Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Code Trainwreck Part 1

I’ve got one hell of a bone to pick with Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2. Now to be fair, I loved the original series. It boasted an ambitious alternative-history universe full of multicolored mechs, pulse-pounding political and at times emotional drama, and a delightfully merciless protagonist in the form of Knight Templar Lelouch Lamperouge. After a heart-stopping Wham Episode, the series concluded with a frustrating cliffhanger that all but promised a sequel full of pure, nonstop epic.

So, imagine the disappointment by the time the final credits of R2 had finished rolling. Yare yare. All of the spoilers in the world lie ahead, so beware.

Let me make this clear. R2 did not start falling apart right out of the gate. Slamming the reset button right off the bat worked quite well, even if such an act was expected. The main problem arose when R2 decided to take things a bit too far with regards to its return to the status quo.

Episode 1 was nothing more than a lukewarm welcome back to the series. Appreciable, but nothing to get too excited about on its own. It more or less mirrored the events of the first episode of the original Code Geass, with Lelouch regaining his memories taking on the role of Zero once more. Not great, but not bad either.

However, things started getting a little shaky when Episode 2 turned out to be…well a carbon copy of Episode 2 of the original series as well. Complete with a “mysterious” super-mech that appeared out of nowhere and everything. This would probably mark the first warning light that things were going to eventually come crashing down.

We thought we were in the clear immediately following said episode as R2 had at last found its sea legs and started delivering new content. The next few episodes involved getting re-acquainted with our favorite characters and there were plenty of great cliffhangers to be had such as Lelouch confronting Rolo for the first time or Suzaku’s devilishly manipulative plan to bring Lelouch into contact with Nunnally.

If anything was off, it was probably that there was this unshakable, niggling feeling that things were moving a bit too slow and were a bit too unsettlingly familiar. Even more so when Zero pulled his magnificent “Million Zeroes” gambit and shifted the battle to China. Battle of Narita redux, anyone?

Admittedly, there were some priceless additions such as a hilariously angsty Lelouch in Episode 7. I just wish there was more stuff like that sprinkled throughout the early stages of R2. The next batch of episodes, however, was quite the spectacle.

Episode 13 was arguably the zenith of R2. It finally felt like the series was starting to catch its stride as the pacing was perfect and the whole episode was exciting and shockingly emotional. Not only was there the heartfelt scene between Lelouch and a deliriously washed-up Jeremiah, but, of course, there was Shirley’s death.

It was a monumentally memorable moment to be sure. An anguished Lelouch with tears streaming down his face hovering over the one person he had genuine feelings for whilst desperately ordering her to not die was painfully poignant and the scene was undoubtedly one of the most triumphant examples of Alas Poor Scrappy. It was a masterfully executed and thoroughly tragic death scene that marked the gloomy height of this sequel.

From here on out, however, it was all downhill and terrifyingly fast.

Episode 14 was a mess as it marked the moment R2 decided to go for broke. In theory, starting slow and finishing fast sounds like it would balance out nicely. However, the problem that one inevitably encounters is that innumerable plot threads get woven in the slow parts to kill time and then are hastily abandoned or even forgotten altogether during the fast bits. The Geass cult is one such example.

From the first time we peered into C.C.’s memories, we were intrigued by this shadowy religious organization. But Episode 14 of R2 revealed them to be nothing more than a bunch of anachronistic researchers whose entire headquarters gets decimated by a few mechs in a matter of minutes. I cared less about them then the freakin’ old people who got perforated in the Shinjuku ghetto in the original series for Christ’s sake!

One that note, way to freakin’ go with handling V.V. guys. A heartless, enigmatic mastermind with something magnificently fiendish up his sleeve had so much potential in a universe like Code Geass. And then bam, dead after a brief, two-minute shootout.

I don’t even want to talk about Episode 15, which was a complete disaster. Evangelion, anyone? Since when did Code Geass feel it needed to resort to some of the most superficial and amateur philosophical rumination to grace anime while simultaneously trying to pass it off as thought-provoking and “artsy”? Lelouch and the Emperor ending up in an alternate dimension and the “Thought Elevator” was completely indecipherable garbage as well.

...are they slow-dancing?

I’ll just breeze through the next few episodes, since they don’t contain much of note, good or bad.

Episode 16 – Breather Episode. Wait, I thought we had to pick up the pace since we were going too damn slow in the beginning!

Episode 17 – Lelouch and Suzaku reconcile (sort of). Fairly intriguing.

Episode 18 – Ah yes, a return to form with a bombastic mecha blowout. This episode was actually pretty well done in terms of beefy, exhilarating action, but the ending was way too laughably melodramatic and shamelessly cliffhanger-y, even by Code Geass standards.

Episode 19, on the other hand, was the series’ disheartening nadir as of the Black Knights got together and played a game of hot potato with the Idiot Ball. It was singlehandedly the most openly retarded episode of the entire series.

The issue can be easily summed up with a single question. Why did the Black Knights side with Schneizel?! I’ll concede that Zero was acting more than a bit off as of recent and was making some morally questionable decisions such as going behind his subordinates’ backs with the Geass cult assault or blundering in the midst of the Tokyo showdown. But was that seriously enough to convince the entire army to jump ship and side with the enemy after a 10-minute conversation over a conference table?

This is Schneizel! Even if he wasn’t renowned for being a manipulative bastard, the Black Knights aren’t really going to trust the enemy they’ve been fighting for the past two years over their commander, who’s won them countless victories just because the silver-tongued snake seems honest, are they?! But wait, he also has some easily-fabricated recording of Lelouch admitting he has a supernatural ability to control people and a testimony from a Britannian soldier who their oh-so-righteous deputy-commander had a tryst with!
I hate to admit it but Tamaki has the right idea here:
“A prince with Geass? Where’s the proof of all this bull?”

That’s right, two years of unwavering devotion and trust that was established due to a wealth of actual, tangible successes completely forsaken because of an absurdly stupid fairytale about mind-controlling powers from the enemy commander waggling a dinky bit of concrete evidence. What’s even worse is than the entire mercenary group somehow arrived at the decision to defect in unison, including all of the higher-ups. And all in less than a day! Give me a break.

Okay, okay, Rolo’s death was a touching interlude and even a bit heartbreaking. Another fine example of Alas Poor Scrappy.

Part 2 coming shortly.

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