Archive for December, 2011

Holiday Hiatus 2011

I’ll try to find the time to post some random things, or at least work towards updates in the New Year, but in the meantime have a safe and happy holiday season until I can resume regular updates!

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Superman, Smallville and Second Chances

Being an avid enthusiast of television at large, I watch TV of a variety of genres, qualities, tones, obscurities, etc. This is why I can only afford to add so many new shows to my viewing schedule each season, and why I have little techniques like the three episode test to help me decide which shows to give a chance to and which to ignore for the foreseeable future. Of course these methods aren’t foolproof and some shows can be difficult to evaluate early on, while others don’t come into their stride until later on.

 

Of course some shows that were once amazing can also crash and burn pretty hard, and it can be difficult to gauge how much your loyalty to the show is worth in terms of time, but that’s an issue you another day.

 

Seriously, why is everyone in season 5 slinging dick jokes and bullets like it's not big deal?

The most recent culprit on my list of shows to turn sour. Chuck used to be my favorite currently airing show.

I bring this up now because of one show in particular: Smallville. I have been watching Smallville in syndication now for at least a month and a half. I remember starting to watch this show in high school, well before its dynamic changed (and when it changed, it changed HARD). A friend of mine was a big fan of Superboy, and I still am a big fan of super powers, so a live action television series about super powers was reason enough for me to start watching.

 

The show started as the origins of Superman, focusing on a teenage Clark Kent, still living with his parents, attending high school and just beginning to learn about his powers. Like many supernaturally-themed shows before it, Smallville began as a monster of the week show. Someone in, around or tangentially related to his high school would find some Kryptonite from the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth, they would develop super powers of some kind and Clark would have to stop them before they killed their ex or something ridiculous.

 

In the beginning it was deliberately kept ambiguous as to what Superman continuity the series would be following. I was no expert, most of my knowledge of Superman coming from the animated series that ran along side the Batman animated series, but luckily my friend had a more comprehensive knowledge on the subject. Eventually they gradually started to drop some hints about the bigger Superman picture and through much discussion my friend and I determined they weren’t following any Superman continuity at all, but rather making things up as they went along.

 

This would eventually become a very significant decision for the series, but the problem was that the transition was slow and rough. In case you haven’t watched a lot of supernatural television dramas, it’s pretty standard for them to develop from the episodic monster of the week style into a more serialized story arc over the course of its run. At the point that Smallville made this transition, they made some choices that seemed questionable to someone who already had expectations based on existing Superman material.

 

They even had the Wonder Twins on at one point, and they weren't completely lame!

Admit it, even though you can tell from just this image that the addition of the Justice League characters is unnecessary and campy it's still pretty awesome.

 

They began by adding superhero encounters to the monster of the week rotation, introducing Smallville versions of The Flash and Aquaman among others. Clark then meets a young Lois Lane (who’s the cousin of his best friend from high school for some reason) when he moves to Metropolis for college. Then several of the regular characters from his high school were phased out, including his chief love interest (Lana Lang) and his arch nemesis (Lex Luthor). They suddenly changed almost everything about the show, and it felt sudden.

Though the fact that this show launched a young Leonardo DiCaprio's career still boggles my mind a bit.

No, not THOSE growing pains! Not everything has to be about Alan Thicke, you know!

 

This was the point I stopped watching the show, when I was in college. I was busy with classes and trying to get out and be social (if the abundance of TV watching hadn’t tipped you off, I’m naturally a bit of a recluse), and I didn’t have time to watch all the shows I had been watching. Smallville fell by the wayside because it seemed like it had forgotten what it was and was scrambling to get new viewers by abruptly injecting more familiar Superman elements into the story. Instead, as it turns out, the show was figuring out what it wanted to be all along, and was simply experiencing some growing pains.

 

You see, the show was finally realizing the way to properly emphasize that premise of theirs. Smallville started as the ORIGINS of Superman, but now it was becoming the origins of SUPERMAN! They started dropping more tongue-in cheek references to existing Superman continuity, without being a slave to it, they introduced more and more familiar Superman and Justice League characters (Green Arrow is one of the main cast for goodness sake), and started to build a story about sacrifice, justice and what it means to be a hero. It also took a deeper look than I’ve ever seen at the struggle Clark Kent has fitting in on Earth, and knowing about his origins but not having anyone who truly understands the struggle.

