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The Code Geass Movie Should’ve Been a Miniseries

The return of Lelouch vi Britannia has its charms, but it yearns for its origin series' complexity.

Lelouch vi Britannia lives.

Anime series Code Geass ended its two-year run in 2008 with a powerfully definitive ending: after becoming Emperor of Britanna and practically enslaving the world to redirect its hatred on him exclusively, Lelouch had his best friend Suzaku assassinate him and bring about a new order of peace. It was an excellent conclusion to a series that, at its best, was an audacious and complex blend of monarchal intrigue, rich geopolitical strategy, metaphysical existentialism, and stunning mecha battles (with some breaks for levity and pizza). Still, plenty believed that Lelouch hadn’t truly met his demise by Suzaku-as-Zero, and that he was in hiding somewhere until the world needed him again.

That time has come with Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection, which continues the film trilogy recapping the original series. There are some deviations from the anime, but it largely follows the same plot beats, including the Zero Requiem that appeared to end Lelouch’s story. Re;surrection picks up a year afterwards, with Lelouch’s world order largely in tact; his sister Nunnally is a Britannian diplomat, Suzaku is her guard as Zero, leader of the Black Knights, and the world has been largely conflict-free. It all goes to hell when Nunnally and Suzaku are taken as hostages by the Middle Eastern kingdom of Zilkhistan and its two mysterious sibling leaders, Shailo and Shamna. As this international crisis unfolds, C.C. is on her own mission: bring back Lelouch. The film has the grace to not belabor what had already been spoiled by trailers, preview clips, and the title itself: Lelouch is very much alive under C.C.’s care. However, he’s not exactly himself, and C.C. believes that she has found the key to his salvation hidden deep in Zilkhistan. It just so happens that C.C.’s quest aligns quite nicely with Kallen Kozuki’s covert mission to rescue Suzaku and Nunnally, and the two teams join forces to kill two birds with one stone.

Plot conveniences and contrivances are part and parcel for anime series films. It’s a quick, easy way to collect fan favorite characters in one spot for a one-off story with relatively low stakes but lots of awesome character moments and big-screen action. Re;surrection is unique in how it directly impacts the main series. A rescue mission for Suzaku and Nunnally is a perfectly fine plot point for a Code Geass movie, one that could be wrapped up in two hours with nary a scratch left on the series. Reviving Lelouch, however, has massive canon ramifications, raising an endless stream of questions and scenarios that a show as famously intricate as Code Geass would normally spend at least four episodes unpacking. A two-hour film is simply not enough time to satisfyingly contemplate Lelouch being alive, not with a rescue mission taking up the bottom half.

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As a result, Re;surrection feels both overstuffed and underdeveloped, especially when reckoning with Lelouch’s long-awaited return. The film largely skirts over what his survival means to his loved and hated ones, even himself. Lelouch’s relationships were messy even in the best of circumstances, and his impact on everyone around him was profound, but that doesn’t come across as deeply as it should’ve. After a few moments of initial shock and disbelief, several characters pretty much accept things as they appear and line up behind their resurrected champion. The only reaction that feels as visceral as it should be is Suzaku’s; he cycles through shock, intimate adoration and self-righteous fury in the span of five excellent minutes. Even he eventually acquiesces to serve as sword and shield once again, with lines that play for humor but come off as bizarre, if not out of character. Considering Lelouch and Suzaku’s combustible history – the accidental murder, mind control, amnesia and all of the betrayal – it’s uncomfortable. None of the characters really appear to consider what a living Lelouch means, for them or the world he designed himself and left behind. It all feels way too easy.

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That may also be why Re;surrection doesn’t take place in Japan or Britannia or the Chinese Federation, countries that audiences know well and appreciate. It’s easier to ignore the complications of a living Lelouch in Zilkhistan, a country with no connection to him. This country is afforded its own distinct cultural attributes, like its intense Glass-related spiritualism and purported military excellence, but again, the film’s limited timing makes it difficult to form real attachments. The same goes for its rulers and the film’s villains. Neither Shailo or Shamna are particularly memorable characters, their motivations wrapped up in the series’ psychological ambitions that isn’t given the narrative space to fully develop. Shamna’s connection to Geass at least yields an eyebrow-raising wrinkle in the heroes’ plans, but it’s less a game-changer than just another hurdle for Lelouch to inevitably resolve. That said, watching his strategic maneuvers has lost none of its awe-inspiring luster in the 11-year hiatus. When Lelouch is back at the console, effortlessly pulling the strings behind Nunnally and Suzaku’s rescue, Re;surrection explodes to life, aided by studio Sunrise’s powerful, relentless art direction. Seeing those Knightmare Frames zig and zag through sky and on the ground is thrilling, and clearly the animators haven’t let themselves get rusty. Neither has Jonny Young Bosch, whose emphatic, melodramatic delivery as Lelouch continues to be one of the best dubbed performances in anime.

Re;surrection has enough going for it for longtime fans to buy into. Nearly every Code Geass character of consequence makes an appearance, and there are sparks of joy in seeing them interact after such a long time. However, the film offers little else, lacking the narrative depth and thoughtful characterization that the original series was famous for. The story trying to be told – the one people care most about – needed more room to breathe, either through a miniseries or OVA (let’s be honest, everyone has hankering for a third season). After 11 years, Lelouch vi Britanna deserved – commanded, rather – as much. Hopefully the promise of more Code Geass on the way will lean closer to the what fans like me were expecting.

Until then, Re;surrection is at least a reminder that Code Geass is a world-class anime worth waiting for.

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