More than anything else, this is a movie for those who want to see the Code Geass cast again. As long as you have limited expectations and are willing to adapt to the changes in format, presentation and characterization, the movie may reward you with a good time
If you're not a fan, this will do little for you. If you want everything to be the same as before, results will be mixed. And, if you're a shipper, this movie might either warm your heart a little or send you into a spiral of depression and denial.
Before analyzing the film, let’s take a step back. Was Code Geass a masterpiece or a train wreck? Perhaps both or something in between? Even at this late point, over ten years after the dramatic conclusion of Code Geass R2 that sent waves of emotion and memes across the Internet, the lasting popularity of the show among contemporary anime viewers is an unquestionable fact but history, which remains beyond all of our fleeting emotions, has still not reached a final verdict on its quality.
For the sake of transparency, it must be pointed out that this new movie, Lelouch of the Resurrection, does not pretend to be a direct sequel to the Code Geass R2 television series. On the contrary, it has been publicly described by director Goro Taniguchi, writer Ichiro Okouchi and other Sunrise staff members as a canonically separate product existing within its own alternate universe. What does that mean? The story of Lelouch of the Resurrection is a parallel one. It is an alternate continuation, one which follows the three recent compilation movies that introduced a set of more or less significant changes to the original story.
Keeping that in mind, this new movie presents a variation of the original Code Geass phenomenon. It may not be as structurally compromised as the second season, thankfully, but the film still seems likely to produce a high degree of controversy and polarization for completely distinct reasons. This time, the fans will have to decide whether they can accept that a shorter running time inevitably leads to reduced expectations of complexity. While never a profoundly sophisticated anime, there is going to be an objective limitation in narrative scope, introspection and thematic depth when the staff is asked to tell a new Code Geass story within no more than two hours.
Can this movie be worth watching in the eyes of most Code Geass fans? I believe so, yes. There are more than enough moments of raw theatricality, improved cinematography, character highlights, thrilling mecha action sequences, impressive animation, excellent sound composition, nods to audience favorites and appeals to nostalgia within Lelouch of the Resurrection. Furthermore, the film does live up to its own subtitle, which is usually taken for granted yet always good to confirm. Whether each of us was looking forward to it or not, the truth is that Lelouch has come back.
Nevertheless, Resurrection also presents both Lelouch and us with a quiet yet relevant challenge. Time has passed and the world has moved on. As such, the film provides somewhat different interpretations of beloved characters that may not necessarily react as we expected. In that sense, fans will have to question their own preconceived notions and memories of those familiar faces they had once embraced more than a decade ago and contrast them with the reality of these fictional individuals who are now living under a variety of different circumstances.
Above all, it is an essentially traditional premise, based on tracking the return of a legendary hero who will then bring the cast together for the sake of carrying out a rescue mission. That simple framework is fully compatible with the Code Geass brand. For the intended purpose of providing entertainment value, the story does a more than serviceable job and hits all the minimum notes. As events develop, initial success brings forth more complications and the enemy responds, which in turn requires the use of additional counters. Fanservice for all genders is present, perhaps not in excess by the standards of currently popular anime but also not at the level of scarcity seen in more distinguished productions. Code Geass always tries to have something for everyone, or at least that's the impression a lot of us have received.
When considering the story of Lelouch of the Resurrection from a purely critical perspective though, it doesn't manage to consistently impress. Code Geass never did have strong writing form, so those expectations must already be held in check, but in a way the apparent simplification of the story beats actually makes for a more comfortable viewing. We are not following a particularly complicated web of intrigue, no, but witnessing an extra adventure within the status quo of a world that is mostly at peace as a direct result of Lelouch's final grand plan: the Zero Requiem.
There is a fair degree of amusement though, in the knowledge that the titular protagonist is initially indisposed, so to speak, for a reasonable chunk of the movie. That allows other characters to take action early on. What's more, the story also gives us a few short opportunities to see the metaphysical side of Code Geass in a way that had not been possible during the original television broadcast, presumably due to the budget limitations of a seasonal production.
