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.