 

The chief thing I’ve realized since giving this unique series a second chance is that Smallville, with its roots as a super-powered teen drama, combined emotional elements with the superhero source material it had been courting all along to give a really humanizing look at an indestructible alien in a strange land. I’m so used to seeing Superman as an annoyingly flawless and righteous entity that actually feels pretty alien when his origins suggest that he’s been assimilated into human culture. I think by starting with high school as a back drop for one of the most powerful and well-recognized fictional characters of all time, we see his struggle to keep being normal in the most socially complicated and defining time in the lives of most humans, we get to see both the alien and human sides of his personality, along with the struggle for the two to coexist.

 

The other thing I really like about Smallville’s take on the Man of Steel is that his powers and his ideals sort of make him the foregone conclusion for choice as leader of Earth’s defenders, but Smallville’s Clark Kent doesn’t see it that way. People who come from or can see the future occasionally appear, and though their individual motives vary, they almost all tell Clark he’s destined to be a symbol of hope and the chief protector for the entire world. Rather than just saying, “yeah I guess I’m pretty much the most powerful creature in existence, so that sounds right”, he has a genuine human response of, “I mean I know I’ve been saving the world for years but that’s a lot of responsibility…I’m not so sure I can do it”. Having various sources tell him about what he’s meant to become and watching him struggle with those major issues on top of his struggle to fit in really humanize this infamous alien.

 

It lead to some silly things involving Doomsday, Zod and Darkside to fill the gap, which definitively proved that Smallville is its own story,

I kind of wish Lex had stuck around to be the final villain of the series, but that wasn't the fault of the writers,

The way the series transitions from his first discovery of his powers to his final destiny as Earth’s greatest hero gives the character a lot more depth than I’ve ever personally seen, and makes his gradual journey from Clark Kent to the mysterious “Blur” to Superman as we know him a lot more meaningful and significant. As it turns out, the very thing that made me stop watching the series in the first place is the thing I probably most appreciate from the series. It’s also much easier to accept Smallville as its own continuity seeing how far things have come since the beginning, and that eradicates the other big problem I had struggled with while originally watching the series.

 

My bottom line after having watched most of this series (between my experience in high school and having watched the final few seasons recently in syndication) is that this series took some chances, shied away from expectations and ended up creating a much more interesting product as a result. It makes me wish that I had stuck with the series all along and reminds me, as I hope it reminds you, that some things in life are worth a second chance. This is without a doubt my favorite Superman continuity, and while it has plenty of flaws, it creates a really interesting, unique and even refreshing view of a familiar character.

 

If you have any interest in Superman or even just this series after reading this entry, I urge you to check it out for yourself. It’s probably not for everyone but I certainly enjoy it. It works on many levels and there are plenty of superpowers!

Cardfight Vanguard – Ride 6: The Mysterious Card Shop!

Suggested Title: Let’s Go to the Mall!

Summary:

I discovered that I didn’t feel like writing about this episode, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be summarizing it for you!

Anyone who reads my Monday posts will know by now that I have interest in creating a webcomic some day. Let’s all consider this to be a sample of what my current level of artistic talent will allow on that front:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reactions:

Honestly, there’s not a ton to talk about regarding this episode. It introduces the three women who run the PSY card shop, who return later with a mysterious importance that has yet to be fully explored. I’m really only slightly exaggerating the obsessive nature of Morikawa’s immediate crush on Kourin, the blonde, royal-paladin-using girl who plays against Aichi at the holographic table. And that relationship continues to remain exactly as one-sided and mildly creepy as it is here through the series so far.

 

The introduction of the holographic game table is probably the most remarkable element of this episode. It marks the beginning of the series’ slow descent into madness from its origins as a competition anime grounded in reality. It’s actually sort of a strange decision because as the holographic projectors become more and more common throughout the series, it has very little impact on how the game appears on screen. It amounts to some wavy lines in front of the players’ faces as they cardfight one another, since the “picture it in your mind” style of cutting away to the imagined creatures works just as well as a visual device. Personally, I think it would have made the show more unique and interesting to leave things as they were.

 

In terms of the game rules, again, there isn’t much new to say. This episode is interesting in that it’s the first time we see two of the same deck-type face off. This provides the audience with two things: it shows us that not every Royal Paladin deck (etc.) is the same, and it begins to show us some of the more intricate strategic aspects of the game. This is highlighted on Aichi’s last turn of the cardfight when he actually has to make a strategic call about whether to go on the offensive or try and survive for another turn to hedge his bets.

 

Oh yeah, and Aichi received the “King of Knights, Alfred” from Suiko, the blue-haired woman who seems to run the shop. This is chiefly significant because it will be the real trump card of Aichi’s deck for a while. As one might expect, the King of Knights is slightly more effective than Gancelot, the Knight of Frivolity as a Grade 3 unit in Aichi’s deck.

 

The true lesson of the episode for the kids watching at home, is that even if your favorite game store doesn’t have the precious cards you need to sate your addiction, you need not worry! There’s always another store somewhere that can hook you up.

