My Let’s Watch of Green Hornet got a good response, so I decided to do another one.
But what show to watch? Well, I was trying to be mindful of my globally represented reader-base and Code: Lyoko came to mind. For those of you not in the know, Code: Lyoko was a French-produced animated sci-fi series that premiered in 2004, which in a unique move, was given both a French and English voice track at the same time and distributed to 160 different countries.
It was pretty damn popular, and seems to remain so, with a number of still-active fan sites, and a place in the first column on the FanFiction.net ‘Cartoons’ category (I checked, and there had been a new fic posted within 8 hours of this writing, suggesting an ongoing fandom).
…Which means I might be getting myself into trouble here, much like that time I criticized Clockwork Earth’s protagonist and it’s author found out. And in exactly the same way too: I actually like Code: Lyoko n the same way I like the setting for Clockwork Earth. The problem is that there are flaws and cultural issues in the episode we’re going to watch that I can no more ignore here than I could the protagonist’s lack of curiosity from the aforementioned book.
Like Green Hornet, I’m showing the first episode here and like Green Hornet, I’m not only reviewing it in terms of what works and what doesn’t, but in terms of how it performs as a first episode. And brother (or sister. Or sibling.), this episode is like a roadmap to making the least effective first episode EVER.
I’ll get into that and everything else after everyone gets up to speed. For now, Let’s Watch… Code: Lyoko
No cold open here, we go right to the theme.
I’ve heard this theme praised and called an earworm, but it doesn’t really do it for me. I don’t hate it, but it’s a bit too soft and poppy to really stick with me. Not offensive, but not memorable.
Buuut, the theme does contain something for me to rant on; the thing that almost put me off this show in the first place (please note that until this writing, I never watched the show all the way through, and as of episode 23, I can honestly say I hadn’t seen any of Season 1): the character models.
My god, they are bobble-head huge. Look at those things! And the foreheads, mein gott, the foreheads could serve as landing pads for SHIELD helicarriers. They also have this weird thing going on that I notice a lot in CG shows with kids: what I assume is baby fat is represented here by really jowly cheeks and pudgy little tummies. It’s especially strange since it only shows up in their supposedly badass CG Lyoko Warrior forms.
Oh yeah, this show used both traditional and 3-d CG animation, with the later being used to represent the digital realm of Lyoko. This wasn’t a new conceit in 2004, but it’s used well here. I always find it funny that the more realistic CG models in a lot of these stories is used to represent a fake world despite most of the time, the show’s CG being better than videogame tech at the time. Compare the animation (not models) of Code Lyoko to the Final Fantasy games out at the time and you’ll see what I mean. Square would kill 10,000 men with a grpahics card just in the hopes that the murderous power could make the animation in their cut scenes look half as fluid as Code’s. Not that they stand the test of time exactly, but FF-X and X-2 were still a lot more rigid than a lot of television and film CG at the time. Remember, this was near the beginning of the whole big budget games era and before the wasteful obsession over graphics dug in.
But yeah, the episode starts with… character who are not important. Okay, so the young school news girls, Millie and Tamiya are pretty central to this episode, but in the scope of the show as far as I’ve watched, they’re pretty much background victims in other episodes.
They quickly provide exposition on he setting: Kadec Middle School, and tell us that the school prom is coming up. I have no idea if middle schools in Europe have proms, or maybe they didn’t when I was in middle school but did in 2004, so I can’t comment on this. They then introduce us to our main char—wait, no, they introduce us to our Libby (why yes, I do still refuse to use the more boring term ‘Alpha Bitch’), Sissi.
Sissi is delightfully petty, as all Libbys should be, and decides to tease what I have to assume is a freaking twelve year-old about not having a date to the prom, going so far as to have her henchmen (in an odd twist, Libby does not have a group of girls backing her up, but two dudes, one smart, one dumb. Huh. Progressive!) feign utter, cartoonish disgust at the kid.
Millie then asks Ulrich, one of the main characters from the credits, to go with her and he awkwardly explains that he’s too old for her and besides, he already promised to go with fellow main character, Yumi. By the way, this episode presents these two as not only a couple, but a well-established one—and that is a lie because they have that annoying will they/won’t they thing for the duration of the show.
Two minutes and thirty seconds in, and we only NOW get to see our main characters. And they really seem to be secondary, as Millie is the one we focus on running off crying.
Next scene, we’re now in a room with Jeremy, another main character, who is on his computer, talking to a CGI girl in a three-dimensional land of floaty islands named Aelita.
