I was thinking about Code Geass because it's a story about a rebellion and I'm writing one of those. But Code Geass did a lot wrong and I want to avoid making those mistakes in my work.
I don't know how much of it you're familiar with but basically Lelouch Vi Britannia is an exiled Britannian (british-controlled america, brits moved there when they lost britain to france, the EU are tards and Britannia has conquered over a third of the world) prince who faked his death and started pretending to be a "normal" teen genius named Lelouch Lamperouge at a boarding school for the rich in Japan, now renamed Area 11 because Britannia conquered Japan for the Sakuradite, a mineral that makes a lot of energy and is perfect for powering giant robots. Suzaku's a student there and a soldier for the Britannian army. Lelouch finds a can of gas that turns out to be full of ass, it contains the prisoner C2's who's an immortal hot babe with green hair and the power to give people Geass, a personality-based psychic superpower that manifests as an ironic wish fulfilled. Lelouch's dad hated lies and viewed strength as the only true and right thing that matters, so he gains the power to make strength irrelevant and force people to believe lies by fucking with their memories. Lelouch who loves freedom gets the power to mind-control people once per person, and he unites Japanese rebel groups under himself as the mysterious masked "Zero".
Suzaku serves the empire that's oppressing his people because he's a fucking moron.
That's it, that's what my post was building towards.
I'm sorry, I have to say it.
This might take a while.
There is no coherent ideological basis for this whiny hypocrite to act the way he does, nor does anyone ever call him out on it. He doesn't work as a good rival for the hero who challenges him physically, mentally, and morally, because Suzaku is bullshit. He's a super strong naive moron with plot armour and a superior super mech better than everyone else's. He doesn't work with an elite team and hold them back from committing atrocities by making himself their moral compass. He wasn't tempted by the devil's easy road to power and corrupted on his road to a better world, he just serves the current regime because he somehow got convinced it's better to loyally serve a regime exploiting and oppressing his own people despite his low chance of upward mobility (zero chance if not for Lelouch killing pretty much everyone in Suzaku's way) instead of openly rebelling against the regime.
I think the writing was harmed by Suzaku's hypocrisy. It's like he only believes it's wrong to break laws when he or the ruling powers aren't the ones breaking them. And he never fucks his evil allies over for acting immorally, because he doesn't take his own morality seriously enough despite being unbearably self-righteous about it when it comes to Lelouch. Suzaku would have died early on at the hands of the empire he serves at least twice over if not for Lelouch breaking laws and killing to save Suzaku, yet he stubbornly refused to join Lelouch.
There wasn't a coherent ideological difference between the heroes. It's not like when Light viewed himself as a condemned man who wrote more names in the Death Note than anyone else before expecting to be killed, only to end up not killed, deciding he's come too far to do anything besides keep going and keep doing what "only he" could do, meanwhile for L this is all just another case and Light is just another asshole and he'll break any and all laws to see Light arrested because "He's probably Kira, I just have to prove it for some reason even though laws don't apply to me". Okay, fine, Death Note wasn't smart either. But it tried harder with its rival than Code Geass did when it wrote Suzaku.
Suzaku just decided he wanted to serve an empire he had no good reason to serve. He talks like he's a naive idealist when he babbles about how "rebellion costs lives and breaking laws is wrong and bloodshed is bad" yet he serves the bloodiest empire on the planet and plans to become its top enforcer all so that one country, his one, can be freed on the condition that he keeps serving as "The Knight Of One" once every other numbered Knight is dead or out of his way. He never even considers how many innocent lives would be lost in his quest to take away the freedom of others to "earn" his freedom from those who took it away in the first place. He serves the evil empire as hard as he can, even though it tries to throw him under the bus and kill him early on and only Lelouch's intervention saves him, time and time again. Suzaku wants to be King Charles's top dog, The Knight Of One, so he can be rewarded with total control over Japan so he can free it. But he had no hope in hell of getting that job before Lelouch got involved and started killing his bosses with the kind of open rebellion that inspires others to join in and stand up and fight. Suzaku keeps talking like Lelouch betrayed him and their ideals, but none of it ever goes anywhere interesting. Suzaku doesn't feel real. He doesn't feel like a real person with a real ideology, or even a fictional one, with any kind of consistent logic. He feels like a hackneyed plot device that exists to contrive problems for Lelouch, just like so many other elements of this story.
