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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.

Apparently William always wanted to be a spider rider.
Only problem is, he's doing it all wrong.

Oooh, giant spiders! I'm gonna call this one Penny!
The rest of the season sees the Lyoko-Warriors fighting off XANA’s monsters and William, traveling to a Replika, two heroes being translated somewhere in the real world near a supercomputer, trying to destroy it, and discovering the various large-scale schemes the evil AI is working on. We get some attacks from XANA at Kadic. Of course, we still see the teenage heroes deal with other social or personal problems. That is, when they’re not causing these problems themselves; Looking at you, Odd. One day, the guy buys toys for both Yumi and his dog Kiwi and accidentally switches the packages, so Yumi end up with a gift containing a squeaky toy bone. (On the upside, that's a really, really nice-looking collar foir Kiwi.) The first translation brings Odd and Aelita to the Amazon forest, where XANA is cybernetically-enhancing giant Amazonian spiders.

They fail to destroy the supercomputer, so they go back in the next episode – which has an interesting B-plot: Odd is dared by his friends to stop being a braggart for a whole day. Woe on him, that’s the day where the jokester accomplishes the most amazing things on Lyoko. They do manage to destroy this supercomputer and its Replika though.

On one hand, Odd merging with his dog is catastrophic.
On the other, the results are really funny.
One episode later, annoyed at his friends making fun of his dog Kiwi – which is still hidden in his and Ulrich’s room at the school's dormitory – Odd tries to bring it on Lyoko to prove his pup can be badass. Unfortunately, he can’t take his dog out of his shirt before being virtualized, so he winds up merged with Kiwi, meaning Jérémie has to work on a program to separate them.

I might just keep a “God Damn It Odd” counter by this point. How many plots in the show were his fault?

In the next episode, we’re also reminded of the William clone and how more stories could be built around that concept – and particularly, how his artificial stupidity is a giveaway that something’s wrong about him, and that’s another secret that they must hide. Adding to this, we have the discovery of a few more Replikas, meaning there are more computers to destroy. This one ends with the real William, still controlled by XANA, trying to break the supercomputer in the real world, with the clone getting in the way.

If this keeps up, XANA and William are gonna start
arguing on who gets to use her as bait for Hopper.
Of course, just because they’re not the focus this season doesn’t mean XANA’s manipulation tactics have ceased. Feeling lonely as her friends go back to their families for the Holidays, Aelita is contacted by Franz Hopper who invites her on Lyoko, into a bubble that mimics a shack she remembers from her pre-Lyoko life. It seems perfect, too perfect; and indeed, it is. Soon she realizes that something’s wrong about this simulated reality, and it turns out to be another of XANA's plans. She gets out of it thanks to her friends hurrying back to the factory. And of course, just as Aelita is about to die to die when tossed in the Digital Sea, the actual Franz Hopper shows up in shining ball form and saves her – and in turn the Lyoko-Warriors save him from XANA’s monsters, whose main order was to lure him out so that they could kill him. (Plus it's another display of just how advanced XANA’s emotional manipulation has become.) At the end of the episode, Aelita gets to stay with Jérémie for the Holidays.

That episode is so sweet, it’s yet another of my favorite ones on the show. Well, aside from those very brief scenes with Ulrich’s dad, which one again give me the impression that a little bit of joy leaves the show each time he’s on-screen.

I also like it because it combines two of the best episodes of the previous seasons, "Ghost Channel" and "Franz Hopper"; XANA creates a fake "real world" on Lyoko in the former, and disguises itself as Hopper in the latter.

Trapped in a plane heading to the factory with missiles?
That's a nightmare! Thanks a lot, Odd!
Another episode about Odd and a sudden bout of bad luck, then an episode about Odd applying multiple times to a contest, using his friends’ names, to win a photo shoot and a free ride in an army plane. Jérémie wins it and winds up forced to participate to a photo shoot in Odd's place. God damn it Odd. He tries to avoid the ride, but XANA takes over the controls as Jérémie is in the plane, and directs it towards the factory, with plans to bomb the Hell out of it with a missile. As usual, the tragedy is avoided seconds before it happens. Next episode, aaaaaaah! GOD DAMN IT ODD! He gets infatuated with the newest girl on the campus and ends up showing her the supercomputer, and she messes up some programs on it. This gets him kicked out of the group and Jérémie has to debug an awful lot of things to allow them to resume the fight against XANA. So, after the ‘Pick On Yumi’ Week, we get the ‘Odd Is A Moron’ Week? Whatever works, I guess.

Majors Yumi and Odd to ground control!
We've stepped into the station,
and we're floating in the most peculiar way!
And the stars look very different today~!
(To be fair, that was an easy reference to make;
the episode IS called "A Space Oddity".)

