Code Geass 2 anime review

Code Geass 2 anime review
It's been one year since the failure of the Black Rebellion and the supposed death of Zero. Britannia has assigned Area 11 a "correctional education" status, where Elevens are made an example of by brute force, to try to prevent any future uprisings and suppress rebellious thoughts. Unsuspecting high school student Lelouch, oblivious to his rebellious past as Zero, stumbles upon a scheme on his life and the life of a mysterious woman known as C.C., who reveals to him his forgotten purpose and his "true" self. Destroying his assailants and declaring himself Zero once again, Lelouch sets out to finish what he started.

Code Geass R2, the two-season continuation of Code Geass, is 75% marketing-driven filler and does everything it can to try and screw a spectacular series up. It very nearly succeeds, but the quality of the foundation is enough to keep the filler watchable and the eventual conclusion pulls everything back together for a worthy finale.

What went wrong? Presumably, Code Geass was so successful that the order came down to move it to a prime timeslot, add an extra season, and milk every last drop of commercial value out of it. The result is a litany of cheap attempts to make the series more marketable, as if the shameless flogging of Pizza Hut wasn't bad enough. (Though after a literal billboard early on, the blatant plugs are actually less frequent than before.) The bright side is that, once the finale finally arrives, it's an appropriately gripping Lelouch-fueled spectacle.

In the interim, the variety of ammunition R2 employs in the ongoing attempt to shoot itself in the foot (no, both feet) is impressive.

The most obvious thing it does wrong is not ending as soon as it starts.

The first series rushed into a cliffhanger end and left me wondering where another 26 episodes would fit in. They don't; it uses a Geass twist to essentially push the narrative reset button. By the time R2 finally gets to the endgame around the three-quarters mark it's clear that most of the preceding 20 episodes were unnecessary rehash getting back to where it should have been in episode 1.

It's depressingly obvious that the writers hadn't planned on much (if any) of the filler. The damning evidence ranges from overall repetition to smaller things like the build-up about Shirley's diary page getting ditched, replaced later by a different plot device with the same effect.

As much as I want to say "Just skip the first 20 episodes," that wouldn't work. From a narrative standpoint they're mostly repeating things that already happened in different context, but too many of the soap-operatic twists and turns worm their way into the final story arc to ignore. Maybe you could watch it while you're doing something else, and only pay close attention when Lelouch does something awesome.

Next on the laundry list is the fanservice. Several excuses to put female cast members in skimpy swimwear could, perhaps, be overlooked. A ninja-maid, less so. Revealing Sayoko as a sleeper agent was a nice twist; a ninja sleeper agent, that's just pandering. Fun, but stupid.

Then there's the ever-increasing cast of colorful characters, half of whom end up at Ashford Academy and exist mostly to fill a fan-favorite niche. The few who are passably interesting get short-changed in terms of development anyway.

Take, for example, Knights of the Round supersoldier Anya: Pink-haired, fifteen years old, and pilots a dippy-looking walking cannon. She spends most of the series being an improbable schoolyard nuisance, giving people quizzical looks and photographing them. Now, when her motivation is finally revealed it's reasonably interesting--in a world where memories can't be trusted, she's grasping for something immutable. But, rather than making something of this, she's promptly jettisoned in favor of more central characters.

Worse is Chinese super-warrior Xingke. He's pretty, he's a tactician to rival Lelouch, he's a pilot to rival Suzaku, he has an unrequited love for someone above his station, and he's got one of those unnamed terminal illnesses whose only symptom is coughing up blood at dramatic moments. He is also completely forgotten as soon as his big moment as the antagonist is resolved, relegated to occasional appearances when it's unavoidable.

The only newly-introduced character that actually gets a fare shake is Lelouch's fake brother Rolo, a marvelous, tragic combination of fragile child and cold-blooded assassin. Lelouch, of course, ends up owning him, in heartless, calculating fashion.

Speaking of whom, Lelouch is the other big exception. As he edges closer to being a hero--putting the greater good above simple protection of the weak spurred by his sister--the ruthless execution of his plans seems to weigh heavier on him, as does his self-appointed role as sin-eater.

Sadly, past him, even continuing figures like Ohgi and Viletta have major--and potentially quite interesting--subplots that are either forgotten or cut short. Given that the whole thing is filler anyway, it's particularly insulting to ignore worthwhile tangents in favor of ones introduced out of the blue. Which also get short-changed.

