(Catch the previous review in this series HERE)
Better half an egg than an empty shell. Before watching this episode of Digimon Frontier, I thought it prudent to find out if the title had something to do with another piece of media of which I was unaware. Especially insofar as the past few episodes have all made reference through punned titles to pop culture references, unfortunately to lesser effect than any such title shave been put to use in previous Digimon series. Somehow, despite being an American from the South, I had not heard the phrase from which this title derives. Though the meaning is clearly something similar to ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ Though the former proverb tells us to cherish the things we do have as we could have nothing at all, and the latter reminds us that it is better to hold/have an experience than to just observe it from afar. The meaning in this episode, however, is little more than a pun on the events therein, but a pun that actually makes sense within the context of the episode unlike the punned titles of the previous two episodes.
The Digidestined finally make their way to the Forest Kingdom, which they find mysteriously clouded by a deep fog. There are tracks for Trailmon to traverse all along the path followed by the Digidestined, but there are no Trailmon in sight to bring them to the Forest Terminal itself. However, there is a ramen shop near a sign directing them toward the Forest Terminal, which affords the group an opportunity to rest and refuel before continuing onward. What’s more is that the shop owner is a friendly Deramon who offers the weary travelers their first meal free. Unfortunately, Deramon has a faulty cookbook or horrible taste and therefore the food tastes horrendous and no one can even scarf down one bite despite how hard they try and despite how much their stomachs cry out in hideous gurgles for nourishment. The Digidestined insult Deramon by telling him the truth about the quality of his vittles, which enrages him enough to respond back that they ought to just go into the Forest Terminal: a domain from which he has never seen a single soul return.
The Digidestined are just about to leave and head in the direction of the Forest Terminal when they receive a message on their D-Tectors redundantly advising them to immediately head toward the Forest Terminal. So they do so, but we learn throughout the montage of sequences in which the Digidestined use their D-Tectors to find the correct path forward, that so too are Grumblemon, Ranamon, Mercurymon, and Arbormon slowly traversing this path, following the tracks of the Digidestined all along the way. Eventually, the path leads our diminutive protagonists to a large Castle where they are greeted with hostility and caution by Sorcermon who believes them to Cherubimon’s lackeys. Fortunately, the misconception is quickly cleared up and the Digidestined are revealed to be humans bearing the powers of the Legendary Warriors of yore who are not in fact in the service of the Dark Lord Cherubimon, but are instead being called toward their destinies by the voice of Ophanimon through their D-Tector devices.
Sorcermon next leads our friends into the inner chamber of his impressive domicile wherein Seraphimon is found encase within a crystal that is dissolved upon the Digidestined aiming their D-Tectors toward him. This event or encounter apparently passes all conditions in a prophecy once told that Seraphimon would be freed from his bondage by a group of humans. We learn furthermore that Seraphimon was entombed therein because he was close to defeat by Cherubimon, was saved by Ophanimon, and was left here to regain his strength in a place that Cherubimon could not track down.
Seraphimon himself eventually comes to and learns that the human children who freed him are actually bearers of the Spirits of the Legendary Warriors. He relates the ancient tale, which Bokomon made apparent to us once before, in which human type Digimon and beast type Digimon fought against one another and led the world to ruin. Lucemon appeared and managed to bind them and restore peace to the world as it benevolent dictator. But absolute power corrupts absolutely as they say, and so Lucemon became a true dictatorial presence of malevolence until the ten Legendary Warriors appeared, defeated him, and restored peace once again. The Legendary Warriors appointed three Champions to protect the order of the Digital World. These were Seraphimon, Ophanimon, and Cherubimon. The latter of the three eventually turned evil and you know the rest of the story. But the most intriguing part of this narrative is what has been left out. Namely, why exactly it was that the 10 Mega-Level Legendary Champions were unable to rule the Digital World and protect the peace themselves. Perhaps, the world may never know (or it might come up later when I rewatch that Digimon Frontier film I vaguely remember from the days of my youth).
