December 2, 2016

An Episode In Gaming: Code Lyoko (Part 7)

"Code Lyoko" review: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Alright, I covered the whole show, I talked about the episodes I liked, I gave some points of criticism… Today, I am letting it all out. My criticism, I mean. I will go back quickly on 24 little things I noticed in Code Lyoko that may annoy some people. Maybe I’m making a CinemaSins of myself, maybe I’m just complaining because complaining on the Internet is fun… Either way, I stay true to my word: I like the show. But I understand why someone might not. Here are 24 problems, ranging from minor to major, that can be found in Code Lyoko. Note that I did not include all of the criticisms I brought up in the previous six parts – I kept the more important ones. If you know the show, and there are other things that annoy you about it that I haven't covered, feel free to share them. I like reading your opinions.

24. The doors are a CGI show-off
Starting with Season 2, the show started using CGI also in some scenes of the real world – usually for doors. Only problem is, the doors created this way swing on their hinges back and forth. Look, I’m sure such doors exist in high schools and dormitories – only problem is, the CGI on these particular doors looks incredibly fake, and their swinging back and forth just looks like the animators are showing off their blending of the 2D and CGI parts. Plus, I doubt such doors would be so widespread around a French high school campus. They're practically everywhere.

23. Variable computer science
The show may stretch and pull your suspension of disbelief like an elastic and stop just before it breaks – but it also does this to computer science. Sometimes, new programs take weeks or months to code; other times they take mere hours. When the supercomputer is turned off, or loses power, or rebooted, Lyoko won’t work as well, yet any Lyoko-Warriors inside it will still somehow be aware. It all depends on what direction the writers want an episode to take. Add this to the pile of things that aren’t consistent in the series.

22. No deduction skills?
Even when it's ridiculously obvious where they're going,
they still make sure to waste every possible second
before delivering their big shocking twist.
I noticed this later as I was writing Part 5 of this review; these characters have little to no deduction skills. Or at least, no deduction skills when it matters. As an example: the plot elements start piling up by the end of Season 2. The Hermitage, belonging to Franz Hopper, has a room for a child; Aelita remembers the doll found there; her visions include flashes of Franz Hopper playing piano in a clean Hermitage. Anyone and their mother could figure out that Aelita was always human. And as the heroes review all these elements, they ask questions, but keep dancing around the answer until it’s finally stated… Christ kids, either you’re trying to force yourself not to spit it out too quickly, or you’re really that terrible at deduction! What about hypotheses? You guys never tried to bring forth that maybe, just maybe, Aelita was always human? Jérémie, you’re a science guy, you should have tried bringing forward a hypothesis or two! Urgh. Moving on.

21. Project Carthage: Forgotten
This relates to the myth arc regarding Franz Hopper and XANA. In Season 2, it’s revealed that Hopper created XANA as a multi-agent program during Project Carthage, an ultra-secret project, which is why his family was then targeted by men in black… and, thus, why he and Aelita fled to Lyoko. There are still hints of this when Jérémie tries to figure out the password to call the transporter that would bring his friends to Sector 5 (SCIPIO). However, that plot element is dropped. What was Carthage about? Why did it require XANA? Why did it make the Men in Black target all of Hopper's family? Either the writers forgot, or decided they’d rather not talk about it.

After all, you can't make a lot of jokes about being chased
relentlessly by dead-serious Men In Black...

20. A spoiler in the ending credits!
Talking about backstory, starting with Season 2, the end credits show Classified files that include pictures of Franz Hopper as well as documents about him. It shows him with a wife, it shows him among the teachers of Kadic. I repeat: It shows him with a wife. Who has a slight resemblance with Aelita. In other words, the show spoiled its second season’s biggest revelation right from that season’s first episode. Good work! You may count it as foreshadowing... in which case it's probably the most obvious clue that would allow the viewers to figure out the big twist very early on.

19. …An army of robots
Yup. That was XANA’s world takeover plan all along. Still disappointing as all Hell.

And they all have weak points, too!
XANA, you're supposed to be a brilliant enemy!

18. Jérémie’s programming failures
One of Jérémie's programming failures; we had a group
of Odd consuming all the hair gel in the ten-kilometer
radius for their eccentric haircuts.
It’s justified by him getting into something that is out of his league, but Jérémie accumulates failures when he’s programming something new to use on Lyoko. When it’s not multiplying Odd, it’s separating Ulrich’s mind from his body. It led to a bunch of interesting episodes, but it would usually be used just to add some extra drama – how often have these programming failures happened and suddenly the affected heroes had only 4 or 8 or 12 hours to be repaired or else they were gonna die or vanish forever or something?

17. The “No Deaths” clause
One thing established from the very first episodes, and reinforced throughout the show with the numerous times the characters are second away from death, is the “No Death” clause. Basically, Return to the Past reverts the world anywhere from a few hours to two days back, but will not negate deaths, making them indeed permanent. The reason is simple: This is a kid show, therefore it shouldn’t have such heavy subjects. However, one question is never answered: How did they learn that death wouldn’t be reverted by the reset button? Was it written somewhere in the program when Jérémie discovered it? Or… did they find out the hard way, early on in their careers as heroes? Come to think of it, why wouldn't deaths be reverted if the supercomputer is able to replicate a whole day's worth of actions so perfectly? Sleep well, kids!

