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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!