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November 18, 2016

An Episode In Gaming: Code Lyoko (Part 3)

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

Read Part 2 if you want to know most of what happened in Season 1. Today, I look at the two-part Season 1 finale and then I look at Season 2.

Episode 25, “Code: EARTH”, starts with Jérémie finally getting good results on the devirtualization tests to bring Aelita to their world, so his friends start preparing for her arrival. She’ll stay with Yumi at first, and Odd and Ulrich manage to get her enrolled at Kadic. Meanwhile, Jim Morales, the gym teacher, has become more paranoid and suspicious of the group over time, so he started spying on them, believing that they’re planning something strange. (To his credit, he's kinda right...)

"Don't try to play dumbest with me, because you're gonna lose!"
I didn't invent that joke, the show used it a few times.

A team ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum!
And on Lyoko, they can't chew gum.
Aelita runs into danger, so the group goes to the factory to help her, with Jim trying (and failing) to catch them. The Lyoko-Warriors defeat XANA’s mooks and Aelita steps into the tower, ready for devirtualization. Jérémie puts in the CD… and finds out it’s the wrong one – instead of the disk containing the program, he accidentally brought one containing Odd’s latest mixtape! ...which had been left near the correct one, in Jérémie's room.

It’s not the first time Odd causes the situation in the episode, and it’s far from the last time. In the next seasons, his idiocy will be the reason why some of the plots happen, sometimes more directly than in this episode, and it’ll soon become frequent enough that you’ll grow tired of him. At some point, he’ll start feeling more like a load to the whole group, and that’s never a good thing. That's a common problem of comic reliefs.

Nice work there, Jim. Your paranoia just led to a kid
getting hurt. I hope you're happy. That's something else
you'll want to rather not talk about later.
Jérémie hurries back to the dorm and gets the CD, but is caught by Jim and twists his ankle while fleeing from the gym teacher. Jim brings Jérémie to the infirmary, and the nurse treats his wound. Oh, and Jim gets fired by the principal. When the nurse leaves and Jim comes in to apologize, Jérémie decides to tell him the team’s little secret - but only if the gym teacher accepts to bring him to the factory. (Of course, Jérémie counts on the Return to the Past to erase Jim’s gaffe and memories once the devirtualization is successful.) And Jim agrees! By the time the two get there, on Lyoko, Odd, Yumi and Ulrich get devirtualized facing XANA’s monsters (who were trying to destroy the tower Aelita has to be in for the materialization). They see Jérémie at the monitor, accompanied of Jim. The genius teen launches the program, and Aelita disappears from the tower, to appear in flesh and bones in one of the scanners. Yay!

Not pictured: Jérémie fainting from joy.

For a kid who watched this show's first season, Aelita
being materialized was a big deal. It had been what the
past 24 episodes had been building up to. It was, without
a doubt, a moment of cheers.
However, something terrible's about to happen...
Episode 26, “False Start”, begins as Aelita, in the real world with her friends, is going to her first classes at Kadic Academy. You know, the whole idea of bringing a virtual character to the real world has been touched on by many science-fiction stories, and to its credit, Code Lyoko addresses the question; Aelita needs to keep her origin a secret by hiding behind a veil of lies carefully crafted by Jérémie and the group; they also had to create false documents and hack into governmental computers to give her a form of bureaucratic identity. We can wonder just how “legal” this really is…

Later that day, the group goes to turn off the supercomputer, and are greeted by Jim, who has taken residence in the factory while he’s fired. They go to the supercomputer’s tower and Jérémie pulls down the lever, but Aelita faints. When Jérémie turns the machine back on and she wakes up, he analyzes her in a scanner only to see that there’s something wrong – XANA did something that connects her to Lyoko and the supercomputer. As in, either he took away something, or he planted a virus… we dunno. Either way, Jérémie starts working on an antivirus. On that night, as Aelita is brought back to Yumi’s house for the night, she discovers more of the wonders of the world – mostly the senses of touch, smell and taste, all which she didn’t have on Lyoko. It’s a very touching scene that not many stories about virtualization bother to show. We get many sweet moments of her goofing around with Jérémie, guaranteed to make you go "Awwww~!"

And "Awwwwwwww~!"s indeed there were.