As previously mentioned, the plot itself is rather straightforward with only a handful of genuine surprises. If you seek a barrage of plot twists, that is not exactly the case here. Overall, I would say there are no more than two of them. Both the running time and, likewise, the large cast size are harsh mistresses indeed. To be clear, key characterization sequences are still present yet often abbreviated. Small but arguably telling details in the dialogue or in the facial expressions of the characters may be missed if you happen to blink at the wrong time or lose concentration. A number of topics are only addressed in a brief, implicit or indirect manner, which may cause certain viewers to feel confused or annoyed. This being Code Geass, after all, means that most folks are going to look for a grand spectacle instead of nuance, but it is worth noting how exactly that translates to a movie format.
In that respect, the underlying structure of this new film works much better when digested as a Code Geass anniversary project or cast reunion special, rather than taken as an absolutely necessary part of the storyline. I believe those who are prepared to cherish it as such may, at the end of the line, find most of the experience to be a welcome one. Others, sadly, will not be so lucky.
Fortunately, I believe there are a number of secondary paths available for those who wish to alleviate such concerns with an open mind. While the tapestry is indeed far less complex than before, that doesn't mean there is no room for any thematic analysis. It may be obscured or simplified, at first glance, but the elements for that exercise are still there. For instance, the main antagonists do have less screen time and layers than others we have seen before. Yet, all the same, there is a point being made there. Why, pray tell, are the High Priestess and the King of this new enemy nation so...familiar to another pair of Code Geass siblings? Rather than qualifying this as nothing more than a lack of creativity, I believe it is entirely intentional and is purposely showing us the inherent risks of an excessive reliance on brotherly or sisterly love as motivation.
See, amidst all the posturing and bombast, one question that Lelouch of the Resurrection does quietly ask is whether there is still room for a newly resurrected Lelouch in the world of Code Geass. Which is a topic that, to say the least, also has implications for the future of the property as a whole. Even when Lelouch comes back, to the joy of many characters and the audience, he is no longer a factor for rebellion and instability, at the global or strategic level, even though he may still bring fabulous chaos to the battlefield on the tactical level. One way or another, the world has moved on. This isn't a fight against, say, a remnant of Britannia or a personal vendetta against the royal family. That's all in the past, so it is natural to see the situation through other lens.
To reiterate the above, I do not deny the finer points of this state of affairs are often left up to the viewer to piece together because they are only occasionally voiced by the cast in an explicit manner. That is a valid line of criticism. Yes, I absolutely wish this movie had been a full television season in order to slow down the proceedings and carefully portray the emotional conflict at hand in great detail, scene by scene, episode by episode. That is why this movie cannot possibly be entirely satisfactory in this regard.
Nevertheless, at least some unspoken questions and unspoken answers can still be communicated to the audience with other forms of expression as well as in retrospect. I do not believe the Resurrection movie ignores every underlying issue at the back of the fan's mind, such as what Zero Requiem meant for the world and for Lelouch. We do not witness an extended debate or exposition dump about it, no, but that does not mean the characters have ignored the consequences of it. When the film is taken as a whole and carefully dissected, a few of the relevant implications can be reconstructed and brought into the light.
In other words, my thematic reading is that at least a portion of the spirit of Zero Requiem has been disseminated throughout the film and fuels the initial reactions of various characters, particularly at the beginning of the movie as well as, to an extent, around the mid-point of the film and right at the end. The explicit absence of related terminology from the dialogue does not mean it doesn’t inform the situation. Perhaps more importantly, subject to the viewer's own interpretation of the movie narrative, I believe that Lelouch's choices at the conclusion of Resurrection implicitly yet undeniably represent, beyond any other immediate trigger or whimsical timing, an acceptable answer to what role he sees for himself in this new alternate version of Code Geass and what would be the best way to move forward.
Whether my summarized arguments happen to convince you or not, the simple fact that I am able to make them in the first place should be a sign that no, you do not necessarily have to turn off your brain or view everything cynically in order to watch this movie. Not more than when it comes to discussing the original Code Geass, in all honesty, with its variable amounts of realism, insanity and campiness.
I do have a warning for those who may wish to solve the once infamous mystery of the cart driver, red herring or not. They will soon find that, technically speaking, this new theatrical feature is not providing an answer to their question. Instead, Resurrection is simply showing us another route that the story of Code Geass could have taken, in an alternate world, but it is not meant to be interpreted as an obligatory sequel. The viewer is still free to believe the original series is complete and didn't lead to the events of Resurrection. As you can imagine, some have chosen to do just that.
