by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Digimon Adventure: ?
Any troublesome issues of production resources need not restrict an anime's actual presentation, as last week's episode of Digimon Adventure: showed with deft direction and framing. This thirteenth episode, however, is afforded not nearly as much of that thoughtful use of what's available. It could at least be partially down to options, as this episode is much more ambitious in terms of scope and action. That means a lot more places for the cracks to show in a story that's supposed to be predicated on wowing us with massive monster action and cool effects. And as is so infamously often the case, it's a showing for Sora that gets hit with this digital design downgrade.
The concept for all the action in this one is dynamic, clever, and most importantly, a natural fit for Sora and Piyomon. Birdramon's flight powers have seen her mostly getting used as transport in this series, decidedly more than she did before, so just placing an enemy obstacle in the sky for the kids to confront makes sense. And the massive menace that Cannonbeemon represents keeps along with the increased threat-level we've seen the team dealing with since Ultimate-level Digimon were introduced. This thing's jarringly colossal, and its status as a living fortress forcibly reformatting innocent Digimon into enemy soldiers marks it as a different kind of foe – It's becoming clear that the conflict is more organized on the side of evil than the good guys may have previously thought.
So I love the idea going into this battle, as well as how it's intended to inform Sora's turn at character development here. Thematically, it's a straight continuation of her assertion in the desert that they should help any endangered Digimon they come across. Interacting with friendly ‘civilian’ Digimon has been a core mechanic of the past few episodes leading into these Ultimate Evolutions, increasing the lived-in scope of the multiple worlds the digitally-destined team has found themselves assigned to protect. That leans into the ongoing efforts to recast them more as ‘heroes’ than a mere batch of lost kids in this iteration, and should further differentiate their characters and arcs by their responses to doing so. Last week saw the death of one of these friendly monsters lead to Mimi unleashing her genuine, sincere emotions, and this one is set up to go into the empathy and love that Sora can't help but feel for all beings.
The problem is that the episode's story doesn't fully commit to that loving element all the way through. Sora's caring attitude is brought to the fore with her empathetic encounter with an (admittedly adorable) Funbeemon, but it's no more profound than any of the previous sympathetic situations the other characters have been in previously. Indeed, a modicum of weight is given to Sora's caring for the Funbeemon as if it were some practical hurdle to be overcome for the sake of the mission, which strikes oddly compared to last week which showed off Mimi's empathy for Guardromon as something she just naturally, unthinkingly did. This element of the script would work better if the previous conflict with Yamato playing savior for the civilians of the Digital World was also being revisited, but that barely gets a couple head-nodding acknowledgements here. In the end, the hard decision is seemingly made in the single moment of seeing the other Funbeemon imprisoned inside the giant living fortress, with hardly any mind paid to the practical arguments and broader concerns that you'd think the characters could voice.
Is that once again the fault of all the edge-softening character work inherent to Digimon Adventure:? The Sora/Yamato conflict was a surprisingly strong element of the previous WereGarurumon episode, so to see it not really continue in a story tailor-made for keeping that arc around is disappointing. I know I voiced my concerns with the abrasiveness of previous versions of Yamato's character, but now I wonder if he's too agreeable to keep the inter-team conflict interesting. The most robust read you could have here is his recognition of how uncompromising Sora is in her assistive values, and not being able to stand up to that kind of emotional fortitude. In theory that communicates a strong characterization, just like in theory Sora's resolution that she wants to help the Digital World every bit as much as the Real World is a major revelation for her motivations.
But that's the same way that the grand scale of this battle leading to Sora and Piyomon's evolutionary level-up is a big deal in theory. A few shots get it, like a late-stage loosing of a giant cannon blowing up a chunk of a mountain, communicating the potential for destruction that Sora and the others are stopping here. But most of the time it's janky off-model attacking animations for characters like WereGarurumon who aren't getting spotlighted this time, or awkwardly-paced crashing, regroups, and take-offs for the likes of Birdramon, as the episode grapples with the difficulties it finds in portraying this ostensible air-focused battle. The practice of leaving the big showcase Ultimate evolution for the very end also hurts the impressive focus we're supposed to get for the revealed Garudamon, who feels like she gets barely seconds to show off. There's moments of an awe-inspiring display, such as lifting up the whole cell the others are in to take them off as Cannonbeemon is beaten, but with so little time or mind paid to the whole affair, it's yet another aspect where I felt I was appreciating the concept here more than the actual execution.
It leaves us with another compromised, clunky entry in this ongoing Ultimate evolution showcase. One thing I'm thinking about now is that the rush to get to these forms harmed the character portrayals. The reason the characters feel so underdeveloped in getting their next levels is because for most of these people, this is only their second character-focus episode. The spaced-out introduction of the kids was a smart mechanic at the beginning, but it means that characters like Yamato and Joe still haven't been around all that long by this point. And cutting out the process of obtaining and empowering the characters' crests means their actual character arcs have to do the heavy lifting to grant those power-ups, which they're just not up to after barely one cour of development. With so much runtime left to go, I stay cautiously optimistic that Digimon Adventure: will get back to some impressive places eventually. But for now, I guess we've just got to grit our teeth as they stumble through the necessities of this story arc.
Digimon Adventure: is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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