It's in those moments of danger that the characters, main
and secondary, show moments of pure badassery.
Yup, even Jim.
Meanwhile, XANA gets a hold of the materialization program and starts sending some of his Kankrelats into the real world. Here, the team has a much harder time fending them off! Oh, and of course, XANA didn’t send just five or six – more like a few dozens. Aelita and Odd go to Lyoko, while Jim, who has already been destroying a whole lot of Kankrelats with metal bars and nail guns, heads out to help Ulrich and Yumi, who stayed behind to protect the school from the mechanical creatures. Gotta say, if we needed an episode to bring the gym teacher back in the viewers’ good graces, it’s this one! (Starting with season 2, Jim gets even more comical, and more helpful to the heroes too, so he just keeps getting better! But I’d rather not talk about it just yet.)

The scenes on Lyoko are so action-packed that it's
often difficult to get images from them.
Also because the CGI is not as great here as it'll be
in the next seasons.
Ulrich and Yumi also manage to get to the factory and into Lyoko. And well, you know the deal. Aelita deactivates the tower and the attack is stopped mere seconds before a major tragedy occurs – in this case, the Kankrelats vanish just as they had Jim on the ground and ready to blow his brains out. Return to the Past, and we go back to the start of the previous episode, just before Jim was about to catch them in the dormitory. They manage to throw off his suspicion by claiming they were plotting to prank a student. Once again, it’s a bit awkward to think that the heroes use the reset button to correct their mistakes in the real world, but this time around it’s for the better. Meanwhile, Aelita still has XANA’s influence inside her, so she’s still tied to Lyoko. She decides to stay in the virtual world until an antivirus is found… …a decision that we conveniently forget in the first episode of season 2, where Jérémie, Odd, Yumi, Ulrich and Aelita decide to say “screw it” and bring Aelita into the real world again.

"Woo! I feel like Marty McFly! Now all I need is for
some mad scientist to bring me through time!"
Alright, on to Season 2 proper. You can see a major upgrade to the CGI in the first minutes of the first episode. That difference between the two seasons is very noticeable. That’s not the only upgrade, either; the group has new ways to travel around Lyoko! Jérémie programmed vehicles for them! A hoverboard for Odd, a one-wheeled bike for Ulrich, and a floating platform thing with handles for Yumi. XANA has also invented a few new creatures for itself, the first of them being dubbed a Tarantula by Odd. They all lose against a single of those, too. Talk about a heroic downgrade! In the bridge between seasons, Jérémie also worked on a program to detect towers without having Aelita on Lyoko, which means she can get enrolled at Kadic for real! She gets her own room at the dormitory, and presents herself as Aelita Stones. We also meet a new student… William Dunbar. He’s in Yumi’s class, and becomes Ulrich’s rival for her affections. The guy isn’t liked much by the fans, exactly for that reason. Shippers in general aren’t fond of love rivals, no matter the show.

But of course! Have a new opponent with two laser guns instead
of just one! Why hasn't XANA thought of that before?

Don't sense a hookup just yet.
Do sense a green-eyed monster popping up soon, however.

Not so invincible, those Tarantulas, after all!
Just aim for the eye of XANA, that always works!
Later during the episode, the class is gone to a field trip when Aelita starts having flashes of wolves. As she flees, the pink-haired girl finds herself into a bizarre abandoned house called the Hermitage, where she gets other flashes, the most prominent one being that of a middle-aged man playing the piano. After she’s rescued inside the house by her friends and XANA makes its presence clear, she gets a new flash of the middle-aged man entering a door with her. She and Odd head down that door and find out it’s a direct secret passageway to the factory! They get on Lyoko, Aelita deactivates the tower, etc. As an introduction to the new plots to the show, it was a pretty solid episode.

Also a fairly good set-up for this season’s new ongoing story arc: Aelita’s strange visions and dreams (more like nightmares), the mysteries of the Hermitage, trying to keep Aelita’s origins a secret, Jérémie trying to build an antivirus to free her from XANA, the love triangle between Yumi, Ulrich and William… We’re still missing a few pieces, though.