Seraphimon advises the Digidestined to return back to their world now that he has been revived and should be able to take up the pressing battle himself. It’s a good thing that the Digidestined are hard-headed and refuse to do so, because, as we saw in the first episode of the series, an H Spirit Legendary Warrior Evolution is equivalent to or stronger than an Ultimate-level Digimon. Furthermore, a Beast Spirit Evolution is so much stronger than an H Spirit Evolution that it can take on and defeat at least five H Spirit Evolutions with no problem and is thereby at least on the level of Mega. Cherubimon is a Mega and he has five lackeys: 1 of which (Grumblemon is stuck as an H Spirit), the other 4 of which either have B Spirits or can find them. This means that the worst case scenario for Seraphimon in such a battle would be he and Ophanimon (if he could track her down) versus five Mega level Digimon of at least his strength level. These are not good odds!
Just as Seraphimon begins to plead with the children to leave this potentially life-threatening situation, Grumblemon and his goons enter the room. Immediately, the Digidestined Spirit Evolve into Beetlemon and Kumamon (J.P. and Tommy’s best option currently) and Agunimon and Lobomon (Takuya and Koji’s biggest derp moment in the entire series thus far). Because neither Takuya or Koji made the smart decision to transform to their Beast Spirit Evolutions as BurningGreymon and KendoGarurumon, they are in a four to four battle against opponents with the same power levels. However, Cherubimon’s forces have more experience fighting individually and as a team and thereby overwhelm the human Legendary Warriors and Sorcermon as he attempts to prevent Grumblemon from reclaiming his Gigasmon Beast Spirit from Takuya. Seraphimon manages to hold off the four aggressors, but is ultimately defeated when his attack is reflected by the metal mirror of Mercurymon, the Legendary Warrior of Steel.
Mercurymon then absorbs Seraphimon’s Fractal Code, which forces Seraphimon to revert back to a DigiEgg. Zoe nabs the egg, Sorcermon hits a secret wall switch when the team is backed into a corner, and everyone escapes to the secret Forest Terminal where a Kettle variant of Trailmon awaits them. However, Sorcermon gives his life to stay behind and distract the evil Legendary Warriors for as long as possible to ensure that the others make a clean getaway.
And then, just like that, the title of the episode makes sense. The kids have Seraphimon’s egg and were able to get it before the others destroyed it and rent it asunder into a mere shell. The hope now is that the Digidestined will be able to track down the voice in their D-Tectors and ask her to restore Seraphimon to his former glory as a necessary and formidable ally in their battle against Cherubimon. My second hope is that they will never again bring a knife to a knife fight by Spirit Evolving into weak H Spirit forms when they have the option to bring a gun to the knife fight and Spirit Evolve into their B Spirit Evolutions instead. But hey, that’s just wishful thinking.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, this episode’s unlikely namesake, is a classic book recounting a fictionalized account of author Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-addled, insane trip to Las Vegas to report on a motorcycle race. The book details his exploits that are often hard to discern as real, dreamt, imagined, or hallucinated throughout this wild ride, while also detailing Thompson’s gonzo journalism wherein one becomes part and parcel of the world in which he is reporting on to better understand, but probably more importantly, to live life on a razor’s edge and to thereby truly live life rather than merely watch as it passes one by.
This episode of Digimon Frontier has absolutely nothing to do with this sentiment, and unlike literary titles in Digimon Tamers (like ‘His Kingdom for a Horse’) that also reflect the events of the episode thematically, this random use of pun titles seems to be common in the Digimon Frontier English dub. What the episode is about is a battle in the forest, however, thus the dub coordinators decided to entitle it Los Arboles or ‘The Trees’ instead of some more appropriate title referencing the emotional vagaries experienced by Takuya as he attempts to control his Beast Spirit evolution BurningGreymon.
The episode begins in media res as BurningGreymon faces off against Beetlemon and KendoGarurumon who are trying to calm Takuya and bring him to his senses. However, the animalistic intensity of an unrestrained form like the Beast Spirit of a Legendary Warrior is extremely hard to reign in and bloodthirsty to boot. Takuya finds himself questioning why his friends seem to be fighting him, which through the logic of the Beast Spirit, leads Takuya to conclude that his friends have become his enemies for some unknown reason. Tommy, at first on the sidelines, decides to show courage by approaching BurningGreymon to talk him out of fighting, and in the process is almost killed by Takuya’s Beast form before Takuya realizes what he is doing, puts down Tommy before he harms him, and runs off toward a rock that he commences to headbutt until he weakens his Beast form and reverts back to himself as Takuya.