Where things really take a nosedive, though, is the mecha. The relative restraint had been admirable--apart from Lelouch's anti-aircraft win button (which served to keep him central without actually giving him any skill) the giant robots were relatively down-to-earth. (Both figuratively and literally, since they couldn't fly outside of exceptional circumstances and creative grappling-cable-fu.)

No more. In R2 everything can fly, armies routinely fall to a single uber-mech, and the fanservice-on-legs menagerie looks increasingly like Gundam refugees or something Bandai sells to 10-year-olds. I'd lost count by the final battle, but we were somewhere around a dozen named machines ranging from Lelouch's new "type really fast to win battles" juggernaut to a transforming jet that's a Macross Valkyrie with a new paint job. (Plus an all-female team explicitly piloting things called Valkyries.)

I wasn't even surprised by the time someone inevitably used that ultimate mecha cliche, the rocket punch. It's not that they didn't know how to do a cool battle, either--the final, vicious, one-on-one duel mercifully takes place sans flying equipment and goofy weapons.

The one quality-suicide attempt I didn't see coming, but probably should have, is an Evangelion-inspired metaphysical showdown that kicks off the finale. Thankfully, that's where it gets back on track--Lelouch wastes no time dealing with it how you always wish heroes would, making the whole sidestep forgivable. The series then spends several episodes in a much more concrete endgame.

Now, back to Lelouch. Code Geass runs on Lelouch and his Machiavellian schemes, so the real make-or-break of R2 is whether he gets to do his thing. At the end, hoo-boy, does he ever. The middle stretch, however, is again disappointing--creative Geass use, vicious backstabs, and wicked reveals are disappointingly sparse. Still, there's a fantastic bit early on where he gives a pitch-perfect, heartstring-tugging hero speech, which is revealed to be carefully manufactured and completely disingenuous. The exodus from Japan is also spectacular.

And in the end, that's what kept me watching R2. For all the attempts at self-destruction, there are enough interesting scenes and occasional bits of Lelouch brilliance to hold it together until it gets back on track.

As for the good part, it doesn't end up at all where you might think it's going, but once it gets there it makes perfect sense.

The chaotic finale of the first series had one flaw: Instead of the rickety tower of fragile alliances and double-crosses finally collapsing under its own weight, fate just steps in and smashes the whole thing with a baseball bat. The speed and totality with which everything went from hopeful to Hell was amazing, but the method seemed downright crude by the standards the series had set for itself.

R2 makes no such mistake--since it's no longer rushing to wrap up only to start over, it lets the drama and convoluted plans play out in full. The result is exactly the sort of Lelouch-driven, bloody symphony of heroism-through-villainy you would hope for.

My only complaint, and this likely comes from the ongoing attempts to appease fans, is that it's uncharacteristically merciful to the characters. Oh, it's still brutal--the body count is high and the tragedy multi-layered--but when all is said and done it wasn't even close to the spectacle of the first series. I'm not a big fan of tragedy, but if ever there was a series that shouldn't ease up at the end, it's Code Geass.1

You could, I suppose, argue that "hope through horror" is the motto of R2, and there are still a few beautifully tragic moments. In fact, one of the best bits in the middle section is a death scene in which quick cuts to blood subtly welling up from a chest wound capture life slipping away more effectively than histrionics or swelling soundtrack.

On that note, the visuals are one area where R2 consistently lives up to its predecessor--fluid animation, moody settings, and sharp, evocative character art. Stooper-mecha aside, the battles are animated beautifully. The music, not so much; while the background score remains solid, the two new opening themes go from mediocre to downright lame. At least Ali Project is back for the final end theme.

The Japanese acting is, again, a spectacle, with Jun Fukuyama's Lelouch at the charismatic, split-personalitied, megalomanic center of it all. There isn't quite the level of brutal emotional trauma anchoring the drama that the first series had, but the supporting cast features a wide variety of colorful voices. The most memorable of the new cast members is again Rollo, for his fragile, chillingly pleasant voice.

In the end the biggest tragedy of R2 is that it takes a wicked twist on a commercial genre, then does everything it can to re-commercialize and bleed it dry. Yet, for everything it does wrong, the characters and concept are strong enough to weather the marketing-driven storm--greed and its partner Pizza Hut fail to kill the series. When it finally gets to where it should have started it dishes out a fitting climax to a spectacularly malicious series.

Better than review, is a Trailer video of: Code Geass 2. Watch it now:
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