Aelita reports to Jeremy that it’s been quiet around the ‘towers’. He in turn tells her that he’s working on a way for her to ‘come and live with us’, which she calls ‘the key to materialization’. Jeremy admits that he doesn’t know how to do it now, but will soon and thus someone called XANA won’t be able to hurt her.
Yeah… that was a lot of mysterious stuff thrown at us with the only context that Aelita is actually in the computer being some ones and zeroes floating in the background of the window on Jeremy’s computer. This despite the fact that she’s standing on a floaty island with a normal background in regular shots.
If you feel lost now, you are right. At four minutes in-a quarter of the episode, we know very little of the premise of this show. The scene transitions also show the main characters in their Lyoko costumes, something we don’t know about or understand, so it just serves to confuse more. But hey, maybe things will be explained in the next fifteen minutes!
So now we cut back to Millie and Tamiya with Tamiya comforting a crying Millie. Millie goes way off the deap end, declaring her hatred for everyone ever over Sissi being a bitch and Ulrich…going out with his girlfriend? What.
But oh noes! Millie’s declaration of omnicidal rage draws the attention of… Brother Eye channeling the Terminator like in Future’s End? No, seriously, we cut to computer vision, imposed over this evil eyes insignia, watching and listening to all this. Millie then tells of Tamiya for trying to comfort her and runs off with her teddy bear.
For those of you keeping count, Millie and Tamiya have taken up 2:30 of the 4:25 run time so far in the FIRST EPISODE of this show that ISN’T ABOUT THEM. And it’s not going to get better, folks.
Back with the mains, Yumi tells Ulrich that it would have been okay if he took Millie to make her feel better and Odd (finally getting a speaking part five minutes in) cracks a joke about him going with Yumi. They then all agree that Sissi is awful while the girl herself ogles herself in a disco ball, which is a hilarious visual, especially when it turns out that she’s right there in full view of them and heard the whole thing. I seriously love how much they and Sissi hate each other. It’s so pointlessly vicious that it reminded me of real middle school.
But enough of the characters who are in the main credits! Back to Millie! Who… is… gibbering insanely to and about her teddy bear not caring how old she is… wow. Yeah, Millie needs a counselor. Now.
Tamiya shows up and displays her credentials as a geniunely enjoyable character by correctly mocking Millie for sulking while at the same time luring her friend out to get the hell over it. Millie then leaves with her, abandoning the bear who she previously acted like was her only remaining friend in a dirty garden shed. The camera lingers on it ominously as if you didn’t see at the start that this episode is called TEDDYGODZILLA.
As soon as they’re gone, a more interesting version of the smoke monster from LOST oozes out of the light fixture in the shed and engulfs the bear. We cut outside and hear a murderous roar! Millie count: we are 5:45 in and she’s had 3:20 of that time. Remember, she will never get this kind of focus for at least 23 episodes.
Now we’re back to Sissi, who mocks her henchmen and ditches them as she goes into her room. My god, she is a magnificent Libby. But things are not well, as the terminator-view from earlier is revealed to be looking out from under her couch!
…As she strips down to her underwear…
Preach on Jean Luc.
OKAY. HOLD ON.
I checked the wiki for this series and Sissi is supposed to be fourteen goddamn years old. Fourteen. One. Four.
Now I get that France, and for that matter, most of the developed world is less bothered by sexuality and nudity then we here in the US. I get that and in a lot of cases I applaud it. I’m from the internet, you can’t scare me with a few start breasts and butts. And I get that this isn’t even nudity, it’s underwear.
I would let it slide it this scene wasn’t the way it was. It is literally a solid minute of her like this, being shot form the perspective of the thing watching her and it lingers on her butt like the leer of an old man for multiple shots at multiple angles. There’s even a shot of her scratching her butt, which would have been funny if it hadn’t come after probably half a minute of undie shots.
I don’t remember this from the episodes I watched previously, so maybe I’m watching the French video with English audio or something, but: No, Lyoko. Bad Touch. This was unsubtle even by anime standards. Even Fanservice-overloaded Love Hina didn’t linger on fourteen year-olds.
Arg. I’m sure someone is going to call me a prude in the comments, but Jay-sus. Let’s move on.
So Sissi (thankfully now in a robe) is led away by the principle after running for her life, and Our Heroes decide to check and see if Xana had anything to do with it. We the audience still have no idea what Xana is, so okay? They all conclude that her room being trashed is the result of a short circuit and leave… BACK TO MILLIE!
Millie and Tamiya head back to the garden shed to discover Millie’s bear is missing. They are interrupted by Jim, who is an utter asshole to them and again mocks Millie for being young. Millie, being such a likeable little girl, freaks out at him and gets both her and Tamiya grounded in the dorms.
