It’s been one year since the Black Rebellion; Zero has been proclaimed dead, the Black Knights are fewer in numbers, and Lelouch seems to be resuming his peaceful school life with his newly acquired brother, Rolo. But it’s not long before C.C. and the last of the Black Knights come looking for the memory-loss Lelouch to resume his role as Zero and continue the rebellion against the Britannian Imperial Army and Family. As his memory returns, he remembers his former friend Suzaku’s betrayal, and that his sister Nunnally now resides within the walls of the enemy. But with his identity now compromised and many eyes watching his every move, can Lelouch somehow keep his regained knowledge a secret, find his sister, and lead the Black Knights to victory?
Season 2 of Code Geass is similar to the first season in terms of pacing, story structure and character arcs; however the stakes and emotional tension have been noticeably increased. With Lelouch being watched at every turn (such as security cameras at school) Suzaku’s obtrusion to see if his memory’s returned, and the Black Knights unsure of his motivations, it means a lot more strain and pressure on Lelouch to regain the control he once revelled in a year ago. Plus with his beloved sister no longer within his reach, his loyalties and patience are often tested. His playing field is quite different from before as well as he no longer consistently has the upper hand and it is always fun to watch him worm his way out of incredibly difficult situations and into his former power. Unfortunately no victories come without losses; a fair amount of main characters are killed, making the reality of the war even harsher than before and every battle more critical than the last. The landscape of the series is a lot bigger too: Lelouch has taken down the Royal Family down a peg or two and it’s not long before his eyes turn elsewhere for political support. The Chinese Federation becomes involved, a new nation is formed, more Geass power users are introduced and more. In fact the world of Code Geass grows bigger with each episode, so much so that it becomes incredibly hard to follow what’s going on. However because it’s all so impressive and engaging that you get engrossed in all the combat, political and character issues, regardless of whether you’re able to follow them fully or not. The tension and stakes build and build throughout the entire season, culminating in an epic finale that makes the investment in the two seasons very worthwhile for any anime fan to experience.
As a result of its expansion of plot, the cast is vastly bigger as well and some of the already known characters are cast in a better light. Lelouch, for example, is a bit more likeable in this season; with the rug pulled from underneath him by his sister’s disappearance, his vulnerabilities are easier to see and sympathize with. Suzaku is also a character you can’t help but be wholly sorry for as he goes through so much in this season and the poor guy just can’t seem to catch a break. Rolo, the newly introduced brother, is surprisingly fascinating considering he’s shoehorned into Lelouch’s life from the start; part of it is because of Spike Spencer’s performance but it’s also due to his role changing throughout the series that it’s interesting to see him evolve. Then there’s C.C.; her impassive role in the first season is relooked for R2, we finally learn more about her later in the series, and her association with Lelouch also makes her a lot more pleasant in the long run.
Even so, Season 2 of Code Geass still has a lot of the same issues as the first season: the hugely expanded world and story do very little to cover up or fix the problems it has. The pacing is still as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog on Speed; blink and you’ll miss a battle, or fail to catch every single word of every conversation and you’ll miss an important plot point. Every second of this series is filled with dialogue, and when a voice actor needs to take a breath, the production team throw in an explosion or two to fill the gap. This is a series that looks down its nose at slow pacing, and considers a ‘quiet moment’ as a cardinal sin. There’s no time to let plot developments breathe or new characters get a proper introduction, and this series doesn’t have any character development; it has character switches. It’s common in this series for an enemy to be hell-bent on destroying Zero/Lelouch, and then one grand speech from the protagonist is enough to switch the enemy over to his side just as quickly. Every second of this series is dedicated to driving the plot forward with overblown dramatics to carry the emotion of the viewer with its pacing. There’s a stunningly accurate line in the second episode where C.C. turns to Lelouch and says; “Are those theatrics necessary?” and the answer is yes – because if we weren’t caught up in Lelouch’s wave of lunacy and power completely, then we’d be lost and confused. The series doesn’t want you to think too much; just listen to the hazy explanations it gives you and go along with it, because the moment you start to question it, you’ll start to see how the legs it’s standing on are starting to crumble.
However, does that make it a bad series? Well, it’s certainly ambitious, dynamic, but most of all, it’s entertaining. Some of this is to do with the very clever episode structure; each episode finishes on a cliff-hanger, a plot twist, or right in the middle of an epic battle. The result is that it’s near impossible to watch ‘just one episode’, you will always need to skip the episode preview to see for yourself what happens next because waiting for it just seems too damn hard. And in the end, isn’t that what makes a series great – the fact that you WANT to keep coming back to it and see how it all develops?
Code Geass R2 is a lot of things, but one of them is not boring. There’s always something going on to pull you in; the whole series is bursting with so much energy, epic battles, a twisty plot that loves to throw the audience off-track, and big emotions that’s it’s hard to resist getting into its mind set and just going with it. There are very few other series that just feel like the whole production team is pouring their all into it. There are jaw-dropping moments to every head-scratching scene, and there are some fantastic battles to every poorly explained plot point. You see the faults but you also see the work that’s gone into this series to try and satisfy every anime fan out there.
Visuals are still great and very well animated, I only had the DVD as reference but regardless, it’s stunning to watch, I can only imagine the Blu-ray edition is gorgeous as well. I must give credit where it’s due to CLAMP for their character designs; it’s a testament to them when you have such a large cast and yet manage to avoid making the characters look bland or unrecognisable. The audio is also very good. I wasn’t so keen on the soundtrack to the first season but the second season’s score grew on me as the series went on. Both opening themes (02 By Orange Range and World End by FLOW) are solid songs that reflect the series nicely as it develops. The ending themes are not as delightful on the ears, however they’re worth watching at least once for the beautiful artwork CLAMP provides of the Code Geass characters in several poses making references to their other work such as Clover and X.
Disappointingly, the only DVD extras across the 6 discs are clean openings and closing plus character artworks. I was hoping for more picture shorts that were found in the Beez release of the first series, but never mind.
Code Geass R2 is a fitting sequel to the first season; it’s fast, dynamic, engaging and entertaining from start till end. It has many narrative faults but its passion to tell Lelouch’s story in stunning animation makes the trip worthwhile regardless. I wouldn’t put this on my top 10 favourite anime list but I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre that have yet to invest in the journey. It’s one to simply allow yourself to strap into the rollercoaster carriage, keep your arms and legs inside the cart at all times, and just enjoy the ride.