 

Of course the lesson of this post for me is that drawing 10 panels worth of story summary is even more difficult than I had expected, though the more panels I did, the easier the process became. Please let me know what you thought of my little artistic experiment, either by leaving a comment here on Cove of Solitude, or via Twitter @VascoDaGamer. Don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter for the latest news about my blog and my You Tube channel!

Code Lyoko – Episode 6: Cruel Dilemma

Suggested Title: Lucky Break

 

Summary:

 

Besides, "bulldozer" is easier to write, and actually makes more sense for this plan.

Technically these are front end loaders, but who am I to argue with the Code Lyoko translation staff?

The principal has gathered a bunch of students around the school’s track to show everyone some bulldozers and talk about the school’s bright future of sports equipment.

 

Meanwhile Jeremie tells Aelita that he’s nearly completed his devirualization program. He runs a test, but it yields an angry red exclamation point of failure. Jeremie leaves his room in a storm of emo angst, lending Odd the opportunity to sneak in and spill non-descript candy all over the keyboard. Jeremie returns to his room moments later and discovers what Odd has done, treating us to this exchange:

 

Odd: “Relax Max, I didn’t hurt your little toy”

Jeremie: “You’re such a cosmic creep, look what you’ve done, those keys are incredibly sensitive!”

 

They say if you give a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters eventually they’ll write Shakespeare. It turns out the same is true of Odd and the devirtualization program as he has accidentally solved the problem. Jeremie says he only gets one shot to bring Aelita to Earth since he has no idea what monkey-typewriter nonsense that candy coded.

 

The group discusses Aelita’s virtualization and they agree to hold off for now. Jeremie can’t sleep and talks to Aelita instead. It’s a good thing too, because you remember those bulldozers from earlier? Well, it turns out they’re Chekov’s bulldozers and Xana takes them for a spin. Jeremie quickly gathers the boys and heads to the factory.

 

Actually, no one seems all that concerned by the building gradually collapsing around them, which is in itself concerning.

Here's a nice little touch I really liked; they added some debris to the stock footage in the factory, since it's being bulldozed and all.

Ulrich chases after the bulldozers to try and stop them. Manually. For some reason. When he realizes that this plan doesn’t make any sense, he decides to stay inside the bulldozer until he’s figured out Xana’s plan which, as it turns out, is to bulldoze the factory and level the human access to Lyoko.

 

On Lyoko Odd and Aelita are surrounded, making escape difficult. Odd manages to take out all but one of the monsters, but then a curious thing happens. He has another one of those premonitions, like from the very first episode. Despite its many similarities to a video game, Lyoko does not pause for the cutscene, which warns Odd that Yumi is about to fall into the digital sea, and thus he is devirtualized.

 

Meanwhile Ulrich has become trapped inside one of the bulldozers and is knocked unconscious as they begin to tear the factory apart. Yumi races to his rescue and drags him to safety before going to Lyoko. As Yumi nears Aelita’s position, Odd and Jeremie warn her of the premonition. A barely conscious Ulrich agrees to go after her to try and save her.

This is why you always leave a note!

Oh come on, she's managed to miss every outcropping on the way down! If she just landed on one of those everything would have been fine!

 

Yumi finds Aelita just as a monster is about to attack her. She shoulder tackles it, ruining its aim, but also sending the pair of them off the cliff. She manages to grab the ledge of the cliff, but can’t pull herself up. Ulrich arrives just in time…to see her fall into oblivion.

 

Jeremie launches a return to the past, but it turns out they’re actually too late this time. Yumi fell into the sea and did not make it back with them. Together, Aelita and Jeremie realize they can use the devirtualization program to save Yumi, and while it’s a slightly bittersweet rescue, Aelita points out it’s a proof of concept for devirtualization.

 

Reactions:

 

Well this episode marks a rather extreme change of pace from what we’re used to. The comic relief cast doesn’t show up at all, nor does a B story of any kind. Plot holes in this episode are kept to a bare minimum and there’s only one womp womp moment this whole time!

 

This episode also does a lot to explain rules of Lyoko. We discover that Odd’s Laser Arrows have a limited capacity, we get a clearer picture of what happens when someone falls into the digital sea, and we learn a bit about “Roachsters”. Of course that last discovery comes complete with a new question.

 

Aelita says that Roachsters travel in groups of five, which sort of implies that these monsters have instinctual habits like animals here on Earth. Whether or not that’s the case, it sort of begs the question “where do the monsters go when they’re not attacking”? I mean, we’ve seen a largely abandoned Lyoko on multiple occasions, and when we see a scan of the virtual world from Jeremie’s computer, we never see any stray monsters outside the ones our heroes are fighting. Do they exist when Xana is not attacking, or can he just conjure them up when he feels to need to cause property damage?