Proving she is the best friend ever, Tamiya calls Millie out on her obvious character flaws, then comforts her with how good their pictures turned out. Just as Odd shows up, desperate to get some screen time in his own show, they discover that Millie’s bear was in Sissi’s room via one of the photos!
Seeing his chance to actually get into the plot, Odd promises to look into it and takes the photo as proof.
But obviously, this isn’t a show about Odd and his friends, as we instead cut to Jim being attacked by something with a giant teddy bear-shaped shadow.
Odd then gets literally three seconds of screen time looking at the room before cutting to Jim in the infirmary being considered nuts.
We finally get back to Ulrich, Jeremy and Yumi, all steadfastly denying that something weird happened to Sissi. Yumi exposits about being a day student, meaning she doesn’t live on campus like the rest of them… and it’s back over to the principal who had been talking ti Jim. Did the production team know who their show was about when they made this? We are at the ten minute mark and the main kids have been in less than half of it.
Anyway, the principal runs into Odd who asks about Jim’s attack, discarding Jim’s sketch of his attacker (bcause he thinks he’s crazy). Odd picks it up and discovers the picture of a teddy bear, taking it to Ulrich and Jeremy as proof that XANA is afoot.
Whatever XANA is, they are more surprised that he’s in a teddy bear than that he’s attacking people. Odd asks who goes (where?) and who stays at the school Jeremy says that they need Yumi because a solo mission is too dangerous. Odd just grins and volunteers to do it anyway, getting a reprimand from. At 11:32, this is the first real characterization these kids get aside from ‘middle school kids who react to Sissi and the all-important Millie’.
Odd then mentions something about how ‘even going back in time, if there’s an accident, it’s ‘game over’. Yeah, this is the only warning you’re going to get that there’s time travel in this episode and it goes by super-fast to the point that you may have missed it.
Also, death is time-proof. This is one of my problems with the series as a whole. While the ‘Return to the Past’ function allows the producers to cheat and have large scale destruction and crisis every week without actually changing the school, they shoe-horn in the idea that death can’t be reversed to maintain drama and… it doesn’t work. They’re removed every other consequence of the character’s actions but death, and we know death is highly unlikely in a kid’s show, so it’s the same as if they didn’t add that addition at all. What it really does is put a lot of countdown timers on every attack, so they have to race to stop everything.
Anyway, Odd is sent with Jeremy for that solo mission Jeremy said ‘no’ to, and we get a stock footage sequence of the two traveling to the factory where the computer running the world of Lyoko is located. It’s a pretty cool little sequence and they cut it well enough that it looks different depending on who comes to the factory.
It’s only now that we learn that Aelita is in a computer program world—and that’s only because Jeremy calls the transport process he sends Odd through ‘virtualization’. Odd arrives in 3-D… and dressed as a purple catboy. He takes off running.
Ulrich reports that the bear got out of the school and Aelita responds that it XANA is in control it will go after his mortal enemies: the group.
And here’s another problem with this episode. The bear singles out and attacks Sissi and Jim after each of them angers Millie. The implication is that this is because they angered Millie and that XANA is following some sort of empathic routine where he unleashes people’s psyches in physical form.
Only… XANA will never do this again and in fact, shows little to no concept of psychological warfare in the first season. Plus, Aelita actually suggests that XANA is ‘now’ in control, as if Millie was sending this thing out before and now XANA hijacked it. This would be cool: Millie being a secret big bad while the team is distracted, but that’s apparently not what’s happening here.
So, Ulrich realizes that the bear is after Yumi while Odd and Aelita are attacked by ‘monsters’ that are clearly mechanical robots. Jeremy tells Odd to take good care of Aelita, while Ulrich races to go warn Yumi, trying to get her to answer her phone. Yumi is in the bath (and thank god, we only see her head sticking out of the tub, considering what we saw before).
The action on Lyoko is pretty good, but as a gamer, it occurs to me that every Lyoko sequence, both here and the rest of Season One, is an escort mission. For the non-gamers, an escort mission is a mission in game where you need to make sure some slow, incompetent and/or extremely fragile character you have no control over gets from point A to point B while everything ties to kill them. Aelita is almost completely useless, capable of altering terrain, but only if she gets down and sings a drawn-out hymn. And she’s slow as hell despite running flat out at almost all times.
Oh, and wait, forget what I said about Yumi. There’s a lingering shot of her leg getting out of the bath and putting on a towel (What is WITH this episode? I swear I don’t remember this in other episodes).
