Review for Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion - Complete Season 2
50 episodes of top notch anime on Blu-ray in the space of 2 months? I feel like I’m being spoiled. But Kazé Entertainment are re-releasing the exceptional Code Geass series to the UK, after a somewhat abortive release from Beez, and a lot of people that missed out the first time have been snapping up the HD version with glee. There’s even more glee at the thought that we in the UK are the first English speaking nation to get it thus. Australia will be getting it after us, while US fans are still waiting for someone to re-license it there. It is a reversal of the usual way of things, which leaves UK fans feeling justifiably smug for a change.
One thing to note about this second series of Code Geass Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 was that on its initial release by Beez, it suffered a compulsory cut at the hands of the BBFC. Apparently one suggestive image in episode 10 lacked context and was liable to corrupt, and Beez replaced it with the US broadcast version, which used a different image. I received check discs from Kazé which look suspiciously like final retail discs, and my first instinct was to check episode 10. This time around it is uncut. Either someone at the BBFC relented, or it might be wise to pounce on these discs before someone realises.
In an alternate world, 10th August 2010 saw the invasion of Japan by the Holy Empire of Britannia. The giant walking powered suits known as Knightmare Frames quickly overwhelmed Japan’s conventional defences, and the nation fell in the space of a month. Re-designated as Area 11 of the Empire, its very identity erased, the Elevens became second class citizens in their own home, ruled over by the aristocratic Britannians. But as with every ruthless overseer, resistance soon developed. Lelouch Lamperouge is an exiled Britannian prince with his own grudge against the Empire, as well as a desire to fulfil his promise to his crippled sister Nunnally, to create a peaceful world for her when she regains her sight.
It’s a terrorist attack that gives Lelouch the weapon with which to advance his timetable. Terrorists steal and make off with a container of poison gas, and the Britannians mobilise a force to hunt them down. Lelouch, playing hooky from his prestigious school gets caught up in the mayhem. It isn’t gas that has been stolen though; it’s a secret for which the Britannians would indiscriminately kill to protect. It’s a green-haired girl named CC. CC senses that Lelouch is the one that she has been waiting for, and bestows a gift upon him, the ability to force anyone to obey his will, a geass. With his keen strategic mind, and his vendetta against the Empire, Lelouch now has the tools to take the fight to the invaders.
At the end of the first season, it seemed that Lelouch was about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as when his plan to take Tokyo from the Britannians unfolded, he got pulled away at the worst possible moment when his sister was kidnapped. The series climaxed with a cliff-hanger, with his identity revealed to Suzaku and Kallen. The second season catches up to the story a year later, and it seems that the world is back to normal. The Black Knight Rebellion has been forcefully put down, its ring-leaders arrested, but Lelouch is back at the academy, going about his everyday school life, acting as if nothing ever happened. Or is he acting? Lelouch is back at school with his younger brother Rolo? Viletta Nu is his Phys Ed teacher? He doesn’t remember being Zero and leading the rebellion? He doesn’t even remember Nunnally? He’s back to his normal self, escaping his ennui by gambling with nobles, but it’s one such outing at the Babel Tower casino that gets interrupted by a terrorist attack. Leading the attack is a certain green-haired girl who has a reminder for Lelouch.
Kazé Entertainment release the 25-episode Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 Season 2 across 2 Blu-ray discs.
01. The Day a Demon Awakens
02. Plan for Independent Japan
03. Imprisoned in Campus
04. Counterattack at the Gallows
05. Knights of the Round
06. Surprise Attack Over the Pacific
07. The Abandoned Mask
08. One Million Miracles
09. A Bride in the Vermilion Forbidden City
10. When Shen Hu Wins Glory
11. Power of Passion
12. Love Attack!
13. Assassin From the Past
14. Geass Hunt
15. The Cs’ World
16. United Federation of Nations – Resolution Number One
17. The Taste of Humiliation
18. Final Battle Tokyo II
20. Emperor Dismissed
21. The Ragnarok Connection
22. Emperor Lelouch
23. Schneizel’s Guise
24. The Grip of Damocles
Code Geass Season 2 gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p. It’s much akin to the first season in that it presents its content to as good effect as possible given the source material. The image is clear and sharp throughout, the Blu-ray format allows for presentation without significant compression or aliasing, and the smooth animation at 24 frames per second looks excellent. Just like any television anime, even those shows made today, it’s been up-scaled from a lower than 1080 source. The more recent the anime, the higher the source resolution, and I have to say that in comparison to the first season, there are very few moments indeed in season 2 where you can point and accuse it of coming from a totally SD source. Colour rendition is excellent, the image is bold and well defined, and this time there were no points where I noticed any digital banding. Once again, it looks as if the eye-catch and the credits reels have been reanimated at full 1080p resolution.
