by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Digimon Adventure: ?
The glow-up in production quality has been one of the most notable aspects of Digimon Adventure: since its inception. The original series worked well with what it had and even had its own selection of standout moments (do yourself a favor and check out the Mamoru Hosoda-directed 21st episode of that series sometime) but the modern sheen on this colon-coded reboot continues to be a clear selling point. That's generally been by comparison though, as the needs of an ongoing production (to say nothing of interruptions from a year spectacularly rife with real-world disruptions) means the series has settled to more average heights as it's gone on to this point. So when an episode like this twelfth one comes along, bringing back some of that more consistently sharp direction and design quality, does it merit additional praise for elevating its own material, even as some of the same storytelling issues that have dogged Digimon for the past few weeks continue?
Another contribution to the confluence of successes this episode has is character focus. Mimi's up again, and after she's been responsible for some of the most entertaining aside moments in the show so far, I was excited to see the spotlight return to her. What I like about what the series does with her in this episode is play with our expectations. Of course, Mimi's first appearance in this new series demonstrated that she hardly belongs to any ‘delicate flower’ archetype, but as she's had less to do in past weeks even those little comic bits had leaned on her less proactive nature more. But when the story actually requires Mimi to do something, she steps up to the task. With memories of the ‘old’ Mimi still mingling in my mind with this new series' portrayal, and her not having done much since her introduction, I was pleasantly surprised at her take-charge reaction to her and Palmon falling down a hole and being separated from Taichi and Koshiro: No sitting around crying or worrying, just a simple, determined, “We have to find a way back up.” I buy that this is a girl who survived in the Digital World on her own for a little while before meeting up with the others.
Mimi's strong determination presented here is, however, a play to inform some kind of character progression in time to motivate the obligatory Ultimate Evolution by the end. We're still relatively early into the series, so they haven't put much emphasis on the actual presence or named attributes of the characters' ‘crests’, though the symbols are still present and thus far have motivated the Ultimate Evolutions to some degree. Mimi's crest has previously been officially translated as ‘Sincerity’, the idea of her being pure, unpretentious with how she expresses her feelings. It can seem like a polarized idea, but this episode tries to explore it in differing degrees. Mimi's clearly putting up a brave front as she and Palmon try to escape from the depths of the ruins, pursued by a determined Andromon and assisted by their new friend Guardromon. But the latter only comes to Mimi's aid because her sincere empathy for beings like it shone through in a simple moment. Her determination and proactivity are also clear inspirations for the friendly mecha, as the show tries to get us to latch onto Mimi (if we haven't already) the same way it does because of these sides of her.
The thing is, on its face, the tying of Mimi's emotional evolution to this obviously-doomed one-off character doesn't quite work because things don't fully come together by the end. In fact, the intended emotional payoff feels quite jumbled while we're in the home stretch. Mimi's raw rage at Andromon killing Guardromon is undercut by the fact that we (and presumably the characters) know Andromon is himself a victim, being controlled by Soundbirdmon. This is mentioned at the very ending of the story, but by then we don't have enough time to linger on the true tragedy of the situation and how it really affects Mimi and the others. It's unclear if this is supposed to be a tale of someone like Mimi coming to terms with letting her emotions loose to fight for her friends, or a tragedy of no one winning in a conflict that's inherently manipulated by a truly-evil Other. It doesn't help that a lot of the exposition for filling in crucial character moments and backstory for that necessary emotional investment is just spewed out by characters in spare moments they get. The debut of Lilimon herself loses a lot of punch from that, as she blooms out and uninterestingly drops a blunt explanation of how the raw emotions we just saw Mimi allow herself to express caused it to happen. It's not giving the audience enough credit, and it's a consequence of what should have been simply emotional storytelling stirring itself up with more complicating factors than necessary.
But then, as Mimi herself has been a character of charming asides so far, we keep coming to resonant, effectively-rendered moments in this episode that just work. This is handily the most deliberately moody Digimon Adventure: has been since its opening episodes, with plenty of sincerely quiet places of pulled-back environments to let us just bask in the atmosphere over and over. It's these presentations, more than obvious explanations, that make clear to us why Mimi's inspiration of Guardromon was so effective. Even Lilimon's debut, undercut by time and needless dialogue as it is, transitions to a surprisingly somber finish of Andromon, highlighted by unique use of one of the show's slower, sadder music tracks and a rather beautiful rendition of nature fully overtaking the done-in mechanical enemy. It's even more effective as it follows on from MetalGreymon's stage in the fight, all exploding missiles and hard-rock insert songs. There's evocative feeling here even as the story is trying to present us with three or four different emotional take-aways at once.
And that's why this episode, mixed bag that it is, was still ultimately one I enjoyed. I'm not going to preach style over substance all the time, but with the actual storytelling of Digimon Adventure: still operating at a baseline with some obvious growing pains, I don't think there's anything wrong with letting one of its clear strengths come in and take the wheel for a week. It works because even as the writing wasn't quite making it work, the show got that emotional rise out of me thanks to its presentation. Anime is a medium that can elevate itself, as seen all the way back when the original Digimon Adventure used its own consistent characterization and sense of storytelling momentum to get us invested in creatures that moved around like cardboard cutouts half the time. And so this episode of the new series works as the opposite, conveying a feeling effectively even as they stumbled quite a bit by the end trying to tell us what that feeling actually was.
Digimon Adventure: is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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