Quite sincerely, I do not hesitate to acknowledge that there is always the option of leaving this movie to the side and choosing to remember Code Geass, with all of its highs and lows, as having already ended back in the year 2008. The march of time may not have been stopped in real life, nor within the boundaries of the entirely fictional World of C, but time can still remain frozen inside the hearts of the select groups of viewers, if that is what they unquestionably prefer.
As previously stated, knowing there have been vocal fan reactions to Lelouch of the Resurrection, the portrayal of the main characters is a decisive factor in terms of determining how much of the movie can work for each individual person in the audience. Some will find any noticeable changes or unfulfilled expectations to be a source of intolerable inconsistency, while others can find ways to be at relative peace with the character portrayals found here. As I will now proceed to explain by focusing on the main characters of this motion picture, I happen to belong to this second group.
Once Lelouch has been fully reintroduced to the audience, he displays several of the same characteristics as a magnificent bastard, albeit on a more limited scale, which is a welcome sight. What does qualify as worrying, to a degree, is that he might feel detached or even aloof at points. His reactions can come across as muted. Lelouch isn't entirely lacking in emotion and charisma, yet the man is no longer thirsty for revenge or redemption. That fire isn’t burning anymore. After all, the conclusion of the previous storyline had extinguished it in grand fashion.
Quite bluntly, Lelouch has already gone through an entire character development arc in the original TV series as well as in the new compilation movies that adapted the same basic plotline and set the stage for this story. We are not here to see him face such challenges again, nor is the story about renegotiating the terms of the Zero Requiem. This new film is no more than an extended addendum, appendix or epilogue to the same, rather than an attempt to portray a second character arc of equal impact, length or complexity. Simply put, there is no time for rediscovering the wheel during this adventure.
Similarly, there are very few among those Lelouch encounters during Resurrection who haven’t decided to move on and accept that the world is in fact a better place now thanks to him. This had been established before in previous Code Geass materials, including the last scenes of both the new compilations and the TV series. As things stand, Lelouch’s return is not a source of great controversy to the majority of the returning cast. There are doubts expressed, but only briefly. With a longer running time, rather than a single movie, it would have been interesting to explore that tension in greater detail rather than through a mere handful of objections.
It might be obvious as a result of the title and what a number of fans used to speculate back in the day, but the movie makes this much quite explicit: Lelouch's own status is no longer that of a regular person. With that in mind, the fact he isn’t quite the same starts to make sense. Lelouch even dares to make an unusual choice during the final scenes of the movie in a manner that is rather telling. After all, this is not the same Lelouch who rebelled against Britannia. Too much has already happened since then and Lelouch is, in a way, merely witnessing the world that he once left behind. Therefore, the conclusion of the movie retroactively puts his new behavior in context by giving us the general idea of what could be Lelouch's remaining goals and, upon closer inspection, why he cannot go back to the ways of old.
Curiously enough, this is a Lelouch who, based on certain fleeting lines of dialogue, is aware of the initial events of this movie even if he doesn't sit down to discuss them. Once again, the lack of a profound exploration of his humanity can be tangibly felt and is sure to alienate a portion of the public. Even so, I find that this change is both intentional and entirely warranted in the context of the new status quo. For me, it is neither irrational nor incompatible with the resulting fallout from his previous characterization.
On that specific note, Suzaku Kururugi finds himself in quite a literal and figurative bind during this film. In this, he is also likely joined by several of his out-of-universe supporters. He was half of the emotional and melodramatic engine that drove the original Code Geass, as a result of his many contradictions that could often polarize the audience as well as make up part of his appeal, but at the end of the story he had reached a landmark state by becoming the heir to Zero. That was in fact, the outcome of his development as a character after the rollercoaster of Code Geass R2.
This movie does, to a certain extent, depict how Suzaku is taking his new life. What is sure to cause controversy is the fact that Suzaku clearly isn’t the focus point. He has become merely an important member of the secondary cast, rather than returning to his earlier standing as would-be deuteragonist. After all, Lelouch of the Resurrection is neither a story of revolution against the system nor a conflict over using the right methods, so Suzaku can no longer be expected to serve as a foil to Lelouch. That chapter is, at least for the time being, closed.
