Code Geass: The Search for More Money
(SPOILERS FOR CODE GEASS AHEAD!)
It’s not often that the anime gods answer a fandom’s prayers and grant them a continuation of a long since ended series, but it looks like fans of the mid-2000’s mecha hit Code Geass have gotten just that. For those uninitiated, the series followed an exiled prince as he seized control of a terrorist group with a newly obtained magical superpower called Geass and masked persona called Zero to wreak vengeance against his imperialist father. I myself kept up with the show as it aired its second half back in 2008 and remember the highs and lows the series reached leading up to the famous self-sacrificial death of its protagonist, Lelouch. I also remember the heated debates people got into about whether or not he was truly gone or simply faking it as some faceless cart driver. I dug in my heels on the “dead for reals” side of the argument, and over time wondered if it would even be worth having a sequel to confirm for sure. The story seemed pretty much complete, as far as I could tell.
Well, Studio Sunrise decided to have their cake and eat it too with that mystery, as they released three recap compilation films prior to this one that more or less told the same general story as the series, though with some notable omissions, specifically a certain character’s death. This would prove to be a confusing choice, as said character’s involvement in the later story (where they were previously deceased) didn’t change in any significant way OR set up any major contribution in this sequel. What that basically amounts to is just a single notable difference between the timeline of the show and the timeline of the films. Meaning that, if you prefer to think Lelouch staying dead was the better call, that story is still intact, and if you’d like to think he lived, we now have the films that more openly support that.
So NOW, I can FINALLY start talking about THIS film, which picks up a year or two after Lelouch’s world-saving sacrifice that forced him to take on the role of a ruthless dictator and stage his own assassination so he could leave his little sister Nunnally and best friend Suzaku in charge. And while it would be pretty bold of them to have the whole movie be about this administration stumbling through preserving their hard fought peace, that’s not what I or anyone else came to see in a Code Geass sequel movie. So in the vein of sequel movies to popular anime, a new previously-unseen threat appears on the horizon to cause trouble while some of the cast desperately try to mentally restore a not-dead Lelouch. Eventually, Lelouch and his persona of Zero make their glorious return to save a kidnapped Nunnally from the film’s antagonists while also dealing with the supernatural impact of his actions near the end of the series.
I could argue up and down the pros and cons of making this movie, but it exists at the end of the day, and luckily it wastes no time getting down to a lot of the aspects that fans loved about the main series. Hot people piloting cool mechs (most of which are in 2D!), near perfectly in-character writing for the cast, buckets of fanservice, intense battles, Lelouch’s trademark master chess playing tactics at work, more expansion on the Geass powers, and so on. It pulls from a lot of the better parts of the original series to keep you locked in on a nostalgia trip for the majority of the runtime. You may not go into this movie thinking it should have happened, but you’ll walk out feeling glad on at least some level that it does.
Though that doesn’t mean it isn’t without some flaws or concerns, most notably the necessity of Lelouch’s resurrection both in-universe and out. His character almost serves as a metaphor for the film itself, starting out mindless and not knowing what to do or where to go but spurred to reemerge because other people are just that eager to bring him back, and once he’s back to his former glory he’s just around doing cool stuff and everyone gets over what they don’t like about him coming back to accept that he’s back. What made his death at the end of the series meaningful was that it was both him finding atonement for all the mistakes he had made and lives he had cost in order to secure the peace he had fought for. Bringing him back for this story didn’t necessarily invalidate that, seeing how it wasn’t his intention to survive, but the way it’s handled and reacted to by other characters might.
Everyone who’s not one of the forgettable new villains basically lets bygones be bygones, which deflates a lot of the personal tension that should be there when someone like him is revealed to be alive. It also sends a bit of a mixed message about the world he left behind when it seemed to be going fine until this new threat occurred which can now ONLY be solved by his genius. A threat that, let me remind you, is made by pretty mediocre antagonists who really only serve to check off a list of anime movie bad guy traits and not to really help explore the characters. Most of the movie doesn’t even take place in the area most of the series took place in, so we aren’t given much of a glimpse into HOW things were going, so coupled with everything else it feels a bit like cheating. And that’s more than a bit disappointing coming from a show that prided itself on having finding clever ways out of certain situations.
This movie is meant to kick off a ten year plan for the franchise, though what exactly that entails is unclear and likely depends on the success of this film. It also looks to be taking this newly reborn Lelouch and running with him, even though I couldn’t tell you what else they could possibly do with him as a character even if you put a gun to my head. I’d honestly be more curious about the future of the series if this movie permanently closed the book on Lelouch’s story and made room for new characters to take the stage, since I don’t doubt that there could be plenty of stories to tell that aren’t about the series’ first protagonist. At the very least I’m interested in what they might do next, and I had a pretty enjoyable time watching this on its own, but I’d still recommend the original series (which is now on Netflix in the US) before this or any of the films.