Here, have another quick picture ofthe Lyoko-Warriors
fighting underwater monsters in the Digital Sea.
One day, XANA attacks with hundreds of robotic Kiwi clones, the next the Lyoko-Warriors go out to destroy a Replika and two of them wind up in outer space, to smash a supercomputer on a still unoccupied space station. That’s got to have been one of their most awesome days as heroes, ever! And another day, Jérémie’s cooler cousin visits him at the boarding school and cousin rivalry drives the episode’s plot.

In “Music to Soothe the Savage Beast”, we see Jérémie more stressed out by this struggle than ever before, so much so that he doesn’t go see Aelita at her concert where she opens for the Subdigitals. He’s turning into a kind of “all work and no play” jerk. I mean, we can’t really blame him… but still… he’s kinda right. I mean, their powerful enemy could attack at any moment. And indeed, someone working with the Subdigitals gets possessed by the evil AI and kidnaps Aelita before the show to bring her by force on Lyoko. The episode ends with a battle over the song sung on-stage by the Subdigitals, which also happens to be the song that played over the end credits since Season 2. And it is glorious. (Better in French though.)

Doesn't matter the season or how many times they had
this sequence; even 89 episodes in, it's still awesome.

Apparently, Jérémie rebooting the computer while his
friends were still in it only caused them to freeze up.
How convenient.
In “Wrong Exposure”, using Jérémie’s computer, Odd accidentally sends to Sissi a picture of Aelita with her father. God. Damn. It. Odd. Rarely before have I ever wanted to slap a teenager behind the head this badly. On the other hand, this episode does bring interesting developments when Sissi brings the picture to her father and he recognizes Franz Hopper. Great episode for the investigation work done by the staff of Kadic Academy, as it brings a dimension that has never been explored before. By the end of the episode though, this turns out to be more about Aelita being controlled by XANA and Jérémie having to reboot the computer, with his friends still on Lyoko, to save her. And yes, before you ask, it works.

This has got to be one of the scariest episodes in the
entire show. There is something chilling in the thought of
your own parent mind-controlled to throw you to your death
multiple floors below.
Almost over! For all those “stupid Odd” moments, we get probably the nastiest return of the pendulum. In “Bad Connection”, during a short film festival at school, the phones start spreading some kind of “virus” that turns all of the students and adults against Odd, and later Sissi when she helps him, including their own parents, and they almost manage to corner them on the school’s roof to throw them to the ground many floors below. Holy crap. That episode is terrifying, and probably disproportionate as punishment, but it did raise the stakes and bring a new level of danger that few past episodes had in the show. Once again, it all ends once a tower is deactivated, and then we get another Return to the Past. It’s all good. Let’s just hope Odd learned someth- Wait, I remember. This is Odd Della Robbia we’re talking about; I’m sure he learned nothing.

In “Cold Sweat”, they find and destroy another supercomputer containing a Replika, though things are made difficult by William also being translated to fight them in the scientific base. While in the tower, Aelita theorizes that since XANA used it to translate William into the real world, then it must contain some of his DNA codes, so she hacks into the Replika tower’s system to look for a way to save him. Meanwhile, XANA has clearly had enough of these freaking meddling kids putting spanners in his freaking plans, so he creates a giant monster, the Kolossus (as dubbed by Odd), that makes quick work of the Lyoko-Warriors. Talk about final boss material, right there. This is a clear sign that the show is gonna end soon. But, but! We have so many plot threads still hanging! Will it be possible to cover them all in three episodes?

"Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh crap."

Yep! In “Down to Earth”, William’s parents come to visit their son, and immediately see that something’s wrong with him – of course, since it’s the polymorphic William clone, and he’s dumber than a bag of rocks. Meanwhile, Jérémie has dug into Franz Hopper’s notes and got the idea to create a multi-agent program that would erase all of XANA’s Replikas at once, destroying it in a single swipe – they don’t really have a choice, since there are actually dozens of Replikas and it would be insane to try and take them out one by one. However, considering Jérémie has always fucked something up when trying to replicate Hopper’s creations, something bad could come out of this. Anyway, they go out to destroy the supercomputer they failed to smash in the previous episode, and discover that XANA’s final plan, the one for which he needed so many resources, was, roll the drums, to… create an army of robots to take over the world.

And not a single Sonny in sight!
In fact, I doubt these guys were ever made with the intent
of following the Three Laws of Robotics.

Really? I’m gonna be honest, that’s a letdown. This virtual entity could manipulate gravity, ground, plants, animals, humans, it could take control of nearly every single human being on the planet if it wanted, it could make unstoppable polymorphic clones with superpowers to fight and defeat any human opponent, it could… it could… it could do so many other things! Nope, robot army. Kind of a letdown… or maybe the writers just couldn’t think of a better large-scale world domination plan for XANA.