Even then, the staff did not forget the nature of their chemistry and interactions. Suzaku's conflicting emotional response upon meeting Lelouch would be senseless if he did not remember and value their mutual dynamic. But surely, even Suzaku himself is not the same man anymore. How could he possibly be? Suzaku begins this movie by being defeated, as shown in the official trailers and the plot synopsis that is publicly available. That would shake anyone's self-confidence, especially facing the prospect of meeting the original Zero again. Under those conditions, Suzaku has the right to consider if he was in fact the right person for the job. Nonetheless, I do not interpret this as an abandonment of duty on his part. I think it’s a very human reaction. While the sequence in question is longer than that dedicated to other reunions, which reflects that the staff recognizes his relevance, it is still not enough to exhaust all the questions left in the air. Still, we do get to see a proper glimpse of what worries Suzaku now and what he thinks about Lelouch after all this time. As much as I might desire a less abbreviated and much more elaborate handling of the subject matter, given its more prominent portrayal back in the original show, I am of the opinion that it is not impossible to reconcile and rationalize what has happened here.
Conversely, the character known as C.C. ended up playing a more high profile role during Lelouch of the Resurrection than initially expected. For about half of the movie, it would not be an exaggeration to consider her as the co-protagonist. We are able to see a number of events from her perspective. That’s unusual for the property and, in my opinion, a refreshing change of pace. In a way, I almost wish the entire movie had chosen to keep that framing and take its time to fully explain the details, but I can still appreciate what we got.
Moreover, C.C. also represents another dividing line between the characters as seen in the Lelouch of the Rebellion storyline and those who are present in this film. She is not in the same situation, so her interactions with the rest of the cast have changed. Undoubtedly, that is bound to trigger some disbelief, misunderstandings and disappointments.
At the end of the original TV series, it would appear that, one way or another, C.C. had come to terms with her immortal life and was able to move on by living in the new world that Lelouch had created. Make of that what you will. However, that outcome was changed in both subtle and blatant ways due to the three recent compilation movies. In short, during the recap films C.C. was not satisfied by Lelouch’s last decision and felt that neither her own wish nor Lelouch’s promise to her had been fulfilled. That was directly expressed in the last scene of the final compilation.
Therefore, without Lelouch, what would she do? As it turns out, this new story confirms C.C. was willing to take action for herself. Looking back, you could argue that C.C. was more comfortable around Lelouch than with any other character. I have always been of the belief that their relationship was beyond something purely romantic and closer to that of equal partners yet, by the same token, also included an element of seeking companionship. This, as expressed by C.C. herself in both the movie and some of its trailers, is undeniably a selfish action. But who are we to judge? Few things are more human than the search for happiness, an egotistical yet entirely natural objective that would be more relevant for an immortal who is tired of simply accumulating experiences. That is a legitimate outlook and, under the circumstances depicted, can in fact override other aspects of an individual’s personality.
If we take a step back, there is an inherent contrast between selfishness, arguably represented by C.C. in this case, and selflessness, which is more closely symbolized by Lelouch’s decision at the end of the previous storyline. It is also, in my opinion, represented by the ultimate choice Lelouch makes here. Without going into the concrete details, even C.C. couldn’t predict what would happen. She made a gamble, or rather, two of them. One before the movie even started and, perhaps not entirely consciously, another at the end. As with other aspects of Lelouch of the Resurrection, I am of the subjective point of view that the movie provides us with enough building blocks to make reasonable inferences and deductions, but it doesn’t go ahead and spell out everything that is going on. Especially if you take into consideration what had happened beforehand in this alternate Code Geass universe, rather than only having the world of the TV series in mind.
As a final note, a few words must be said about the rest of the characters. There are several quick cameos or smaller roles that will be appreciated by specific subsets of fans but, sadly, I am afraid the sheer size of the ensemble cast of Code Geass emphasizes the restrictions of the film format as well as the consequences of the type of story the staff has chosen to prioritize.
Even so, I found a few interesting points. I am glad to report that Kallen does play an active part during the story, as a powerful fighter both inside and outside of her mecha, but the instances where she can display her own thoughts and emotions are mainly confined to the early half of the film. Nonetheless, it is worth highlighting that she too, makes note of the fact Lelouch has changed. Amusingly, we also see Kallen team up with Sayoko, the infamous ninja maid, for a while.