16. Stupid XANA plans
Yup, a food golem. I wasn't kidding about that one.
To be fair, a can to the head really does freaking hurt.
I get that the whole idea behind the show is that these protagonists are fighting something more powerful than they’ll ever be, so they’re always within a hair’s breadth of losing. However, this happens even when XANA’s current plan is completely stupid. Giant teddy bear? Okay, that was the pilot, why not. Destroying the group’s trust by going around as a polymorphic clone and kissing people? Wait, what? A food golem, really? I don’t know how XANA selects his plans, but some of those were outright ridiculous. And that’s coming from a program that evolved to become a magnificent manipulating bastard! Although, if these stupid plans also brought him so close to victory… that probably says more about the heroes…

15. Impossible XANA plans
In the same vein, while I can forgive the polymorphic clones, the possessions, and other similar things, I don’t see how XANA could achieve some of the other things it’s done. It once removed all gravity on the campus. The reason given in the show was bogus. Another day, it literally sunk the Academy multiple floors into the ground. How? Nobody knows! What about that time he unleashed the coldest winter of all time upon Kadic? Even with all the power this program gained, there are still things that it shouldn’t have been able to do. That or, it’s gotten a really incredible grip on quantum physics…

14. No proper intro until Season 3
"XANA Awakens" should have been the first two episodes.
I don’t mean intro as in, “the introduction sequence of the series”; I mean, an introductory episode or two explaining the setting. Season 1 starts in the middle of the group’s fight against XANA. We discover the details one at a time, over the course of the first few episodes, but it’s not until Season 3 that we get an actual introduction. The two-parter “XANA Awakens” airs as part of Season 3… AKA, 52 episodes later.

13. Variable intelligence adults
There is something about TV shows and cartoons in general that is known as “Depending on the story”. This is when characters start behaving in some way only because that’s what is needed for the current story to work. In Code Lyoko, the adults are struck by this pretty badly; one day they will respond to the crisis in an intelligent manner, bringing the children to a safe place. Another day, they’ll be complete imbeciles who confiscate all the cell phones when they mysteriously start ringing all at the same time, and then try to take down every signal tower in town. The level of intelligence of these people, who are teachers for the most part, varies greatly from episode to episode. This gets toned down in later seasons, when the adults start picking up on some of the heroes’ antics and actually keep a rather reasonable level of intelligence regardless of plot.

12. Odd’s Future Flashes
That power of premonition that Odd had in Season 1, which was such a blatant way to increase drama that even the writers decided to take it out of the show. And good riddance.

Ironically, Aelita ended up having a near-identical
premonition at the end of the show. So even if they
got rid of Odd's power, they still kept that ace up their
sleeve... just to cultivate some final drama in episode 94.

11. Casanova Odd
A recurring gag in the show, starting with Season 2, is that Odd just can’t stop flirting with every girl on the campus. Well, with every girl his age, but still. The joke soon deviates to “Odd gets hated by every girl that dates him”, because karma is cruel. It does start off as pretty funny, but after a while it just becomes annoying. Like many comical side-stories on the show, this only shows up once every few episodes, whenever the writers can milk a joke out of it, so it’s not too bad.

10. Sissi… What a pest!
Plus all of her moments where she's nagging Ulrich or
purposely looking for trouble with the gang...
One of those aspects I barely discuss in the whole review is Sissi Delmas, the alpha girl on campus. After her behavior in “XANA Awakens”, the heroes chose not to have her in their group, and ever since, she's tried to break them up or discover their secret. That’s when she’s not trying to pull Ulrich away from Yumi, of course. If XANA is the villain of the protagonists’ heroic lives, Sissi is the closest to a villain there can be in their student lives. She starts off as an unpleasant, whiny, spoiled brat who feels entitled to get Ulrich and shows no respect to anyone. She mellows out over the course of these four seasons, becoming at least a little more likeable every time – however, no matter what point it is in the show, she’s guaranteed to have moments where you just can’t stand her annoying presence. Well, at least she held her own against XANA’s latest scheme multiple times, so she’s quite the survivor…

9. Aelita the useless
Aelita started out as a disliked character for many reasons. At first, her only power was to change the layout of the field, summoning barriers or removing floors and similar things. But aside from that, she had no actual offensive talents, meaning she always had to be protected. She was a breathing, walking escort mission, with the sole bonus being that the Lyoko-Warriors only needed to open a way for her towards the tower by killing XANA’s mooks. Sure, in Season 2 she started fighting back, and in Seasons 3 and 4 gained new abilities that let her fight alongside her friends, but it was still an escort mission; she had to survive, go into that tower and deactivate it. However, for the first two seasons, something about her annoyed a lot of fans.

