Archive for November, 2011

Code Lyoko – Episode 4: Log Book

Suggested Title: “Speed 3: School Zone”

 

Summary:

 

Ulrich panics when his diary goes missing, but quickly learns that Sissi is responsible and wants to blackmail some nebulous sort of relationship out of him. His friends see this begin to transpire and understandably freak out. Ulrich explains the situation and Yumi goes to search Sissi’s room while she, Ulrich and Odd take a class field trip to a pool. With some sheer dumb luck (emphasis on dumb) Yumi retrieve’s Ulrich’s diary from the girl’s bathroom and brings unnecessarily swift resolution to this subplot.

 

Meanwhile, thanks to Xana, the school bus is out of control! Oh no wait, it’s the opposite of that, it refuses to break 20 miles per hour…or 20 kilometers per hour I guess, since this is Freanch-Canada. After several minutes of whatever the exact opposite of a thrilling car chase is, the Xana school bus finally puts pedal to the metal and races for the petrochemical plant. Odd jumps off the bus when it’s traveling at upwards of 100 speed units and is completely unharmed as he heads to the factory on foot.

 

On a side note, who is the city planner for this unnamed French-Canadian city? Why is there a nuclear power plant, a petrochemical plant and a factory with an evil sentient computer virus within a supercomputer all within commuting distance of a boarding school?

Why does a virtual world even need sand?

Since Xana can apparently control the virtual weather, I bet he can make it rain.

 

On Lyoko Xana uses multiple strange and never before seen or mentioned powers to hassle Yumi and Aelita, but Aelita fights back with her ability to create digital terrain by chanting and praying. Odd shows up and literally throws Aelita across a chasm so she can deactivate Xana’s tower, bringing the bus to a safe stop just feet, er meters, away from…whatever part of the petrochemical plant Xana was aiming for.

 

Our heroes return to the past and use their knowledge of Sissi’s scheme to be a jerk to her and this whole mess of an episode is capped off with an 80’s style freeze frame.

 

Reactions:

 

Where do I begin? This episode is one big crazy mess. Firstly, at least half of the major character’s voices sound slightly wrong in this episode. And I’m almost positive that the cameo bus driver is voiced by the same actor as the principal…doing the principal’s voice.

 

And then there’s the pacing of the episode. Seriously, whoever wrote this episode needs extra strength Ritalin. In the first half of the episode, there’s barely a scene that lasts longer than thirty seconds. We resolve the entirety of the episode’s B-Story before Xana even begins messing with the bus!  Ricochet rabbit would have a hard time following this garbage.

Sure I could have gone with Speedy Gonzales, but then you would know what I was talking about.

That's right, I’ve got my finger on the pulse of popular culture.

 

Let’s address the diary debachle. So Sissi steals Ulrich’s, then Yumi goes looking for it. Instead she finds Sissi’s diary, reads it (inducing a poorly animated flashback) then calls up Sissi from the girl’s bathroom to blackmail her about the location of Ulrich’s diary. It turns out she hid the diary in the very bathroom stall that Yumi called from. Well isn’t that creepy, weird and convenient? Why hide something so important in a public place? Why did Yumi call from there in the first place? Did they tire out the animation staff with all of those fifteen second scenes from before?

 

That brings us to Xana’s plan, and this may actually be the least sensical yet. I mean, it’s hard to top the nuclear explosion plan for sheer stupidity, but I’m really having a hard time figuring out the goal of this one. So Xana wants to ram a speeding bus into a petro-chemical plant. His goal doesn’t seem to be killing the Lyoko warriors, because only two of them were ever on the bus, and he simply could have run the bus off a cliff or into a building if that were the case.

 

Now granted, I’m no expert on petrochemicals, but since they make a point of calling it a petrochemical plant and not an oil refinery, I imagine it’s not just a big Michael Bay explosion tank, so if you ram a bus into it what even happens? Maybe a small explosion? Maybe a ruined bus and an invoice for some repair work? Even if it did create a massive explosion what good would that do? Does Xana just have some grudge against the city? His motivation makes no sense, he literally just wakes up in morning on Lyoko and tries to devise the most annoying thing he can do that morning. I submit that he’s just trolling Team Lyoko.

Seriously though, if Xana has these kinds of powers it's a miracle that he hasn't...accomplished whatever his goal is.

At this rate I have to wonder if Xana's planning to posses an interior designer and ruin the boarding school's decor.

 

After Xana magically conjures two different weather phenomena at once, he lures Aelita and Yumi onto the edge of a cliff, which suddenly splits apart and starts floating in multiple directions. Hold on, if Xana has the ability to manipulate Lyoko on this scale, ripping apart the landscape and then moving the pieces at will, then how have the Lyoko Warriors ever stopped his plans? Why not just isolate every tower in Lyoko from the rest of the world and make it so anyone trying to enter Lyoko falls straight into the digital sea? Xana is all over the place in the episode, pulling out all the stops to ensure that his really poorly conceived plan succeeds.

 

And I’ve already touched on Odd’s two very suspicious moments from this episode. First he escapes a speeding bus without a scratch, and then later he uses his super furry strength to toss Aelita across a canyon. I don’t know anything about Canadian comic books but after that performance I suspect Odd may be Quebequois Superman…if such a thing exists.

 

I’ve leave you with a strange series of rapid fire advice we hear from various characters over the course of about a minute:

 

“Take off your backpacks and use them as airbags!” shouts Ulrich, demonstrating he knows about as much about airbags as he does short circuits.