 

Seriously, you guys couldn't find a ladder or something?

Considering how unnecessarily difficult it is to get into the factory now, it shouldn't be too hard to sabotage.

Probably the most notable difference between this episode and the previous five is that Xana’s plan actually makes sense! At first it may seem confusing to target the factory where his computer lives, but you have to consider that the factory is what gives Team Lyoko access to his world. If you take out the scanners, Jeremie’s interface, or even just any feasible way for a bunch of middle schoolers to get into the factory, then it really makes their lives difficult. While I still don’t understand the interaction between activated towers and the real life possession of various objects, it seems that Xana can function just fine without Team Lyoko’s plot devices.

 

However we can’t go a full episode without a puzzling Xana decision to ponder, and today’s is this: why doesn’t Xana always attack at night? The Team is automatically down one member (Yumi, who lives off campus), plus the gang already has trouble figuring out Xana’s plans in a timely manner half the time. If you catch them while they’re sleeping, it could easily give Xana enough time to turn those “just in time” rescues into disasters.

 

In fact, we see some evidence of that here. Instead of a nick-of-time rescue for Yumi, dangling off the edge of a cliff, she almost ends up doomed forever to a still somewhat ambiguous fate and the difference between the two was mere seconds!  I think this was a really great moment for the series as a whole, not only proving the possibility of bringing Aelita to Earth and hinting at exciting future possibilities, but also showing that Lyoko has some serious high stakes, and that it’s really no video game.

 

I’m going to go ahead and let my knowledge of programming be suppressed by my suspension of disbelief on the whole “one shot devirtualization” thing, and beyond that my issues with this episode are pretty minor. When I first watched this show, I’m pretty sure I started in season two and I remember the episodes being of a quality more like this one. Don’t get me wrong, despite all my sarcasm and complaining, the shows that I’ve discussed here so far are shows I do enjoy.

 

Today’s episode was a good one and does a better job of showcasing why I watched this show in the first place than the rest we’ve seen.  It has exciting action without glaring plot holes, it makes good use of its characters and the situations they find themselves in and does a really good job of giving us new details about their world and its good and bad aspects.

How NBC Grinched Community Fans

Go back to the snowflake you came from!

What are you so smug about, NBC? You're already the last place network, why make it worse?

‘Tis the holiday season, and in the world of television Christmas specials and midseason finales are fair game as of December first. This is often a joyous occasion as holiday specials can often spark creative, unexpected and hilarious situations for their characters. It’s a time when network and cable programmers reward their fans before taking a break from their busy lives to join their loved ones for the holidays. Unfortunately NBC has decided to give fans of one of the best sitcoms on TV, Community, the gift of disappointment and uncertainty.

 

Since the show premiered in 2009, it has easily been in my personal top three shows on Television, and while the critics at large and several industry people whose opinions I trust agree with me, not enough of America’s general populous do for the show to be a definite renewal for the next season. Right now, while NBC executives allegedly don’t plan to yank the series unceremoniously from their schedule, we don’t know when the remaining episodes of its third and current season will air.

 

I can’t say that this comes entirely as a blindside, however. Anyone familiar with Arrested Development, definitely a candidate for greatest television comedy of all time, knows that quality does not imply ratings and in the business of show numbers are king.

 

These two ill-fated series have a common problem, from my point of view. They’re both intellectual shows. They both utilize brilliant dry humor that can be too subtle to register with all audiences. Each show also has a unique issue as well, however. Arrested Development was a highlyserialized show, meaning you really couldn’t miss an episode and still fully understand the humor of the show. Community, on the other hand, is made by TV people for TV people. It’s a show that rewards people who know about current television (like their “Bleep My Dad Says” jokes of last season and even last week’s “Glee” parody) or a variety of TV and Film genres, as they often subvert genre tropes for comedy. Ironically, if the series existed in its own universe, I bet Abed would love it.

Just to be clear, there are no talking cats on Community.

An amazing moment from a recent Community episode, making fun of one of my favorite genres: the competition anime.

 

Having mentioned the basic premise for this year’s Christmas episode, the Glee parody, let’s take a moment to look at another pertinent series comparison, Community and Glee itself. Glee and Community stand as beacons of opposing forces within the realm of television. Glee is a series with high ratings and much success scarred by lazy writing and implausible occurrences within a world that’s meant to be largely realistic. Community, meanwhile, is a wacky series taking place in a somewhat unlikely world that grounds itself with sarcasm and self awareness making it a brilliant commentary on not only television as a whole, but its (woefully undervalued) place within it.