From here on out, the group decides that they need to track down Grumblemon to retrieve Tommy and Zoe’s ‘Spirits’, but decide their best course going forward is to just head on to the Forest Terminal as Grumblemon seems to find them first anyway. And upon finding a vine maze with four X outcomes and one O outcome (for completion of the winner), the team splits up, and only Tommy and Takuya land on the correct outcome. Immediately the other Digidestined and team fall in pits of quicksand where they are immobilized, but find the sand pits to end only a few feet below the surface. When Grumblemon appears, the other Digidestined are not in any mortal peril, but also cannot help out Takuya and Tommy in the ensuing battle.
About said battle. It begins as more of a game for Grumblemon who immediately transforms into Gigasmon and toys with Takuya as Agunimon who is under-powered due to his unwillingness to Beast Spirit Evolve into BurningGreymon. Gigasmon next abducts Tommy and jumps through the trees of the forest along branches and vines, while Agunimon follows him, and is ultimately unable to save Tommy until he decides to take the risk and become BurningGreymon. Through Tommy’s earlier intervention, Takuya has seemingly gained the ability to control his Beast Spirit and thereby finds it easy to use his firepower to defeat Gigasmon once he lures the big lug into a open field where the prospect of burning the adjacent wood is unlikely. From this position, the charred and defeated Gigasmon reverts to Grumblemon and BurningGreymon is able to retrieve Tommy’s Spirit, as well as the Gigasmon Beast Spirit before Grumblemon awakens and burrows underground to safety.
Now, the Digidestined are in a better position as both Koji and Takuya have Beast Spirit Evolutions that the can control, J.P. and Tommy both have H Spirit Evolutions, and they no longer have to worry about Gigasmon giving them a hard time. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to return Zoe’s Spirit to her, and what’s worse is when the scene transitions back to Grumblemon, he is seen within a dark lair for Cherubimon’s evil hired hands. Therein, it is revealed that Ranamon, the Legendary Warrior of Water; Mercurymon, the Legendary Warrior of Steel; Arbormon, the Legendary Warrior of Wood; and Duskmon, presumably the Legendary Warrior of Darkness; are all in league with Cherubimon and his evil plans. Mercurymon makes an obscure remark that the absent Duskmon has no heart for battle and only stares at the three moons of the Digital World as is searching for something within himself. With this in mind, there are at least three Legendary Warriors raring to go who may all have Beast Spirit evolutions and wish to destroy the Digidestined to further Cherubimon’s fracturization of the Digital World.
A question I’ve been wondering about this series thus far is whether or not the other Legendary Warriors who are working for Cherubimon are also children like our good Digidestined. I know from the little I remember about the series whilst watching it as a youth that Duskmon is a human child who succumbed to the darkness because of emotional instability and confusion regarding his identity. However, at the beginning of the series, we did witness many children within the Shibuya Station Underground Terminal who may have also entered the trains and thereby the Digital World. As I’ve discussed earlier, it is possible that all children who entered the Digital World at that time were bestowed with the gift of destiny and became potential Digidestined with D-Tectors. More unsettling, if many of these children did not find their Spirits before the others, they may have been unable to defend themselves int he Digital World and thereby became Greymon gumbo or Parrotmon pate, or the like.
As I can’t remember whether or not Grumblemon and the others were originally children, there is at least a possibility that they are Digimon who (like we saw with Shamanmon) were able to locate the Spirits before human children and thereby became Digidestined who were themselves originally Digimon. Although protagonist Digimon from previous series seemed to be chosen or created to aid their Digidestined partners they were always only there in a support position to the human characters. This turn of events in the Digimon Frontier universe is interesting insofar as it yields the possibility that some Digimon are now able to take the helm of champions and become heroes themselves like the fabled Legendary Warriors once did.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Catch my previous Digimon episode review HERE)
First things first: the title of the American dub of this episode. The Digimon franchise has never been particularly interested in taking itself seriously here in the West, but at least they have managed to come up with episode title variants that tend to make sense or work as puns within the context of the episodes. Yes, there is an Elvis song entitled ‘Burning Love’ in which he sings the famous line ‘I’m just a hunk, a hunk of burning love.’ which has been widely heard as a ‘hunka hunka burning love.’ And there is a character called BurningGreymon in the episode (though I understand this is not his Japanese name even when translated). And maybe there is a quick shot of Etemon in a Village that the Digidestined visit in this episode. But the pun is a real stretch, and I feel a little stupid entitling a review on my blog with that name, damnit!