It is strongly implied that I crashed into these cars!

This is the only shot we get of the crash, it's like they were trying to cut their special effects budget...but this is an animated series.

 

“Yumi, things are getting tough here. Come straight to the factory after class” Jeremie tells Yumi, as the bus is already in excess of 140 speed units, but we can’t go missing school now can we?

 

“Now hurry up and get your seatbelts fastened!” Jim advises, closing the proverbial barn door after the horses have escaped, since the bus has already plowed through two cars. Or at least, it’s implied that the bus plowed through two cars, probably because of the animators being tired out from the thirty different settings in the first ten minutes of the episode.

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Ridesgiving And Other Travel Games

In keeping with my Monday tradition of not having a Monday tradition here on Cove of solitude, today’s post has pretty much nothing to do with anything.

In case my taste in television and my peculiar introspective post from last week hadn’t clued you in, I’m a pretty unconventional person. Among my idiosyncratic character traits are a passion for games, a love of surprises, and an overall tendency to be eccentric.

These elements all converged the other day as I was packing to return to Los Angeles, texted him my flight info and thanked him for his ridesgiving. For a normal person that would have been the end of things…well actually, a normal person would never have said “ridesgiving” in the first place, but I imagine you’re probably not reading this blog if you don’t have a healthy suspension of disbelief.

Here are the rules of Ridesgiving, as I devised them within five minutes of sending that text:

1) $5.00 price limit: I’m not made of money, besides, the point isn’t to get a real present, it’s simply to find something in the airport. It encourages you to explore and think outside the box.

Unless they have magic beans. That worked out super well for that Jack fellow.

*VascoDaGamer and the Cove of Solitude to not endorse bartering with creepy strangers.

2) Must be obtained within an airport, but not necessarily from a store: For example I considered trying to buy a plush mascot of a restaurant, so your Ridesgiving gift need not be purchased in a store, you could even barter for it if you wanted*! Also, it’s not important which airport you get your gift from, just so long as you get it in an airport at some leg of your travels.

3) You must put some thought into it – This is meant to be a game, so if you’re going to play you should be creative and have fun! Obviously given the other constraints you won’t find something amazing, but if you try you’ll be surprised by what you can find.

I’m sure that over time I’ll figure out where the rules need to be refined further, but from this weekend’s inaugural run, I’d say it was a huge success. Actually, it was suspiciously successful. I mean the first Ridesgiving present was a holographic bookmark. It’s even weirder considering that I was thrown a curveball and my ride was transferred from one friend to another. This meant I had to act quickly to get a Ridesgiving gift suitable for my new ridesgiver, but luckily I am the foremost ridesgifter in the world!

I wish I could take credit for this idea.

In case you hadn't heard, this was their best idea.

Just like Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, I would have to say that this is the second best idea I’ve ever had. The real brilliance of ridesgiving is that everybody wins! I get a ride and have something to do at the airport. Whoever gives me a ride gets whatever strange thing I can find in the airport, as well as the weird story and whatever explanation accompanies it.

While I’m on the subject of irrelevant travel games, I might as well mention an old favorite of mine from college: tree or tunnel. As I mentioned last week, my family lives in the Philadelphia area. I went to college in Boston, which in the scheme of things isn’t that far away, so flying wasn’t necessary. As a result, and because I find them generally more relaxing, I would take the train to travel back and forth from home and college.

Now when I say that Boston and Philly aren’t that far away, I’m exaggerating slightly as the train ride takes about 5 hours, which gives a TV-centric person such as myself plenty of time to tire of the pleasant scenery. I would often use this time to call a close friend of mine on either end of the commute, though there was one small problem with this time sink. Well, two, to be precise. Trees and tunnels.

The train route between these two cities is peppered with rural areas where phone signal is poor and tunnels which naturally block phones from their precious life-giving cell towers. As the universe is wont to do, it caused these trees and tunnels to consistently cut my conversations at awkward places. So the game, simple as it is, came from the return call, during which my friend not on the

At least they haven't yet forged the ultimate weapon: the tunnel of trees!

Blast, my old nemeses have begun working together! no phone is safe!

train would be encouraged to guess the source of the dropped call, tree or tunnel.

The name of the game took on an extra meaning after sunset, as trees and tunnels both frequently lacked a light source to identify them at night, so unless the moon was full they both looked like inky blackness.

My family used to travel a lot when I was a kid. Well, it seemed like a lot to me, but it was really just once a year and always to the same place: Disney World! Why was it always Disney World? Clearly you’ve never been, it’s the happiest place on earth, you heathen!

But in order to make the trip cost effective for a family of five, it meant making an annual road trip to and from Orlando Florida…from Philly…with a van full of three kids.

Normally this would be a problem with lots of hitting, shouting and threats to turn the van around. But my Dad is an engineer and

My Dad's lifetime mission: to boldly pimp that which has never been pimped before!

Clearly my Dad missed his true calling.

a natural problem solver, especially when it comes to technology. He devised some way to hook up a television a Playstation and two monitors to the van, powered only by the van and we never once ran the battery down too empty. Games were played. Movies were watched. Minds were blown.

To this day I still only partially understand what went into that rig, and while I hope I can some day do crazy magic tricks for my kids like that, I appreciate the fact that it was a very magical memory. My Dad has been doing ridiculous things with technology since before I was born, but it was really the first time I was able to fully appreciate it. I mean, I was playing Playstation in a car! And keep in mind, this was well before vans came equipped with screens and DVD players. My Dad was doing it before it was trendy.