 

Glee is guilty of something I absolutely loathe within Hollywood: wasted potential. It may seem weird for me to say such a thing about a series that is such a huge hit, but I’m speaking from a writer’s perspective, as it is my natural inclination to do so. I was very excited when I saw the pilot for Glee. Ryan Murphy, the guy who made Nip/Tuck, a very unconventional show that I loved, was now trying to make a weekly scripted musical? This I had to see!

 

I watched about a season and a half of Glee before I couldn’t stand any more. The show has a solid premise and a strong cast, but I suspect that having to find room to write musical numbers into every episode has caused its inability to have a plot. Over the time that I watched the series, the overwhelming majority of episodes where about the threat of the Glee club being disbanded, the threat of half the club leaving to exclusively play football/cheerlead (is that actually a verb?), or the threat of someone being bullied so badly that they left Glee club to try and preserve their dignity.

 

I'm all for equal opportunity, but a wheelchair-bound player doesn't seem fair to either team. You can't exactly tackle him which changes the rules of the game.

It didn't help when they allowed the handi-capable Artie to join the football team. I only have so much suspension of disbelief in me.

Often, multiple of these stock plots would be combined for an exciting episode where nothing new happened and it was also fairly typical for a new relationship to be created only to be destroyed and forever forgotten by the end of the next episode. After a while I just couldn’t take the complete nonsensicality of someone learning the lesson that Glee club was the place where they were truly respected as a person, and then next week wanting to quit to go cheerleading again. Each of these plots makes perfect sense in their own right, and could maybe become issues a few times over the course of the series, but it was almost as if every episode had the same plot with different musical numbers in it. The characters never developed much and so neither did my interest to keep watching the show.

 

So what is this crime I accuse Glee of committing? Wasted potential. As I said, Glee had a good premise and a strong cast, if we just had some writers on staff to give the show a plot in addition to a series of musical performances to sell on iTunes, it would be a great series. I generally loathe films and TV shows that make poor use of a great idea, because once the concept exists in the world it’s much harder to make something similar without a really creative twist of some kind, whether or not the project is entertaining or successful. If its entertaining I can at least enjoy the existing material, but if it’s a failure then any time you try to pitch a similar idea people will remind you of how badly it failed the last time someone tried it.

 

Community, though, is the embodiment of the creative twist. It’s a show with an incredibly simple premise, a bunch of different people meet at the soul crushing community college they attend, join a study group together and become fast, unlikely friends. Community proves that it’s not just the quality of the premise, but how well it’s handled. Every week this show takes familiar ideas and concepts and does unexpected and impressive things with them. The Christmas Glee parody being one of the more clever ideas they’ve executed, and a memorable Christmas episode.

 

For those who haven’t seen it or don’t watch Community, which is a personal problem that you need to solve, the episode subverts the old Christmas standby (of stories such as the Will Ferrell classic Elf) that holiday song and cheer is a happy contagion, such that holiday songs are instead a virus that cause you to lose self control and make you obsessed with regionals.

 

Seriously, though, what ARE Regionals!?

Corey "Rad" Radisson is Greendale's Will Schuester, though his obsession with making regionals has driven some pretty extreme behavior.

The episode includes other treats for those familiar with Glee, like a really quirky music director with a squeaky clean persona, a mute piano player who exists solely for musical numbers and an impractical study room setup. It also stays true to holiday roots with some gems like a misguided attempt at a sexy Christmas number and proof that lyrics are better on the page than in our hearts.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, for anyone who hasn’t already had the pleasure of watching this episode, but hopefully I’ve managed to give you a taste of what makes Community such a brilliant show, and of why you should be watching it. This great episode is bittersweet, though, because of the undeserved indefinite hiatus that NBC has left in our stockings like so much coal.

 

As your preferred holiday celebrations draw ever-closer, remember that popularity and success are unfortunately not synonymous within the world of Television. While I am clearly a fan of television that most deem unworthy of watching, I would be quite happy to live in a world where the majority of shows were as great as Community. Just as you should remember to love and cherish your friends and family in this season of giving, remember that we need to appreciate great television while it’s still around, because you never know when you’re going to get Grinched.

Cardfight Vanguard – Ride 5: Whirlwind! Kamui, the Grade-School Fighter!

Cove of Solitude – Cardfight Vanguard Ride 5 Whirlwind! Kamui, the Grade-School Fighter!