Furthermore, I almost didn’t expect to see Cornelia again and yet here she is. Compared to the last time we saw her, I found this to be a return to Cornelia’s better days, both with respect to her personality as well as regarding her direct participation in the action. Her own scene with Lelouch is brief but, logically, one of the more emotionally charged.
Shirley is alive in this alternate universe but does not play a huge role. Ultimately, I would say that the most disappointing scenario involved Nunnally, Lelouch’s younger sister, who once again became more of a plot device than anything else. To be fair, she does get at least one big emotional scene that was properly acted and interestingly set up, especially for those who may share a few elements of my previously sketched interpretation of the movie, but her presence was largely lacking.
ART AND ANIMATION: 9/10
The character designs remain, as expected, a striking combination of CLAMP's original drafts and Takahiro Kimura's adaptations for the purpose of animation. If you were fine with all the noodle figures before or even found them pleasing to the eye, you are probably going to feel the same this time around. If not, then I can only wonder why you haven't run away in disgust or laughing like a maniac.
Mechanical designs are another point of interest. The new mecha are, by and large, different enough from what we had seen before but not out of place. Variations on old models, such as the Guren and Lancelot in their latest versions, might be slightly more divisive.
On that note, Lelouch of the Resurrection combines the use of 2D and 3D mecha assets when it comes to portraying the numerous robot battles. I wasn't a fan of this approach, on paper, yet in practice it turned out to be a nice way to appeal to nostalgia as well as open the door to another possible way of expression. Still, I would say Akito the Exiled remains ahead of the 3DCG game in strictly technical terms.
The movie looks wonderful as a work of animation and storyboarding. Compared to the original TV series, the quality of background scenery and character motion has absolutely increased. Not universally, but enough to deserve genuine praise. This is what a Code Geass movie should, by all rights, look like.
As expected, the sound department is back and mostly in good shape too. Kotaro Nakawaga brings his signature style of instrumental and orchestral composition as well as a small number of more bold tracks and a few familiar pieces which, I can say without hesitation, will contribute to make the majority of Code Geass fans feel right at home in terms of the audio presentation.
Those familiar with ALI PROJECT might want to know there is one of their songs on the soundtrack. I've always found them to be an acquired taste, so I won't really comment on their effectiveness. Unfortunately, FLOW did not participate. Besides that, the OP and ED themes are entirely appropriate for the purposes of the film, particularly if you can look up the translated lyrics and then put them in context.
For those who would say the secret to enjoying Code Geass is to sit back and grab a bag of popcorn, this movie definitely delivers. It has that same type of blockbuster appeal.
I don't deny that form of enjoyment. It's always been a part of my experience but I am more inclined to engage in a combination of stances. Don't take seriously what doesn't need to be, because one has to just go with the flow of certain scenes, but be prepared to analyze and think about whatever can be dissected.
Lelouch of the Resurrection didn't provide me with as much ammunition as the original TV show, so I had to recalibrate my expectations. This wasn't possible right after watching the movie just once, which was mostly a visceral experience, so I had to go back and rewatch as well as look up more information and make up my mind about whether the overall package was deserving of my investment. In the end, I think I've come up with a good method. Am I asking everyone to do that? No, just charting out a possible path for interpretation.
If you want to know the temperature in the room, so to speak, the movie has been mostly well-received in Japan. I suspect that's because most fans are willing to play ball with the idea of the film being a celebration of Code Geass that, while perhaps gratuitous and unnecessary, does have some of the energy and feel of the original. Whether it lacks the soul or not, of course, is an entirely different matter. Almost no popular work of fiction is made entirely out of love for the art form. Did Code Geass have a soul to lose? Some would immediately say no. I'd beg to differ, but my short answer is that it is in a transitional state and the future of the property will be what gives us the last word on that.
There are, however, various segments of the fan population who have either ignored or sworn off Lelouch of the Resurrection. Let them do so in peace. You can please some people all of the time, but you can only please all people some of the time. There is no escaping that. Code Geass has been a very good example of what happens when such a rule is taken to the extremes and Lelouch of the Resurrection is once again proving that.