I encourage everybody reading this to try out Ridesgiving the next time they need a ride to or from the airport. Even better, try devising your own celebrations for travel or other everyday occurrences. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments. As for me, I need to set my mind to the next big holiday, Christmas, and of course keeping you guys supplied with your bad TV fix.

Cardfight! Vanguard – Ride 3: Welcome To Card Capital!

Welcome back to a world of imagination and card game tutorials. In case you’re somehow just tuning in, that means it’s time for some Cardfight! Vanguard. Our last episode was the completion of the pilot’s cliffhanger, wherein our novice protagonist defeated the most talented cardfighter in the store and managed to make some friends. How else will the discovery of this card game affect Aichi’s life? Let’s buckle down and find out, shall we?

 

In case you haven’t been reading my Code Lyoko updates, this week also marks my attempts to try things a little differently, so be sure to let me know what you think here in the comments or on Twitter @VascoDaGamer.

 

Suggested Title: Buy All Our Playsets and Toys!

 

Summary:

 

Freud would have a field day with Aichi's dream here. Kai and a big old sword? I wonder what it all means...

This third episode introduces Aichi’s sister, Emi. She wakes Aichi up from a dream about Kai then heads downstairs to make him breakfast. Emi’s role here is to further underscore how unimpressive Aichi is as a protagonist. Not only does he barely know how to play the central game of the show, but apparently routinely needs his much younger sister to wake him up, make him breakfast and even remind him to leave for school.

 

When she tries to send Aichi off to school on this particular occasion, though, she finds that he has already left of his own volition. Their mother makes a brief appearance to prove that she exists and says this has become a trend recently.

 

After school, Emi begins to walk home but worries about what Achi might be up to, so she does the logical thing and heads to his school so she can stalk him.  Once there, she spies Morikawa giving Aichi a hard time as he is still playing the part of the bully despite his general incompetence.

 

The first rule of Cardfight! Club is: you do not talk about Cardfight! Club!

Emi gets the impression that Aichi is involved with a gang, and does the only responsible thing that a grade school girl can do, which is to tail her brother and the two suspected gang members all alone. If this weren’t a card game anime, this would probably be a really morbid Japanese cautionary tale, but fortunately for us this episode contains no tentacles.

 

Morikawa, Aichi and Izaki lead her to card capital, which she imagines to be some sort of fight club., and by her reaction once she finally gets inside, she may have preferred it if it was a fight club. The manager, Nitta, steps in to act as our exposition monk for the evening and explains that, “This is a trading card game shop, or TCG for short”. I wasn’t kidding when I said Cardfight! Vanguard dealt in the basics of playing a card game.

 

After Nitta takes Emi on a brief tour of the shop, starting with the counter where all the products are sold (hint, hint), and he takes a moment to formally introduce Misaki, the shopkeeper, and the substitute manager, Emi spots her brother shuffling up for some cardfight! action.

 

It’s a pretty low stakes game that doesn’t introduce many new units. Aichi plays the karate book-man as his vanguard and Morikawa rides a Halloween Bowie. That’s right, we’re already seeing repeat cards between different players. There’s a LOT of overlap between units in various decks on this show, so get used to it.

 

After Aichi summons a bunch of Samurai and some pets for them to play with, he launches several attacks in one turn, prompting Morikawa to reveal that “I didn’t stick any boring guards you could guard with in my deck, you see”. I can see his point though, winning games is pretty boring.

 

Nitta, the manager, explains the importance of a balanced deck, but Morikawa ignores it, since a well-balanced deck doesn’t have enough powerful grade 3 units for his liking. Aichi deflects one of his attacks with his trusty pink poodle, then wins the game with a conveniently timed critical trigger.

 

Emi heads over to talk to Aichi and try and make sense of all this cardfight! nonsense, and he just now notices her for the first

Oh I didn’t see you standing there…for ten minutes.

time. She’s been in the store for ten minutes, in plain view of where he has been sitting, and he has, in fact, been facing her and he’s only now noticing her. Nothing gets past this guy.

 

Emi realizes that this game has made her brother more confident and also demonstrates how useless a bully like Morikawa really is. She asks them to play again and this foray into the realm of cardfights ends with a shuffling montage.

 

Reactions:

 

This episode once again prove that whoever is writing this show doesn’t understand what people want to watch from a competition anime. I respect the decision to make a character-driven episode, especially one that introduces a new character, but the second real story of the series seems early to take a break from the action.

 

When you compare this to a show like Yu-Gi-Oh, where the second episode sets up some recurring villains in a way that isn’t obvious and also contains a card game for the fate of the protagonist’s grandfather’s soul, you can see how I might find this plot less than exciting.

 

More than anything, this episode really feels like an introduction to all the things about Card Capital, one of the main settings of the show, that they didn’t want to come out and tell us in the two-part pilot episode. For one, you can go to the card shop and buy Cardfight! Vanguard products! I mean, think how enriched your life is now that you have this knowledge!

 

Next up, Nitta the manager of the store introduces Misaki, who will become important later on. As I mentioned, though, he also introduces the store’s “substitute manager”. You can have as many guesses as you want to try and figure out who it is, because you’re not going to guess it.

 

The substitute manager is his cat.

Pictured from right to left are Card Capital's shopkeeper, its substitute manager and your physical response to this episode.

 

I’m not even really sure what to say about that. He doesn’t say it like a joke and he continues to refer to the cat that way. Heck, I don’t even know the cat’s name, I just know that it is the substitute manager of Card Capital!