 

Suggested Title: Three’s Company Cardfight

 

Summary:

 

After his loss to Misaki in the last episode, Aichi realizes that his deck needs some grade 3 units to really compete, so when he sees a loud-mouthed, arrogant, spiky-haired elementary school kid defeating Izaki (the comic relief’s comic relief) with a grade 3 unit while only taking two damage he takes notice. This new face to Card Capital is Kamui Katuragi, a grade schcooler with no respect for other people, but an impressive cardfight record against older kids.

 

Aichi goes to challenge Kamui to learn from him, but Kamui calls him a big weenie and turns him down. Aichi goes to console himself by buying a booster pack in hope of getting a new Grade 3 unit for his deck, but before he can fulfill his commitment to the sponsors, his sister Emi appears to drag Aichi home. Kamui falls in love at first sight, and attempts to hit on her in true fashion, by offering to teach her how to cardfight.

Turn offs include: Serious business.

Turn ons include: Things without weight, worth or purpose.

 

The next day Aichi returns to the store and buys a booster pack (remember to check your local retailers for Cardfight Vanguard booster packs!) and happens to get a Grade 3 Knight: Knight of Frivolity, Gancelot. At least that’s what the subtitles call him exactly once. It’s a spectacular name for a knight though, so I’m going with it.

 

Kamui appears suddenly to challenge Aichi to a cardfight for the love of his sister Emi. Some people throw down a gauntlet, some people inflate a paper bag with a pig wearing a chef’s hat printed on it then pop it next to someone’s face. Kamui is obviously the latter. Some people also fail to make clear the terms of their challenge, like Kamui, who just says he’ll win and get his goddess. Aichi of course, being the Aichi he is, ignores everything going on because of his new Paladin card but agrees to the cardfight!

Why were you even carrying that bag around?

You could have just asked. I mean, you had to explain what on Earth that meant anyway.

 

Now it’s time for the new rule of the day! When Aichi worries about his miserable hand of cards, Kamui explains that once at the start of the game you can shuffle any number of cards you don’t like from your hand into the deck and “redraw” the same number.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, Kamui plays a Nova Grappler deck, which means his deck is primarily fighting robots and transformers ripoffs. His first creature though, “Screamin’ and Dancin’ Announcer – Shout”, is some sort of MC Jellyfish. He adds a female robot and cyborg to his team, but causes no damage.

 

Aichi counters with his Blaster blade and those omnipresent blind samurai, but one point of damage he inflicts reveals a strange pink cat, and a new type of trigger! This one’s called a Stand Trigger and in addition to its power boost it allows you to stand a unit from your rear guard, which will allow it to attack or boost a second time in a turn.

 

Kamui plays “Hungry Dumpty”, “Tough Boy” and “Genocide Jack”, thus showcasing the other chief feature of Nova Grapplers: the fact that they have the strangest names in the game. During his attack, Kamui reveals another Stand Trigger, allowing him to deal four damage in one turn.

 

The Synthesizer music revs into high gear as Aichi draws his Frivolous Knight using the heart of the cards. In true melodramatic anime style, Aichi calls on his card’s “Proud, prideful; white wings” to give him power. Next time maybe he’ll call on a Thesaurus to improve his vocabulary. He uses the Frivolous Knight’s special ability to make him a massive threat, but none of his other units is able to deal the final damage, and Kamui wins handily on the next turn.

 

His eyes pierce right through my comfort zone and give me the willies.

You know, I think I liked him better as a jerk.

After the fight, Kamui demands Aichi keep his promise and let him take his goddess, to which Aichi essentially replies, “Huh?” Emi arrives at that exact moment to berate Aichi again and Misaki mutters something to herself about the two being siblings, which Kamui uses his super hearing or something to overhear and clear up this wacky situation comedy of errors. In order to gain Emi’s favor, Kamui suddenly starts treating Aichi with an unsettling amount of respect and admiration, and Aichi actually responds in the most sensible manner possible: running away at full speed.

 

Reactions:

 

While I understand what they’re trying to establish about Kamui’s character in this episode, most of it doesn’t really work. First off, having him handily defeat a character who we’ve never seen win (or even play for that matter) doesn’t really mean much. We’re supposed to see that he’s very talented, especially for his age, but age doesn’t mean much. Look at Morikawa, he’s awful.

 

We’re also supposed to learn that Kamui has a problem respecting his elders so that it feels like a dramatic shift in character at the end of the episode when he’s tripping over himself to be respectful of Aichi, but the only reason I picked up on that is because they have Morikawa explicitly state it at one point. From watching his actions all I get from Kamui’s personality is that he’s a loud jerk, so the nuance could definitely use some work.

