Thinking about Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 opens up some unpleasant internal conflict on my part; indeed, the ending is emotionally satisfying, but getting there requires twists of such unnatural contortions, that even I get cramp just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong, Code Geass R2 is enjoyable overall, but I get the feeling it cheats its way out of providing what most fans actually deserve i.e. interesting characters and meaningful plot developments.
So what exactly is the problem?
In a nutshell, R2 gets struck halfway through with a bad case of Sudden Shambolic Misdirection; this downturn in quality happens so inexplicably that I’m convinced the original production team got sacked and replaced with animation students on crack. Even in the beginning, R2 displays a couple of minor irritants which aren’t present in S1, such as incessant ecchi shots of Kallen and an unnecessary influx of new and powerful characters. At first, these are easy to dismiss as temporary blips (after all, just watching Lelouch in action is exciting enough!). Eventually, though, things begin to catch up with Code Geass – characters start doing things that don’t make sense and most of the shocking “twists” actually turn out to make no difference to the story later on.
Above all, what really hurts the series is the eventual sidelining of strategic interplay in favour of mecha battles so excessive that the show might as well rename itself Code Geass: I Wanna Be Gurren-Lagann So Bad.
Having said that, Code Geass has always been a franchise obsessed with results – it will sacrifice almost anything to deliver an almighty twist at the end of each episode. The same can be said of R2’s story as a whole; plotting and characterisation (and yes, even the rules of chess) are crudely manipulated to make sure the series can deliver its ace in the hole. What’s surprising is that R2 actually gets away with it; in those final few moments, the pointless twists and directionless progression become vague memories lost in a single moment of pure ‘awesome’.
Indeed, for some this will be the only vindication necessary, or the miracle cure so to speak. However, I retain a healthy dose of scepticism for one very simple reason: while the final episode provides some delightfully poetic moments, simply knocking out a few great scenes can’t ever compensate for ten episodes of ill-conceived nonsense.
The character designs and backgrounds are bright and colourful as befits a CLAMP production, and Code Geass R2 generally boasts smoother motion and more exciting action sequences than S1. Unfortunately, there are still two elements which keep this series from looking perfect, namely the gratuitous ecchi shots sprinkled throughout the first half, and a few episodes towards the end in which the animation noticeably deteriorates (my guess is due to budget restrictions).
Although the voice actors deliver an accomplished performance throughout (yay for Lelouch’s seiyuu!), special praise must also be reserved for the score. Many of the scenes are perfectly accompanied by haunting choral pieces or thrilling instrumentals which should make for a soundtrack worth spending a few pennies on. My only reservation here is in regards to the opening and closing themes; unlike S1’s catchy ‘Kaidoku Funou’, R2 brings rather nondescript pop themes to the table.
Nobody can claim that the cast of Code Geass has ever been superbly realised; in R2, however, they become downright incomprehensible. The best example of this is Lelouch himself. His goal at the beginning is clearly to protect Nunnally, but later, he starts to bounce from one contrived motivation to the other, confusing not just his companions, but also any discerning viewer. If Lelouch wasn’t so single-mindedly compelling, his final development would be a textbook example of how not to characterise a protagonist.
With that said, what also doesn’t help is the existence of two characters so annoying that I constantly wished they would die, die, DIE! I’m speaking of Nina and Suzaku, of course. While I can just about forgive Suzaku for being an essential element both symbolically and plot-wise, Nina is ninety-nine percent useless and seemingly exists just to be an eyesore.
As for Cornelia, Kallen, Xinque and the rest of this colourful bunch, feel free to pick your favourites – it really doesn’t matter, because chances are they won’t end up doing much anyway. Too many times what appear to be brilliant new additions to the cast only end up hanging around like deadweight and even veteran cast members turn out to have no meaningful roles whatsoever. With each one falling prey to the story’s fickle whim, the ultimate effect is that too few of them remain interesting to watch in their own right.
Code Geass S1 is from beginning to end one of the most enjoyable anime of all time; conversely, Code Geass R2 is predominantly a big fat anti-climax. Conveniently, it delivers a hefty emotional punch at the last minute, ensuring in the process that it will be remembered with great fondness rather than bitter disappointment. In that sense the final episode could be read as a masterful move, although I think it’s more like skilful cheating. When all is said and done, any emotional connection made with R2 is only possible because of S1’s outstanding groundwork; for example, Lelouch remains sympathetic for miracles he used to perform as opposed to any of his actions here. As a standalone series, R2 is shamefully lacking; as part of a set of two, however, its worth lies in delivering the only thing S1 was missing – a spectacular finish.
Area 11 is still under Britannian rule and the Elevens remain brutally oppressed; what’s more, their saviour, Zero, is nowhere to be found and all of Britannia believes the rebellion is finally over. Elsewhere, having lost the battle, Lelouch sets his sights upon winning the war – but the task is no easier since the Britannian forces have learned some valuable lessons all of their own. Not only have they discovered his identity and captured many of his Black Knights, but they now manipulate the memories of all of his friends. Worst of all, they have taken the most precious thing in his life – his dear sister, Nunnally. With his hatred for the Britannians stronger than ever before, Lelouch must now recuperate his forces and bring their rule of terror to an end.
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