About a year ago, we received news that Code Geass was getting a new, third season, which would continue the story after the events of R2.
It was that news that prompted me to finally give the series a go, since I had gotten into anime too late to be a part of the generation of anime fans raised on Code Geass. I absolutely adored the first season; the second season not so much. And with the third season most likely going to air this year since the last of the recap films will also release in theatres this year, I think there is no better time to return to the legendary series and think about how one should go about continuing Code Geass. Heavy spoilers ahead.
Let’s start off positive and think about what makes Code Geass, particularly the first season, so great. After all, it was because of this first season that the series as a whole has become such a phenomenon, coming to occupy a strong place in anime culture and ending up spawning a whole franchise.
By far the biggest strength of the series lies in it’s excellent cast of characters. The obvious example of this is Lelouch vi Britannia himself, who has cemented his place in the history of the medium as one of the most likeable and memorable protagonists of all time – bringing to the table a unique confidence and flair that make up his over-the-top nature. Beyond Lelouch, we also have C.C.; the cool, beautiful, green-haired queen of mystery – but who has endured in the hears of many viewers due to her unique sense of humour and chemistry with Lelouch. We also have Suzaku to round off the trio – personally my least favourite, since he comes off often as more Boy Scout than tortured petty bourgeoisie – but a character I respect because of the themes he represents. But more on that later.
Even the wider cast, although not nearly as well-developed as the main trio, are very memorable and always a joy to watch. Ohgi and Villetta’s doomed love story was excellently paced and developed over both seasons, as was Nina’s transformation from honour student to revenge-driven author of weapons of mass destruction. Gottwald or Orange’s transformation from disgraced knight, to madman, and eventually to loyal ally of Lelouch was also an excellently put-together arc. Even Nunnally, at first conceived simply as motivation for Lelouch to get involved in the rebellion, turned out to be surprisingly as nuanced as her big brother in the second season.
This excellent cast of characters was the single saving grace for season two’s choppy start, as the plot slowed down due to backtracking and padding. Even though this was frustrating, by introducing new arcs for these memorable characters, the show was able to save itself a least a little bit. Just a little bit. R2 is often bad; but these bad moments would be considerably worse without Code Geass’ excellent cast of characters, thus exemplifying how instrumental they are in the show’s long-lasting appeal.
Moreover, Code Geass was very effective in utilising it’s characters to communicate it’s themes. Both Lelouch and Suzaku were excellently crafted in order to portray the conflict between means-oriented and goals-orientated ideology. Whereas Lelouch was prepared to use any means necessary to achieve his goals, Suzaku was conscious of the means he took as he was aware of the consequences of his actions. Furthermore, one can make a class reading of this dichotomy by suggesting that Suzaku represents the proletariat as subdued by false class consciousness, tricked into working within and in service of the system which exploits him and his class; and that Lelouch represents the ultra-leftism of many Third International and anarchist groups, because he rejects all merits of working within structures of his society based on his ideology, which pushes him towards terrorism and anarchism.
Although the show ends up coming to a rather basic conclusion as to this class of ideals after the end of the Zero Requiem plan, in that it recognises the merits of both approaches and that ultimately both sides of the coin must reconcile, this theme was a constant thread running throughout all 50-ish episodes. Going into the show, I wasn’t expecting any themes to be explored in much depth at all, so I was pleasantly surprised when the show was able to do so, at least somewhat.
What I did expect going in, however, was the over-the-top tone that the series has reached meme status for. I was not disappointed. Everything from the expressive, elongated character designs; to Lelouch’s Shakespearean monologues; to the action scenes themselves, feasts for the eyes from Sunrise at their absolute peak in terms of coordinating mecha action; tied into the no-holds-barred approach that show took. Nothing was underplayed, everything was overplayed. But not in an obnoxious way either – the show clearly knew itself well and took everything with a good sense of humour and excellent tonal direction, at least in the first season.
It was exactly this type of over-the-top mecha melodrama action that draw people to the show in the first place, and is what continues to draw people in (like myself) to this very day. It made moments such as Zero’s defection and the Zero Requiem so memorable, and in turn masked the somewhat short-sighted thematic relevance. Add into this a cast of characters perfectly crafted to act in such an environment, and it’s no wonder that Code Geass has persisted for so long.
Even so, there is one black sheep in the room that we absolutely need to address before we can talk about R3. That’s R2 – season two of Code Geass. Now, I should start by saying that I don’t hate R2. It’s only one point down from season one according to my AniList, and there were moments that I really enjoyed in it – the Zero Requiem being an obvious one. But it’d be inaccurate to say that R2 didn’t have some major flaws – flaws that R3 needs to keep in mind not to repeat, lest it suffer the same fate that R2 did among fans.
