciate the portrayal of the game itself, and how it is used to bolster the audience’s impression on Lelouch’s intellect?
- Would an anime centering strongly around chess interest you? Why or why not?
- Black, or White?