Reviewby Richard Eisenbeis,
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection
Two years have passed since the end of Code Geass, and the world is well on its way to recovery. But when world-famous hero Zero and Britannian Princess Nunally are kidnapped in a surprise attack by an unknown force, a chain of events are set into motion that could spell the end for this peace that millions have already died for.
Code Geass is one of the standout TV anime hits of the 2000's for good reason. Filled with complex characters, it is equal parts morality play, psychological thriller, and sci-fi mecha adventure. Though it's been over a decade since its original airing, there have been spin-off manga, midquel OVAs, novels, games, and recap films to fill the void. The only thing there hasn't been is a true sequel. All that changes with the release of this new film: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection—well, from a certain point of view at least.
SPOILER WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the entire Code Geass TV series and the Code Geass recap film trilogy.
While Lelouch of the Re;surrection follows our heroes two years after the conclusion of the Zero Requiem plan, it's not technically a sequel to the TV anime. Rather, it's a sequel to the Code Geass recap film trilogy that hit Japanese theaters from 2017 to 2018. Although the story of the films is largely an abridged version of what happened in the TV series, there are more than a few major changes. Most of these are due to the cuts needed to trim 50 episodes into three films. However, the biggest change comes in the form of Shirley, Lelouch's friend and potential love interest. In the TV series, she dies a tragic death. But she's spared in the film trilogy, and her continued existence is the reason this new movie is able to unfold as it does.
Lelouch of the Re;surrection begins with Nunnally and Zero in the middle of a goodwill visit to a desert nation. Unfortunately, they are soon attacked by a squad of mecha. While Zero attempts to protect Nunnally in his own giant robot, he finds himself outmaneuvered and defeated before the battle can even begin, resulting in the pair being kidnapped by their attackers. Suspecting that the Kingdom of Zilkistan—a land known for producing some of the world's best mercenaries and strongest warriors—is behind the kidnapping, Karren, Sayoko, and Lloyd find themselves on the run. However, at this moment they have an unexpected reunion with enigmatic immortal C.C., who is currently traveling to investigate a set of ancient ruins like those she and Lelouch visited off the coast of Japan. But soon, this collection of frenemies begins to realize that their problems might be more related than they appear at first glance.
In the broadest sense, Lelouch of the Re;surrection is a reunion film, since it's been over a decade since we last saw many of these characters. And though the anime (and recap films) both end with a peek at the new status quo, it's hard not to wonder how things turned out for our heroes. Because of this, nearly every character gets at least a few seconds of screen time, showing how they're doing in the new world Lelouch created. But as much as this film is a reunion for us, it's filled with reunions for the characters as well, resulting in most of the movie's drama as characters from both sides of the final battle meet for the first time since the end of Lelouch's reign.
While Suzaku and C.C. stood by Lelouch during his final plan, Lelouch's former allies and friends in the Black Knights did not. Now in retrospect, with two years of wonderful peace behind them, characters like Karren and Ohgi understand why Lelouch did what he did, and they even accept why he set them up to fight against him. But that doesn't mean that they don't have a bunch of conflicting emotions about the whole thing. Then there are others like Cornelia, who can't simply forget Lelouch's crimes regardless of how things turned out, and it's easy to see how volatile the whole situation has become, even with our heroes all nominally on the same side.
The external conflict for this film comes from the unintended consequences of Lelouch's peace. The Kingdom of Zilkistan is a desert country. With little in the way of arable land, it carved its own little place on the world stage by becoming a nation of warriors—a nation devoted to making mercenaries so strong that they could stand toe-to-toe with the best Brittania had to offer. Of course, when your entire nation is supported by the war economy, an era of lasting peace is about the worst thing that could possibly happen. Since the Zilkistan royal family has mecha technology and Geass powers at their disposal, they certainly don't have to take the imminent destruction of their nation laying down.
Much of the action in Lelouch of the Re;surrection is centered around our heroes going up against a seemingly unbeatable Geass. Watching as they try to figure out its specific rules is as thrilling as it is captivating. It also makes the film truly feel like a part of Code Geass, because while the giant robot action is excellent, what made the original anime stand apart from similar series was its focus not on a mecha pilot who can defeat anyone, but on a tactician who can outthink anyone.