Now that I’m done venting (though still experiencing cognitive dissonance and general mental discomfort), to the story. In this episode, we learn that the Digimon Frontier Universe differs from past incarnations of the Digital World by more than the children fusing with Legendary Warrior ‘Spirits.’ Namely, magic or ritual. As Grumblemon mumbles to himself and complains about KendoGarurumon near the beach where he washed up after his defeat in the previous episode, he reaches into his pack and pulls out a vial of some mysterious liquid, which he pours out over the ground to enervate the earth-material with a soul and thereby creates a Golem called Golemon. Not only can this pawn help Grumblemon to reach the Digidestined quickly by traveling underground, but it is a Champion-level Rock Digimon with few weaknesses beyond Wind and Water, the former of which was Zoe’s ‘Spirit’ that is now in Grumblemon’s control, and the latter of which has no corresponding Legendary Warrior yet.
Meanwhile, the Digidestined are reclining once again in a forest glade where they are discussing their next moves. J.P. is adamant that they should track down Grumblemon and defeat him once and for all, and as soon as possible, in order to return Zoe’s ‘Spirit’ to her. While Tommy is ambivalent and Zoe is letting the others call the shots this time around since she has no firepower and thereby no fighting potential in the group, Takuya and Koji think they ought to head toward the Forest Terminal where they might find more Beast Spirit artifacts, which would help them to fight Grumblemon later. Hell, they might even track down Zoe’s Beast Spirit of Wind in the process and make the point of retrieving her old spirit moot. As the crew cannot come to decisive answer about what their next move should be, Bokomon intervenes and suggests that they seek out guidance in this matter by visiting the nearby Fortuneteller Village.
And once there, they find themselves surrounded by at least 30 types of different Digimon from the Baby to Champion levels. This is to be expected in most large Digimon towns. What is troubling is that they find around 11 Ultimates, 2 Megas, and 2 Armor Digimon who are technically able to either match or defeat Digimon like Grumblemon, but who are more interested in hocking their wares and selling bogus prophecies and premonitions as false seers. Among the three Digimon that approach the Digidestined in the street to tell their fortunes are Gekomon (a Champion), Vademon (a powerful Ultimate), and Sepikmon (an armor Digimon), but each has an obviously insufficient method for telling fortunes that is based around pure chance or at worst, bs. Luckily, Bokomon knows the one true seer in town: Shamanmon. Bokomon leads the Digidestined team to him and there they learn from this little mystical Goblimon variant Digimon that danger is ahead along with a great test of their will and of their friendships that will also require them to understand and affirm their own identities.
Just then, an earthquake occurs and the Digidestined run out into the streets to find Golemon and Grumblemon terrorizing the place. Takuya, J.P., and Tommy Spirit Evolve into Agunimon, Beetlemon, and Kumamon respectively. Koji attempts to Beast Spirit Evolve, but he is stopped inexplicably by a large magic circle drawn up by Grumblemon that freezes Koji in his tracks. Without KendoGarurumon, the Champion-level Golemon actually stands a chance seeing as Beetlemon’s thunder attacks and Agunimon’s fire attacks are ineffective to rock, and Kumamon (though mildly effective as an ice type) is essentially a supporter who is too weak to knock out even a Champion-level with brute force, let alone a rock type one. The three use their combined efforts, however, to launch a simultaneous assault which forces Golemon back underground and out of the battle. This is all to no avail however, as Grumblemon merely Slide Evolves into his Beast form as Gigasmon, defeats all three of the Digidestined, and even manages to swipe Tommy’s H Spirit of Ice, leaving two Digidestined completely ineffective in battle and Koji stuck within a paralyzing magic circle.