 

To be honest I’ve never found Kamui to be likable, interesting or even relatable. He’s highly obnoxious, and without the protagonist never-lose skills that most characters like him have to back up the attitude it constantly feels like he needs to be taken down a notch. It really doesn’t help his case that Kamui is constantly flanked by two androgynous groupies who are even flatter than he is as a character. I have no idea what their names are, but I like to call them Glasses and Awful.

 

Glasses is a total yes-man…yes-woman? Yes-person. All Glasses ever does is agree with Kamui, tell him how awesome he is and occasionally explain why something in a cardfight! is happening the way it is. Awful has maybe the worst gimmick of any throwaway character I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be funny, since it’s not really played like a joke, but I’m certainly not laughing. The gimmick is so nonsensical that it’s hard to explain. Let’s take an example from the episode:

I guess it's acceptble to give Kamui super hearing, since he never listens and thus can't abuse his power.

I wonder is Kamui was created as an excuse to include his posse or vice versa. Either way is entirely unacceptable.

 

Glasses: [Kamui’s victory] As expected, Kamui the Great!

Awful: S.S. yo!

Morikawa: Es-es?

Awful: Super strong, yo!

 

If I had to try and explain how it works, I would say that Awful is the universe’s worst rapper who doesn’t even sing. He/she/it is also absolutely obsessed with acronyms and will arbitrarily repeat things other characters say in the form of an acronym, followed by “yo”. I don’t know why Awful bothers me so much. Maybe it’s because he or she adds nothing to the show whatsoever, maybe it’s because that gimmick makes absolutely no sense. I am sure, however, that I hate Awful more than anything else about this show.

 

Really the whole set-up for today’s cardfight is contrived. How does Kamui not lay out the terms until after the battle? Why doesn’t Aichi even attempt to figure out what Kamui’s ambiguous demands mean? Why didn’t Kamui just ask who Emi was to begin with? I appreciate that the show needs to have cardfights but if the pretenses have to be this flimsy I’d rather have them occur spontaneously and without cause like the songs in most musicals.

Personally, though, I think Blaster Blade's got the right idea.

Of all the the units we've seen so far, MC Jellyfish would probably make the best lead for a musical.

 

What’s worse is that I can imagine a relatively easy fix for this, if Aichi was protective of his sister until he had a chance to play Kamui and learn that he wasn’t a complete and total jerk. Of course that requires Aichi to have some courage, so we may as well throw out that possibility right now.

 

Just like the last episode, this one introduces several new rules and most of them seem organic. This time Aichi’s inexperience is combined with the mocking factor to make the rules explanations seem genuine. To me at least, it seems more believable for these characters to explain everything when they give Aichi a hard time for not knowing them. Once again this is a stark contrast to Yu-Gi-Oh! where players routinely tell each other things they already know.

 

Among today’s new rules, I am especially appreciative of the redraw discussion. Whether or not the game had such a rule, I would expect the show not to touch on it, and lead us to believe that everyone always draws every card that they need to win. The fact that they mention this rule (and even have the occasional instance where a character is concerned about their opening hand) goes a long ways towards justifying the miraculous draws that sometimes happen, and set this show apart as being relatively realistic. Well, at least until PSY Qualia happens. But that’s a story for another time.

Code Lyoko – Episode 5: Big Bug

Suggested Title: Practically anything but the actual title would be more accurate, but I’m going with “Womp, Womp”.

Summary:

The opening scene of this episode is almost the same as the pilot episode: Millie and Tamia are having fun, Sissi shows up to rain on their parade and then the Lyoko Warriors show up so that all of the voice actors can have at least one line in the scene. This time, however, Ulrich actually backs up the young girls and he and Odd plan to get sweet prank vengeance.

Actually, all of the womp womp moments have to do with Odd's dog. Is the trombone just the official instrument of ugly dogs?

This episode has three moments when a trombone's womp womp sound effect is played. One of them is this: Kiwi just scratching himself. I don't get it either.

Meanwhile Jeremie installs a new early Xana detection program, which works almost immediately to locate a news story about two automated trains on a collision course, one of them carrying toxic chemicals. The reporter goes on to say, “A mysterious and powerful computer virus infected all of the country’s main computer systems just a few moments ago”. The news story also mentions that the toxic chemicals constitute an environmentally catastrophic threat if they get into the atmosphere. If they’re really that dangerous, it makes me wonder why they’re not being stored in a school supply closet.

After this discovery, Yumi tries to contact Ulrich and Odd, who are so focused on their plan to prank Sissi that they switch off their phones to avoid detection…AFTER Yumi tries calling them. No reason to think that the girl who you routinely save the world with has anything urgent to say.

It turns out their prank was to send Sissi an anonymous text from a secret admirer, lure her into another of the school’s abundant

The episode's first womp womp moment. Not sure this is warranted, but it is fairly embarassing.

