Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Picking Apart: Code Lyoko

Ah, Code Lyoko, where would my imagination be without you? While I didn't grow up with it exactly, Code Lyoko was one of the few shows I like that I actually watched while it was still on the air. Though it was good enough to be entertaining during its run, repeated viewings have not been as kind on my opinion of it.

In the first season the show was just a series of one-off episodes. Even the first episode just plops you right in without a pilot. It doesn't really advance the plot at all until the finale; that being said, that's when the show went from average to good. I won't say the second season is without its hiccups, but it was pretty damn good. There was a lot of filler, but the plot advanced on a consistent basis. While I feel the finale was mishandled, it was still a great way to cap off the season. Through a combination of Xana getting more serious and Aelita having what are revealed to be flashbacks, the show manages to be dark while still being suitable for all audiences; a trait sadly lacking in American media nowadays, where Hollywood seems to think "dark" means "more sex, more violence, more depressing themes."

Season three is when we can begin to see where things will go wrong. Mind you, unlike a lot of fans I don't think it's bad so much as just lacking in great storytelling. What we begin to see in season three is that the writers clearly knew what they had, but didn't know what to do with it. The writing still manages to be good, but only because at this point the material they had to work with practically wrote itself. The problem is that season three doesn't have much of a plot going for it. While it manages not to have very much filler, rather than replacing that with more story arcs and character development is simply gets quite boring. This is the season in which a series of episodes were nicknamed "pick on Yumi week" by fans, where in place of actual drama the writers just tried to one-up each other by putting her in greater and greater peril, eventually culminating in her getting attacked by tentacle-vines. Yes, the Japanese girl is attacked by tentacles. In a French cartoon. God help us. We also get no acknowledgement of the fact that Aelita died and rose from the dead in the episode preceding the season; seems like a pretty big oversight to me. In spite of all this, the season did at least manage to have a finale as good as the last two, and produced a prequel two-parter that finally resolved the show's lack of a pilot episode.

Season four is where the show began to just plain suck on my second viewing. It was so bad it actually prompted me to write a fanfiction story highlighting what a competent villain would have done with the kind of power Xana supposedly had at this point. This season manages to undo anything good that came out of season three. Xana annihilating whole sectors? Destroying Lyoko? Resolved in the season premiere via deus ex machina. Granted, we knew Franz Hopper had sent them a message in the finale, but... damn, guys, you couldn't write one episode without Lyoko in it? I'm not saying their situation has to be depressingly hopeless, but a writer should at least throw some challenges at their characters.

Certainly a problem the show ran into in the latter half of the series, and season 4 in particular, was continuity. A big issue in that season is Xana trying to throw Aelita into the digital sea to draw Franz Hopper out of hiding. Great... except in season 1 the same thing happened to Yumi, and they used Code: Earth to get her out. What makes this even worse is that after Aelita gets thrown in, the first person Jeremie tells is Yumi... and she just stands there with a vacant expression on her face. I can distinctly remember a time when these characters were fairly intelligent, but the characters themselves seem to develop amnesia like this an awful lot.

Another thing that struck me as strange was that Jeremie never resurrected the Marabounta after Aelita got her memory back. The Marabounta's problem was that Aelita had a Xana signature earlier, and the thing attacked her. Well she's free now, Xana is still being a holy terror on Lyoko while establishing bases all around the world, and while Jeremie is dicking around with his anti-Xana program I'm sitting there yelling: "Hey, dumbass, you already have one!!! USE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The biggest problem I had with the show was that Aelita seemed to be the only one with any character development in season 4. In season 2 we find out a lot about all of the characters, including William. Season 3 tried pretty hard, but it often felt out of character; I mean, why did Yumi dump Ulrich out of the blue like she did when there was every indication before then of them having a good relationship? Why is this promptly forgotten so quickly? What was the point? Again, it didn't make a lot of sense, but at least the writers were trying. In season 4, Aelita is the only one with any development at all, and while the other characters do get episodes to themselves they don't really advance their own character arcs; no surprise, then, that these episodes are the most boring in the series. Even Aelita's episodes sometimes do it in this season, giving us a non-plot that could easily be removed from the show with nothing of value lost. This was only made worse by Cartoon Network cutting off support and forcing Moonscoop to rush the ending, even taking it off the airwaves before the last five episodes hit the screen.

While fans including myself have been hoping for a continuation, sadly we are being rewarded with what's promising to be more of the same crap: flashy new stuff, no plot. The switch to live action and the new cartoonish aesthetic on Lyoko, while not decisions I agree with, are not the problem I have with this. In my opinion Code Lyoko would have died even without getting screwed by the network, if only because the writers have already demonstrated they don't know what to do with this premise anymore. Perhaps the fan fiction community will get their act together and produce a worthy reboot or sequel, but Code Lyoko: Evolution is definitely not something I have a strong desire to watch. I prefer to remember the show as it was in its best days: an intelligent science fiction piece to light the spark of imagination.