Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 20th 2009
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
DVD Part 3
With his funding secured and his army of political vigilantes swelling, Lelouch is finally on the cusp of driving Britannia from Area Eleven (AKA Japan). The one thorn in his side is Suzaku, who has agreed to serve Princess Euphemia. He devises one of his usual ingenious traps to capture Suzaku and his Knightmare Lancelot. Like any good Lelouch plot, it self-destructs spectacularly, stranding Lelouch, Euphemia, Suzaku and Kallen on a deserted island. After escaping from the island in a prototype Knightmare named Gawain, Lelouch-as-Zero briefly joins hands with Suzaku to defend Japan from the Chinese, but when Euphemia's pet project—the creation of a Specially Administrated Zone where Eleven's can once again call themselves Japanese—implodes, any goodwill they shared is reduced to ashes by white-hot hatred.
This final set encompasses Goro Taniguchi's monster hit at its most breathlessly exciting and bitterly frustrating. Parsing out delicious little appetizers about CC and the Geass power and short, powerful jolts of emotional conflict, Code Geass careens entertainingly about for a couple of episodes before hitting its deadly stride in episode twenty two, powering through a blaze of lightning plot twists with locomotive force that leaves little time to ponder just how improbable the whole thing is. And then, like a buffalo in one of those storied Indian traps, it charges straight off a cliff, ending its first season with an abruptness that no series with its second season still in production should ever dare.
But that daring is exactly why the series is so popular, and such damnable fun to watch. Taniguchi never lets the series run long before throwing another kink into the mix—the introduction of the oh-so-mysterious V.V and Second Prince Schneizel, Lelouch's evolving Geass, Euphy's peace plans—tying the plot into knots and then clubbing viewers over the head with them. Often he goes to feral extremes in his desire to keep his audience unbalanced, killing, wiping memories and strong-arming characters into situations in which they are forced to act in unpleasant and morally compromising ways. It makes for undeniably engrossing and, towards the end, nail-bitingly tense viewing—even the Japanese cast admits to being reduced to viewers of the series, checking each week to see if their characters are still alive and unharmed.
Any risk, though, carries with it the possibility of failure. Keeping the hooks in requires the already ripe series to escalate with each confrontation. The battles get bigger, more complicated and more spectacular. Zero's theatrics grow until they take on apocalyptic overtones. Important characters get drawn ever further into Lelouch's machinations, until not even his sister or Euphy is safe. And eventually Suzaku and Lelouch's friendship/rivalry takes on the antagonistic tone that everyone knew it would, curdling, with the sickening suddenness characteristic of the show, into homicidal bloodlust. The density of bloodthirsty sensationalism, preposterous grandstanding and pure excess in these two volumes dwarfs that of all preceding volumes, consequently increasing the instances during which the series crosses the line into absurdity and unintentional humor. The series has always flirted with camp, particularly where Zero is concerned, but after Euphy's ill-fated peace talks, the show seems to dispense with foreplay altogether goes straight into having rowdy sex.
But, even at its most hysterical, and no matter how arduously it courts it, you can't honestly call the series camp. It's simply too good for that. In part because Taniguchi executes the excesses of his series with care, skillfully intercutting events as Lelouch's plans come together (or fall apart) and using kinetic mecha combat, Clamp's baroque character and costume designs, and Kotaro Nakagawa's rousing score to push the series thunderously over-the-top. He makes oft-thrilling use of Sunrise's typically slick animation, sending his unusually acrobatic mecha hurtling through mazes of airborne debris and falling buildings. Animation character designer Takahiro Kimura's willingness to put very ugly expressions on pretty faces makes for some delightfully overwrought emotional peaks, and even if they aren't particularly awe-inspiring, the mechanical designs for Lancelot and Gawain are just as flamboyant as their pilots. Ah, yes, and for the more carnally minded among us, there's a gloriously detailed and gloriously nude action scene featuring the eminently edible Kallen.
However, candy is after all just candy. Most of the credit for rescuing the series whenever it grows too bombastic and wildly improbable ultimately must go to the cast. Though unimpressive at first, the series' core cast grows surprisingly human as they navigate the meat-grinder of Taniguchi and screenwriter Ichiro Okouchi's plot. Lelouch is still a self-absorbed bastard, but he's proven to be a fallible and conflicted self-absorbed bastard, whose quest to protect his sister comes more and more to resemble the kind of hubris that has spelled the doom of heroes since the time of Greek tragedy. Kallen's complicated feelings for Zero add an emotional dimension to her no-nonsense personality and Suzaku gets several chances to allow the intolerance underlying his principled exterior to float to the surface. Even ultimate ice-queen C.C. has filled out and grown curiously likeable. Together they're a force that draws one in, keeping viewers close enough to, and invested enough in, the action to make the fact that the series is a sprawling web of baldly manipulative melodramatic set-pieces seem moot.
Bandai's English dub, in an odd reversal of usual dub/sub relations, is actually the more reserved of the two versions. It's pretty solid work all around, and handles the heavy emotions of the last four episodes better than anyone had a right to expect. It's also incredibly faithful, preserving nearly every word of the original's terrible dialogue. What it lacks is the original's color—too often the English cast is content to act out their roles when they should be chewing the scenery and spitting it in each other's faces. Johnny Yong Bosch's Lelouch is fine in his own right, but when compared to Jun Fukuyama's prancing amoral monster with a heart of badly disguised glass, he can't help seeming a little pale and wan.
Having broadcast both the English and Japanese versions of Code Geass, Bandai may need a little extra bait to get consumers to bite on their DVD release. They provide it in the form of a mess of extras, including promos and clean versions of all of the opening and closing sequences on these discs (there are several), but also encompassing decent interviews with the English main cast, three “Picture Dramas” that patch up some gaps in the chronology, and three highly entertaining episode-long commentaries featuring different members of the Japanese cast and crew.
The final leg of the first season heaps on the vainglorious posturing, howling angst, and fragmented mysteries with nearly haphazard abandon, and somehow only whets the appetite for more. The dropped-off-the-edge-of-the-world ending is a serious disappointment, but the severity of the anger it evokes is merely a reflection of how acute the anticipation for future episodes is. Shiny, sloppy and hugely entertaining, these final eight episodes prove exactly why Code Geass is the phenomenon that it is.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Fantastic mecha action and ridiculously intense emotional conflict fuel a climax of unstoppable momentum.
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