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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!