8. The Aelita-XANA dilemma
Talking about Aelita… This point is about the question that pops up in “XANA Awakens” and is maintained for all of Season 1. Should they risk keeping the supercomputer turned on and letting a mankind-hating AI pull all kinds of nasty plans on unsuspecting people, all to save another AI with a pretty face? Or should they sacrifice that pretty AI to ensure mankind isn’t endangered? This question was a sword of Damocles over the show’s beginnings, with many fans raising that point out of simple logic. I mean, have you seen the kind of shit XANA is able to pull? He almost wins in every single episode! Most people would say “sorry, Aelita” and turn off the whole thing. But Jérémie would not allow this to happen. In the end, it turns out he was right, Aelita really was a human virtualized on Lyoko; but it also endangered the world for two whole years…

7. The protagonist-centered morality of the early seasons
Here shown: A Return to the Past, just to illustrate the point.
With a handy reset button and no unfortunate secondary effects (at first) to using it, the heroes really went wild with the Return to the Past function of the supercomputer at first. Of the 26 episodes of Season 1, 23 episodes use it. Almost every instance was justified considering XANA had done considerable damage or done things that would be questioned or investigated. Even in the following seasons, they would use it, but only as a last resort. However, the heroes would also take that opportunity to correct their own mistakes in their student lives. Things their opponents (mostly Sissi, Nicolas and Hervé) do are treated as wrong, but when the Lyoko-Warriors do those things, then it’s A-OK. Some episodes do show a more selfish side of the characters, especially Odd who once made a major mistake and tried to have Ulrich take the blame for him with Yumi… yeah, Odd, I’m not done criticizing you. These are teenagers, so it can be excused that they sometimes still think that what they're doing is right even when it isn't. Doesn't make it less infuriating the few times where such behavior is shown.

6. Yumi, professional XANA victim
By her status, Yumi is an easy victim for XANA to pick on. She lives with her family; she’s a year older and, thus, not in the same class as her friends. On top of that, she doesn't like having to save the world. These may be the reasons why the malevolent program seemed to pick on her more often than it picked on the others. On one hand, it’s perfectly logical; on the other, it becomes pretty glaring after a while. When the fans come up with a term for it, you know it’s become a problem. Granted, Aelita would become a justified victim of XANA afterwards, but Yumi would still seem to be more frequently the one that all misfortunes happen to – whether it’s in the fight against XANA, or in the students’ everyday lives on the campus.

5. God Damn It Odd
That time Odd had one of his famous "God Damn It Odd"
moments but received punishment for it.
Disco-dance, Odd! Dance all night long!
I could probably list all the times Odd acted as a moron who provokes the problems in this show, but it would stretch this article to 5,000 words. Odd Della Robbia was already set up as the most immature kid in the group. The comic relief, basically. Unfortunately, this also means that he was often the one to cause the drama in the “ordinary student life” part of the episode… which would often carry into the week’s “fight against XANA” part of the episode. And that’s exactly the problem; you’d think that after his antics put him and his friends in trouble, Odd would learn. Well, nope. And that’s probably the most infuriating thing about him. Don't get me wrong, comic reliefs are important, but writers of a series must always make sure that said comic relief doesn't become a burden for the team of protagonists. And Odd was becoming a burden by the end.

4. Ulrich and Yumi’s infinite romantic tension
Oh, Yumi... This is just Season 1. You have  no idea
yet what he's like when a competitor appears.
Talking about plot tumors that never really leave the story, we have the “romance” between Ulrich and Yumi. Here’s how it happened: Ulrich meets Yumi during a martial arts class at Kadic. They're the only two students, and she kicks his ass. He takes a liking to her. When XANA attacks, she’s brought to the factory and ends up helping on Lyoko. Throughout Season 1, Ulrich knows he has feelings for Yumi, but can’t bring himself to say it. In Season 2, William enters the picture… And Ulrich becomes a jealous creep. Of course, he doesn’t know that Yumi has no romantic interest in William, and this bit of missing info drives the rest of this awkward relationship. The first episode of Season 3 shows that the fight against XANA is too dangerous, and Yumi wants to stay out of any possible romantic relationship as long as it’s not over… and Ulrich agrees, but reluctantly; he stays a jealous creep. At least, their final victory allows for this couple to finally happen. See, these two act like the teenagers they are, but this couple and the issues they go through (usually because of Ulrich’s own jealousy, as Yumi is a lot more level-headed) ends up driving many B-plots from their student lives. And Ulrich’s attitude often makes you wonder if he’s the kind of guy you should root for…

3. Life Points mean nothing
Lyoko doesn’t have a clear system. Sure, there are abilities, there are monsters, and there are attacks, but no clear system about Life Points. They merely serve to increase drama when the protagonists are fighting on Lyoko. It’s as I said: One day, a laser from a Tarantula will deal 10 Life Points of damage to a hero, the next a single shot from a Kankrelat will take down 60 Life Points. I know why the writers keep this feature unclear: So that they can make the story go just the way they want it to go. Need Aelita to end up alone on Lyoko? Have the others all get devirtualized quickly, showered with blasts from the enemies. Need one to come back to the real world to face whatever’s causing the danger at the moment? Quick devirtualization! Make things harder on Lyoko? Have only one of them still on Lyoko with Aelita, against the remaining monsters! It becomes pretty obvious after a while that the Life Points are really just there to balance the drama so that so that the plot goes according to plan.

