Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Anime review: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2

One year after the events of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, members of the Black Knights have either been imprisoned, disarmed, or are on the run from Britannian forces. Following the chain of events at Kamine Island, Lelouch has forgotten who he once was and is living out an average life in Area 11. Viewers are tipped off pretty early on that things are not going to stay calm for long, as Lelouch is seen travelling with a younger student named Rollo, who he calls his ‘brother’, and Lelouch even crosses paths with Kallen Kozuki on his way to play a round of chess. The building which all three have entered is then attacked by Black Knight forces who seemingly come out of nowhere, led by C.C., and attempt to bring Lelouch with them, though he doesn’t understand why. Eventually, C.C. restores Lelouch’s memories, which he then uses to clear an escape route for the Black Knights. The group reconvenes at the Chinese Confederation Consulate, where Lelouch (under the guise of Zero once again) calls forth the remaining Black Knight forces and plans out rescue operations for those imprisoned.

Suzaku, on the other hand, joined the Knights of the Round after bringing Lelouch before the Emperor of Britannia, and is now among the elite Knightmare pilots Britannia has to offer. While Suzaku’s story is fairly interesting towards the end of R2 and helps to drastically change the focus of the story, overall it’s pretty much the same as it was in Lelouch of Rebellion, save for Suzaku’s military rank. His character is still engaging enough, unlike the other Knights of the Round. Many of these knights don’t appear until very late in the show and just show up to be tough and then die. Those that do receive significant roles are fairly stereotypical and don’t change much.

With many Britannian spies watching Lelouch’s every move, the series is much more tense when covering Lelouch’s time at the Ashford Academy. The fact that Zero has so many comrades, yet Lelouch must play everything off as if he has not yet recollected his memories makes for a very interesting dynamic and the writers go the extra distance in both pushing Lelouch and Zero apart as well as bringing them closer together. Lelocuh/Zero's cunning nature leads him to manipulate many people in R2, often without the aid of his Geass and solidifies him as a truly intriguing anti-hero.

Much like Lelouch of the Rebellion, R2 incorporates some strange situational humor, the majority of which occurs at the Ashford Academy, such as when Lelouch must partake in a ‘love hunt’ game put on by Milly. These scenes are fewer and farther between than in Lelouch of the Rebellion, so it’s nice to see that the writers opted to make the story more serious this time around. That said, not a single one of the scenes really advances the plot or develops the characters in any way and the show would have greatly benefitted from these being reworked or completely removed.

R2 is much darker than its predecessor and the story does benefit a great deal from that, for the most part. The return of Jeremiah and his new Geass-canceller shakes Lelouch’s plans up quite a bit, and the hunts led by Zero to wipe out humans being trained with Geass abilities paints a much more adult narrative than in Lelouch of the Rebellion. Lelouch even enters a depressive state during R2, using his Geass on Japanese thugs to toy with them for his own amusement, and almost using Refrain, the memory-resurfacing drug briefly introduced in Lelouch of the Rebellion.

While Zero’s methods never ceased to surprise me, R2 did lose some of its luster about halfway through, when the Black Knights headed out to China and the focus shifted to Suzaku for a large portion of the story. With the other Knights of the Round being relatively flat characters that receive little development, things got to be quite stale in regards to Suzaku’s story. Thankfully, Suzaku’s story is largely overshadowed by the backstory of C.C., one of the most intriguing twists to the overarching story of the two seasons. The mystery surrounding Lady Marianne’s death comes to a close late in R2 as well, though it may not be the conclusion every viewer was hoping for. It makes sense in the context of the story, but the buildup it receives from Lelouch’s conspiracy theories and interrogations with fellow royal family members is far more interesting than the actual resolution.

The soundtrack puts heavy emphasis on percussion instruments including chimes and bells, as well as higher brass and woodwind instruments. The attempts to make R2’s soundtrack seem more epic and dramatic than that of Lelouch of the Rebellion may come off as reminiscent of old 1950s and 1960s horror films, and no piece seems to fit any given scene as well as in its predecessor. The animation has received a boost and colors are far more vibrant during occurrences at Ashford Academy, and dark and cool when dealing with the mysteries surrounding Geass and its origin. The action scenes in R2 are great improvements over those in Lelouch of the Rebellion, and a number of different fighting styles mixes things up. Some of the Knightmare frames seem a bit ridiculous at times, though only on a handful of ocassions.

The voice actors return to reprise their roles, both in the Japanese version as well as the English dub. Jun Fukuyama (in the Japanese version) and Johnny Yong Bosch (in the English dub) both one-up their performances from the first season, bringing forth spectacular (and sometimes spine-tinglingly believable) portrayals of Lelouch. However, in both versions, the newcomers to the cast seem to either fit their respective character very well, delivering believable lines, or they miss the mark completely and come across as particularly uninspired.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 is a bit more fast-paced than its predecessor, and it feels like many of the inner-weaving stories of R2 could have been introduced in the first season. The returning characters are just as enjoyable as before or in some cases, even more intriguing. R2 is more focused on C.C., Geass, and Zero, as opposed to the focus Lelouch of the Rebellion put on Britannia and the Black Knights. The introduction of both the Knights of the Round and the events taking place in the Chinese Confederation seem a bit forced and these aren’t nearly as engaging as many of the other stories explored in the combined seasons of Code Geass. The darker themes within R2 fuel both Zero and the Britannian royal family in going to drastic measures to achieve their own ends. Every question asked will receive an answer, but viewers will probably find some to be more satisfying than others.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

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