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Code Geass R2 Final Thoughts

Finally finished Code Geass, so a couple of additional notes on top of my previous comments:

The final six episodes, and the final 4 in particular, completely pull it back together and more or less save the whole thing. It’s where the series was, and should have been, going from the beginning, and a fantastic closing act. Even the mech fighting gets interesting again for the most part, including a final duel sans-flying, which was far cooler than any of the rest of the supermecha overload. Lelouch gets a nice, hard fight and to pull two vicious, carefully-planned blindsides, one of which is, indeed, the best in the series. His ultimate plan—which wasn’t where I necessarily expected the series to go until late in the game, but made perfect sense and was was satisfyingly decipherable—was characteristically unsympathetic and merciless in its execution. One hell of a finale—in some ways literally—to be sure.

It’s also painfully obvious that with minor adjustment the end segment could have immediately followed the first two seasons and the series wold have been better for it. Almost more annoying, the glut of new characters introduced during the filler in the first two thirds of R2, and some of the filler plot, made it impossible to just say “skip the first 18 episodes of R2″—there’s only a few good bits, but you’d feel like you missed as much as you actually had.  It also glossed over several decent sub-plots in a montage near the end that could easily have been more interesting than most of the fanservice-heavy filler.

In closing, two heavily spoiler-riffic comments that are mostly musing to myself, though if anybody has a good answer I’d love to hear it:

One, the series seemed to go a little soft at the end, letting far more characters survive—happily, even—than I was expecting. I’m actually not at all one for tragedy—I much prefer happy endings—but this series had laid on the melodrama so thick that having it get nice to so many in the huge main cast seemed out of character. I expect it was yet another cave to fans (as with the rest of the fanservice in R2) but really, it wasn’t necessary and took away a little of the impact. I will confess to being happy the maid lived, but the double-twist with Nunally was somewhere between a twist of the knife and far too kind. Not quite sure which, really, though if nothing else it served to demonstrate Lelouch’s dedication to doing something decent (on a large scale) at any cost.

Two, which follows from that, is what we were meant to infer from C.C.’s comment in the last shot. You could assume that she’s talking to dead people again, but I’m guessing not. On the one hand, having Lelouch live takes a lot of the punch out of the end. On the other, I’ll buy that, presuming he is alive, he had no other choice to grant C.C.’s end of the bargain, and he was not the type to go back on his word. The question, then, becomes mindset; certainly he was willing to put his life on the line from the beginning, so he wasn’t exactly the save-his-own-skin type regardless of how many backup plans he kept handy, at some point he seemed to develop a death wish, accepting that as punishment for his sins, and in addition to attempting to sacrifice himself for the greater good at least once he even attempted to exile himself to an eternal, undying purgatory.

Now, had Nunally been dead, living (in fact, being unable to die) would have been a most fitting punishment, and that’s where I had been expecting it to go. If she’d lived and he died, that also would be appropriately fitting. Since they both (presumably) lived, though, there’s real question of why he would have accepted survival. Possibilities:

Did he stay alive for the sole reason of granting C.C.’s wish, condemning himself to exile in a world where he can have contact with no one else, ever? That’s acceptable self-punishment, and I’d accept that as motivation fitting for his character.

Or, do we read it as a semi-happy end for him—if so, that’s just weak, and doesn’t really align with his character. If we further interpret the folded crane to mean that he talked to Nunally before exiling himself, that’s even lamer. He wasn’t the half-assed type, and it’d mean he would burden his sister with the knowledge he was immortal and exiled.

Personally, given the horrors he willingly wrought, and that he seemed increasingly burdened by them as he went “more good,” I’ll chose to believe that, assuming he’s alive, it’s still punishment for him (particularly once C.C. eventually dies and he is truly alone). It’s in character and the end emotionally works better that way, too.

Of course, given the pandering the series already succumbed to, there is this nagging feeling that they wanted to leave a loophole for another sequel. That, certainly, would be lame, and Pizza Hut says it’s probably the truth.

