AKA: The dream of every kid in a wheelchair ever.
As a bird now.
It should be no secret that I love Code Geass (made especially obvious if you're reading this on my blog), but I've never gotten around to checking out some of the spin-off material. There's a lot of it, from visual novels to OVAs, but there's also been a few manga series hanging around with different takes on the main series mythology. The most well known of these is Nightmare of Nunnally, which is also known as the most radically different, from how established characters are portrayed to the mythology itself. The big question with the series is does it manage to become it's own thing, or does it tie in too closely to the source material for new fans? A little bit of both.
Nightmare of Nunnally starts off in a similar manner to the original Code Geass, with an American centered Britannia winning Japan in a war in an alternate timeline. Lelouch ends up in a Japanese ghetto, finds the mysterious CC in a truck driven by a Japanese terrorist and has his fate changed. But, unlike the original series, he's not the focus and ends up dying when Britannia destroys the entire place. We then turn to Nunnally, who goes to the ghetto where Lelouch was, trying to find any trace of her precious brother and meeting a mysterious living doll by the name of Nemo. She makes a deal with the doll for geass, but then things quickly go in an entirely different direction than they already were as Nunnally summons a magical mech out of nowhere and goes to fucking town on the Britannian forces in the ghetto. Nunnally has become part of a much larger plot, revolving around a super-powered rebellion leader named Zero, a squad of artificial geass users and the myth of the Brtannian witch and the Demon King.
Nightmare of Nunnally's story is a surprising one. Instead of being tied down to the main series mythology, it creates a new one from the early foundation of the anime. Geass goes from simple eye based magic to outright magical superpowers, allowing for some truly insane stuff. This really gets shown off during the Zero fights, as Zero almost always fights hand to hand and can use his cape as a weapon and shield all in itself. The new geass shown off here lacks the cleverness of the anime, but makes up with tons of interesting abilities to make for cool and entertaining fights. I honestly can't think of many other series made heavily of giant mech and magical warriors trying to one up each other, and the thought of this being animated one day makes my mouth water.
Of course, that's not all that's different. The series begins by showing similar scenes and events to the original series, but with Nunnally as focus and things occurring differently due to Zero functioning differently here and the interference of the new characters of the irregulars, a squad of artificial geass users. As it goes on, it swerves in a completely different direction, giving more importance to some characters from the anime and mixing them in with the new cast. However, others get put on the sideline, with their conflict and story from the anime no longer being valid or necessary with the new plot. Kallen is especially hit hard by this, going from one of the main characters to an almost ignored presence, with Suzaku, Zero, Nunnally and the irregulars outclassing her piloting skills. Some characters never make an appearance due to the length of the series, while others are completely different from their original appearance. I won't say who I mean by this, but it's a huge twist in the series and one that surprisingly works.
Everybody is getting shit on their couch today.
The strength of the series itself needs to come from Nunnally and Alice, one of the irregulars and her best friend in this canon. The writer eventually realized that the heart of the story had to come from these two and did a great job of developing them. Nunnally is a very different lead from Lelouch or Suzaku, as she's a normally non-violent person and usually argues with Nemo, who takes the form of her rage in combat. Without relying on her handicaps, she manages to become a likable and well developed lead. A small series of chapters exploring her past in Japan does a great job of developing her resolve, while the early conflicts make her a more traditional hero in terms of morality. Alice, on the other hand, feels like a more traditional, cynical heroine that would be right at home in the anime. Her backstory is a tad rushed, but she gets a lot of scenes with Nunnally to build their relationship. Her drive to help her friend really feels natural and gets worked out well over the series. By the time she takes the mantel of Nunnally's knight, she really feels like a confident warrior.
The one little issue with the series is how it's tied into Code Geass by its very nature and doesn't really develop into it's own story quick enough. Many early chapters focus on characters who ultimately have no major role later on in the series, leaving an unfocused feeling for much of it. It tries to be the global story Code Geass does, but doesn't have the time or room. Many characters and early plot elements end up dropped in a sudden serve, but many of the more focused plot details and factions end up having major roles in wrapping up the series. The final volume really knocks things out of the park with great action and strong character movements, raising the series up a bit from the earlier mess. It leaves on a very bittersweet note and feels very complete and satisfying. Just be warned; The final chapter contains a MASSIVE spoiler for the ending of the anime on one panel.
Who says capes don't serve a purpose?
The art is the final piece of the project, and it eventually works. Early on, the artist has some issues getting the characters to look just right (Lelouch's nose in the first chapter just looks off), but this quickly gets fixed and it mirrors the art style of the anime much closer quickly. The mechs look a bit rougher at times, but it works, while backgrounds suffer a bit and play a back seat to the character art. As for new visuals, Zero's outfit really sells a sense of power, while Nemo's doll form looks very odd and catches the eye instantly. There's a scene where Nemo somehow smiles with its geass-mark mouth, and it looks downright disturbing. It really comes together in the end, but doesn't quite have too many stand out moments. Action scenes also tend to be a bit busy, relying a bit too much on symbols to represent swift motion than really showing what's occurring as it happens.
Where Nightmare of Nunnally needs to work is making a new mythology and story all its own, and it mostly succeeds. The start is rocky, but it manages to explain everything well enough and really hits it out of the park as it heads for its big finish. With the two leads working off each other well and having solid chemistry, the series manages to come together and create a new story out of an old one. Recommended to anyone who likes a good action story, but do be warned the final chapter does have a panel that spoils a massive part of the anime. Seriously, watch out for that if you haven't seen Code Geass yet. Otherwise, it's a fun time, if short.