I suspect XANA at least took a little bit of inspiration
from the Cthulhu Mythos to create this thing.
Anyway, at the end of this episode, they destroy that supercomputer. They try to fight the Kolossus but they’re at most able to stop it for a few seconds, though they succeed in freeing William from XANA and bring him back to Earth. Poor guy doesn’t have any memory of what happened after he became possessed. On the other hand, the Kolossus manages to destroy the Skidbladnir, so it’s now impossible to go into the Digital Sea towards other Replikas, unless they went and re-programmed a new ship from scratch. Which would take weeks of time that they no longer have in this countdown. Well, at least, the real William arrives just in time to replace the clone and reassure his parents. Can’t say anybody won, there were big losses on both sides… at least the William storyline is mostly done.

And it's the real one, too. No mind control, no XANA
eyes... the real deal!

Yup, that big ball of light is Franz Hopper.
It's cheaper to make in 3D than a humanoid.
Fight to the Finish” starts as Aelita has a prophetic dream of her father, in ball form, dying on Lyoko as he’s protecting her. Yeah, it’s gonna happen. Of course it will. This show has already done Future Flashes, so it’s already been guilty of the premonitions cliché before. Franz Hopper contacts Jérémie through Internet, and the team goes on Lyoko to meet him. They do find Hopper there, but XANA launches an attack – with the Kolossus, no less! During the ensuing fight (both in and out of Lyoko, as William gets possessed, again, yeah, you're not surprised, I'm not surprised either), Hopper sends data to Jérémie to complete the XANA-destroying program. Ulrich manages to beat the Kolossus but it topples on him, while Odd and Aelita are sent to Sector 5 to install the program.

You know what they say... the bigger they are, the harder they
fall... and they can fall on you!

Geez, it even played out in a perfectly identical
manner as the vision! Who'da thunk?
There, Aelita runs the program while Odd fights Mantas, but he loses all of his Life Points; Aelita is left by herself. Franz Hopper in ball form appears to protect her as she launches the program, and she does, except the Mantas direct their laser attacks towards Hopper. The scene plays out exactly like in Aelita’s vision. Wow, I would have never imagined that it would happen. What a twist, huh? Even despite that very blatant foreshadowing vision at the beginning, I would have never seen that coming! However, in his last moments Hopper gives the supercomputer enough power before dying to let Aelita run the program, effectively launching the multi-agent, anti-XANA procedure and destroying every single Replika and piece of XANA it can find. Yup, Hopper is dead, but so is XANA. Let’s have a quick eulogy for the former and a “Good riddance” hour-long speech for the latter. XANA dies like an evil spirit, coming out of William, in a pretty memorable moment.

Yes, I know what the anti-XANA multi-agent program
looks like. No, I am not making that joke.
I'm sure you've already made it in your head anyway.

Until Code Lyoko Evolution messes it all up but I’m not talking about that one, Not in this review, certainly. Maybe at some point later?

None of them are completely happy about it, not even Jérémie. Then
again, it was the best deep-immersion gaming system ever made.
This is it, the final episode. “Echoes” is a clip show, in that it features montages from scenes of past episodes. It’s time to turn off the supercomputer for good – and each hero reflects on what their life was like with Lyoko and their fight against XANA. Yumi was one of the biggest victims, and never really outright enjoyed the fight, so she wants to turn it off. Aelita doesn’t, because she feels it’s like dying a little more inside and forgetting her father. Jérémie doesn’t, because he is afraid that he would lose the friends he made through this fight. Odd doesn’t, because he liked the action and the acrobatics. Ulrich doesn’t, because he liked being a hero. They don’t turn it off just yet.

A quick point of criticism: This clip show tends to mostly use clips from Season 4, with only a few scenes from the earlier seasons. That's kind of a problem for a clip show, especially as the finale of a series that ran for 95 episodes, if they're ignoring most of the first three seasons.

Of course, even after the threats are gone, Sissi can't
help but be a nosy annoyance.
Meanwhile, Sissi has put a tracker on Ulrich and discovered the supercomputer. She sneaks on it and watches Jérémie’s video series about the Lyoko-Warriors’ struggles, and immediately tells on them to her father, who thinks she has become crazy. I have a weird impression of déjà vu here... Sissi finding the secret and telling her dad? Where did we see that before? Oh, right. In the special episode "XANA Awakens". To undo this, a final Return to the Past is launched, and we see the white growing sphere of light a final time.. Jérémie, Aelita, Odd and Ulrich have come to terms with the end of this adventure, and along with Yumi, they shut down the supercomputer. They even become friends with Sissi. The end.

Isn't something missing here? Did they forget some backgrounds?
Oh right, it's a Return to the Past. I should have gotten used to
those in the last 94 episodes.

Phew! That’s one thing to cross off the bucket list: Gush about Code Lyoko for hours to a bunch of people that don’t really care.