2. The overuse of stock clips
The most obvious stock clip sequence:
When a Return to the Past is activated.
Cartoons are expensive to make, so every show has its own way to cut costs. Stock clips are one such example; instead of reproducing the same scene with similar shots, why not take a scene from a previous episode, cut the sound, and use it in the new context? Code Lyoko, in particular, invites this quite a bit. Stock clips are used when:
-The group is rushing to the factory;
-The Lyoko-Warriors are being virtualized;
-The main characters are on Lyoko;
-Aelita is deactivating a tower (this one, in particular, is pretty bad, as it’s always the same sequence. It changes a little in Seasons 2 and 4, but otherwise it’s always the same thing)
-Jérémie is typing or launching programs on the supercomputer’s control station, in particular the Return to the Past.
It becomes very obvious, and it often leads to issues when the stock clips don’t follow exactly the situation (causing continuity errors). Thankfully, every season has also seen a few changes here and there, meaning the creation of new stock clips or replacements of old ones – this is especially notable in Season 4, when all the characters change outfits, including on Lyoko. You can tell they are at least aware of the problem and shook up the formula precisely to avoid being told that they’re never using anything else than the early stock clips.

1. Always so close to losing
And now, the ultimate indication that this show cultivates drama just to keep the audience in their seats: Every time the heroes win, it’s always a second or two before they would lose. Someone would be close to death, XANA’s plan would almost work. Aelita would deactivate the tower at a snail’s pace, and XANA’s influence in the real world would stop. Always a few seconds before the bus hits the nuclear power plant, or befire a character falls from a deadly height, or whatever else the situation was. In the first season, episodes where this didn’t happen were quite rare. There’s only so many times that a trope can be used before people start seeing the pattern in a show and become disinterested in it. The rate of in extremis victories did decrease afterwards, not every situation ended in a risk of death. This was yet another improvement on the show once it found its footing, early on in Season 2. They wouldn’t completely get rid of it, though, so quite a few episodes would still end with them stopping XANA’s attack just in time before there are casualties. I guess it works for kids, who don’t mind this sort of thing, but an adult might be annoyed at the frequency at which this trope is used.

One second later, the trains would have collided.
One second later, that laser would have made a half-Yumi.

I,m not posting every example, but you get the idea.

And this is it, this covers every single thing I had to say about Code Lyoko. Phew! I’m done with that show. I’m putting this behind me. If you liked this long as Hell review, be sure to check out the show; you might end up enjoying it.

And with this, we’re now in December! I’ll write a few more reviews to finish the year. Let’s see… write two quick Wii reviews, maybe a Steam Pack or two… Things should go pretty quickly now. Okay, goodbye!

November 28, 2016

An Episode In Gaming: Code Lyoko (Part 6)

"Code Lyoko" review: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Alright, this is the second-to-last part for this review, I promise. I have something more for Part 7, but you’ll see at the end of this article. We've still got 20 episodes, so I’ll hurry up and discuss them.

"I hope I get out of this, to see
mom, dad, Hiroki, Ulrich again...
And my Pokémon Ruby save file..."
We get an episode where the students are off to a camping trip at a nearby lake (where XANA attack, because of course it does), and then we see the Lyoko-Warriors going back into the Digital Sea and towards the first Replika. If you need to remember what a Replika is, go back to read the second half of Part 5. As usual, Season 4 of Code Lyoko has brought its share of new concepts and settings, and many episodes are about exploring them in greater detail, usually by way of “what is this goes wrong?” being the basis for an episode’s plot. In “Lost at Sea”, after a fight against XANA in the Digital Sea, Yumi’s mini-ship doesn’t return to the Lyoko-Warriors’ ship, the Skidbladnir. She’s lost in the depths. Of course, they do manage to retrieve her after moments of excellent drama, but it’s another episode that highlights just the kinds of unexpected dangers any of them could run into – they’re always at a risk in the Digital Sea.

Plus, of course it had to be Yumi. If something tragic must happen, it must happen to Yumi, the writers’ favorite victim.

"Look at this! I no longer have to design a cosplay!"
"Are you kidding? I'm still not ready for the next furry
With knowledge that a Replika needs to be destroyed by smashing the supercomputer that contains it, Jérémie works on a program that will translate Lyoko-Warriors from Lyoko to the real world, as their virtual avatars. Just… just roll along with it, the writers on this show had an idea for the rest of the season, logic be damned. Jérémie will find a better solution later. For now, we have to follow along. Anyway, like everything else, this starts with a test drive. This episode, “Lab Rat”, was mysteriously missing when Cartoon Network aired the show, so fans of the series wound up seeing the main characters translated to the real world as their Lyoko avatars. With no explanation whatsoever because the episode that set up that plot point never aired.

November 25, 2016

An Episode In Gaming: Code Lyoko (Part 5)

"Code Lyoko" review: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

So, Season 2 has passed, and Season 3 has brought a whole new lot of challenges for the Lyoko-Warriors. It’s gotten to the point that XANA might as well be the least of their worries – not that this would be true, considering their deadly opponent has already managed to wipe out two sectors of Lyoko, and plans to wipe out the others, which would leave them without a way to fight back. Only now, the series seems to deconstruct the entire concept of “children who juggle studying and saving the world”, by showing just how many obstacles would be in the way of the protagonists in such a story. That’s not a thing that can be explored in a matter of a few episodes, the entire series is required. And that’s one of the brilliant aspects of this show.