 

Making the store manager seem even more unstable and irresponsible is an off-handed remark he makes to Emi at one point in the episode. He asks if Emi (a grade school girl) is interested in playing Cardfight! Vanguard and even offers to give her private lessons. Japan is a terrible place. Luckily Misaki the storekeeper is the voice of reason and gets her uncle to stop creeping on the young girl.

 

This episode introduces Morikawa’s gimmick, his obsession with Grade 3 Units. To clarify, Units are ranked in general power level as being grade 0, 1, 2 or 3. You can only play a Vanguard of the same level or one higher than your current one, and you can only summon units that are the same level as or lower than your current vanguard. Since 3 is the highest grade, they are the most difficult to play, especially when you’re a moron who doesn’t understand that you need low level units to play the good ones.

 

It’s meant to be a running gag, but it’s a totally one note joke. If Morikawa sees someone play a grade 3 unit he cheers. If someone does something impressive with a lower grade unit, he remains unimpressed and mentions how grade 3 units are the most powerful. He’s like Pavlov’s cardfighter or something, it’s a conditioned response that’s never all that funny. But it’s still not as bad as that waste of space from Kamui’s posse, but we’ll get to that later.

 

One more thing, they mention at least twice in this episode that Emi is wearing the school uniform of a school for rich girls, but to my recollection that hasn’t come up again at any point in the first 45 episodes. I don’t know why they go to so much trouble to establish something so clearly unimportant.

 

That’s all for this underwhelming installment of Cardfight! Vanguard, but if you join me next week you’ll see the introduction of some of my favorite units in the game, as well as an important game rule that probably should have come up by now.

 

Cardfight! Lessons of the Day:

-CF!V is a TCG or “Trading Card Game”

-Go to a card store to buy cards

-Build a balanced deck or you will constantly lose, like Morikawa.

 

Moral of the Story: Play cards games and your life will improve. Somehow today’s moral directly contradicts last week’s moral, but that’s the hallmark of rich, interesting storytelling, right?

Code Lyoko – Episode 3: Holiday in the Fog

Ahoy readers, and welcome back to the world within a supercomputer within a cartoon show: Code Lyoko! Last time we learned that Canada has some sort of problem with short circuits and that the most sensible person within the protagonist ensemble is the one who’s not even technically alive. What uncomfortable truths will we uncover today? What, you expect me to just tell you? Keep reading and find out!

We’re going to try something a little new this week, since I’ve realized both of the episodes on my slate for the week are not shining examples of exciting story writing, thus making them less than compelling subjects for synopsis. I’ve received a few suggestions for a different style of doing things, so be sure to give me some feedback on which you prefer.

Suggested Title – Bad Gas

Summary:

The episode opens with the men of Lyoko (there’s a calendar I could do without, even ignoring the nine missing months) involved

Oh yes, ladies, he's single.

in a dog and pony show to get Jeremie suspended to lose his privilege to leave campus for an unnamed holiday break. When Sissi eavesdrops on one of Team Lyoko’s conversations and learns Jeremie wanted to get in trouble, she also decides to forgo her Blanksgiving Break.

While chaperone Jim forces Jeremie and Sissi to clean Jeremie’s graffiti off the wall, Sissi tries to get Jeremie to spill the secret she knows he’s keeping, even bringing up the name Xana, which she overheard earlier. “Is she your girlfriend?” Sissi asks, “Maybe I know her”. Personally, I feel like I would remember a girl named Xana, but what do I know?

Later that night, Jeremie is working on WeirdScience.exe, the name I’m attributing to his program to make Aelita into his real life girlfriend. He discovers that he needs the power of a supercomputer to do his calculations, but rather than using a standard extreme scooter and skateboard montage, he decides to take the long way through a supply closet in the school. This proves to be a huge error as the room is full of an unnamed toxic gas that Xana has possessed using science or something. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Xana’s plans don’t often make a ton of sense.

As Jeremie escapes the poison closet (my school had one of those, didn’t yours?), Jim catches him and drags him back to his dorm room. The next morning Jeremie sneaks out to the factory and we catch a montage of Lyoko warriors receiving text messages and abandoning their Blanksgiving Day plans to rendezvous with Jeremie.

Did you guys ever stop to think that maybe Xana just wants a hug?

Jeremie tries to warn Jim and Sissi of the perilous “smoke with arms”, but ends up getting attacked in the process. Luckily Ulrich, Odd and Yumi show up just in time to drag him out of the smoke. I’m not so sure a plan that can be foiled by slowly dragging someone away from it was the best choice. Ulrich volunteers to save the comic relief characters while the rest head off to the factory and Lyoko.

Ulrich’s plan of rushing into a building saturated with toxic gas…without a plan surprisingly doesn’t pan out, and almost gets him killed, but luckily Aelita invents a new superpower in Lyoko, allowing her to reach the inaccessible tower and save the day.

Reactions:

So when I said the guys involved themselves in a dog and pony show to make sure Jeremie could keep tabs on Xana, I was

Odd's dog has a face only a mother could love.

exaggerating the ponies, but not so much the dog. Meet Kiwi. Kiwi is Odd’s dog. Now I will admit that I’m not the biggest animal lover in the world, but Kiwi is a pretty ugly dog, and I doubt he’s worth the trouble of smuggling him into his dorm. Yeah, he’s got to break school rules to have that creature around. I guess he’s hoping chicks dig ugly dogs…or that his ugly dog will make him look more handsome by comparison.