Considering that Kiwi is terrifying in broad daylight, this is actually a reasonable plan,

supply sheds, then have Odd’s dog Kiwi pounce on her. Considering that Kiwi is terrifying in broad daylight, it’s actually a reasonable plan, except that dogs aren’t allowed on campus and now Sissi (the principal’s daughter), knows Odd is hiding one. She tells Jim about Kiwi, which gets Odd dragged into detention until his parents can come and retrieve the dog.

On Lyoko, Ulrich, Yumi and Aelita are confronted by nothing. Well, that’s what it looks like (even to Jeremie’s console) until the group is fired at by a group of bloks, who appear out of thin air. Ulrich stalls the monsters and Yumi fights to defend Aeilita, but both get devirtualized. Luckily Odd has tricked Jim into walking his dog, giving him a chance to slip out of detention and onto Lyoko, where he protects Aelita long enough to deactivate the tower.

Reactions:

First things first, this episode has a genuinely terrible title. Big Bug sounds like some sort of play on words, or at least a turn of phrase…but it isn’t. Furthermore, this episode is about neither a large insect or a serious computer bug, so it just plains makes no sense.

This womp womp moment is clearly a high point for the series.

Come to think of it, this may be why they don't want pets on campus...

I would say that this episode does the best job of any so far of showcasing the action on Lyoko, but it still has a weirdly contrived setup. The heroes approach the tower and just stop a hundred yards away because nothing is wrong. Then, because they’re just hanging around being suspicious of nothing, some monsters show up out of thin air. Considering how long it took for them to show up, Aelita probably could have just sprinted to the tower and deactivated it by the time the first shot was fired.

And keep in mind, I think the Lyoko section is the strong part of this episode, everything else about it is pretty broken. What are these magical macguffin chemicals that ruin the environment by simply making contact with the air? Why on Earth do they exist? Why do Odd and Ulrich suddenly decide to be jerks, and then fail to understand that Odd’s punishment is their own fault? Who designs trains that are so automated that they lack any semblance of an emergency override? Better yet, how does an all-powerful computer virus hack into the internet and an entire government’s computer and fail to devise anything more threatening than ramming two trains into each other?

Actually, I’m starting to develop a theory about that. In the pilot episode, Xana possesses a teddy bear and somehow uses his non-science to make it giant. In the second episode he plots to destroy a nuclear power plant, not realizing the consequences of his actions. In episodes four and five he takes control of vehicles. What if Xana is in fact a sentient computer virus, but for some reason or other he’s developing like a human child? He’s playing with toys! He’s playing engineer, toy cars and teddy bears. Maybe he doesn’t actually understand what he’s doing, which is why his plans are so terrible and illogical. He’s using the towers to explore the world around him and try to understand it.

While it's a somewhat legitimate threat, it's not a very engaging plot. It poses no immediate danger to the heroes, nor do they have to deal with it in the real world at all, only on Lyoko.

Oh yeah, and I guess this episode has an impending train crash or something.

So in the second episode, I mentioned the trombone joke that made me laugh. What I haven’t mentioned since then is that the trombone “womp womp” is actually a part of the show’s standard tone. This episode contains a whopping THREE trombone moments, which I’ve decided are best examined through the photographic evidence presented above.

Another thing I’d like to mention is this show’s fondness for the last minute, just in time save. This is a plot device to build tension that’s been around at least as long as visual media, but this show sort of stretches the credibility.  Now I’m not expecting a children’s show about a secret world in a supercomputer to be realistic (okay, I am but that’s a personal problem), but their use of the device gets pretty absurd when two speeding trains go from like 300 to zero in half a second. This also came up last time when the bus on the crash course with the petrochemical plant came to a stop a few meters away from disaster. Not only did both of these high speed stops defy any known concept of momentum, but they both did so without any outside input, thus defying the laws of inertia as well, since an object in motion wants to stay in motion and all that jazz.

Like all episodes before it, Big Bug contains a return to the past. To be honest, while the science behind the return to the past is preposterous at best, the return to the past itself is actually a pretty good B story device in theory. Particularly for a kids show like this, you can have your main characters screw up, learn from their mistakes and set things right without screwing up anything in the world or any relationships etc.

That said, this episode completely and utterly misses the point of the plot device. Rather than learning a lesson about not causing trouble for no reason, they learn to set a trap that won’t backfire on them (using the super nerd instead of Kiwi) and that getting photographic evidence can spread her embarrassment throughout the school. So they’ve learned the exact opposite of the lesson they should have learned and proven themselves to be petty and mean-spirited. Good job, protagonists!