Meanwhile the drama theater teacher just had a brand new idea
for a play.

And to go along with the deconstruction, more and more of XANA’s attacks cause things that aren’t as easy to repair. Among others, in “Temporary Insanity”, XANA inverts Odd and Ulrich’s perceptions of Lyoko and reality, meaning they believe themselves still on Lyoko when they’re in the real world, viewing the students and staff as monsters, while they think that they’re on the campus once they’re virtualized in the scanners. Sure, that’s corrected by the end of the episode, but still, that’s another case of XANA getting close to winning (by almost destroying the Core).

"Why did it have to be a glitch like this? Why couldn't it
just give me an infinite number of copies of
the sixth item in my inventory?"
In the next episode, “Sabotage”, XANA, well, sabotages one of the motherboards in the supercomputer, causing glitches on Lyoko that allow his monsters to make quick work of the protagonists. And Jérémie only has about three hours to repair it and switch around the motherboards – something that would be simple, if only he wasn’t being forced by Jim to do some cleaning in his dorm room! Reality, old nemesis, you strike again! And yes, as you can imagine, the heroes still manage to get everything to be fine by the end. Plus, the glitches caused by the fried motherboard also affected the monsters on Lyoko, so that helped quite a bit. Although the way they won was a little weird: Aelita wiped out the Ice sector, by herself, which gave XANA what it wanted, but also gave Jérémie enough power to reboot the supercomputer. Yeah… don’t think about it too hard. The script writers behind the show still love to pull the strings to have the series go the want they want it to go, logic be damned…

3 out of 5 sectors wiped! XANA is just getting closer to victory by every attack!

November 21, 2016

An Episode In Gaming: Code Lyoko (Part 4)

"Code Lyoko" review: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

Alright, so I’ll try to finish discussing season 2 today and embark on Season 3.

Idiots! Hit the symbol! The symbol!
I’m not gonna skip through all of the remaining episodes past this point, but I’ll hurry a little more. One day the Lyoko-Warriors believe XANA has taken control of Jérémie (When actually he was only doing a dangerous experimentation - phew! It's just that!), the next day they fight Krabes materialized in the real world (which leads to many moments of awesome in the real world), the next day XANA somehow causes a localized zombie apocalypse by spreading a mind control virus among the students and faculty.

As if that wasn’t enough, XANA has been learning from the displays of friendship between the characters, and has started using this as an advantage either to get them killed or to split them up. In the latter case, the program once attacks by summoning a clone that goes around kissing people to break the trust between the heroes. That episode, “XANA’s Kiss”, is generally considered among the weirdest, as well as one of the worst. And yet, that plan turns out to be very effective, and the Lyoko-Warriors nearly split up from this. After this attack failed, all I can imagine is the symbol going “Ptoo! Ptoo! Phoooey! It’s the last time I kiss a human ever again! All these disgusting mouth microbes for nothing!”

This is NOT the Yumi we know.
This is, however, totally the troll-ish Odd we know.
In the episode “A Fine Mess”, something goes wrong during rematerialization and Odd and Yumi end up in each other’s bodies. What follows is a lot of awkwardness as you may imagine from that kind of story, and of course things take a turn for the worse when the two risk vanishing forever unless Jérémie corrects this mistake. Yet another episode that highlights the dangers of their adventure, and how any bug that happens while they transfer to and from Lyoko could have very dangerous outcomes. Of course, we also get a lot of funny moments, like Yumi-as-Odd having to suffer the results of Odd’s Casanova tendencies (slapped twice in a minute!), while Odd-as-Yumi keeps messing up and speaking Chinese… while he’s with her Japanese family. Aww, he’s so accidentally offensive! It’s so cute! Good thing it wasn't a Friday on top of everything else!

"Whoa, what happened to my hand? I look so... low-res!"

Poor Yumi. Drama always falls on her.
Some episodes, such as “Cold War”, show XANA now powerful enough to transcend the previously-established rules of Lyoko, even being able to bring some of the Sector 5-only monsters onto the other Lyoko sectors. Oh yeah, and he can apparently bring the temperature down to never-before-seen lows, without even a semblance of an explanation, effectively freezing all of Kadic worse than we have in our old Canadian winters. Aelita’s visions are getting more precise now, with nightmares of men in black, the Hermitage, and other strange images that she shouldn’t be seeing.

Alright kids, leave it to the pros. This guy IS the maker
of Lyoko after all.
Skipping forward a bit, in episode 49, “Franz Hopper”, after Jérémie’s computer detects five activated towers, the group hurries to the factory, only to see an older man at the controls. The man presents himself: Franz Hopper. Gray beard, check. Opaque specs, check. Lab coat, check. He looks exactly like that man Aelita sees in her visions! And he looks happy to see her in the real world, too! He immediately establishes himself as an expert about the supercomputer, turning off the towers by himself in the monitor room. He then scans the Lyoko-Warriors to see if anything went wrong during virtualization. Frank Hopper then detects something wrong with Yumi’s program, like a disease or something – oh hey, lookit that, Yumi again. Poor girl, she can never catch a damn break, can she? As a result, Ulrich, Odd and Yumi choose to rally behind Franz, chastising Jérémie and breaking the group apart. 