I unfortunately missed most of the show past the first
season when it was on TV, so I've since caught up
thanks to YouTube. Now I know everything about that
mysterious Sector 5 I had heard so much about.
We get more in the next episodes. First is “Uncharted Territory”, where Aelita gets pranked by girls like Sissi and wonders if she really should stay on Earth, feeling that she doesn't fit in. Meanwhile, Jérémie does some research in the Hermitage and learns that it belonged to a man named Franz Hopper. During the next encounter with XANA, Aelita is brought to a fifth sector that cannot be accessed by simple virtualization. Jérémie tries to send his friends there, but must first answer to a riddle about Carthage – which thankfully turns out to have an answer in the book he found at the Hermitage. He types in the code, SCIPIO, and the rest of the group is brought to the fifth sector.

We would later learn that Carthage refers to Project Carthage, a mysterious government project Franz Hopper participated in, and that XANA was created during that project - and that this is why he went into hiding later. It's interesting backstory for Hopper and XANA, but the show will hardly, if ever, focus on any of this past the "search for the password SCIPIO" thing.

Aaaaargh! This thing's worse than a freaking roller coaster!
And there's soo.... much.... blue....

Uh oh... that's not good...
Anything with so many tentacles can only mean trouble.
We get into another semi-pointless addition to the show’s drama – every time the group goes into the fifth sector, before they can progress any further they have between 1 and 3 minutes to push a button somewhere in the first room, or else the place closes down and kills them all. We also see the final piece of drama in the season: XANA’s new plans will almost always involve bringing Aelita onto Lyoko so that its new lackey, the Scyphozoa (called “la méduse” – “the squid” in the show’s French mother tongue; Scyphozoa is a much cooler name, I’ll admit), can capture her and take away her memories. Once again, the other Lyoko-Warriors always show up on time to free her from that thing… although the Scyphozoa is rarely, if ever, actually defeated in those encounters. There’s something in Aelita’s head that XANA wants, and not even she seems to know what it could be. As we learn in the following episode, Sector 5 contains many of XANA’s secrets, so the group starts going there more often to try and steal some info from their virtual enemy, in the hopes that this allows them to create an antivirus to free Aelita.

Another day is about to start. This one is barely
two thirds through!
Let’s see… how can we put even more pressure on these heroes? Hm… how about stripping them of their “Get Out of Jail Free” card? “A Great Day”, another of my favorite episodes in the show, has the Supercomputer mysteriously use the Return to the Past function by itself, forcing the five protagonist to relive the same day over, and over, and over. I like “Groundhog Day” stories, for some reason, and this show puts a pretty interesting spin on it. Sure, this allows for some really funny moments (like Odd, on his third time living through the same science class, astonishing his teacher by practically teaching in her place). We soon find out that every Return to the Past has increased XANA’s intelligence and power, and considering they used it in almost every episode of the first season… yeah. Thus, XANA has gained access to it and is boosting itself even more. Thankfully, the team manages to stop this, and Jérémie blocks the Return to the Past command from its control. However, they can’t use that program as often as they’d like to now, considering every time they do it XANA grows stronger. This forces them to be a lot more careful. Oh, and now, XANA has gotten strong enough to possess people and use them against the team, too… Nice way to shake up the formula, that’s for sure.

When Aelita is not letting her DJ skills out at Kadic...
From that point on, the group gets more organized. Since they’ve got a much smaller margin for error, they must act a lot smarter than before. Among others, Jérémie writes a program that changes his voice when he’s on the phone, allowing him to pass off as anyone else recorded within the program, including the school’s principal Jean-Pierre Delmas. Illegal? Criminal? Well, it’s either that or the big bad humanity-hating virus wins. Meanwhile, Aelita discovers more of the real world and finds herself an affinity for electronic music, even becoming the DJ at the Academy’s school dance (something that almost gets interrupted by XANA controlling Jim Morales and bringing her on Lyoko to try and steal her memories). If I were mean, I’d say it makes sense for a program to be good with electronic music, but no, the joke doesn’t work.