There’s a weird amount of eavesdropping that happens in this episode. Sissi and her lackies conveniently overhear Jeremie’s friends congratulate him on getting confined to campus for the generic holiday break, then just a few minutes later she’s eavesdropping on them discussing concerns about Xana. Then, just a few seconds later Jim is eavesdropping on Sissi butting in on their conversation. It’s like the writers wrote the whole rest of the episode and forgot to actually put Sissi and Jeremie in the same plot together until the very last minute.

But you know what the real sticking point is for me in this episode? Most episodes have one, for example last week’s episode of Code Lyoko involved Xana’s suicidal nuclear attack plan. How would that plan have helped even if it had succeeded!? Well, once again I have an issue with Xana’s plan du jour.

So Xana’s plan was to electrically possess a cloud of gas and use it to kill everyone, right? First off, why does the school keep a dozen unlabeled, uncovered barrels of toxic…SOMETHING in a random supply closet? Secondly, towards the end of the episode, Xana’s killer gas has engulfed most of the city. That’s all fine and great, except doing that in a concentration that would still be dangerous to people would require more poisonous gas than you’re going to find in an irresponsible supply closet, which means Xana has the ability to generate more of the gas with his nebulous supercomputer powers. But if he can just make the poison gas in the first place, why bother with the whole nonsensical gas possession thing at all? Why not just have Xana make a bunch of poison gas!?

And then there’s the SOS montage, where everyone cancels Blanksgiving. Ulrich’s is pretty straightforward: he sneaks out of a boring tutoring session. Yumi was sitting in the backseat of her parents’ car, waiting for her mom to finish packing a dress or something while her father complained about it. Then she gets the text and apparently just walks out of the car without saying anything to her dad. His reaction? When Yumi’s mother gets out to the car, he asks, “Have you noticed someone missing from the back seat?” As if there was nothing he could do to stop her. That’s some top notch parenting.

Your bag looks fine, but I'm going to have to ask you to throw out your water bottle.

Odd’s is the worst, though. Odd tries to smuggle his dog through airport security, by stuffing her in his bag and just running it through the x-ray machine. Not only is this needlessly irradiating his dog, but it’s a moronic plan that has exactly no chance of working. The weird thing is when the x-ray operator at the airport sees a dog’s skeleton in his luggage they’re not concerned by it until it moves. You learn something new every day and today I learned that serial killers are a-okay to fly Air Canada.

In Lyoko, Yumi makes her first appearance, and utilizes her digital telekinesis for the first time, but she does so in a really confusing way. She tells Odd and Aelita she has a plan to provide them cover so they can head to the tower. Her plan is to lift a large rock, place it next to the monsters which are attacking them, then stand on the rock so that all of the monsters can shoot at her. Somehow this plan works, but probably just  because the sheer idiocy of it confused the monsters into submission.

Aelita is a devout expositionist. Her faith is rewarded with the gift of wood.

Once they’ve made use of Yumi’s “cover”, Odd and Aelita discover a gap too large to jump between them and the active tower. Aelita utilizes a never-before-mentioned ability to magically generate tree trunks so she can cross the gap. Good thing we made that up, I mean…good thing she remembered that in the nick of time!

One last weird thing is that after this episode’s return to the past, we see Jeremie and Ulrich tagging school property once again, just so Jeremie can have time to work on WeirdScience. However this time we see Jim chase Odd’s dog right past them, instead of seeing him stop after noticing their crime. Is this supposed to be some weird commentary on how fate is malleable? Cause I was pretty sure the fact that Xana hadn’t accidentally managed to destroy or take over or…whatever it is he plans to do to the world was proof of that already.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Blanksgiving Day celebration, join me next time as Xana continues to make weird use of school property. Also, be sure to let me know how you liked this new style of entry either in the comments or via Twitter. You can follow me @VascoDaGamer not just to keep in touch, but to be notified when I update the Cove of Solitude.

Born To Be Senile

Yesterday I flew from my apartment in Los Angeles to my family’s home near Philadelphia and boy are my arms tired! Obviously I’m kidding (and badly!), but it was a less pleasant flying experience than usual, and that should be saying something to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock since a certain day in September of 2001.

 

As I was waiting in the woefully understaffed and inexcusably long line to get through airport security, I saw a mother helping her kids strip down to the TSA-regulated maximum for walking through the metal detector, and it got me thinking about how times have changed. In the 90s we never could have imagined some of the ridiculous things the have become commonplace and the very fact that this causes me pause makes me feel old.

 

I don't know how to tell you this, Doctor Banner, but...you're going green.

The world around us is constantly changing. Our technology, our politics, even our culture with things like the initiative to “Go Green”. Think about it, what would someone have thought fifteen years ago if you told them you had gone green? Best case scenario they would probably ignore you, and at worst they might rush you to the E.R.

 

For some reason I find these types of cultural changes much more surprising and peculiar than technological ones, even though the tech sector will probably always be the fastest mind-boggling industry known to man. When I first heard about iPhones and having phones capable of accessing the internet, I just flat out didn’t believe they existed. I guess the primitive part of my brain took over and started looking for the witch responsible so I could burn her at the stake.

 

Airports in particular are a major culprit of this weird sensation I have that’s difficult to describe. If I had to put a name to it, I’d call it something along the lines of “Future Generation Syndrome”. The sensation tends to come from changes during my lifetime that I’m aware will seem remarkable to the children people of my generation raise.