Honestly though, I had to rush through a lot of it, so I can’t do it justice. It’s a show with many problems, but revisiting it this year, I can see why it’s gained a cult status. I will spend the next part to discuss the problems of the show, because yes, I can fill 2000 words with that. 3000, even. However, I can immediately discuss what the show does well.

First off, the animation is actually pretty good. Yes, they have large foreheads. If you’re not willing to look past this, then pass. But aside from that, Code Lyoko has actually fairly good animation. The 2D scenes of the real world are all pretty great. The CGI started off as pretty jerky, but it significantly improved over time. Many episodes use special effects to achieve interesting visuals, like the ever-present Return to the Past that turns the whole world white for a second, the XANA-possessed characters that shake and flash like screen static to indicate they’re virtual… Yes, the show overuses stock clips, but that’s an understandable way to cut costs, and everything else is still impressive. The CGI in the first season will inevitably look dated now, sometimes with limited movements (like just the mouth moving on a 3D model) or weird poses, but every season that follows improves both the 2D and CG scenes. Just compare Season 4 to Season 1, and you'll see what I mean.

The characters are all likeable in their own way. However, more important, they’re written as the teenagers that they are. Flawed, often thinking more about themselves than about others, with all the middle school drama that it entails – both the drama they live with and the drama they cause. Sure, they had the Return to the Past to undo their mistakes, but admit it; being a young teen and stumbling on a reset button, I bet you’d use it too. The characters all have their flaws: Between Odd the idiot womanizer, Ulrich who can fight monsters all day but can’t spit his feelings out, Jérémie the social recluse who speaks like a science teacher, Yumi the hotheaded tomboy and Aelita the shy, panicky one… Hey, no character’s perfect. The show would be boring otherwise.

Adding to this, XANA is a fantastic villain, subverting the tendencies of villain in a lot of kid shows. It learns from its mistakes, meaning it rarely, if ever, does the same thing twice. It even learns from the friendships and romantic tensions between the characters, in some later episodes playing on those to better divide them! While the Lyoko-Warriors win every simple fight, XANA wins three season finales out of four, and coming stronger during the next. Not bad for a non-corporeal entity that is known as only a symbol.

Honestly, a computer program that is able to sink a school,
shatter it to bits, or re-create it completely in a virtual
world, is way too powerful.
As for the story, it definitely stretches by an awful lot the viewer’s suspension of disbelief – although we can be allowed some silliness, this show was intended for a young audience, tweens and early teens. And yet, the show uses its own rules creatively. Season 1 set up the field and showed the various XANA attacks. Every season that followed took the concepts of the previous seasons as well as the numerous new concepts of the current season. Then, they expanded on these concepts, usually devoting an episode about a concept and how it can go wrong or how XANA can use it for its own benefit. Over the 95 episodes of the series, we’ve had the questions: “What if XANA gets a hold of the Return to the Past?” “What if the supercomputer’s battery starts running out?” “What if XANA materialized monsters in the real world?” “What if Jérémie taught the others to use the supercomputer?” and a few dozen more. That’s something any good show should do: Build stories out of every little detail that makes up the setting.

Also, while the show is all about teenagers preventing catastrophes and stopping their enemy, it sure pulls no punches. Yes, there’s a lot of drama that is forced on the heroes using the various elements (such as Life Points, last-second survival, and so on), but XANA usually comes close to victory. And as I mention, XANA wins in the first three season finales. First by connecting Aelita to the supercomputer by taking her memories, then by escaping Lyoko, and then by possessing William and destroying Lyoko. Each single episode plays up the drama, but the meat of the show really lies in its continuity and how the students’ daily lives and their heroic actions collide. That’s probably the most interesting part of the series: To see how it evolves and how it changes over the course of this adventure.

I still consider "Franz Hopper" to be my favorite episode
of the entire show. However, I don't think I would make
a Top 12 list for it. I've pretty much made it as I went
and discussed the show anyway.
I mean, for those who like to snark as they watch something, there’s plenty of stuff to mock in the show.  It’s far from perfect – I’d even say it’s pretty damn flawed at times. Just see those few moments that really annoyed me. However, I can see why I’m nostalgic for it. It had that element of fun, you know? It juggled drama and comedy really well, and even the tenser episodes had plenty of great jokes. It stays light-hearted despite getting darker across the seasons, and that’s different from other shows that see a large drop in comedy once the story takes enough dark turns.

Do I recommend the show? Yes! I’m not telling you to watch all of it, but at least check out a few episodes to see if you enjoy it, and if you enjoy those, then maybe try watching the whole thing.

I’ve been positive about it in this recap, omitting to add my points of criticism… they’re coming. In Part 7. What, just because I like the show doesn’t mean that I don’t have a long list of negative things to say about it. So much, in fact, that I will dedicate a whole part to it. Be sure to stay tuned.