Suddenly, a light emanates from within the rocked palace of Shamanmon and the Beast form of the Legendary Warrior of Fire emerges as BurningGreymon who forces Golemon to the surface world once more, destroys the rock golem totally, and then effortlessly drives of Gigasmon. As this new Digimon is extremely unwieldy and dangerous, the Digidestined slink off and try to escape. That is until a voice from within BurningGreymon calls out for help. Agunimon recognizes it as the voice of Shamanmon and the little ogre explains that when the earthquake happened, it crumbled the back wall of the palace and revealed the B Spirit of Fire, which Shamanmon touched and was immediately possessed by. Agunimon attacks BurningGreymon while Shamanmon uses his total force of will to restrain the spirit from counterattacking, and eventually, Shamanmon is freed and Agunimon is able to scan the B Spirit into his D-Tector.
Unfortunately, the B Spirit overwhelms Agunimon and forces him to morph into BurningGreymon and attack his friend Beetlemon. Koji sees that he is the only one able to restrain Takuya right now and as such, he quickly Spirit Evolves into KendoGarurumon to face off against his ally.
The episode draws to a close here as two of the Digidestined now have the unrestrained power of Beast Spirit Evolution while two others have no evolutionary options whatsoever, and J.P. is still stuck with just the one Spirit. As the group closes in on the Forest Terminal, they now have the firepower to defeat Grumblemon and take back their ally’s ‘Spirits’ if this first obstacle of learning to control the Beast Spirit forms can be surmounted.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Check out my previous Hayao Miyazaki film review here: The Wind Rises)
Late last year, GKIDS brought the 2016 Japanese made-for-TV documentary Never-Ending Man to U.S. theaters through Fathom Events distribution. As a Ghibli fanatic who enjoys any window into the production and personal sides of the the studio’s operations, and one who thoroughly enjoyed their previous documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, I made it a point to mark my calendar and ready myself for 70 minutes of interviews with Miyazaki and in-depth behind-the-scenes coverage of the studio.
But first, a bit of backstory is necessary to put you readers who didn’t see the film into my headspace at the time (and likely the headspace of many American otaku). In 2013, Miyazaki released The Wind Rises, which was slated to be his last feature length production after his umpteenth retirement announcement in early 2014. What’s more, Isao Takahata, the Studio’s founder and Miyazaki’s mentor, had just released his first film in 14 years The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Due to Takahata’s advanced age, it was speculated rightly by many that this would be his final film. Moreover, Miyazaki was no spring chicken and it seemed he might really go into retirement this time around.
To add complications, Ghibli director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki’s protege Yoshiaki Nishimura left the Studio during this production halt in 2014 to found their own studio: Studio Ponoc. And every prospect for the continuation of Studio Ghibli animation was now working elsewhere on productions outside of the Studio including Kitaro Kosaka at Studio Madhouse, Sunao Katabuchi at Studio Chizu, Mamoru Hosada at MAPPA and Studio M2, directors Tomomi Mochizuki and Hiroyuki Morita so turned off by directing due to the pressures of past Ghibli work that they rarely helmed a production themselves anymore, and Ghibli’s greatest prospect Yoshifumi Kondo long dead from a karoshi-related heart attack due to his long hours and hard work at Ghibli. Although Goro Miyazaki had begun to blossom as a director at the Studio, he was only able to do so when surrounded by great animators and directors who had now left the Studio and when his project’s screenplays were shaped by his father Hayao. Even so, after Goro’s direction of the first Studio Ghibli CGI and first TV series Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter, no new projects had been discussed for some time for the young director (whose primary interests always lay in architecture and installation art anyway).
So, in late 2014, when Ghibli announced that Miyazaki was partially coming out of retirement to develop a short CGI film entitled Boro the Caterpillar, I was elated with hope that this production might gestate into another feature-length animation, or scratch that, that it might help the Studio finally find another successor to mantle of head director and creative visionary. Never-Ending Man follows Miyazaki from his initial decision to jump back into the fray through the film’s completion and into his future plans for his work and for the Studio.
But none of this would have occurred at all without the happenstance appearance of a group of young CGI animators who just graduated college and wished to elevate themselves into a full-fledged production company. To do so, they went out on a limb and took many chances including offering up their skills and showing highlight reels of their work to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki. Miyazaki found the possibilities of the format of CGI to be refreshing and new, and as such, he took up the helm and decided to begin production on a short film for release at the Studio Ghibli Museum Theatre. However, he also came head to head with the limitations of the by now three-decades old technology that had still yet to reach a degree of realism and beauty on par with the kinds of works he could produce on pen and paper blindfolded, with just his pinky, and one hand tied behind his back.
