by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 32 of
Digimon Adventure: ?
Alright, this is my stop. Weekly coverage of Digimon Adventure: episodes ends with this review, but speaking frankly, it could have stopped at any episode in the past several weeks/months and felt about the same. I'll be honest: I really wanted this episode to end on a pivot, some kind of clear upswing wherein I could muse optimistically about where it was going, since the episode is actually titled ‘Soaring Hope’ and I thought it would be neat to play into said hope. But while the show does throw one last major curveball at me as I escort it out the door, the overall structure, style, and prioritization of its story remains the same as it ever was. As such, all that's left to do is cover this episode like any of the others and let it go.
As the title implies, we round back this week to focus on Takeru and Patamon, picked up by Sora and Taichi, so it is nice to see the show not trying to drag its heels too much on getting the band back together. There's a decent, if possibly unintentional, leveraging of the series' standard structures at the heart of what conflict we get this episode: Evolution for Digimon in this iteration of the story has regularly been an easy, at-will ability. So for Patamon to find he can't evolve to his Champion-level Angemon form simply by wanting to anymore is a major shake-up. Overcoming that limitation is marked out as the expected character development for this episode, but as usual, Digimon Adventure: trips up in actually assembling a narrative around that.
The dedication to the ‘mysterious lore’ powering the adventure all these kids and monsters are on was a compelling choice way back at the beginning of this exercise, with the unknowable ‘Holy Digimon’ being assigned as a category for outside uber-powered team members like Patamon/Angemon. It made a search for that character – now turned into a living MacGuffin – alongside the other partner Digimon slowly working their way to their promised Mega-Level final forms feel like a journey with a destination, regardless of how detoured or delayed all that turned out to be. The major problem then is in that base, as mysterious information is still pretty much all we have. Lopmon puts in a psychic call to Patamon in the wake of his evolution woes, seemingly to discuss his origins and possibly explain what went on with him being captured by Devimon before Takeru freed him. But as with so many other elements of the Holy Digimon's backstory, it continues to be couched in purposeful vagaries that go nowhere.
It backfires doubly because this is the closest thing Patamon gets to character development, the sole focus he's had on any emotional level, on the eve of a big shake-up for him as a presence. His inability to evolve is interesting from purely a meta standpoint on how the show's worked so far, but it refuses to explain this particular exception in any detail. Patamon had evolved to Angemon before, and now, suddenly, he can't. If it was related to his burst of power in his last fight with DarkKnightmon, or the new dark energy creeping over the continent thanks to the arrival of Millenniumon (who isn't shown or referenced at all this episode, by the way), the plot doesn't say. It just drops the issue in the little flying guinea pig's lap, then has him talk through it with Takeru in the most basic way possible. Does that count as character development or is it just an excuse to throw a new evolution level at us so Koshiro has something to talk about on next week's Digimon Encyclopedia segment?
That half-assed attempt to back-port in a characteristic connection between Patamon and Takeru is I think what burns me the worst on this entry. Way back during Angemon's initial debut/disappearance, I talked about how Digimon Adventure:'s attempt to recreate one of the biggest moments of its ancestor fell flat because none of the legwork between the partners had actually been done. That same dance comes into play here, with Patamon reflecting on how, even when he was unconsciously restrained in Devimon's BDSM dungeon, he ‘knew’ the importance of his forthcoming partnership with Takeru. The writing of the show is trying to excuse its lack of development between the two beyond “They are kinda nice to each other” by saying they've always had this defining destined relationship, but we haven't actually seen that beyond a couple pleasant conversations.
That the series breezes past all that simply to throw the ‘surprise’ of Patamon's new evolution to Pegasmon at us is almost so basic a twist in power-up-based storytelling as to be insulting. Yes, I was surprised when Pegasmon appeared, and I got caught up in the excitement of the action as there were even a few nice cuts and flourishes of animation surrounding this one. But the fact that the only takeaway I had afterwards was “So will they be bringing in other Armor Evolutions?” rather than anything related to the characters or the motivating ideas of the plot does a lot to make clear, as I finish my last episode review for this series, what the problem was. I wrote over 30,000 words on Digimon Adventure:. I called it ‘the most frustrating thing I watched all through 2020’ and I stand by that. This is a series predicated on nostalgia, and when given the chance to revisit that through reinvention and alternate explorations of what had been developed two decades ago, it has instead consistently chosen to coast on mere style reference and contextually-rearranging cameos of character power-levels. People remember the showcases of new evolution power-ups from vintage Digimon, sure, but that wasn't why they liked that series.
One thing I praised about Digimon Adventure:, way back at the beginning, was its idea to introduce the destined kids and their Digimon partners one at a time, episode by episode. Each of those introductory stories gave the characters a bit more breathing room to establish themselves, and gave us an idea of how they might work in this new universe. That mammoth cast was always the original anime's biggest asset and most troublesome artifact. People love these characters, and we all had favorites we latched onto, so seeing them often get lost in the crowd of bigger stories finding things for everyone to do could feel overwhelming at times. This new series seemed to have confidence in leading with each of those individuals getting their chance in the spotlight. But as it has gone on, it's become apparent that was merely early setup for the formula it was really adopting: Get one stage of the popular thing we remember, wave it in our face for half-an-hour, move onto the next one, repeat. This latest episode, right at the halfway mark, existing entirely in service of showing off a different power-up we might recall for a character it's counting on us to remember to have any real interest or investment in, continues that exhausting, unbroken formula even as I finish up with it here. Does that really mean we leave the series with no hope whatsoever? I'm not sure, but it at least solidifies in my mind that I had nothing left to gain by continuing to try to assess this show on a weekly basis.
Digimon Adventure: is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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