It transpires that the character designs for Code Geass come from none other than CLAMP, the collective behind shows and manga such as Tsubasa, xxxHolic, Tokyo Babylon and X, but the angular chins and the large eyes are notably diminished in Code Geass, with just a hint of their trademark style getting through. It’s an impressive animation, full of detail and energetically animated. This isn’t one of those shows that resort to still frames when the budget tightens, and the overall quality of the show is always high. The world design too is of equivalent quality, and the giant robots and fantastic technology integrate well into this alternate vision of the near future. If you’re wondering at the white pizza boxes and blank advertising hoardings, this show was sponsored in Japan by Pizza Hut, but that sponsorship doesn’t extend outside the territory, and was removed. It’s a high quality show that really excels in the HD format.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
The audio comes in PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with player forced subtitles for the Japanese tracks, and player forced signs for the English track. Fortunately the Blu-rays have a pop-up menu to switch between the two options, but as always with a Kazé disc, if you are hard of hearing and prefer the English dub, you’re screwed. I went with the Japanese audio as always, and found it by far the more preferable option, with some great voice actor performances and involving characterisations. The English audio I sampled from six random DVD episodes, and found it to be a pretty solid anime dub, working well for the drama and the action, but faltering a little when it came to the comedy. The stereo works well enough to convey the action, and the show’s music drives the story along, enhancing the emotional content without overwhelming it. The show also gets a set of very catchy theme songs.
Once again, Kazé author discs that cannot show signs translations and on-screen text translations simultaneously with dialogue translations. With Season 1 set mostly in Britannia occupied Japan, which had predominately English language signage, this was less of an issue. With Season 2 taking a more global approach, there are a fair few captions for which subtitle translations only flash up for a few frames, or are left off altogether because someone is speaking at the time. Of course none of the titles in the next episode previews are subtitled in the Japanese version, and by the time you change the audio, the episode will have finished and gone back to the main menu.
I have a suspicion that Kazé get monkeys to author their Blu-rays. It’s just under an infinite number of monkeys, and they pick the effort that gets closest to release-worthy. The image quality varies from good to excellent, as does the audio, but I’ve long whinged about their subtitling. On top of that, there are always little niggles with the discs which point to a lack of QC, beyond cursorily checking that they work. For example disc 1 of this Blu-ray set autoplays a set of trailers after the copyright screen. You can’t push the menu button to skip them as you could with the first season Blu-rays, and skipping forward takes ages as the player tries to figure out what to do next. But for some daft reason, the pop-up menu is actualised during the pre-menu trailers. While the disc tries to sell you the Berserk movie, you can push the pop-up menu on screen, select your language options and jump to the episode you want to watch without even getting to the main menu. A sub-infinite number of monkeys...
There are no extras with this collection, just animated menus, and pre-menu trailers for the first Berserk Movie, Persona 4 The Animation, and Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion on disc 1. The DVD version has textless credits and image galleries. If you had enjoyed the commentaries and picture dramas on Season 1, and were looking forward to more of the same here, then you will be disappointed, especially as the original Beez DVD release, and the Bandai and Madman DVD releases of Code Geass R2 did have the audio commentaries and bonus animations.
I can understand leaving them out if you have a tough time squeezing 25 episodes into two Blu-rays, but they were there for the first season. For Kazé to leave the extras out at this point just smacks of stinginess, and makes this release feel a little cheap.
So to fill up space, if you are watching the Japanese version, here’s where you have to be quick with the pause button to catch an onscreen caption translation...
Episode 6 – 1:44
Episode 7 – 6:48
And here is where you have to skip back, and use the pop-up menu to change to English with signs to find out what an on screen caption says...
Episode 6 – 5:08
Episode 8 – 7:29
Episode 10 – 6:01, 7:20, 13:30, 20:07
Episode 12 – 6:38
Episode 14 – 5:01
Episode 16 – 15:10
Episode 17 – 5:03
Episode 19 – 4:24
Episode 20 – 9:01, 9:16
Episode 21 – 19:14
Episode 22 – 10:36
Code Geass R2 really is the anime that cried wolf. Season 1 of this series was nigh on perfect, a brilliant blend of narrative, character, action and an epic plot, replete with plot twists and dark revelations. It would consistently deliver the unexpected, but in a way that was wholly believable, and natural given the story that it told. Every so often there would be an ‘Oh My God!’ moment that would rock the viewer back on his heels, make them re-evaluate the show in the light of this new information, and add new layers of complexity and intrigue to the plot. It was compelling, must see television, that succeeded by never losing sight of the story that it was telling, and the characters it was developing.
