[…] In my mind, the Empire is a rotten institution, it is a corrupt and evil edifice that is systemically broken and has to be destroyed. Therefore, I always saw Lelouch/Zero’s role fundamentally as a cleansing force–the person who was to tear down an irredeemable evil so that society can move past it and aspire to something better. To rise up like the phoenix from the flames.
I also saw Lelouch as part of a much greater tradition, so thus he became more sympathetic. Lelouch is Paul Atreides, Judah Ben-Hur, and Alan Moore’s V all rolled up into one hot mess. Well, Lelouch and Zero–each of his aspects embody different narratives. Lelouch is fundamentally the spurned prince a la Ben-Hur and Paul, motivated by revenge and hate, but importantly also by real, though perhaps selfish, desire to see what is best for his Sister (cf Ben-Hur’s mother and sister, Lady Jessica. What’s with the mother/sister infatuation? There has to be some silly psychoanalytic reading for this archetype). I think people here have really ignored the divided nature of Lelouch’s motivations, focusing only on his desire for revenge and ignoring his equally real and important desire to protect his family, which would ultimately become his redemption, whatever little of that he earned.
Zero, on the other hand, is a much different beast. Zero is V (or Zorro, if you will), Zero is Maud’dib (and through Maud’dib, he has shades of Jesus, but I agree with an earlier commentator who pointed out who the comparison isn’t really apt): the insurgent messiah who comes to reign down fire and destroy the old order to bring in the future and give voice to the oppressed. Does it matter if Zero is real or not? Zero gave people something to believe in, made them aspire to something better. He gave them hope that the Empire could be cast off, that a new world was possible. Not only that, more importantly he gave them a way to make that new world possible. But as the destroyer, he has to destroy himself in order for his actions to mean anything, just as Paul learns in Children of Dune. Not only that, he had to realize and accept his own evil before his sacrifice would be meaningful.
But I’m not completely convinced on this issue. Perhaps like Moore’s V, Lelouch is really nothing more than a revenge blind madman, with no real concern to the number of people he destroys in pursuit of his revenge. Or perhaps even there was some hope for the Empire–this is what the liberal humanist in me thinks, as opposed to the revolutionary. That it was Lelouch’s own hubris that destroyed any chance for peaceful change, in possibly what is one of the greatest moment in any Anime, the perfect definition of Poetic justice and classic tragedy.
Do the ends justify the mean? I say not–means change ends. Was the ends that Lelouch achieved the “best”–I honestly can’t tell, but I can say it’s one I’m decently comfortable with.