Maybe if they introduced Euphemia's plan (making Area 11 a "Special Administrative Zone" where the colonized Britannians get most of their rights back- wait, no, her plan was to make ONE such zone in Area 11 and eventually make more, I'd change that to make her want all of Japan fully freed) earlier on... Or maybe if they made Suzaku and Euphemia part of a group of Britannians who wanted to install Euphemia as the new Empress with an internal coup, it could have given Suzaku a reason to think there's anything salvageable about the empire and any reason to fight for it. He could tell himself a coup isolated to killing the worst leaders and putting nicer people in charge of the world is better than open rebellion and all the dead soldiers it costs. The idea that any corrupt kingdom or aristocracy or empire would be fine as long as the "correct" person in charge is a common delusion, after all. I personally believe authority should come from the consent of the governed, not the threat of force. People should have the freedom to live their own lives as they see fit, rule themselves and choose who leads them. I know we're all supposed to say nazi stuff here like "I hate niggers!" but after a racist regime frees white people from jew+nigger+mudslime slavery I would love to see the regime transition into one that reduces taxes, ends the fed, and allows people to protect their freedoms while rejecting centralized power. People who disagree with me on what rights I should have as a moral free individual can either take it up with the business end of my 3D Printer or fuck right off and govern the dystopian nightmare of their dreams elsewhere as long as it's only governing consenting people who actually want to live that way. Whether the King is nice or evil doesn't change the fact that nobody should be forced into a life of eternal serfdom for any kingdom, or forced into an arranged marriage for any kingdom, or drafted and forced into wars for any kingdom, whether this kingdom is called an empire or union or something else entirely. The natural rights of people should be respected. What rights do people have if they don't have those rights? What good is a ruler if he won't protect and respect those rights, and allow his people to protect themselves?
Giving Suzaku an arc where he starts as the "Empire is fine as long as my girlfriend rules it" guy and grows into "Lelouch is right, he's not just blinded by vengeance, this empire really does need to be dismantled" would make him an interesting character. What is it with Japanese media and rejecting this basic story arc in favor of "oooo who's right and who's wrong? omg I'm 14 and this is DEEP! Chaos or Order? Rebellion or Regime? I have no strong feelings one way or the other but please buy merch where these characters are opposed!"?
Taking Suzaku from a naive idealist who rejects Lelouch to a smart idealist who understands the complicated reality of rebellion against overwhelming military force and the society that enables it would have been an interesting arc for Suzaku, and it would have made him a lot more believable.
The arc that I would want to see from him would be him coming to realize what really matters is the people, not the will of those in charge or the laws they write to benefit themselves or the systems they create to keep themselves in charge. A story about going from the type of guy who decries rebellion for its human cost to understanding the human cost of not rebelling against tyranny. When the only voice given is that of the monarchy, aristocracy, empire, or any other kind of inherently unjust nonconsensual heirarchy, people who want to be free have to free themselves. It would be a story about freeing the people so that they can speak for themselves. Sure, that might get in the way of all the contrived moments in Code Geass that exist for the spectacle of characters laughing like madmen and pulling deus ex machinas and diablous ex machinas out of theiir asses, but it would make the story smarter.
If it were me writing that story, I would make Euphemia a good person being manipulated and controlled by Britannians who present themselves as "the good ones" but seek to increase their own power over the empire and would naturally reject any attempt on Euphemia's part to reduce that power. The Britannians who helped her get on the throne would want to use her as a puppet for their own agenda, like how Long Feng and the Dai Li from Avatar used the Earth King. When Euphemia takes the throne and tries to do good, her advisors who hold the real power refuse to let her, and threaten to replace or kill her should she stray from their plans or tell Suzaku who holds the real power in this empire. If she were to become empress she would have to realize there is more to an organization than its head, realize that the system is inherently unjust and unfair, so she would become a force for positive change by growing up and putting away her childish notions of being the beloved nice good empress. And it would be during this process that Suzaku would start to realize that in order to be a force of good you cannot submit to the corrupt system, you must rebel against it. This would be a great story about how good people can be used by bad systems if they are misguided. And really, with Britannian culture so obsessed with dominance, right after a coup to kill their Emperor and install his puppet neice, how many Britannians would aid a second coup that seeks to abolish all checks and balances holding the monarchy back just so that the ruling monarch can end monarchy and the lineage of noble bloodlines, and free the Areas Britannia controls, depriving countless poliiticians and royal family members of their jobs and their power in the process while "Making the sacrifices of soldiers meaningless" as the politicians would put it when they try to weaponize the families left behind by soldiers they drafted and happily sacrificed in great numbers? Euphemia would have to grow up, and so would Suzaku.
