by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Digimon Adventure: ?
And we're back! An interesting effect of Digimon Adventure:'s “three episode movie premiere” vibe is that the show left us in a decently comfortable place before it took a couple months off due to the global pandemic. So with that initial teaser being all we had to digest, it definitely feels like the ‘real’ show is starting as we return with this fourth episode. There are more characters being introduced, and they're in the Digital World proper now, exploring this lush fantasy land in an adventure closer to the original show's journey. But as it has been since the series kicked off, there are a lot of pointed unknowables in play here, reminding us every step of the way that even if new Digimon looks superficially similar to old Digimon, the old rules don't necessarily still apply.
A big example of that is the question of motivation. As with a lot of alternate-world anime of the bygone era of the 90's, the kids in the OG Digimon were primarily looking for a way to return to their home world. But in this reboot, Taichi and Koshiro jumped into the Digital World mostly intentionally, hoping to find a way to fix the technological issues (a series of blackouts this time around) in their own world. Lost tykes surviving on their own in a hostile environment meant the Digimon kids always worked with their own level of agency, but this new framing makes them come across even more proactive now. The series hasn't really laid out anything about these children being ‘chosen’ yet, but their actions mark them clearly as ‘heroes’, apart from just trying to survive until they stumble across their Digi-destiny.
Though she popped up in a couple of the previous episodes, this one is our formal introduction to Sora, whose characterization so far encapsulates that ‘proactive hero’ style being impressed onto the kids. Some sharp writing here economically characterizes Sora as a responsible person who was buying emergency supplies for the blackout, so luckily she had them with her when she and Taichi need them to survive in the Digital World. And she's an empathetic, caring person, rushing to save Piyomon before she knows the bird is her destined digital partner. So it's easy as viewers to group her in with the boys and their goal of saving Tokyo since they're the only ones who know how. That underscores one of the major driving mysteries at this point in the series, which Taichi and Koshiro both remark on: Why are they the ones who made it into the Digital World and got the power of monster partnership needed to stop those attacking both worlds? It's the most obvious gesture at that concept of ‘destiny’, definitely strengthened by the characters' active desire to figure it out for themselves.
All that talk about the kids' more proactive style leads me to bring up one of the more specific strengths of this new show, and how that ties into that idea of partnership. Taichi, and now Sora in this episode, find themselves getting especially involved in the battles between their partner Digimon and the hostile wild beasts they encounter. The human characters in the original version of the show certainly weren't passive participants in their adventure, but when the monster-battling started there was a tendency to reduce them to the roles of cheerleaders, believing in their partners real hard until they leveled up to win the day. In this version, Taichi's been jumping in to bash monster heads since episode one, and Sora spends more time helping and saving Piyomon this episode than her presumed birdy bodyguard does for her. This nicely integrates the full cast so far into the adventure more, hopefully carving out the path for the whole cast to have active, key roles in the show instead of easily being siloed into human hero and monster-pet job classes.
These are all concepts put forward in service of presumably laying out how the show is going to work now that we're in the series proper, a tone that oddly leads to most of the criticisms I can lob at this episode. Things definitely feel scaled back from the cinematic ambitions of those first three episodes, as we get things like introductory name-text for each new monster advertised on screen, and a just-noticeable uptick in stock footage for things like Agumon's attacks. On the other hand, he also gets a lavish new stock-animation evolution sequence, so there are some nice side-effects to this presentational shift. There are also things like an insert song played during battle that mark this just a bit more clearly as a Sunday morning kids' show than we were led into with those first three episodes. It's not necessarily a bad thing—I love Sunday morning kids' shows—but it is noticeable.
The other noticeable point is a marked visual downgrade. The part of me that understands production schedules knows that this episode was likely completed before the show was decided to be delayed, and its lesser looks are simply the result of being the fourth episode of a series intended to run for quite a while that had a bombastic introductory three. But coming into this as Digimon Adventure:'s triumphant return can undercut its own hype somewhat, especially if you rewatch those first three episodes ahead of it. It certainly doesn't look bad, and it's still light-years ahead of the original anime's visuals, but all the little bits of stock footage and shortcuts add up to it feeling just a bit cheaper than before. Despite being intended as the threatening big baddie showcased this episode, Snimon especially is practically a one-mon slide-show for most of his presence in it.
There are other little issues I can take with some of the story choices. The main one that jumps out is that, ecstatic as I am to see Tentomon again, he does kind of come out of nowhere here. Since the next episode looks to focus at least somewhat on him and Koshiro, I'm hoping we'll get a little more elaboration on their thus-far offscreen meeting. That could be an intentional tease for such future developments, as Digimon Adventure: jumps into serious serial-style storytelling, ending on the twin cliffhangers of Koshiro and his bug-buddy being swallowed by a Whamon and us getting a peek at classic villain Ogremon going after Taichi and Sora. So even with some slight stumbles and downgrades, Digimon still has me delighted to have it back, and extremely hyped to see where it's going next.
Digimon Adventure: is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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