Code Geass R2 Wrapup: Yep, Largely Filler

Finally wrapping up Code Geass R2 after a long, up-and-down journey.  It does finally get somewhere with about a half-dozen episodes left.  It also continues to go out of its way to shoot itself in the foot in every way possible—one I didn’t see coming, but probably should have, was a blatant Eva-esque metaphysical nosedive. Yet, Lelouch keeps doing awesome things that keep me mostly enjoying it, and wishing it would’ve quit while it was ahead.  (If nothing else, he gets credit for the big “tempted-by-the-bad-guy” moment—one which unlike most actually had decent reason to sway his resolve. It took him about a second and a half to get to “You’re nuts, this is stupid, die.”  If only every other hero had that kind of spine.)

More substantially, it’s now abundantly clear that the series was just churning out filler for the entire season and a half of the R2 run up to that point. Not that some of it wasn’t interesting—it had some fun with Lelouch absolutely owning his fake brother Rolo through artificial kindness—but with a minimum of adjustment everything between episodes 1 and 18 of R2 could have been cut out and it would have flowed perfectly well from the first 26 episodes. In fact, there was enough extra stuff in those first two seasons that the whole series probably could have been fit into 26 episodes without losing anything substantial.  36 episodes would have been more than enough (an ironic reversal of Escaflowne’s abortive 3rd season end—that’s the only series that comes to mind that really needed 4 seasons, which of course it didn’t get).

It was, for the most part, just re-enacting stuff that had already been done, with minor adjustments. Even more disappointingly, several things it did seem to be setting up as new and interesting got ditched in favor, largely, of more mecha fighting. There’s a big Ougi/Villetta scene that appears to have been entirely edited out, the ultra-badass Chinese dude more or less vanishes after his big, somewhat arbitrary moment, and there’s some stuff with C.C. that seemed to peter out before it got anywhere.

And don’t even get me started about the epic levels of super-mecha overload (no, sorry, I meant stuper-mecha) by the time the big showdown rolls around. I had completely lost count, but among other things we had an entire team of girls in there somewhere who were explicitly piloting “Valkyries,” as if the cheesy-looking transforming mech that was a complete visual ripoff of a Valkyrie wasn’t enough. Pretty much everything can fly now, of course, which was an area that it had been SO good about for most of the first series. Plus a mech that Lelouch can actually pilot because it involves lots of typing or calculations or something.

Oh, and there’s actually a rocket punch in the big melee. Once you put that in, you might as well just have Ichirou Mizuki do the theme song and call it a day.

Oh well, at least there’s some real potential for the last few episodes to do an interesting final twist if it’s going where I think it is (the big moment the whole thing has been building toward, interestingly, is not the end—there’s a surprising amount of extra stuff after, and from the looks of it something substantial). This is assuming that they did, from the beginning, know this is where it was headed and just padded for marketing reasons. There’s also the chance that they didn’t know where it was going and just started flailing for ideas. Which the big, rather abrupt, reveal about what was up with C.C. talking to dead people and the Emperor’s whole big plan made me suspicious of (and if it was planned like that from the beginning, it wasn’t planned very well).

First impressions of five random shows

A quick rundown on a selection of first episodes I checked out recently:

Welcome to the NHK:  This series sounded interesting to me, and while I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect it certainly wasn’t what I got.  Sorta like halfway between Genshiken and Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, it appears to be about a college-age hikikomori guy (recluse who never leaves his apartment) who has gone at least mildly insane due in part to the anime music his neighbor plays loudly and is drawn out of seclusion by the daughter of an evangelical Christian. I have no idea whatsoever where it’s going, but the mix of surrealist cracked fantasy in the guy’s head (his appliances start talking to him and he has… interesting ideas about what the girl must do in her free time) and low-key slice-of-lifeishness (of weird people) is intriguing.

Godannar: Like the sequel to a classic giant robot anime that never was, it is about the heroic pilot of a giant mecha and the young girl he’s marrying. The big war has been over for a while, but there’s still mopping up of giant monsters to do, and in a presumably-comic take on Myra and Max from Robotech the possibly-not-so-happy couple end up piloting mecha together fighting evil. The first episode features a variety of old-school, appropriately cheesy, over-the-top classic mecha action and large amounts of wedding-day innuendo/symbolism involving merging mecha (flashbacks of Vandread). The main question appears to be how seriously it’s going to take itself; so far pretty over the top, but if it starts being more mecha series and less comedy it won’t bode well.