 

“In my day, Billy,” I will say to my granddaughter named Susan, “you used to be able to get on an airplane without talking off any of your clothes”.

“Yeah right, grandpa!” She will say, genuinely skeptical, and with good reason!

Of course! Now the quality of their service makes sense!

 

It’s weird the stuff we can get used to as a culture without even batting an eye. You used to be able to walk right up to an airplane terminal and pick up your friends, family members or perpetrators of extortion right as they got off the plane. Now you need four plastic bins and a dressing room just to get through security so you can get on a plane that you spend hundreds of dollars to board, which doesn’t necessarily cover any food or entertainment. I’m looking at you, U.S. Airways.

 

Oddly enough, one good source for comparing how times have changed are sitcoms. More than many genres, I think sitcoms are based in an analog for the immediate present, as they seek to be as relatable as possible to the audience. Humor you don’t relate to usually doesn’t resonate as well as humor from a situation you understand. Case in point: everybody poops and everybody loves a good poop joke. Some people even like not-so-good poop jokes.

 

This one's just for you dog lovers.

It used to be a major plot point in sitcoms for a kid (especially a high school-aged girl) to lobby for their own phone line. It seems like nowadays kids in middle school have iPhones loaded with apps (probably including one which makes not-so-good poop jokes). I didn’t get a cell phone until pretty late in high school, and when I did it was a fairly simple one, which makes sense to me. The major argument for giving a child that young a phone is for emergency communication, so it doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles of a tiny computer. I’m not even sure when we made the transition from “no way are you getting a phone line” to “phones for everybody, even Fido!” Although in fairness, without a cell phone I’m not sure how a dog would order all the sweaters it needs to survive the winter.

 

There was a pretty good example of this from the trailers for He’s Just Not That Into You, where one character was stressing over communicating with the guy she was dating and recounts a whole messy affair of texting, voice mail, Facebook etc. Back in the days of shows like Seinfeld it was as simple as when should you call him/her or whether or not he/she had called you, and that alone was enough to drive people crazy. Look what we’re doing to ourselves!

 

I remember in elementary school when my mom would help me look through the family’s set of encyclopedias to find information on subjects for school. Now children will be growing up knowing the internet as their primary source of information. Since I was always pretty worthless at book research, and I spent a season doing research for the show Deadliest Warrior I guess I can’t complain too much about that change. Still, consider the concerning degree to which people rely on Wikipedia for information already. Do you think that is going to get better or worse over time?

 

At the rate things are going, I’m not going to recognize my own past by the time I have children, so I think I’m going to start making up the history of my lifetime. We’ll see how badly that screws them up. Back before hover cars the only way to get around was to surf the information super highway, a term which is no longer used out of respect for those who lost their lives to the digital tsunami that heralded the arrival of the techno-kraken. Yeah, I think that’s a good start.

I didn't say anything about a house.

 

As much as I hate change, I have to say I’m looking forward to a genre of music that could be described as techno-kraken.

 

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a pretty old-fashioned guy and that all I want out of life before I die is a porch to set my rocking chair on and a lawn to yell at people to stay off of.

 

(Don’t worry, I’ll get back to talking about regularly scheduled bad TV on Wednesday)

Cardfight! Vanguard – Ride 2: Ride to Victory!

Welcome back to the show with the largest volume of vanguards per cardfight!: Cardfight! Vanguard! You may recall that we left off on a cliffhanger. Arrogant jerkhole Kai had attacked hapless “protagonist” Aichi and hit on one of his Critical Drive Triggers, dealing the fourth of the six damage he needed to win. Aichi, on the other hand, had dealt only two damage, but drew his Ace Monster (to borrow some sweet Yu-Gi-Oh terminology) and was about to turn this cardfight! around!

 

If that's Blaster Blade's idea of retirement, maybe the unemployment rates aren't such a huge problem after all.

Blaster Blade immediately uses  an ability which lets him “retire” a unit in his opponent’s rear guard by turning two card from his damage pile face-down. Oh no! Not one of those generic wyvern guys! He was just one week away from retirement! And now he’s…retired. Oh. I guess that was just a nice gesture on the part of Aichi…who is now some sort of wyvern employer?

 

Uh-oh, it’s time for a heavy-handed anime flashback! Aichi remembers how he used to be picked on a lot (boy how times have changed!), and Kai recalls walking up and giving him the Blaster Blade card…for no discernable reason.

 

They’re not really trying here, are they? I expected maybe they were friends before and they had some deep connection or rivalry and blah, blah, blah – whatever. Instead, we find out that Kai pretty much walked up and handed Aichi the card out of the blue pretty much because the writers said so. There’s a reason this isn’t a good TV blog.

 

Anyway Aichi explains he built his Vanguard deck because he loved the Blaster Blade card and become obsessed with challenging Kai, but he moved away. He also became obsessed with Cardfight! Vanguard, despite never playing a game, and essentially tuned out the entire world while building his deck. I’m sure that’s entirely healthy.

 

Aichi finally decides to take a break from the exposition, and attack Kai’s Vanguard (the man standing on a dragon) with Blaster Blade. For the most part I’ve described basically what each unit is, but because of its special status as a plot device, I’ve neglected to let you know that Blaster Blade is essentially a knight in white plastic armor wearing a TRON outfit as chain mail under it. Apologies for the oversight.

Oh Ron Weasley, why are you so bad at Wizard Chess?

