This is going to be a different type of blog post, as I’m going to be talking about the ending first, and then giving my thoughts on the rest of the season. Mostly because the ending is the one thing that people can remember from this season while the rest is… Well after the cut let’s take a dive into the second season of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 and see for ourselves.
To paraphrase a famous anime youtuber once made this quote about Code Geass.
“It is a massive car crash that at the last minute, ends up being able to parallel park perfectly.”
Never before has a quote summed up a series so well, but it is true. Code Geass’s ending is nothing less than a masterstroke of brilliance. Despite probably needing a full season to really establish its ideas, the final two episodes represent everything great about a climax. There are great battle scenes, there are higher and higher stakes. All of the characters, big or small, get a moment to shine, and plot points are wrapped up in more or less a satisfying way. Very much like the ending to Gundam SEED, you can feel everything coming together, and the journey you spent with these characters reaching its final crescendo.
But what is more impressive is how the ending encapsulates the greater themes of its two main characters and delivers a conclusion that feels epicly Shakespearean and satisfyingly fitting. For Lelouch, the man who wishes for a tomorrow, he must die for the sake of the world. For Suzaku, the man who wishes only to die, he must live on in the mask of Zero, a symbol of heroism to the people he has betrayed. The world has been forever changed, but the two people who did more than anything to bring that about can never enjoy it. No matter what else people may say about this series, or how much the march of time shaves off the brighter points, no one can deny that Code Geass really sticks that landing.
Which is good, because the rest of the season is a unmigating mess of a show.
As I expected, watching this series (oh my god) a decade and a half since it’s premiere, I didn’t have the same level of excitement that I did back then. Whether it was age, or a slew of other, sometimes better, anime since then. I look back at the second season of Code Geass as a show that feels both overly stuffed, and desperate to both change and not change. Instead of trying to move Lelouch beyond the cat-and-mouse game that gave the show the nickname of “Death Note with Robots”, we see the show jump back many times to the school hijinks. And while they were decently entertaining (and sexy!) I couldn’t deny that it felt at odds with what the show was at that moment. Geass had moved beyond those moments and should have left them behind. It was as if the anime was afraid of moving away from what made the first season successful and was too afraid to try to do something different, giving the anime a sense of tonal whiplash it is never able to balance. Which is weird, because when the show does move beyond that finally, it gets bogged down by trying to do too much, too fast.
I’m sure people could, and have, written an entire thesis on the entire Charles and Marianne subplot. How it is deep, philosophical and deals with the nature of man, life, lies and how we can’t freeze time in one place. And yes, there are some interesting ideas that are picked at, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that most of it reeks of “Third disc syndrome.” The idea that as a show (usually a mecha) reaches its conclusion, you need to shove in a ton of philosophy at the last minute to make things ‘deep and meaningful’. But here it does not work, and almost derails the entire show. What had once been a overall balanced and enjoyable story of rebellion that balanced the shakespearean drama with high-octane action and a respectable level of sexy. (And I will always give credit to Geass from embracing its ‘culture’ with both hands), instead becoming a strange jumbled mess of ideas and concepts that feels wholly separate from the rest of the show. And while the conclusion almost makes you forget about it, I kept going back and thinking “wtf was with the god shit?”
There are other foibles I had as well. The Chinese subplot feels overly long and takes time away from other ideas that could have used more air. Jeremiah and to a lesser extent Gilford surviving their deaths feels cheap and leaves them trying to find something to do. Rolo sucks as a character, so much that when he dies in the last third of the series, you barely notice he is gone. Suzaku, despite being able to spin-kick a bardisce in half, has nothing to do for vast swaths of the season and feels like a character who ran his course. But frankly those are my hang-ups, and as I said, I don’t like to sit here and nitpick unless it is something that actively derails a series. That being said, it too often feels like the writers had ideas for three seasons, but were forced to both a) make it in two, and b) keep absolutely everything they had planned. It’s a season stuffed at the seams, both bloated with ideas, and weighed down by a desire to keep everything.
Still, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. Because Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is and remains, a landmark series in anime fandom. For those of the fan-sub era, is their Attack on Titan, their Dragonball Z. A show that permeated every inch of the fandom, whose grasp was inescapable. A colossal hit that only comes one or twice a generation. I’m sure some will disagree, saying the honor goes to Full Metal Alchemist, Gurren Lagann, or Death Note, but I do think it is Code Geass that wears that crown proudly. Despite everything I have said, good and bad, I still really enjoyed my time with the series, and I was thrilled to come back and revisit it one more time. This is a piece of anime industry, one of those ‘must-watch’ series, despite being something that hasn’t aged well. If you haven’t seen it yet, or are just getting into anime. Make sure to put this on your list, it’s one you can’t miss.