When Seagulls Cry:  Intriguing, confusing. Watched this with someone who’d read the visual novel, but I’m not sure how much I’d be following without someone there to fill in the gaps glossed over in the animated version. Focused on a very rich, rather dysfunctional family at their annual get-together where they verbally joust and try to wring an inheritance out of the ailing (maybe) patriarch, the first episode introduces a cast of at least a dozen when you count the help. I assume there won’t be many more added, but the character overload was tough to keep up with and the involved infighting hits the ground running. On the stronger side, the three kids in the group aren’t part of the posturing and seem to provide a little levity—particularly the late-teen male lead (at least, I’m guessing he is), who does a few rather goofy grope attempts (which I’m told are more of a coping mechanism than straight comedy). Another strong point is a preteen girl with an annoying way of talking—it was getting on my nerves a little until her mother flew into a screaming rage about it, quickly shifting the tone from “annoying anime thing” to “it’s apparently a symptom of psychological issues, and people around her are very much not ignoring it.”  Relatively powerful drama for so early on, as well, and there are creepy hints galore about “the witch” who presumably is doing unpleasant things to/with the patriarch. Bonus points for several brief flashes of “cute little girl suddenly going way creepy.”

Maria+Holic:  A hard-edged parody of Maria Watches Over Us (et al) with shades of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (I said this based off style and noticing Maria’s voice actor, but now that I look it up it’s no coincidence—both the director and series director worked on Zetsubo Sensei and sequel, as did the majority of the main cast). The plot isn’t wildly original; apparently normal girl transfers into an elite all-girls Christian boarding school, meets elegant, beautiful, powerful, rich girl as soon as she sets foot on campus, ambiguous relationships ensue. The standard comedy twist is that the girl she meets is actually a guy in disguise, the lead breaks out in hives when she touches men, and of course they hate each other and end up in the same dorm room. The interesting twist comes from the extreme characters; the lead is a drooling, nosebleed-prone lesbian—no yuri or euphemisms here—the guy is vicious and hammer-blunt when he’s not being a perfect, refined lady, and his deadpan maid is impressively foul-mouthed. The humor appears to be as much from the lead’s completely loony internal monologue and fantasy images (part of what brought Zetsubo Sensei to mind). How far it goes with that, and whether it ends up annoying or hilarious, the jury is out on, but so far I very much like what I see.  Might even be lesbians without the tragic, though I’m expecting a predicable turn straight when she eventually goes for the guy. On the other hand, it looks cracked enough that maybe it won’t take the obvious path.

UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie:  Ouch.  The first episode takes place somewhere well into the series, apparently to hook you by showing you where the stupidity is eventually heading before going back to the beginning. All this did for me was show that it’s not going anywhere interesting, at all. Painfully lame drama, generic characters, lots and lots of fanservice—in a near-trifecta there is a literal platoon of catgirl maids (with a bonus dash of assault squad). About the only plus is that the thing that had me cringing before even starting—the aggregation on the RightStuf product page of the words “bathhouse” “8-year old body” and “Rating: 17+”—didn’t turn out quite as horrifying as I feared.  The roughly-adult main love interest transforms into a little kid after crashing on earth and nearly killing the generic niceguy protagonist then pulling a Birdy (or somesuch) to keep him alive. Instead of horrifying “she only looks eight” fanservice, the tack appears to be that she mentally reverts, too, so really she’s just an annoying kid and the main character is wondering where the hot, mature love-interest went and how long he’s going to have to play babysitter until she comes back. Doesn’t matter, though—it’s still wildly unoriginal, hugely predictable, seems to have an overload of cringeworthy drama, and just plain not funny or fun.  Also, the modern-day-like future in which aliens are everywhere has some potential, but the show just doesn’t seem to do anything with it.  Usually I’ll reserve judgement, but this one only took a couple episodes (one, really) to put it in the masochistic, “only if I’m heckling” bin.