Plot: The trading card game, Chaotic, is sweeping the world by storm. Tom and his best friend, Kaz, love the game and play with their other friends all the time. When Tom gets a mysterious code for Chaotic, Kaz tells him it’s a special password in order to enter the REAL world of Chaotic. Tom doesn’t believe him until he finally gives in and inputs the code into his scanner. Turns out, Kaz was right. Tom is instantly transported to a virtual world where Chaotic players gather to have ‘real’ Chaotic battles, with themselves as the creatures. In his first game, Tom chooses his favorite creature, Maxxor, and faces off against his opponent, who takes the form of a Takinom. Tom can certainly win his fair share of card games, but can he find a way to win when he’s playing for real?
Breakdown: I have been aware of Chaotic for a while, but never gave it a chance in the past. When I wrote about the whole huge mess with 4Kids and Chaotic in my retrospective blog post series, I became very curious about the series and game. Since the TCG hasn’t been re-released yet as far as I know, nor has the online version of the game, and I’m not particularly interested in buying the old cards, especially since they seem expensive, I decided to just watch the cartoon series.
The series is entirely available on Peacock (And Tubi) for free, so that was lucky.
As for the first episode…..it’s one of the messiest first episodes I’ve seen for a show in recent memory.
I came out of it not only not understanding how the hell to play Chaotic even a little bit (they never once play a full or even half game in the entire first episode, and we only see a few cards) but I’m also entirely confused as to what even happened to Tom when he entered Chaotic, what the ‘real’ world of Chaotic even is, and they had the gall to end the episode by circling around to the literal cliffhanger that was at the start of the episode in a flashback and barely continuing it at all before putting a ‘To Be Continued’ on the screen and ending it.
I get that this is a two-parter, but at least do something more substantial with your part one to help the audience understand what the hell is going on or make things interesting.
To summarize, the episode starts with a fire-wielding harpy-esque character named Takinom, chasing after and attacking a muscly green dude named Maxxor through a frozen tundra. He’s cornered on a cliffside, our main character, Tom, explains in narration that he is actually Maxxor, Takinom blows fire on him and then the theme song starts. After the theme song, we flash back to how he got in that situation.
Tom is a new-ish/not new (?) player to Chaotic, which is a TCG that has an online version of the game where you can enter codes to obtain digital copies of your real cards, just like the TCG and online game 4Kids and CUSA acquired and adapted for the US. Tom is playing Chaotic with some random guy after school in the cafeteria, which….why wouldn’t you do that literally anywhere else? Unless it’s a legitimate after-school activity, most schools don’t allow you to just hang out in the school for any reason, let alone to play trading card games. There are so many kids there just hanging out in cafeteria – it’s like no one went home.
It’s not just that they’re there when they shouldn’t be, it’s also weird because what kid wants to just hang out at school after hours, unless, again, you were part of an after-school activity? Usually any kid would want to be anywhere else BUT school – their house, a friend’s house, a local hangout, a rec center, a park, a basketball court, etc. That looks like a really nice school in a nice area. I can’t imagine aren’t options.
But whatever, they montage this game in about 20 seconds so you really have no clue what’s going on. They attack each other, Tom says something about sending his opposing monster to Nauthilax, his enemy’s energy is depleted, and that’s it. That is the first, and, no I’m not kidding, only time we see this game played in the entire episode. I never thought I’d say this, but, Bakugan, you have been surpassed in awful game explanations. I at least had some minor degree of understanding how Bakugan worked a little when I saw the first episode, and at least they showed a full game. Not Chaotic. Who cares about properly explaining that game this cartoon was literally created to help advertise?
After he wins, he gets a message over the game. It automatically opens, and a password pops up on his screen that makes his best friend, Kaz, super excited because he knows that’s a special invitation to the real world of Chaotic where he can play for real. Why he got this for just beating some rando at school, I have no idea. Kaz has been a part of the real Chaotic for a while and excitedly told Tom stories about it, but Tom never believed him. Considering Kaz is yelling all of this information in a crowded cafeteria and has told Tom about it a lot, I’d guess it’s not a secret. But also, like….no one seems to know about it? Even rumors? There are a lot of people in Chaotic when they get there – how is this not more common? I know that would be a really difficult thing to believe without proof, but there would be chatter about it.
Then again, maybe they wouldn’t, because apparently these kids are all 15 years old. I was about to criticize this further, but then I remembered all of the characters in Yu-Gi-Oh! are in the their mid to late teens….
Anyway, Tom blows him off until Kaz calls him in a panic in the middle of the night. He tells him he has to input the code into his scanner before midnight otherwise the offer to join the real Chaotic will end. Why exactly isn’t this information given in the message that contains the password? What if you need to wait to input the code? What if you don’t have access to your scanner for a few days? What if you don’t personally know someone who has already been to Chaotic? What if you don’t want to input the code at all because it’s some random code on a blank message from no one?
