Reviewby James Beckett,
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Movie Trilogy Blu-ray
In an alternate timeline where the Holy Britannian Empire controls much of the world, Prince Lelouch vi Britannia and his younger sister Nunnally lose everything when their mother Marianne is killed, so they are sent off to live in the Britannia-controlled state Area 11, formerly known as Japan. Area 11 is in a constant state of war and upheaval, with battles being waged primarily through giant war machines known as Knightmare Frames. Years later, when Lelouch gets caught up in a conflict between Britannian soldiers and Japanese rebels, he encounters an enigmatic and seemingly immortal woman named C.C., who grants him the power of the Geass, which allows Lelouch to overtake the will of anyone he makes eye-contact with to do his bidding. Seeking to destroy the Empire that betrayed him, Lelouch joins C.C. and takes on the identity of Zero, a masked warrior who promises to lead the Japanese rebels to independence. Every fiber of Lelouch's humanity will be put to the test as he deceives both his enemies and his allies with the power of the Geass and sets into motion a conflict that will forever change the future of the nation.
Recap movies are one of those anime industry mainstays that have never appealed to me, especially in this day and age of ubiquitous digital streaming. Nowadays, instead of having to cram dozens of episodes worth of plot and character development into a glorified clip-show, it's easier than ever to just watch the original anime series on any number of streaming platforms. You can't easily translate the pacing and rhythm of a television production into the format of a feature film simply by snipping out a bunch of stuff and adding in a couple of minutes of new material.
This is especially true for a series like Code Geass, which is one of the most grandiose anime epics of recent memory, with dozens of characters weaving in and out of betrayals, revelations, and world-changing conflicts over the span of fifty episodes. I wondered how the franchise could possibly benefit from being re-edited into a trilogy of movies, but then I learned about Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection, a new film released in 2019 that serves as a sequel not to the original series but these recap movies, which have to alter the events of Code Geass in order for Re;surrection's existence to make any sense whatsoever.
Warning: spoilers for the Code Geass movies and original series follow.
While I've never seen the entirety of the anime, I had absorbed enough of the plot through cultural osmosis over the years to know about its definitive conclusion. Lelouch, the vengeful prince-turned-dictator, eventually arranges his own assassination to provide humanity a scapegoat for their warmongering ways. For a series that chronicled the rise and fall of a thoroughly complicated and morally questionable protagonist, the whole of its thematic weight was wrapped up by its controversial ending, where Lelouch finally transcends his history of manipulation and arrogant plotting to become a genuine martyr. That isn't the kind of ending director Goro Taniguchi and Sunrise Studio could easily sequel-ize, especially with Lelouch's name being right there in the title. In order for the sequel movie to even exist, the Code Geass Movie Trilogy would have to serve the strange dual role of both summarizing the original series while also altering the narrative just enough so that Lelouch's story could conclude with more of an ellipsis instead of a period.
Whether you consider it blasphemy to erase the most powerful moment from one of the most well-known anime of the past twenty years will likely depend on how attached you are to the original series. Being more or less a franchise neophyte, I can only judge these movies based on how well they tell their own story, and the results are unfortunately mixed. Changes to the ending aside – which I think are ultimately for the worse – The Code Geass Movie Trilogy simply isn't the best way to experience this story.
The first of the movies, Initiation, is easily the weakest of the three, suffering from some incredibly jarring pacing and editing issues that make the movie feel far from cohesive. Lelouch's life as a student at Ashford Academy is little more than background noise, which removes much of the suspense that came from him trying to maintain his secret identity. Most side characters' stories have been whittled down to only their most vital moments; even Shirley, whose revised fate is one of the key differences between the two versions, gets barely anything to do. Scenes pile up with little rhyme or reason, and tons of plot is simply explained away through clunky exposition or montage sequences. Outside of Lelouch and C.C., the only heroes who get any significant attention are Kallen and Suzaku, whose relationships with Lelouch still feel half-baked.
Transgression and Glorification fare slightly better, if only because the plot escalation keeps the audience from missing all the dropped side-characters and aborted subplots, as every remaining central conflict is turned up to eleven. The story becomes more nonsensical once we start to learn the secret behind C.C.'s origins, the Geass, and the goal behind the Emperor of Britannia's evil deeds, but it's the fun kind of melodramatic nonsense that I'm more willing to indulge. Still, because so much of Code Geass' texture and character has been sanded off to fit the story into the mold of a theatrical trilogy, I was only able to appreciate the movies on an intellectual level, never an emotional one. It's a fairly interesting concept for a story that contains theoretically compelling characters that I'm sure I would care about if I had the full experience to enjoy, instead of this abridged version.
So far as I can tell, any new or redrawn scenes have been made to blend with the clips from the television series, but the action scenes still manage to be interesting, thanks to some creative direction and a memorable aesthetic. (Those CLAMP character designs sure are something.) I wouldn't call it a visual stunner, but I've seen many shows from the early days of CGI and digital animation age much worse than Geass. The music (composed by Kōtarō Nakagawa and Hitomi Kuroishi) is appropriately bombastic and cheesy, though I did find the use of insert songs grating, especially when the movies go into full montage mode.
Though it sports a nifty steelbook package and some nice postcards for collectibles, Funimation's Blu-Ray release is disappointingly bare-bones. Not only does it lack any meaningful extras, there isn't an English dub either. Given the changes to the story, it makes sense that the series' dub couldn't be used for these movies, but it's a shame that more effort wasn't make to craft a new English track, especially since Funimation is dubbing Lelouch of the Re;surrection. It's unfortunate that new fans who prefer watching the series dubbed will have to switch back and forth if they plan on seeing the newest entry in the franchise.
Ultimately, the flawed construction of these recap movies and the limited appeal of this Blu-Ray release limits its appeal strictly to loyal Code Geass fans. Even then, I can't imagine franchise devotees getting much out of these films aside from a catalog of plot changes in preparation for Lelouch of the Re;surrection. If you're diving into the series for the first time, then you'd be better off sticking with the original series instead. If you like your robot wars filled with magic, melodrama, and more beautiful CLAMP boys than you can shake a stick at, then the original Code Geass will likely be worth your time.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Captures the sense of style and melodrama that originally made Code Geass a hit, may satisfy fans who are curious to see Lelouch of the Re;surrection
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