...she hacks in XANA's data to solve the current episode's
In a following episode, “Missing Link”, while the group is on Lyoko, XANA removes from Yumi one of her DNA codes, rendering her incapable of returning to the real world until said DNA code is retrieved. This episode, along with many others that take place in the other seasons, is a sign of a slight issue I have with the show: Yumi is always picked on by XANA. Make no mistake, all five main characters have their moments of being victims of the computer virus’s latest scheme, and season 2 is all about XANA bringing Aelita to Lyoko no matter what, so Aelita is the usual target. However, the second most frequent victim is Yumi. There are some pretty simple reasons: For starters, she lives outside of the campus, so her disappearance would be more difficult to cover. Second, she’s not in the same class as the others, so she is easier to single out. Add to this that she’s the least inclined to be in this struggle against evil, and you get a character who’s more often a victim than the others. Hell, at one point in Season 1, it was so frequent, at least five episodes in a row had her as the victim – the fans even called these the “’Pick On Yumi’ week”! I mean, there are ways to justify it, but it does become pretty obvious after a while. “Missing Link” ends with everything back to normal though, as you’d expect.

As if Yumi's parents were ever gonna accept a mere
lottery ticket, right?
It feels as though every episode of Season 2 plays around with the various concepts the show has been using, and it's great! I would love to talk about each episode in detail, this season is just that good! That’s actually a very interesting way to approach a series: Grab every detail independently and dedicate an episode to each. In “The Chips Are Down”, after learning Yumi’s family might be moving back to Japan, Ulrich takes note of that night’s winning lottery numbers and manages to make a Return to the Past on the supercomputer, in the hopes that the millions of dollars – er, I mean, euros – will let her stay in America - er, France. It gets Ulrich kicked out of the team, until he becomes needed to defeat XANA and joins back, because despite having a continuity, this show still has some form of status quo. I like that this episode shows how tempting and easy it could be to abuse the Return to the Past function for personal gain.

Have I mentioned that the English dub stupidly attempted to set the show in America and tried to hide the (otherwise blatant) clues that set it in France?

That grey goo sure is creepy. Then again, what else can
you say about a program trying to destroy everything?
Especially if it's connected to XANA in some way?
More such examples. In the episode “Marabounta”, Jérémie creates, partly thanks to the notes he found written by Franz Hopper, a grey goo program that instantly chases down traces of XANA on Lyoko and destroys them. Unfortunately, during the test drive, the goo also starts aiming for Aelita, so the Lyoko-Warriors have to destroy that nasty program – with help from XANA’s monsters who have enough of a survival instinct to know when to fold and help the good guys. This sets up a minor plot point that Jérémie is out of his league when trying to mimic Hopper’s creations, and will usually mess something up badly when he tries to invent things for Lyoko. It also sets a minor element that XANA needs Aelita alive, so he will willingly stop attacking if she's endangered and not in his clutches.

Oh yeah, I might have forgotten another plot point: The love triangle between Ulrich, Yumi and William starts taking more place into the story. In particular, Ulrich starts becoming jealous and becomes fearful that Yumi ends up dating William. As a result, Ulrich starts doing dumb things to try and impress Yumi, not to mention that he starts acting jealous, clingy and almost stalker-ish. That’s a big problem of the season, and the show in general: this romantic plot tumor starts eating up more time and turns Ulrich into a creep.

Just because XANA needs the heroes's help, that doesn't
mean he's gonna be any nice to them. They both have
an interest in keeping the supercomputer running... but
XANA is by default a dick.
Back to XANA helping the heroes, in “Common Interest” the possessive program takes control of an inmate on his way to prison and plans to use him to steal a bar of uranium. Why? Because the supercomputer’s nuclear power is dying and XANA's sense of self-preservation makes it seek out what it needs to stay alive. The supercomputer’s infrequent shutdowns caused by the nuclear energy running out also cause Aelita to fall unconscious, since she’s still connected to it. The possessed inmate ends up kidnapping Jérémie, and you can figure out what happens next: XANA and Jérémie actually work together to place a new bar of uranium in the computer’s tower. It’s a very cool idea for the episode, hence why it’s another of my favorites. As you can guess, by the end, they manage to get the supercomputer up and running, but then the team has to go on Lyoko to stop XANA again. Some things never change, do they? The program didn’t even thank them!

Jérémie and his friends have been doing dozens of things
that normal people will never have a chance to do.
Although I doubt they expected to include in that list
"replace a nuclear battery in a giant computer".

I could ramble on and on about this season. Honestly, I think I will need to cut this here and continue in Part 4. Not that I was expecting this to become such a long review/recap, but I actually quite enjoy talking about the show. I will try not to make this review longer than 7 parts, though. I should be able to do that.