Yumi (now clothes) and Ulrich run from the now-giant teddy bear and have an awkward moment that makes you question the earlier thing about Ulrich having already chosen to go to the dance with Yumi. Meanwhile, Odd runs afoul this big orb/tank thing and decides to have a stand-off with it that is very pre-racism Clint Eastwood. The orb thing is BAD. ASS. It splits open (with it weak point protected by its shell) and fires a giant laser WALL that fills an entire plane centered on its equator.
Back in the real world, Ulrich interrupts the prom to warn everyone about the teddy bear, giving Sissi enough time to be amazingly terrible again just before the bear attacks.
Odd wins his standoff and Aelita gets inside this tower thing that’s required to take down Xana’s attack, just in time to stop the bear from Hulk-smashiing Ulich. While Ulrich and Yumi get way more romantic than they will EVER BE AGAIN IN THE SERIES, the panels in the tower collapse into a ball of light that emerges from the factory and flows o’er the Earth (like the green flash event in the DU or instrumentality in Evangelion).
At this point, Ulrich remembers the audience has no goddamn idea why the light si sweeping the planet and yet Rei isn’t exploding everyone into orange kool-aid, decides to keep cryptic and asks (in the best line delivery of the episode) “Ready to go into the past Yumi’ like he’s asking her to fly to Paris. Aww. They’re cute.
I admit that I like how Return to the Past comes with a ‘rewind’ sound effect.
We’re now back to the start where Millie asks Odd out again and Odd agrees this time. Yumi is cool with it, and confusingly refers to Odd as her ‘secret admirer’ and says he’ll take her. Sissi,a s is appropriate for her role, way more angry about this than she ought to be and it allows Ulrich to call her dumb. Which is a letdown because I wanted a better line than that, but fine.
How Was It Overall?
As a standalone episode of the show, it was below average for season one, and actually pretty bad for the series in and of itself. It was a bad choice to make the introduction to the series even if it served as a good pilot… which it didn’t.
The entire first half of this episode was about a character who isn’t important to the series, setting up an emotional motive that ultimately has nothing to do with the plot because like I said, XANA is not feeding on or taking inspiration from emotions. Further, when we get to the action, we only get to see Odd in action while Ulrich (who is the only one actually connected to Millie and her plot) and Yumi are running for their lives and Jeremy is mission control.
Nothing is explained. We start with everything already established and in media res, but that can work—it worked for Teen Titans, but Code Lyoko has such a complex premise, it really needed explanations. This isn’t even a ‘showing when you should be telling’ thing, they don’t show what we need to know either. It is entirely possible to come out of this episode thinking this is all magic and Lyoko is a fantasy world they can teleport to. It just takes missing one line and the world ‘virtualization’.
I didn’t get into it in the synopsis, but the dialog in this episode is atrocious. It gets much better later, but here, the English translation is stilted and makes everyone way, way too verbose, like those old Speed Racer episodes.
The cultural translation was smooth… except for what they seem to pass as fanservice, which was pure squick.
Other than that and the huge heads on the character models, the animation is nice and the backgrounds gorgeous.
But the quality art can’t save a bad episode and many people agree with me that this episode hurt the show a lot in the early days. That it’s still popular should be enough to tell you that it gets better. Quickly too. Do yourself a favor and check out Cruel Dilemma and Image Problem, episodes 6 and 7 respectively, for a better idea of what potential this show had and refused to show in its first episode.
Well, that’s all for this week. If you want to see a show (available free on youtube) given a Let’s Watch, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
Second, a surprising number of people have asked (I’m still not used to being a Z-grade internet celebrity with people giving a crap what I think), so just to get it out there; yes, I stopped reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality before the ending. No, it wasn’t at the part you all think I would rage-quit. It was before that (and in fact, before the part you all seem to think I would love… might come back to read that part), after the prison arc where I just couldn’t believe that Harry would try and rationalize away everything that obviously happened in that just to keep his status quo.
In its place, I’m now reading Harry Potter and the Natural 20, a seriously fun fic where a munchkin-created D&D character ends up summoned to the HP universe. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
Also, I’ve decided I’ve got too many little ideas to just do tiny blog posts for when it comes to WoE d20,a nd so I made a new place on the forum where I’ll post ideas and open them to discussion. If you have trouble registering for the forum, email me and I’ll approve you.
Last but certainly not least, Happy Belated 0th Birthday to Gwen, my new honorary niece. I am going to teach youh ow to annoy your mom so hard and will always ave advice and/or candy. This I swear.