Because of these limitations, Miyazaki became the old taskmaster once again and pushed the young animators to work harder than they may have ever imagined they could. At many stages along the way, Miyazaki considered scrapping the project in its entirety and either returning to retirement or firing the CGI staff for a hand-drawn approach. Ultimately, he rescinded his reservations with Suzuki on numerous occassions and only succumbed to changing his plans once when he invited another promising young CGI animation crew to show hi their work in the hopes of supplementing the work of his own crew. Unfortunately, this new crew of animators were interested in the surreal and horrific possibilities of the medium of CGI and AI-assisted animation. What they presented Miyazaki and his team with as a highlight reel was the animation of human bodies by AI without knowledge of human locomotion. The traumatizing figures shown within the reel used their heads as limbs and distorted and contorted their bodies in unnatural and heart-rending manners that was about the farthest thing from realism. But more importantly to Miyazaki, these images reminded one immediately of the locomotion of the physically handicapped and deformed, and thereby elicited an ethical response in Miyazaki (and in myself) of horror. He felt that the young animators were immoral youth who never even considered how such images, though only a highlight reel of their program’s possibilities, could negatively affect the mental health of handicapped individuals. While holding back tears, Miyazaki abruptly asked the young animators to leave his sight hence and forevermore.
By the film’s end, Miyazaki managed to push his initial crew extremely hard while animating elements himself and producing thousands of renderings and cels for the guidance of his crew in adjusting their models to be more realistic and more Ghibli-esque in their aesthetic qualities. And while the film was a critical success for those who have seen it, the entire process left a bad taste in Miyazaki’s mouth. He has now realized once again that traditional, hand-drawn animation has yet to be matched by any other form in its aesthetic quality and ability to draw out emotion in its characterizations. And what else could you expect? A mere decades-old technology like CGI animation does not have the history of millenia to draw upon like hand-drawn animation, and I would argue, could not thereby ever even approximate its visual quality or power.
In the film’s final moments, Miyazaki discusses how CGI was a mistake and how he will never attempt to return to it ever again in his work. Furthermore, he explains that his new plan is to develop another feature film, a film he has already dedicated to his grandson and plans to leave behind as his final picture for posterity. It is tentatively titled How Do You Live? based on the title of a novel by Yoshino Genzaburo, which was the first work in years to influence Miyazaki’s worldview in such a way as to make life seem new and beautiful to him once again. The protagonist of the film is, like Miyazaki, hopelessly enamored with this book and finds it invigorating and en-spiriting in his own life.
Though details of the film’s release are hazy, we know a few things. 1. It was initially planned for release before or around the time of the 2020 Olympics in Japan. 2. It will not be finished in time for this great cultural event. 3. It is now slated for a release between 2021 to 2022. 4. Reports from as early as late 2017 seem to show that Goro Miyazaki is also working on a feature film simultaneously on which he will incorporate CGI animation. 5. There was a year-long period in which no new news was forthcoming on either project. 6. Now, it seems that Goro may be helping his father to create his the former film and the latter film’s production may be halted as reports are contradictory at this time and Ghibli has made no formal announcements (at least none that the Western press has interpreted and commented upon).
Nevertheless, even if this is the final Ghibli film and the studio decides to call it quits after this one, revel in this time while you can. A new Miyazaki film is forthcoming, various Studios and Directors have emerged in his wake to create beautiful animation inspired by his and Takahata-san’s examples, and no end is currently in sight to these developments as digital assistance technologies make traditional animation models more cost-efficient and lucrative. At least for the foreseeable future, Miyazaki’s work and spirit live on a time horizon that is never-ending in its scope and influence.
(Check out my previous Back film review here: Inon)
In 1975, the Quebecois animator and director Frederic Back released his fourth film entitled ¿Illusion?. Following a trend in the production of his first three films, this fourth one was longer than back’s previous release by about thirty seconds and came in at a total length of 11 minutes and 30 seconds. The film also took longer than any of Back’s previous animations to create, at a whopping 18 months, because of Back’s budget restraints, very small though tight-knit crew, and his attention to detail as an animator in each frame who wished to make his creation, at all times, visually arresting and alluring.