Also, if you’re wondering what the scanner is for, apparently, later in the show, they can scan real creatures to get information on them I think – like a Pokedex. It also kinda works as a smartphone in that it’s also a camera, can be used for video chat, has a music player and a flashlight. As for the purpose of the scanner in their real lives in regards to the game, I have no idea. Chaotic cards have codes on them that are manually input into the online game to create digital copies of your cards – they’re not scanned. I have to wonder if 4Kids originally planned to make the real life cards scannable, including creating a real scanner kids would have to use to scan the cards, but then realized that was too expensive or impractical or something so they opted to keep the code system instead but forgot that made the scanner concept nonsensical in the TV series.
The scanners really have no real world purposes for the game, so why do they even exist? Why do any of these players buy them? Kaz tells him to input the code into his scanner, but also the scanner doesn’t have a keyboard, not even a virtual one, it just has a d-pad like thing, so I can’t imagine it’s for the purpose of inputting codes. Since the game is played online, you can probably just input the codes on your laptop.
Tom gives in, and, when he inputs the code, it at first seems like it didn’t work. His screen flashes, goes black and the scanner won’t turn back on. He then throws the scanner out the window into the garbage can on the sidewalk like a douchebag. Yeah, I imagine that scanner was expensive, you little shit. And I bet anything your parents paid for it. Don’t try to troubleshoot it, don’t see if you can get it fixed, just chuck it out the window into the garbage. Don’t tell me Dan has competition for one of the most obnoxious gaming show protagonists too….
Anyway, that’s not what happened….but it also is? In narration, Tom says that’s what happened, but he didn’t realize that there was more. We then cut to the ‘more’ in question. When Tom hit the button, he actually did go to Chaotic…..only not really? The best I can guess is that a duplicate of himself was sent to Chaotic – one that his real-world self is not aware of? How? Why? Dunno. They don’t explain anything.
When he gets there, it’s not any better. They basically just tell him “Hi Tom! Let’s get you to your first match!” without explaining where he is, what happened to him, how he got there, what the hell’s going on, why he’s being forced into a Chaotic match minutes after he got there and everyone knows he’s new, nothing.
Luckily, Kaz does help him a bit with setup through his scanner, but other than explaining how the interface works and giving him a hint about his opponent, he doesn’t explain anything else. Which you’d think he would because there’s that whole thing about him becoming the Chaotic creature and getting into a ‘real’ battle with another Chaotic creature would be something you should discuss a bit.
When he is turned into Maxxor and his opponent into Takinom, he obviously has no clue what’s going on, what to do, how to utilize any of the game mechanics or anything – he just does what anyone would do in his situation and runs away. Kaz and a bunch of other players are watching the match from the lobby, and Kaz just acts horribly embarrassed for him and facepalms at the fact that he’s not playing properly, which, of course he’s not, no one’s telling him anything.
The end of the episode, like I said, is just barely a continuation of the first scene. Tom/Maxxor is cornered on a cliff by Takinom, who attacks him with fire. The continuation is that the fire causes Tom to fall off the cliff. We get a “To be continued” as Tom is falling and that’s it. They haven’t established any stakes here. This Tom isn’t real, right? His real self is still in his room, right? I can’t imagine him dying (or even getting hurt) in the game is akin to dying in real life because then narrator!Tom wouldn’t have been able to act as if the stuff about real Chaotic was something he learned about later. In addition, if this is a real Chaotic game, then I’d imagine him ‘dying’ at this point would just result in his creature dying and then moving on.
What even happens if he loses the game? I can’t imagine they bar him from Chaotic or anything. I don’t get it. What is on the line here? I doubt even kids would find tension in this.
It’s just so baffling. 4Kids – the kings of overexplaining every single thing – made a show where they just don’t explain anything out the gate.
I didn’t even touch upon the fact that the art and animation are awful. I know that they switch studios after season one from Bardel Entertainment to Dong Woo Animation and the art and animation get better for seasons two and three (Looking ahead though….not that much better. Definitely much better art, but the animation is still pretty rough.), but wow, this is just bad. It reminds me so much of the art and animation from those old eSurance commercials with that Erin lady. Old Flash animation leaves a lot to be desired as is, but this is not good.
Overall, I’m kinda torn. If I had just watched this without doing all that research on Chaotic beforehand, I’d most likely drop it, but the fanbase seems to genuinely enjoy the show as much as the game. Bryan Gannon, head of Chaotic USA, said he planned on continuing the show, not rebooting it, which means there must be something to the story worth keeping, I’d assume.
I’ll probably wind up finishing this series just casually, maybe throwing out a review here or there, maybe for full seasons, but this, as a first episode, just failed so badly that I feel like I can’t really suggest it. There are several more card game or gaming related shows out there that I’d recommend way above Chaotic. I guess I’ll just leave this as an undecided and make firmer opinions down the line.
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