Yes, leave it to the pro, unless that pro is the bad guy in
disguise - in which case, beat the shit out of him!
However, the man says some sentences that lead to Jérémie figuring out that it’s actually XANA in disguise (hiding the XANA irises behind Franz’s opaque glasses). The brainy teen manages to save his friends just as they were about to get killed on Lyoko, left with their weapons deactivated. Phew! That was a close one. Too close, in fact. Probably my favorite episode in the whole series, as it shows exactly how much XANA has learned from humans and how well he’s able to replicate one, and how clever a manipulator he has become. Not to mention that this plan ties very neatly into the remaining episodes – and finally, the conclusion of this season’s many arcs!

Here, have this totally random image of Odd
boxing against a Creeper.

Then we have “Contact”, where the actual Franz Hopper manages to contact the heroes (by possessing Sissi, of all people) and give Jérémie some lines of code to help him cure Aelita. Of course, because they need something to fill in the 23 minutes of each episode, the group never catches on that this mysterious benevolent being that is bathing Lyoko towers in white light (in comparison to XANA’s red) is Franz Hopper. So most of the episode is spent trying to decode Sissi’s backwards message while XANA tries to prevent the white tower from continuing its transmission.

"The first one that makes a Star Wars joke
gets my blade through his kidney!"
In the next episodes, we see Aelita still perfectly fine knowing she’s a program who got to become a real girl. Jérémie is stuck at decoding Franz Hopper’s diary, still not very successful. Same goes for the antivirus. XANA creates a polymorphic clone of Odd and manages to get him to go to Lyoko by the standard procedure, and the Odd clone almost kills Ulrich there while Yumi saves the real Odd in extremis from drowning. And how do they end up winning? Because a greater force wrestled control of a red tower out of XANA’s hands. Yup, Hopper again. Wow, this guy has really become the point all the plot threads rally to! Like a beacon for unresolved mysteries looking to be resolved! At the end of this episode, Hopper’s diary is decoded at last, and we discover, among other things, that the computer scientist created the supercomputer in the factory, that he created XANA, and so on and so forth. And because Jérémie either loves to keep the suspense going or because he likes to stretch things for too long, he drops a final revelation bomb: Aelita was his daughter. She didn’t start out as a computer program, she was always human to begin with.

Whoa, what a shocking twist for our protagonists!
I definitely didn't imagine they'd still be so relaxed
after such a revelation!

Okay, I see the impact such a revelation may have… but honestly, don’t expect to win this year’s precognition award if you figured that one out. I mean, it had become pretty damn evident by the end. (A revelation also not helped by the fact that, all this freaking time, none of the heroes seemed to figure it out, nor even held this as a theory. For a kid as smart as Jérémie, that’s pretty dumb. And the others should have had their own doubts, too, considering Aelita had flashes of a past life…)

Talking about flashes of a past life, these men in black
meant business. Seems there was a shortage of aliens to look for.

Ready for a final mission?
"No! I wanna be a hero for a little longer still!"
The final episode of season 2, “The Key”, opens with the reveal that XANA didn’t put a virus in Aelita. Instead, he took something from her and hid it in Sector 5: Her memories as a human. That's why she's still linked to Lyoko. Well then, XANA did a sloppy job, because he left enough bits and pieces of memories in her head to give her all these visions. Though, should we blame XANA, or poor writing? …Nah, definitely XANA. We learn something else: Aelita’s Lyoko avatar contains the Keys of Lyoko, the only thing that keeps XANA trapped in that virtual world. In what they hope to be their final mission, the Lyoko-Warriors make their way around Sector 5 and find the secret room.

These things are shining so brightly, it makes our heroes
look blurred! That Franz Hopper is so powerful!

Despite Franz Hopper’s help (in the form of two Mantas), Yumi, Ulrich and Odd are defeated just as Aelita reaches the sphere containing her memories. That’s where the Scyphozoa comes in and takes from Aelita the Keys of Lyoko, which allows their virtual adversary to escape the supercomputer for good and destroy Lyoko as it leaves.

AKA The Day Things Really Went To Hell.

Ah sepia. It makes flashbacks look so meaningful!
If I ever have flashbacks, I want them sepia-toned!
…well, until Franz Hopper magically brings it back, because he’s a goddamn genius who created a 3D virtual world, a quantum computer, and a time travel reset button function in freaking 1994! We get to see the pieces of Aelita's memories, now all making sense: Her happy life with her parents, that terrible day where the Men in Black showed up, the virtualization on Lyoko... Jérémie brings her back in the real world. Though, I need to mention: Now that she's complete again, even if she were to lose all of her Life Points, she won't disappear for good; just be devirtualized like the others. This brings the team into another era of their fight against XANA: Aelita is no longer bound to Lyoko, but there is no point in turning off the supercomputer now, since the evil program escaped and is now hiding in the worldwide network. Lyoko is still the only way to fight XANA off, so they need to continue the hero gig until they defeat it for good. In this season’s arc, XANA actually won.

Phew! That was longer than I expected. We’re now moving on to Season 3! It’s alright, it’s the shortest one of the bunch. And yet, I have as much to say about this one as I do for the others...