The short film opens to a large valley in a fertile land where children roam the grounds of a small field alongside rabbits, squirrels, birds, and their pet cats. The place is idyllic beyond belief and hearkens back to an imagined time when people lived simply and in harmony with the land (as evidenced by ecologically unharmful water wheels as the only source for power), when mankind could still stomach the mystery of old forests and not destroy them out of need for resources. In a word, when life felt worth living and all things were invested with mystery and human relations to these things were coloured by awe and reverence.
Then, one day, a mysterious figure enters town. Our first impression is that this figure is an adult, which is the first signal or premonition of ill-tidings in this hamlet of children. The man carries with him the accoutrements of civilization: a fancy suit and bow tie, various musical instruments, and a general ‘civilized’ demeanor. All the children are suspect of this man until he begins to woo them with the power of music, then with his magic abilities to transmogrify living flesh into mechanical circuits and joints. The magician throws a rabbit into his hat and when he retrieves it thence, it emerges a robotic thing not unlike the Energizer Bunny. He grabs a bird and throws it into his pack, which then emerges as a toy whistle in the shape of a bird: a lifeless machine meant merely to please others, which has lost its soul in the process.
Like the pied piper, this magician leads the children onward into the hills and shows them many initially delightful and useful technologies like light poles to keep the children and their host of animals safe from wolves at night, or domiciles wherein children can escape the elements in viciously cold winters. However, the project soon elevates itself beyond all sustainability and usefulness as the trees become large gray tenement buildings and factories wherein the children are enslaved to work for the magician. Even the children’s clothing becomes gray as their general aspects darken with malaise and existential dread at the prospect of being divorced from nature, and now even from the products of their labors, which they cannot freely take when needed and must pay for by working to build said products.
But industrial slave labor or wage labor, and alienation from nature and from one’s goods, are not the only unholy elements in this hideous tragedy of modernity’s manners. To make it into the unholy trinity it really is, the magician recognizes the depressed state of the children and introduces the free market, adding unfettered capitalism to the equation, which only further depresses the children. Unlike we in our modern age who are so enamored with cultural objects and processed, mass-marketed experiences, these children were not reared in the system. As such, they are uniquely unaffected by these entertainments and diversion, and instead dream of a renewal, of a return to their idyllic past and to their wholesome homes without the attendant ills of crime, poverty, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and moral decay in all its vicissitudes.
The children revolt revolt against their magician, which they vastly outnumber as the proletariat. Here, Back recognizes that any progressive, social justice approaches to the problems of society here will not and cannot suffice to restore joy and peace to the social order. This is so, because he recognizes, like Marx before him that social and cultural forces are not the driving elements of society. No, the base is economics and political structure. But in this case, the answer is not to take over the means of production and to instill a more equitable economic situation through the political order (another dead-end of political theory and action in the 20th, and hitherto in the, 21st century). The whole point is to destroy the structure totally (or in Slavoj Zizek’s comedic formulation to not just dust the balls of those in power, but to cut them off) in order to either create a new one from the ground up, which values nature and our role and part in it, as well as equitable and fair living (Because a world in which Billionaires exist at all is one which is sickly and choking on moral decay).
The children, uncorrupted by high-minded political theory and philosophy, recognize one of two options: 1. To remain in the present order and die a slow death of the spirit. Or 2. To destroy the present order and return to one that worked perfectly fine before the new order emerged. Their innocence allows them to not only think in this simplistic, and ultimately effective manner, but also to bind together as a collective of individuals who realize their joy is in communion with one another and not in disassociation as mere cogs in a mechanical political and economic order. They chase out the magician and the illusions of technological progress and achievement (things that may exist beyond our own lives, but will ultimately return to final cosmic ash like all others, and therefore have no more significance than intangible goods like happiness and peace) disappear, revealing the natural order of things beneath the illusion.
Here, animals return and the valley regains is majestic glow as the old order is snuffed out, with a whimper, by virtue of the mere and basic power of belief. In our own world, such a fight would surely lead to bloodshed and violence, but maybe no more than the millions of innocents killed in cold blood by imperialist regimes supported by the capitalist order as in America’s crusade in the Middle East today. And another big difference: if we return to something closer to the ground, we will not find the Earth as it once was before our destructive involvement. We will find it ravaged, pillaged, and raped through nothing more than the will of hoarder-billionaires whose names I need not mention here.