Along comes the second season, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2, and it loses most of that perfect balance. This time the emphasis is on making the story bigger, wilder, even more fantastic, and consequently believability of narrative, and staying true to the core of the characters is left by the wayside. This time it is all about the revelation, the plot twist, and the cliff-hanger, and each episode runs like a carefully honed train timetable. Every episode builds up to a plot twist, and one that is guaranteed to be just that bit more outrageous than the one in the previous episode. Halfway through this series, I was hearing the nasal voice of an imaginary rail announcer, “The plot twist now pulling into episode 13 is the main character demise, viewers waiting for the major betrayal and character resurrection should cross via the footbridge to episodes 14 and 15.”
It really does get far-fetched and out there as the series draws to a conclusion. There are so many betrayals, back-stabbings, and simple switches of allegiance that by the time the story had reached its endgame, I had completely lost track of who was on which side, and just who the ‘good’ guys were. I use that advisedly as there’s no real hero here, just varying degrees of anti-hero. Also, I have to admit that the bounds of my credibility were totally shot to hell by the time the third plan for world domination by yet another power-mad character was revealed. Everyone in this show wants to be a Bond villain, and it turns out that everyone has a Geass power of their own.
Speaking of which, one of my largest disappointments with this second series is that Geass is never really explained. While they do go into a little more detail about CC and VV, and develop their characters and back story some more, the whole rationale behind Geass is never explained, just why these immortal beings are going around gifting humans with these weird powers. Given that the first series made much of the mystery behind Geass, that the second series neglects it makes it a missed opportunity. Also neglected are the supporting characters, the cast that was so well integrated into the story in the first series. They begin that way in the second as well, but as the story grows larger and more epic, and the emphasis turns to the inevitable plot twists, the supporting cast sees less and less screen time, and are in the end relegated to a montage.
There are plenty of positives to be taken from this second series, and it’s really only in comparison to the first that it disappoints. The first thirteen episodes of this run do continue in the vein of the first, despite the almighty clanger of an apparent reset button at the start of the series, and the odd appearance of a kid brother where a kid sister used to be. But the inevitable plot twist fetish doesn’t really overwhelm for a good ten or twelve episodes, and the blend between narrative, character, action, drama and comedy does initially mirror that of the first series. The silliness of high school life intermixed with Lelouch’s plans for world domination still enchants, and there are still moments for utter frivolity such as the Love Attack! episode. But once the scope of the story expands outside of Japan, then there is something of a character overload, Britannian Knights of the Round are introduced, as well as several notable figures in the Chinese Federation, and the smaller, more frivolous plots are overshadowed as a result.
When I think about the concluding half of the series, the train analogy comes to mind again. It’s not so much about the destination as it is the journey, and in that regard Code Geass R2 really turns out to be an exceptionally entertaining ride. It’s best to let your mind relax, and just take in the imagery, enjoy the experience, and try not to think about the technicalities of just how you’re being transported. Think too much about how this particular train is put together, and you might want to call the Health and Safety Executive. But when you look outside and see the equivalent of nukes being lobbed around, and whole mountains exploding, as well as mecha battles so epic that leave your face plastered with a silly grin, then you just feel grateful for buying a ticket.
When all is said and done, and the twisty-turny, utterly contrived, and at times daft journey through Code Geass R2 comes to a conclusion, and you wind up scratching your head at what you have just experienced, the show delivers a conclusion to its story that is so right, so perfect, so deserved that it almost makes up for it all, and you wind up forgiving all its shortcomings, and its failure to live up to the first series. Just like the best moments of that first series, the show leaves you with your mouth agape at the audacity of the final development, shocked and awed, but satisfied that no other ending could ever be as appropriate.
Should you double dip for this series? Just like the first series, the upgrade in audio and video quality certainly makes it worth it, although Kazé’s consistently poor approach to subtitling and disc authoring is more of a problem in this second series, where there are more in episode captions to translate. The disappointment comes in the lack of extra features. Season 1 had them, but season 2 does not, which means that if you upgrade from the old Beez release, you’ll have to keep hold of them, rather than free up space on your shelf. If you’re new to Code Geass, then these Blu-rays are worth getting, despite the lack of extras, although I wonder how they’ll be handled in the US should they ever get a release there. For example, the Funimation Black Lagoon Blu-rays had all the extras from the DVDs that Kazé’s release did not.