My first major gripe with R2 was mainly a problem for the first six or so episodes of the show. After that, this problem didn’t rear it’s head much more – backtracking.
The finale of season one left us on a tantalizing cliff-hanger – Suzaku had discovered that Lelouch was Zero, and had set out to kill him and put down the rebellion for once and for all. Season one bowed out with the image of Suzaku and Lelouch, guns bared, ready to do away with one another – the dramatic conclusion to a whole season of intrigue, tension and excellent character development.
Yet, at the beginning of R2, we find ourselves back at square one. Lelouch has been brainwashed by the Emperor, meaning that he no longer acts as Zero nor has the intellectual capacity that such a role demanded. Suzaku is forced to keep quiet about the identity of Lelouch, since the Emperor plans to use Lelouch as bait to recapture C.C. My problem was not with this plot point itself, since this change in dynamic from the pursuit of Zero to C.C. neatly provides R2 with a new focus as well as allowing the writers more freedom with the Zero character since he is no longer being actively pursued. My problem was with the frustrating amount of backtracking that this entailed.
All the character development of season one is essentially erased because of this backtracking – although, admittedly, Lelouch does regain his memory after the first episode, it is Suzaku who never fully breaks free of this backtracking to become an interesting character once more until the Zero Requiem arc, almost three-quarters of the way through the series. The fact that Lelouch was so quick to recover signals to me that the writers knew that viewers would be at least somewhat frustrated with this, and therefore decided to at least restart Lelouch’s arc sooner rather than later. Well, I would argue that just resolving the problem of backtracking for Lelouch does not lessen the pain – it merely frustrates viewers more, since the problem is only half solved.
Another character who suffers from this is Shirley. She had her memory wiped by Lelouch in season one, which carried over into R2. For the most part of season two, her character has returned to the clumsy, typical love interest that she was before her character development in season one. Thankfully, there is an element of tragedy to this, as Lelouch must interact with her on a daily basis and is reminded of the sacrifices he must take as Zero, for the sake of the rebellion. Yet, this tragedy is removed when Shirley once more regains her memory, only to be killed shortly after. Furthermore, in this short period where she had regained her memory, she goes through the same arc in discovering that Lelouch is Zero that we already saw in season one – confounding her character development even more, and devaluing her eventual death massively.
This is but one example of another problem that plagued R2 – padding. Clearly, the writers had some really strong ideas – such as the defection and the Zero Requiem – but nothing very engaging beyond, because they were forced to stuff R2 full of padding, to the point of frustration.
Shirley is a prime example of this padding, as they repeat her arc once more in R2 for the sake of filling up an episode or two. A further, more audacious example of this comes in the form of another memory-loss arc, this time happening to C.C. She loses her memory after Lelouch’s foray into her mind in order to defeat the Emperor, which seems like an adequate payoff for the narrative weight of what Lelouch was able to accomplish. Even so, she regains her memories not too soon after thanks to Marianne, who was able to restore them because of… something to do with Geass? As a result, this arc was immediately stripped of any narrative weight and it’s true purpose became clear – a way in which the writers were able to fill up some episodes, by putting in some funny scenes of a C.C. returned to the psychological state of a child.
Furthermore, R2 reincorporated the slice of life elements of season one, but with none of their previous narrative weight. In season one, more light-hearted slice of life scenes taking place in Ashford Academy were used to develop the characters of Suzaku, Kallen and Lelouch, who would otherwise not have been able to interact. Plus, they highlighted Lelouch’s personal journey of acceptance of his Zero persona, since he had to balance both school life and managing the rebellion, eventually realising that the rebellion had more value then his school life.
Even so, these slice of life elements hardly seem appropriate in the context of R2. At this point, both Suzaku and Lelouch have affirmed their respective ideologies in their final encounter at the end of season one, and therefore showing either character trying to balance school and work does not really fit into their arcs and the meaning behind those arcs. Essentially, these scenes are used once more to pad the story – mostly through fanservice – undermining the value of R2 as a whole due to their vapid nature. When I look at episodes such as episode twelve (“Love Attack”), where Lelouch, Suzaku, C.C. etc. all participate in ‘Cupid’s Day’, they seem so out of place when compared to the overall narrative and the development of the story thus far. Hence, R2 continued to frustrate me.
What frustrated me even more was the introduction of new characters in R2 for the same aim, for the sake of padding. V.V. is set up as the counterpoint to C.C., since she operates on the side of the Emperor and had an inverse character design to C.C., yet her arc has no narrative payoff at all – merely being killed by Lelouch in his genocide of the Geass Order. The whole arc in China is particularly frustrating also – not only could this have widened the Code Geass universe further, but also could’ve deepened Code Geass’ commentary on society by having Chinese characters offer their perspective on the themes the show presents. But, as always with R2, these characters turn out to be paper-thin stereotypes, with no purpose served other than to lengthen the story artificially. Given that a sequel is always a good opportunity to widen the scope of a franchise, as all good sequels do (such as Kaiji S2), then this aspect is a particularly infuriating weakness of R2.