We come back to the heroes after a surprisingly calm summer vacation. It’s a new year that begins at Kadic Academy. Where did Aelita live in the meantime? Probably with Yumi. I mean, her friends have tried to disguise that fact, but the pink-haired girl is still an orphan on Earth. (Thankfully, European schools have much shorter summer vacations than American schools have.) However, that’s not all. This is also the season where reality decides to become the Lyoko-Warriors’ second worst enemy. Many of the plot elements of the previous two seasons? Reality ensues. The teachers are growing increasingly tired of Jérémie, Odd, Ulrich and now, even Aelita, all leaving the class at the same time to go to the infirmary or the bathroom. They’re starting to catch on. The adults are getting more suspicious of the team’s activities, and the season starts with Odd being put by Jim in a different class from Ulrich, Jérémie and Aelita – in part to break them up, but also because Odd relied on copying Jérémie’s answers too much and needed to get serious with his studies.

Wow, Hiroki (far right) has matured an awful lot in the
span of two weeks! A few episodes ago, he was still
childishly mocking Yumi's crush on Ulrich!
Oh, and there's Johnny in the middle, but nobody cares.
The constant fighting against XANA taking up a lot of their time as well, the five teens don’t have nearly as much time to study – which resulted in even worse grades for students like Odd and Ulrich. The latter in particular already had a hard time getting good scores. Adding to this, Yumi’s brother Hiroki starts school this year, so that’s another kid to keep track of on the campus. Another kid that might discover the secret. And Hiroki’s friend, too, who sees Yumi and develops a crush on her… Adding to this, Yumi’s parents are becoming more suspicious of her activities as well. Oh, and if this was not enough, we get Ulrich’s father, AKA the biggest jackass in the entire show if we exclude XANA, putting pressure on his son to get good grades. The guy was already established as an unlikeable fellow (apparently he once didn't speak to his son for a whole fucking year), but this season, he shows just how much of an asshole he can be. Reality, kids! Some parents are horrible! Hope you enjoy this revelation among these adventures of teenagers fighting an evil computer program in a virtual world!

And to add another layer of drama to the season, Yumi announces to Ulrich that she won’t be pursuing a relationship with him as long as XANA isn’t defeated. She anchored this ship, and it won’t depart anytime soon. Guess what? This makes Ulrich even more jealous! And as if it couldn’t get worse, William is also trying to keep the love triangle going, even though Yumi honestly has no interest in him (and the “not till the evil is defeated” rule would apply to him too, anyway). So William is also getting closer to discovering the protagonists’ secret life as heroes. That’s a lot to take in a single episode, huh?

Oh, but wait, that’s not the worst, here’s the worst: JÉRÉMIE’S VOICE CHANGED! AAAAAAAAH!

Heh. Heh heh. I almost got you there, didn’t I? The new English voice is closer to the French one. It's not actually a problem.

Thankfully, some things are done right off the first episode; among others, Odd finds a movie of gym teacher Jim Morales dancing to disco music, and uses it to try and be added to his friends’ class. Odd Della Robbia: Comic relief! Hero! Savior! Blackmailer! Something isn’t right in there, is it?

Five times winner of the "I'd Rather Not Dance About It" award.

The Core of Lyoko, or the Heart of Lyoko...
Regardless of the name, it's that thing that must not
be destroyed. That thing XANA wants to destroy.
XANA’s first attack of this new school year happens, and the Lyoko-Warriors are brought to Sector 5, where they find their way to a mysterious chamber at the bottom of the sphere – a room that contains a strange double cube holding a miniature version of each Lyoko sector! This is the Heart of Lyoko, and the monsters are trying to destroy it… which would destroy Lyoko, thus leaving XANA unopposed if they succeed! The group manages to defeat the monsters in the large room, but once Aelita is left alone, she reveals that het Lyoko avatar was given new abilities over the summer – in other words, she’s no longer the helpless little Princess of the virtual world, she can kick as much ass as any of them. It gets better – like I mentioned, she won’t disappear forever if she loses all of her Life Points on Lyoko now. She shouldn’t be devirtualized, since she’s still the only one able to deactivate towers, but missions on Lyoko are no longer a game of life and death in her case. So, phew! As a bonus, Odd manages to join his friends’ class… by ceasing his blackmail.

A quick point of criticism about Season 3: They started using CGI doors in the “real world”. Of course, we had to expect some blending of the two animation types at some point – after all, it’s a frequent industry thing to use CGI for some little aspects of modern 2D animation. Only problem: The doors look incredibly fake. They are extremely blatant additions in 3D to the real-world scenes, it almost hurts. I was at first going to complain that they spun like the doors of a Wild West saloon, but I was told doors like this could exist in schools - I'd still doubt that Kadic Academy would have so many doors like this...

Even the friggin' normal doors look fake!

Oh, by the way, how do they artificially maintain the drama in this season? By having XANA’s monsters conveniently destroy the protective barriers around the Heart of Lyoko just moments before the heroes come in and defeat the enemies.

