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Code Geass: Rozé of the Recapture
Episode 1

by Caitlin Moore,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Code Geass: Rozé of the Recapture ?
Community score: 3.7

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When Code Geass: Rozé of the Recapture was announced, my first reaction was, “Does the world need more Code Geass?” It's not that I don't like the series; in fact, quite the opposite. It's been a presence in some of my life's key moments, so even if I didn't actively enjoy its campy theatricality, I have a massive soft spot for it. But still, with Lelouche's goals decidedly met, there didn't seem to be much of a reason to revisit the world, which doesn't hold a lot of inherent interest outside the plot.

But then, maybe it did. With the collapse of the Britannian Empire, the world of Code Geass would enter postcolonialism. It's not like when an empire withdraws, everything is peachy-keen for the former colonies they leave behind. It's a troubling, tumultuous time, with enough complexity to spawn an entire subfield of critical studies and international relations. What would being decolonized mean for the Japanese people's identity? What kind of government would appear in the vacuum left in the wake of Charles vi Britannia and his many terrible children? A story that could grapple with these questions would prove to be fascinating.

All that hope went out the window within the first few minutes of the episode. After a brief prologue of a pair of twin girls getting blasted off a snowy cliff, some expository monologue gives a rundown of the current state of the world and somehow, the Britannian Empire returned. Sure, it's now called Neo-Britannia, but it's up to all its old tricks, including the rampant oppression of the Japanese people and attempted stripping them of their cultural identity by calling them “Elevens.” It's an incredibly lazy choice, devoid of creativity and designed to try to recapture the magic of the original. Unfortunately, it was also a harbinger of everything to follow.

The story opens in earnest with Gran and Greede Kirkwayne, a pair of Neo-Britannian figures, playing target practice on a Japanese man with a target painted on his stomach. When their victims object that they're not terrorists and don't deserve this torment, Gran retorts that all Elevens are potential terrorists. It's a bit uncomfortably close to the rhetoric currently being used to justify an active genocide happening in the real world, so if you're sensitive to that, watch out. The colonialist brothers are kind enough to drop a bit more exposition for the benefit of the audience: the leader of Japan, Juro Sumeragi is dead and his daughter, Sakuya, is imprisoned. A force field called the Situmpe Wall, was originally erected as a defense against invaders, but now it's keeping the Black Knights out. Then they wantonly murder a bunch more people, which I once would have termed “cartoonishly evil,” if it weren't for everything in the news currently.

But enough of my inevitably divisive political statements! It's time to meet our protagonists: the titular Rozé and Ash, a pair of Britannian brothers with creative hairstyles who travel around in an RV full of stray pets. They pull into a gas station, where the Britannian owner starts berating his Japanese employee. Ash wants to fight him, but Rozé pulls him aside. When they come back out, the owner starts acting extremely deferential to his employee, and a sinking feeling enters my stomach that this show is determined not to do anything new compared to the original series. It's blatantly obvious what just happened, and not in a “winking at fans of the original while making it a mystery for newcomers” kind of way. Rozé has the same geass as Lelouche. The Britannian Empire pulling an Emperor Palpatine, reveals a stunning lack of imagination. The employee calls Rozé a magician, which he likes.

That feeling is cemented in the next scene, where a group of resistance fighters called the Seven Shining Stars argue about whether to trust a pair of Britannians who fight against powerful settlers and defend the Japanese known as the Nameless Mercenaries. It's such a retread of the Black Knights that I'm shocked at its brazenness. We're just blazing through the beats of the first series, trying to reestablish nearly the same situation.

But back to our boys. Ash has picked up a box of stray cats because even if he acts tough he's a total softie! Good lord, even the character beats are musty. Rozé complains that their trailer is filling up with stray animals, but puts them up for adoption online. There's an overhead shot of the RV driving past destroyed city blocks, one of the few effective moments in the episode because, yet again, how chillingly similar it is to images everywhere online.