I would have Suzaku start out as a reluctant partner in order to ensure the safety of Euphemia. He's her guard, not a Britannian dog who can be ordered about and told who to kill. And over time he could come to see the injustices present in the system and realize that the only way to free people from the oppression of a ruling class is to dissolve that class and bring down its systems, structures and organizations so that the people will be free to rule themselves. That it's okay and necessary to bring the walls of a corrupt structure down even if that structure brings riches and power to you personally. That a world free of those walls will be better than a world with the walls, even if you personally are powerful within those walls. He would hate the compromises the system forces himself and Euphemia to make, and eventually come to understand Lelouch was right. I think after Lelouch successfully kills King Charles Zi Britannia, when these two naive idealists Suzaku and Euphemia get a first-hand demonstration of the control that Britannia exert over them and see how their actions are not able to change the way the empire is run, even if she is the emperor, they would be able to see first-hand that Britannia is a society with a rigid structure that cannot be changed by a simple change in command, and that to truly change the empire they would have to remove the structure that creates it and replace it with something better, with something that prioritizes the freedom and agency of the individual rather than elite breeding and noble houses and conquest that makes your rulers richer and absolute slavish obedience to hierarchy.
I think a major turning point in their arc could be the realization that to change things you have to take action. Even if it means giving up blackmail power by airing all the Empire's dirty secrets and spreading the truth about their world. Even if it's action that you would be punished for if you got caught. That you can't hide behind the excuse that it's the wrong thing to do, that you have to be willing to make sacrifices and do the difficult thing to make a real change. And when this arc comes to an end they could make a conscious decision to rebel and take down the empire in spite of the risks it poses to themselves because they are willing to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of a better world. It might be a good time for Suzaku to confront his own hypocrisy. His own refusal to break the rules and to submit to his higher ups. It is only in confronting Suzaku's inner hypocrisy that he would realize that he has been fighting for a system that does not allow him to be free. He comes to see that his ideals for a better world cannot be realized by a system that demands conformity and obedience at all costs, and that a better world can only come from rebellion and destruction of the system of oppression that denies individuals the right to decide if they wish to submit themselves to a power structure or choose freedom.
Suzaku and Euphemia would realize that Britannia has fundamental flaws in its structure, and that their values and beliefs are incompatible with it. It would be a choice between choosing to bring the system down to build a better one (rebellion) or supporting the system for the perks it gives them as useful puppets/attack dogs respectively (royalty). It would be a great story about how good people can be misguided by systems. But also how good people can reject a system that is incompatible with their values and beliefs and choose a path of rebellion for the sake of love. And that would lead directly into Lelouch and Suzaku's arc, where Lelouch gets over his personal anger and all the flaws holding him back through great effort, and they realize that the true rebellion is a rebellion against power itself, a rebellion against systems and structures and traditions that define what people must be and what they are allowed to do based on their family or social class. That their society as it is is fundamentally designed to keep people in their place, and is resistant to change. To break these systems down and create something new from them is what true rebellion looks like. Evolving your Geass into a Code to give up the Corrupted Wish Superpower and gain immortality, it should represent mental evolution, spiritual growth, personal fulfillment, an awakening to the truth of the world and a vow to rebel the right way. Their story had so much potential, but it was squandered so Code Geass could do the most shocking and dramatic things the author could think of, not the smartest things I could think of with the benefit of hindsight.
And that's everything. What do you think?
My perspective is you're trying to make Suzaku out to be more important than he is. Lelouch's only peers and rivals are other members of the royal family; if Suzaku is a counterpart to anyone it's Kallen. Suzaku reflects whatever emotional garbage the powerful broadcast to the public; Suzaku doesn't think about the consequences of his actions, he takes the path of least resistance because he's convinced that somehow that will make things better. Lelouch sees Suzaku as his natural ally, but Suzaku's brain is so broken that Suzaku isn't capable of observing the situation rationally. There is no possible redemption for this character, the closest you can get is a change in the power dynamic, resulting in him becoming a loyal solider for the new regime.
You're right about the way Suzaku was written in canon, but thinking about it made me think "What if all the time wasted on Suzaku was instead spent building up a character able to do for his show what Zuko did for ATLA, fleshing out the world and adding depth?"