Just passed the halfway mark in the two seasons that make up Code Geass R2, and I’m kind of torn.
“Season 1″ (really seasons 1 and 2, as I count seasons literally, meaning the 13-episode, 3-month chunks TV anime is produced in) ended on a heckuva cliffhanger, but the question was how it could possibly keep up that kind of momentum for another 26 episodes. Well, it couldn’t—they hit the narrative reset button between seasons and a good half of the first 13 episodes of R2 have been basically an adjusted replay of similar events in the first series.
That alone was annoying, but, hey, there was still Lelouch being a raging mastermind villain fighting for justice, and some nice tweaks to the formula. However, in what I can only assume was an attempt to cash in on popularity (the constant Pizza Hut plugs pretty much proved that they had no shame), the blatant fanservice quotient has gone through the roof in a series where that was already the weakest area.
Yes, I admit, the idea of a ninja maid is pretty cool, and maybe could have even worked in this series by itself. Then you toss that in with what is, thus far, at least eight uber-mechs (one of which has the dorkiest weapon since the Gunbuster’s cape, and another of which is a Valkyrie with a new paint job), such a huge cast of characters I’m having trouble keeping track of who’s doing what, several heel-face turns that would do pro wrestling proud, and a couple excuses for random skin, and… well, it’s unfortunate. Basically soap-operatic in the bad way.
The uber-mechs are a particularly nasty symptom of Gundam-fan overload, moreso since the series had sort of made a point of it being Lelouch’s thing to win fights without fighting. Sure, he had the Gawain toward the end of the first two seasons, but that was pretty much an anti-aircraft win button whose sole purpose was to make him scary without actually giving him the ability to fight his way out of a wet paper bag.
An on Lelouch, he has gotten somewhat more sympathetic—a turn I don’t really mind—but is also doing a lot less in the way of wicked, meticulous strategy. Which, to be honest, was what made the entire thing worth watching, period. Even the twist of pitting him against someone as calculating as he is is a little disappointing, since the fun was watching him outwit everyone (including himself).
It’s still pulling off the occasional good scene and a few appropriately tragic gutpunch moments (one of the inevitable character deaths was handled particularly well, replacing the standard trickle of blood from the corner of the mouth with glimpses of blood pulsing out of a wound with each heartbeat). But, it feels so shameless the other half of the time I’m just not as into it. I’m going to follow it through, and I have some hope for a big finale built through the final season (there are a whole lot of characters left to die tragically), but it’s got a lot of lame to make up for.
[Edit: I totally forgot to note two other things. One, the best moment of R2 thus far was easily when Lelouch gives a spot-on rendition of the heartfelt hero speech trying to sway someone to his cause... which was not only completely disingenuous, but carefully set up to have maximum dramatic impact. The other, each of the four seasons has a different opening theme, which have been going steadily downhill. The first one was a spot-on Ali Project number, the second was weaker but still good, the third (first half of R2) was passable, and the fourth is downright lame. At least Ali Project is back on a new outro, which also includes considerably less bondage-angel imagery. So shoujo in the first outro of R2.]
I have a somewhat tangential rant that’s been fermenting for a while about the danger of any series that goes on for this long, but it’s long enough that I think I’ll save it for later. So, anyway, R2 seems to have missed one of the hairpin shoujo curves and driven off the cliff into a lake of fanservice, but at least Lelouch is still in the driver’s seat and the vehicle hasn’t sunk yet.