 

By the end of his turn Aichi’s attacked Kai with his Blaster Blade, his karate man and a freshly called blind samurai, taking Kai to 5 damage, with one more hit he will win the game. Morikawa and his lackey who apparently hasn’t yet earned a name have a fit over this fact, since they don’t understand that even people who win card games sometimes take damage. This actually happens a lot in competition anime, there’s some weird misconception among characters that taking damage in a game about battling monsters is a sign of weakness. That’s like saying losing any piece in a game of chess indicates poor strategy.

 

Kai throws around some trash talk about how he never cared about Aichi and just wanted to take rare cards from him…which would actually make a lot of sense given how random their only other encounter was. He also draws to start his turn and plays his Ace Monster, Dragonic Overlord. If you ask me he’s more like Generic Overlord, since he has no defining features other than being a dragon, one of the most overused fantasy tropes in card game history.

 

“I call two Monicas,” he says, although I’m not sure what his ambitious dinner plans have to do with Cardfight! Vanguard. Oh wait, they’re some sort of female soldier dressed for a Chinese New Year parade. He then activates his Dragon’s Special Ability, which boosts his power by 5,000 and lets him attack again if he retires a rear guard with his attack. At this rate, Aichi’s pension fund is going to get cleared out!

 

Personally, I think that if you have two Monicas you can call, you probably have better things to do after school than cardfight!

Aichi blocks the attacks from Kai’s rear guard, but loses two of his own units and then his Vanguard gets attacked by the Dragon. Kai gets lucky and finds another Critical Trigger, meaning this attack will do two damage and wipe Aichi out. It will take a miracle to keep Aichi in the game!

 

Did someone say miracle? Because Aichi gets one in the form of yet another rule pulled out of his…Tron-mail. You see, when you take damage you also check for triggers to activate, and Aichi got a heal trigger from his last damage. That means that since he has more damage than Kai he gets to heal one damage and have an undeserved turn with which to try and win the game.

 

Aichi takes this opportunity to turn Kai’s campy speech around on him, and declare that he can picture his inner strength, as well as the Blaster Blade defeating Kai. He calls a green-haired fairy to the field, which teams up with his pink poodle to attack Kai’s Dragon, which gets blocked by a man with a very large spear, saving Kai the embarrassment of losing to the most unthreatening units Aichi could muster.

 

Aichi makes his final attack with his Vanguard, which is literally accompanied by a fanfare of brass instruments and a bunch of unnecessary flashbacks. It all culminates in a lucky drive trigger off the top of his deck which lets him get in for the final damage needed to defeat Kai.

I think you're taking this loss a little seriously, Kai. Isn't it Aichi's job to obsess over the game so that real life loses meaning?

 

Kai makes sure to wrap up the whole “picture it in your mind” motif by explaining that with six damage he has returned to the form of a helpless spirit and has been banished from Cray, where this game takes place for some reason. He also declares that Aichi has earned the Blaster Blade card after all by winning their cardfight!

 

We cut to Aichi in school…still being clueless and still being teased by his peers. So nothing has changed. From what we’ve seen so far, I think it would take an actual act of God to improve anything about our protagonist.

 

At least he’s learned how to open up and make friends, right? No, he tries to bond with Morikawa over Cardfight! Vanguard and gets shot down. Let me remind you that we’re talking about the guy who stole and lost his best card, and never apologized! Even that guy doesn’t feel enough shame to befriend Aichi.

 

After school and a brief stop at the park to daydream about Kai (I’m only slightly embellishing) Aichi stops off at Card Capitol where he finds absolutely no one, for some sort of bizarre moment of tension, I guess. He sits down and has like 20 emo seconds to himself before everyone who was in the card shop yesterday shows up and wants to play with him.

 

This includes Morikawa, who refused to play with him like 2 hours ago. How did he know Aichi would come to the store later and not just commit suicide because he has no friends? Dick move, Morikawa.

 

It also includes Izaki, Morikawa’s nameless sidekick who gets a name in the last moments of this first two part episode, presumably so relentless slash fiction writers know what to call him.

 

The episode closes out with a montage of a bunch of children running into the store to play Cardfight! Vanguard, reminding us that this is, in fact, a children’s card game. Along with this montage, comes a callback to that pseudo-profundity from the first episode about how Cardfight! Vanguard is the game that gets most of our attention now. Clearly this show is set in Japan.

 

So what have we learned today? You can be very successful at a children’s card game and still fail at life. Join me next week as Aichi’s family discovers his new hobby!

Code Lyoko – Episode 2: Seeing Is Believing

Fire up those scanners and get ready to virtualize, it’s time for more Code Lyoko! Last time our big bad Xana possessed a teddy bear to destroy his enemies…so it’s got to be all uphill from here in the evil scheme department, right? Let’s find out!

 

This episode starts off with a riveting presentation about the workings of a nuclear power plant by some sort of nuclear engineer. Those French-Canadian writers sure know how to grab our attention! Jeremie asks the engineer if it’s possible to use nuclear power to materialize virtual matter. Rather than shrugging this question off with a laugh or something sensible, the engineer becomes deeply upset, as if Jeremie had insulted his mother. Perhaps the exchange lost something in translation.

 

I bet just to spite me the kids of Lyoko WOULDN'T call Johnny Five a short circuit.

Just before class ends, the projector on which this presentation was displayed goes dark and their teacher is unable to fix it. Jeremie suggests Xana may be behind it, but Odd brushes it off saying it’s probably just a short circuit. I’m really starting to wonder if anyone on this show knows how circuits work.