Oh great, XANA is so strong, he's become able to override
the name of the show itself!
In the next episode, “Lyoko Minus One”, we learn that by taking control of Aelita, bringing her into a tower, and having her input "CODE: XANA" in it, XANA can destroy the Lyoko sectors one by one (except Sector 5), which would make it impossible at the moment for Jérémie to materialize his friends anywhere! He needs to figure out a way to bring them instantly in Sector 5! Of course, no time is wasted on presenting this new plot point, as while the heroes are on Lyoko to stop the current attack, XANA puts his plan into motion, and brainwashes Aelita through the Scyphozoa, and manages to erase the Forest sector. And we’re only two episodes into the season!

That Man in Black is all serious despite his silly voice.
Meanwhile, the principal, Jean-Pierre Delmas, is as
clueless as ever.
On the next episode, XANA manages to sink Lyoko under the Digital Sea (y’know, that thing that kills instantly the protagonists if they fall in it), while in the real world he… attacks with a giant golem made of food. Okay, even for XANA, that’s ridiculous. That’s some stuff straight out of Codename: Kids Next Door. Then, in “False Lead”, after the evil program hacks into governmental files, two strange agents come to Kadic and, following leads, soon discover the supercomputer. These two guys would sound threatening, if the first one didn’t recite his lines like a teenager in a school play, and if the other didn’t have a faux chipmunk voice. Although the plot does take a turn for the silly as Odd is looking for his Tamagotchi, which he named after the school’s principal, so when the two agents are doing their little espionage on the group they start believing that the principal is linked to their little secret. Who the Hell would name their virtual pet such an old-timey name like Jean-Pierre anyway? It’s worse than just being an old name, it’s an old French name! (Come to think of it, isn’t it weird that they didn’t reveal the full name of Kadic Academy’s principal until season 3?)

What you see here is the desert sector completely
vanishing... while Ulrich and Aelita are still on it.
I must say, I love the special effects when a part
of Lyoko is disappearing.
The last season implied that Franz Hopper isn’t actually “dead”, just somewhere in virtual form, so Aelita goes to look for him on Lyoko in the episode titled “Aelita”, despite Jérémie telling her not to do it. But he was kinda rude about it, so she goes anyway. XANA attacks, as you can guess, and they defeat him again, and we find out that yes, Aelita’s father is indeed someplace on Lyoko. Next episode, XANA attacks by controlling the birds flying over the Academy, because apparently he’s now picking his attack patterns out of famous films. Although I’m surprised, I thought this series preceded Birdemic… Joke aside, though, once again the more surprising plan works and the birds badly wound Yumi. In the meantime, on Lyoko, the Scyphozoa manages to take control of Aelita and makes her delete the mountain sector. Two out of four are down, and the Return to the Past doesn’t even correct this. It does save Yumi, but still… damn… 6 episodes in, 7 episodes left, two sectors deleted. Not that I like to say such a thing, but considering the odds, I predict a victory for XANA by the end of the season.

I'm Sorry if you didn't like William...
Get ready to see him more often.
Sometime later, in “The Secret”. William encounters Yumi late at night as she’s heading to the factory due to a XANA attack, and she flees from him while he has his eyes closed (though, to be fair, the jackass asked for a kiss). On the next day, he becomes set on a goal: To discover the secret she has with her friends. And discover he does, by spying on Odd and Ulrich. The team doesn’t seem too happy that someone discovered their secret, but William proves to be useful a first time, when he goes to find Yumi at school (she was in gym class, at the pool, so she didn’t have her phone with her). As for XANA’s attack, it’s simple: While possessing a demolition expert, set bombs around the whole factory to blow it up while the teenagers are busy down below, in the supercomputer’s monitor room. You know, the kind of thing that might not allow them to survive long enough for a Return to the Past, once the tower is deactivated. After Aelita deactivates the tower, Odd and Ulrich get devirtualized, come back into the real world, and help William. Turns out, their spying pal knows a thing or two about explosives, and becomes a great ally when they start looking for a detonator, and later when they need to stop its countdown.

William... an improvised expert at disarming bombs?
Geez, it's a good thing he was around to help, huh?

Oh yeah, and somewhere in there we also have the Scyphozoa possessing Aelita and almost getting her where she needs to be to destroy the ice sector, but Yumi stops her just in time. Gosh, this show is juggling so many plot threads that it’s really difficult not to forget one.

All he needed was five Yes. He got one No.
Unfortunate, but we need to keep that plot going.
At the end of the episode, the Lyoko-Warriors see that William was a really useful helper, and a new Warrior might be necessary considering the more frequent XANA attacks. They decide to vote on it, and accept him in the group only if everyone agrees. Turns out, one Lyoko-Warrior still doesn’t want him around. Blaming Ulrich for the single “No”, William leaves in anger. He was wrong, though: It’s Yumi who didn’t want him near the group…

Extremely interesting episode, and one of my favorites. It does set up William’s future arc, and we get the new, and most important, revelation of the entire third season: Whether they like it or not, the Lyoko-Warriors are not enough anymore. They’re being burnt out by the combination of their student lives and hero lives. With the more frequent attacks from XANA and the nastier things they face, they’re gonna need new allies at some point. William is, at the moment, the only viable option – even if it pleases neither Ulrich nor Yumi. Of course, if you know the show, you know why all of this is so important and how the arc turns out... However, I won't spoil it right away; you'll have to read Part 5 when I post it this Friday!