Apparently, the Seven Shining Stars have agreed to trust the Nameless Mercenaries because… wait, was it supposed to be a surprising reveal that Rozé and Ash are the Nameless Mercenaries? It can't be, right? Anyway, they meet a girl who calls herself Black Cat in an abandoned movie theater, who hires them to kill the Kirkwaynes. There's some actual foreshadowing dropped here: she says they're Einberg, connected to Lord Norland, which are both new names to me.

Cut to Greede sitting at a table playing holographic chess. If the story hadn't been doggedly copying the original, bringing back the old motifs might have created a nice sense of continuity. Instead, it feels like a copy of a copy, made worse by the fact that Greede is a nothing villain and watching him play fake chess at a huge table, where he's not even picking up the pieces and putting them down with a satisfying clunk. Perhaps I'd be willing to entertain the symbolic meaning of the table, or the simulacrum-like nature of the chess set if only I felt like there was some meaning or intent behind this story behind extracting more money from Code Geass fans when the franchise is fairly played out.

Gran is out doing drills in his Knightmare with his men when gasp! An unknown Knightmare with big swords and a young man in a cape appear. Clearly, Rozé took the Japanese employee's mention of him being a magician to heart, because he welcomes them to the magic show. Unfortunately, Rozé of the Recapture is utterly sauceless, and his magic act is just him throwing around confetti. It's pathetic.

Ash blasts the fortress door open and continues to fight while Rozé wanders inside, eventually coming upon Greede. He says the security guards “agreed” to nap, and I wish they'd just get on with the reveal. The two give orders to the Knightmares by playing with chess pieces and listening. The whole thing with the chess motif in Code Geass was that Lelouche approached the conflict like a strategy game, treating his comrades like pawns as he took up their cause for his gain. It's meaningless here, except to show that Rozé is smart and cool, but they're not even using chess for real so it's just nonsense.

Shockingly, Rozé wins! Then he stands up, pulls off his wig, and takes off his voice-changing collar. In the one moment that felt like it recaptured that Code Geass magic, the young woman standing before Greede poses and introduces herself as Sakuya Sumeragi, one of the girls from the prologue, who was supposed to be imprisoned. The girl in Abashiri prison is Sakura Sumeragi, who Sakuya calls her “best friend”. The Kirkwaldes were the sons of their mother's retainers but were super-duper racists and made it possible for Neo-Brittania to invade.

She uses her geass to force Greede to kill himself, but in a goofy roundabout way where she orders him to swear to save one hundred times the number of Japanese he's killed or die. See, he's so turbo-racist that he'd rather die than help Japanese people! And maybe this was supposed to be a shocking reveal itself as if it weren't laughably easy to deduce that she had Lelouche's geass. There's one vaguely intriguing difference, though: she uses her hands, and the geass enters through Greede's ears instead of his eyes. But he shoots himself because helping Japanese people? Gross!

In the episode's denouement, everyone's true intentions are revealed: the Seven Shining Stars want the Nameless Mercenaries to help free all the Japanese resistance fighters kept at Abashiri prison. It's convenient because Sakuya wants to free Sakura from the same. And fin.

While this episode had its fun moments, the more I think about it, the more sour I become. It's a shallow, thoughtless imitation of the original Code Geass but with no sense of what made it work. It's a massive disappointment that the team decided to just hit the reset button instead of continuing the chain of events that Lelouche started. It's also utterly sauceless, without the sense of melodrama and a million things happening simultaneously that made Code Geass fun! Nor does Rozé/Sakuya have the moral ambiguity that made Lelouche a compelling protagonist – she's out here fighting to free her… sister? Body double? Friend? She's ethnically half-Japanese herself, giving her additional personal ties to the conflict. Lelouche was using a global conflict for his selfish purposes, manipulating the Black Knights to settle a grudge against his father. That tension was essential to the story. I'd be fine with having a very different kind of protagonist, but with how they're aping the old story beats, it just emphasizes how much less interesting she is.

Plus, we only got ONE over-the-top pose!

Rating:

Code Geass: Rozé of the Recapture is currently streaming on Hulu and Disney+, depending on your region.


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