 

The principal appears from nowhere and gives the group permission to start a band with a terrible name, the Pop-Rock Progressives. He insists that the group must be open for anyone who wants to play, however, which seems to defeat the purpose somewhat. Having suitably initiated a subplot for the episode, the principal vanishes from whence he came. I suspect he may be a follower of the Church of Exposition.

 

Jeremie heads back to his dorm to check on Lyoko and see if there are signs of a Xana attack (that would be a much better name for a band, by the way). He contacts Aelita who very generously offers to listen to his problems if he ever wants to talk, and he literally ignores her. Men.

 

Jeremie starts a scan of Lyoko to look for an active tower and heads to the cafeteria for Brussels Sprouts. Spoiler alert: Jeremie is not the cool one. When he returns to his room, Jeremie learns that his scan hasn’t yet found the tower, but he interrupts the band tryouts to tell the others that he detected an overcharged power pylon just outside the school that seems to be responsible for the school’s power outages.

 

Before they can do anything about it, Sissi brings her lackies in for tryouts and it turns out that Franime Shaggy (whose name is apparently “Nick” but you can bet I’m not going to call him that) plays the drums. He plays them well. Odd is outraged that Yumi and Ulrich are cramping his style by picking a talented musician over a girl he wants to date and now both Yumi and Odd are threatening to quit the band.

 

Well, the band's musical genre is right in the name, but I can't see a reason not to let you audition with your trombone.

Side note: this scene has the first joke to genuinely make me (intentionally) laugh.

Ulrich: If Sissi’s idea was to cause trouble, she’s done a great job.

Trombone sound. Cut to Jim at the back of the room.

Jim: Would you guys need a slide trombone by any chance?

 

Jeremie goes to the factory and discovers that Xana has activated a tower. Aelita heads off to find it and calls the others to come help. In the time it takes the gang to extreme montage their way to the factory, Jeremie has inexplicably deduced Xana’s plan. He’s storing electricity in that pylon outside the school so he can direct it at a nuclear power plant and “create a short circuit” and a nuclear explosion. I guess Xana doesn’t realize that the electromagnetic pulse from such a blast would certainly destroy his computer and kill him in the process.

 

Yumi rightfully freaks out, saying they need to warn the authorities in case they fail in Lyoko, even though exposure means shutting down Lyoko to kill both Xana and Aelita. The group’s in a deadlock, clearly none of these people have seen Spock’s performance from Wrath of Khan.

WWSD: What Would Spock Do?

 

Oh wait, Aelita has! She joins the conversation via computer screen, breaks the group’s tie, and gets Yumi to go warn the principal and that nuclear engineer from earlier who is conveniently still hanging around. It doesn’t matter, though, because nobody believes Yumi’s completely insane-sounding story.

 

Meanwhile, Ulrich and Odd join up with Aelita in Lyoko’s desert sector. She leads the boy-Samurai and the mutant furry to where “Xana’s pulsations all converge” but none of them can see an activated tower. If they can’t find the tower, they can’t stop Xana’s plan, and a nuclear explosion will kill them all, so it’s time for a frantic blind search, right?

 

Wrong. Very wrong. Apparently it’s time to chill out on the shore of a virtual oasis. Ulrich stands around practicing his sword technique, Odd skips stones on the water and Aelita…just seems to be scanning the horizon…for an invisible tower. Luckily when one of Odd’s rocks hits the surface of the water, he discovers a hole leading down to a lower level of Lyoko where they find they tower.

Uh...Aelita? We've already concluded that we can't SEE the tower.

 

A trio of crab monsters attack and Odd gives his virtual life to save Aelita. This results in our first devirtualization, which means some stock footage of odd stumbling out of the scanner in the factory, looking bewildered. Get used to this, because Code Lyoko has no shame when it comes to stock animation.

 

With Odd’s devirtualization, it’s now three crabs versus one Ulrich, a perfect configuration for him to show off his ability to make two clones of himself, an ability which would make much more sense if his Lyoko avatar were a ninja and not a samurai.

 

As Ulrich works to dispatch the crab monsters, Yumi tracks down some emergency workers near the overcharged pylon. She warns them of the nuclear threat and when they ask how she knows about it she decides to give the entire backstory of Lyoko, a feat that the pilot didn’t even manage to do!

 

I have two problems with this plan of hers. Firstly, there really has to be a more plausible lie she can tell to convince these people to help. I mean, even if the story would get them to help, it’s not exactly a brief anecdote and time is of the essence!

 

Secondly, they never really did explain how Jeremie determined what Xana was going to use the electricity for, and since the secret of Lyoko doesn’t really explain why he should help, I don’t see why you should try and tell the emergency worker all about it!

 

In true camp fashion, Aelita gets access to the tower in order to deactivate it just as the pylon reaches full power and threatens to destroy everything, but she shuts it down just before the surge reaches the power plant and causes that short circuit Jeremie mentioned earlier.

 

“Ready for a return trip to the past, Odd?” Jeremie asks, as if praying to the god of Exposition.

 

And thus we are treated with the stock footage of the flash of light from the factory filling the sky. Then we are “treated” to the Pop-Rock Progressives playing an insufferable song with the help of Franime Shaggy and Jim’s trombone. With the return to the past program, they had two chances to find a way to get rid of Jim. Are you telling me they were actually looking for a slide-trombone to accompany their pop-rock band?

 

I’ll let you ponder that one, as this adventure is now completed. Join me next time to see what else Xana can short-circuit!