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Code-E to Mission-E Transition: What?!

So I just crossed the boundary between Code-E and its sequel, Mission-E, and I have to say:  What the hell?! No, seriously, WHAT THE HELL?!

I can honestly say I have never seen any direct sequel that has a more drastic mood and thematic change than these two series. I can’t even think of anything that comes close. The Empire Strikes Back and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor are practically twins in comparison. This is one of those situations in which, when you describe it, statements like “That was incongruous!” should include the common adjectival modifier beginning with F, which I have chosen not to use on this website. It’s not just warranted, it’s practically required.

See, Code-E is an unusual little story about a nervous girl trying to work out how to deal with a superpower—being a walking EMP weapon whenever you get excited—whose main effect is making life difficult in the modern world. It technically qualifies as high-school slice-of-life comedy/drama, with a touch of low-key romance. In practice, its defining feature is low key. As in, that series has less excitement than anything this side of Someday’s Dreamers. The episodes have a leisurely pace, the comedy is pleasant and mild-mannered, the drama is incredibly mellow, the romance is even more subtle, and there is absolutely no action at all until the last five minutes of the final episode.

Mission-E is essentially Read or Die with more electromagnetic fields, less paper-based magic. As in, people with crazy superpowers ninja-jumping across rooftops, wicked martial arts knife fights, driving a classic Cobra Mustang through roadblocks, secret organizations, glowy super-suits, and basically a whole bunch of wicked superspy action. In the first episode. Meaning that the mood and onscreen action is the polar opposite of anything in Code-E. Heck, it has more action in the first five minutes than the entire 12 episodes of its prequel.

It’s not that either of these things is bad; quite the contrary, Code-E was enjoyable and Mission-E looks all kinds of interesting. And it’s not that the transition doesn’t make sense within the story—Code-E kept hinting that there were spies (though all we saw were comic relief) and evil organizations at work trying to harness the power of the gifted Type-E people, so it’s no particular stretch to assume five years later (that’s how much time has elapsed), once they got out of school and into the real world, the characters would start to use their assorted talents (both superhuman and not) to do good in the world and take the fight to the bad people. It’s not even that I have a problem with one segueing into the other.

It’s just that calling the change of pace extreme is an understatement. I feel like there is an entire transition series between the two that somebody forgot to make. Maybe two of them. I fail to see how somebody goes to a production company and tells them “I want to make an incredibly low-key high-school slice-of-life series that’s set-up for a raging superpowered action-thriller-comedy.” Who funds that?!

Aside from being completely broken, mentally, by the utter and complete theme reversal, I am enjoying it, and I like the idea of getting attached to some kids in a relatively normal environment then get to see the super-spies they grow up to be (it’s also, come to think of it, pretty unusual to have a series about kids and a sequel about the same people as adults in which the former kids don’t transition to a support role, a la Allison and Lillia or Record of Lodoss War). In fact, it gives you a much better hook into them as adults, and less need to spend time on things like building romance (we’ve already seen that stage, so it’s ok to just start out in a stable, committed relationship, with children in at least one case).

I just feel like I had spent enough time with the characters that I kind of wanted to see some of that transition, rather than having it do a several-year jump just when things were starting to get exciting. Still, very interested in seeing where this is going.

Also, Code-E had a massively incongruent intro theme—exactly the flavor of hyperactive jazz that opened Read or Die, except the accompanying visuals are as everyday and non-active as the rest of the series, and it has nothing to do with the feel of anything else. It would fit perfectly with the sequel, though, and though Mission-E gets a new theme, it’s similar and this time works.

Incidentally, as of this writing all of Code-E and all but the last episode of Mission-E has been fansubbed, but neither are licensed. If that’s still the state of affairs when I get to ep 11, I’m going to have to fansub the last episode so my anime-buddies who don’t speak Japanese can enjoy it, too. If anybody knows how to go about distributing such a thing once it’s finished, drop me an email or leave a comment so I can share. Either that or somebody get around to licensing this thing already!

(Non-sequitur aside: In general description, there are several parallels between Code-E and Code Geass. Both have the word “Code” in the title, both take place in a near-future world in what would geographically be Japan, both star a high school student with a subtle superhuman ability in a world with very few other people with superhuman abilities, and both eventually work toward their protagonists being heroes trying to change the world. It would be difficult to come up with two series that have that many particulars in common that are more diametrically opposite than Code-E and Code Geass. Also, if you took Lelouch and created his exact opposite, you would not get Suzaku, you would actually get Chinami.)

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).