But for all the reunions, fighting, and Geass-wielding shenanigans, this movie is really about C.C. more than anything else. Over the course of Code Geass, C.C. evolved into a new person. While for centuries she had wanted nothing more than to die and be free of her immortality, with Lelouch she found something else she had been missing. She gained a true partner in him who would never betray her, and in the end, she responded to that trust in kind. Instead of looking to die, she found that she wanted to start living again. But before she can do that, she has one big loose end to tie up. Lelouch made her a promise and she intends to see it kept, regardless of what happened to him during Zero Requiem. In fact, she'll do whatever it takes to make sure it comes true, even if that means traveling the world looking for more ancient ruins that lead to the mysterious C's World.
And then there's the elephant in the room. With the title Lelouch of the Re;surrection, the biggest question on everyone's minds is: does Lelouch literally get resurrected in the film? Consider this your last spoiler warning, because the answer is integral to discussing the film.
While the promotional materials work hard to keep this ambiguous, the movie itself does not. Within the first five minutes, it's clear that Lelouch is coming back. And while this story choice is questionable to say the least, it's isn't as detrimental a choice as it could have been. Lelouch's death in Code Geass (and the episodes that led up to it) are what elevates it from a good anime to an absolute classic. His death is the ultimate culmination of his character arc. To get his revenge, he played the hero and led countless people to their deaths. And while he did try to better his actions as time went on, the hubris of his past mistakes continually came back to haunt him. In the end, the only way he could give Nunnally a peaceful life was to let go of his pride along with his life, by playing the villain and being dramatically killed. For all the evil he had done, his punishment was to die as the most hated man in history, ultimately bringing peace to a war-torn world.
By that logic, bringing him back in the movie would undercut not only the tragedy of the work overall but the atonement that Lelouch finds in his own death. The film attempts to sidestep this issue by separating Lelouch's intentions from his revised fate. Lelouch did indeed intend to die. It was C.C.—along with Shirley and Jeremiah—who interfered in the plan without his knowledge. While C.C. wasn't going to try and stop Zero Requiem, she was unwilling to let him go without keeping his promise to her. Of course, injuries as severe as a broadsword through the chest are not so easily healed, and this leads her to travel to ruins across the world.
On the plus side, Lelouch's resurrection does allow him to once again meet all his past friends and enemies—only this time with all the secrets between them finally revealed. It's here that we see the new Lelouch. He's a man who has nothing left to prove and nothing left to hide. He doesn't want anything but for his friends and loved ones to be safe. In an odd way, he has finally become the hero he always pretended to be as Zero. While still showing his enemies no mercy, he no longer sees his allies as pawns to be sacrificed for his own goal; now losing even one is the same to him as a complete failure. Moreover, he hasn't even the slightest inclination to return to being the man he once was, feeling content with a nameless existence. All in all, even though his resurrection does lessen the impact of his death in the series, it's still interesting to see the implications explored to their logical ends.
In terms of presentation, Lelouch of the Re;surrection takes great pains to make sure that it fits visually with the original Code Geass. Instead of looking like an updated reimagining, it looks like a high quality anime from the mid-2000s. (There is one big exception to this—the modern CG used in the various mech battles, but given how good it looks, it's hard to complain.) On the audio side, the music works as well as it did in the series with one major exception. The ending theme is a terrible match for the film. When I think Code Geass, the last thing to cross my mind is generic, over-produced, boy-band j-pop. Hearing it interfere with the emotional climax of the film really ends the whole thing on an annoyingly sour note.
In the end, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection is an odd film. Strictly speaking, it doesn't need to exist; the series already brought the story to a satisfactory ending in both its plot and themes. However, as an epilogue, it does the best it can with the concept, showing not only where our heroes have ended up but also how they feel about Lelouch (and each other) now that they've been able to see the results of his grand plan. It also shows the unintended fallout of that plan and gives a much more expansive ending to C.C.'s character arc, all while delivering an adventure filled with all the mecha battles and twisted Geass action you could want.
At the very least, this film can be completely ignored with impunity thanks to its built in loophole; the whole thing takes place in the film canon, not the TV series timeline. Therefore, the Code Geass you know and love remains the same as it's been since it finished airing a decade ago, and these events can be seen as just a tantalizing “what if” if they're not to your liking.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ An epilogue that showcases the complex feelings our heroes have about the events of Code Geass while giving them one more trial to overcome
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