Both of these weaknesses are, fundamentally, enabled by muddled direction from director Goro Taneguchi. I came to Code Geass after having suffered through two seasons of the show Active Raid, which muddled an interesting enough premise by inflating the narrative with a strange political thriller which didn’t fit with the overall tone of the series as a whole. It was no surprise to me then, that the same trends emerged in R2. No doubt Taneguchi struggled and tried his best to come up with some interesting narrative arcs for R2 alongside script writer Ichiro Okouchi, but ultimately failed to come up with enough, and instead opted for backtracking and padding. In that case, he should’ve consulted with more people – I won’t give him a free pass.
So what concrete lessons are there that those in charge of R3 need to take? We’ve outlined what makes the series good, so the first thing I’d suggest would be to focus on the series’ strengths and what made people love it in the first place.
Let us see all the characters we love once more. Unlike R2, don’t revert Lelouch’s character development by giving him amnesia or the like. I want to see what Lelouch post-Zero Requiem is like – is he hopeful? Pessimistic? What role will he take in the narrative – will it be a reluctant one? Furthermore, I really do think that C.C. deserves some of the limelight this season. R2 left a lot of questions unanswered about her past and her relationship to Geass, which I would like to see answered. Obviously, her appeal does lie in her mystery as a ‘witch’, but I don’t think it’s impossible for the show to do some tasteful explorations of her past. Much like Lelouch, I also want to see what Suzaku is like after the events of the Zero Requiem. More crucially, has his ideology changed in any way? But as I said, I don’t really care that much for Suzaku, so, on a personal level, I’m not really that bothered.
Beyond Lelouch, C.C. and Suzaku though, it is important, considering that the strength of the entire cast has elevated Code Geass to legendary status, that we see a lot of the secondary characters return in R3, if only briefly. I want to see how Villetta and Ohgi’s relationship has evolved and changed over time. In terms of Kallen, I want to see how she, as Zero’s personal guard, has reacted to his return, and whether or not she has too changed her ideology. Numerous other side characters that now slip my mind also deserve a reappearance, because I think what certain characters a viewer relates to in Code Geass really affects their enjoyment and perception of the series – my personal attachment was to Villetta and Ohgi, which probably made me more accepting of the melodrama of the series.
It is also important that R3 shows that it deserves to exist in the canon of Code Geass by crafting itself a strong thematic identity, so that it deserves to listed among season one and two. Although simplistic and limited in nature, the sustained and poignant presentation of these simplistic and limited themes allowed Code Geass season one and two to go beyond mecha action trash and come to occupy a special place within the anime community. This should be easy for the writers of R3 – a post-Zero Requiem practically offers them a clean slate on which they could craft any type of story they wish, and with it it’s own set of ideas and themes.
Although I’m not confident whether or not they’ll be able to do that, what I am confident in is that Sunrise will once more bring the over-the-top tone to R3. As outlined, it was this presentation that allowed the series to smooth over it’s comparatively weak thematic presentation, and also place it’s excellent cast of characters in the forefront of the action. Pratically everyone knows that within this tone lies the core appeal of Code Geass, so I’m really not worried that the writers will miss out on this one.
Moreover, looking at R2, we can see some concrete examples emerging in how not to write a sequel to Code Geass. Backtracking will just frustrate the viewers, as it risks destroying narrative weight to the arcs constructed in season one and two, just like it did to Shirley and Suzaku. Tied into this is the need to actually create a compelling, well-thought out story instead of having one or two good ideas, and then trying to pad the rest of the series out, and ending up backtracking to accomplish this. To this end, focused direction will be sorely needed, and I hope that the Code Geass team’s long hiatus from the main canon has refreshed them enough so that they’ll be able to do this. More concretely however, if R3 does introduce new characters – as it most likely will – it is imperative that these characters serve a narrative purpose, and do not impair the writer’s ability to explore the characters we know and love, as happened in R2 with the over-indulgence in Rolo scenes at the expense of the rest of the cast.
All in all, I do think I am more positive than most people about the concept of R3. Perhaps it is because I only recently got into the series and have only watched it once, meaning that it is not so sacred in my mind as it is in some people’s. Nevertheless, I think that by probably relying on the strengths of the original and by learning from the failures of R2, Sunrise can make a success of R3. Yet, whether they do or not, is another question entirely.
It probably does seem a bit weird to do a Code Geass post now, since it’s not really current or anything, but I came up with this idea the other day while not listening in class and couldn’t get it out of my head. What did you think? Will R3 be any good? As always, you can leave a comment down below or reach me via Twitter to let me know your thoughts.