If there really is a hell, at least they’re not going: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Meaning: It is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. (But hey, this is only coming from someone who’s read hundreds of texts on biblical studies.)
[Continued here: Taratata]
Episode 10 of Digimon Frontier begins at the dawn of a new day. Takuya, Zoe, J.P. and Tommy awaken to find Koji, Bokomon and Neemon gone from amongst their midst. While momentarily waylaid by this unnerving discovery, one of the kids quickly finds a piece of paper with a message addressed to them from Koji. In this letter, he says that he has left their company to actually get something accomplished and to to find his Beast Spirit without the other Digidestined hindering his progress (Something which is a real problem as the past three episodes- in which he was in the company of the others- did not move Koji any closer to finding his B Spirit of Light). The letter also includes an postscript by Bokomon and Neemon alerting the others that they are following Koji to keep him out of trouble.
Near the Forest Kingdom, a lone Gotsumon investigates a series of mysterious ruins. Amongst an outcrop of rocks on the edge of a cliff stand three large stone faces not unlike those in Easter Island in our own world. Gotsumon interprets and inscription on the side of one of these stone edifices, which reads thus: ‘When the third eye opens, the Spirit shall awaken.’ Also along the side of this same stone facade is a symbol, which astute viewers will immediately recognize at the symbol of Light. And as for the reference to the third eye, this is not some mystical notion about achieving enlightenment through a vision quest toward the ‘Light’, but a very tangible clue toward unlocking the secret of this stone quarry. We know this because a panning shot shows us that two of the stone heads hold jewels in their eyes that make them appear as if they are awake or alive, and the third head has no such jewel set into its eye.
The scene then transitions once again to a different set of circumstances and characters as Koji investigates his surroundings in an attempt to gain his bearings whilst simultaneously making himself sparse to avoid detection by Bokomon and Neemon who have been following him incessantly since his departure from camp that morn. As he runs through a patch of high grass, Koji finds himself perched precariously along the edge of a cliff overlooking another seemingly endless field of wild grassland. Bokomon and Neemon, however, are not so careful. So when they emerge behind Koji from the grasses, they bump into him and all three find themselves tumbling headlong toward the grasslands below. Once there, they meet with a little Gotsumon, the selfsame as in the aforementioned vignette, and Koji tries to ask the little guy for directions to the Forest Terminal. Gotsumon rebuffs his acquaintances and runs off to camouflage himself on top of large rock.
However, the events of the story move along in rapid succession from here on out as the mountains of Gotsumon Village behind the group are suddenly rocked (hehehe, get it?) by Grumblemon in both his H Spirit form and as Gigasmon. The Fractal Code for this territory is released and Grumblemon begins to absorb the land just as Gotsumon leaps into action to defend his home. Koji fortunately stops the petite rock Digimon and Spirit Evolves into Lobomon to try and stop Grumblemon’s hideous advance. But the struggle is short lived as even as five H Spirit Digidestined previously had no effect on Grumblemon’s B Spirit form as Gigasmon. The villain defeats the hero and threatens to destroy him totally, but luckily Gotsumon grabs Lobomon and hides him in amongst the crumbling rocks from the mountain before eventually carrying Lobomon and leading his friends Bokomon and Neemon toward a hideout for the Gotsumon underneath a large boulder adjacent to the mountain.
When Koji comes to, he hears the other Gotsumon chiding the little would-be hero Gotsumon for spending so much time trying to track down the Legendary Warrior ‘Spirits’ to battle Gigasmon. Gotsumon leaves the hideout knowing something they don’t: the final gem, or ‘eye’, of the statues was revealed during the disintegration of Gotsumon Village and all he has to do now is to go and search through the rubble to find it before claiming his own ‘Spirit’ artifact. Gigasmon meanwhile has found and ambushed our other four Digidestined friends, beating them handily in the process and even exposing Zoe’s Fractal Code as Kazemon, and thereby taking her ‘Spirit’ for his own. Zoe is now without options to aid her friends in combat and it seems that the others will also lose their ‘Spirits’ in this battle. That is, until Koji arrives on the scene and manages to lure Gigasmon away from the others and toward the ruins that Gotsumon has been investigating.
Once there, Gigasmon launches a powerful attack that threatens to destroy Koji completely and he almost absorbs Koji’s H Spirit of Light before Gotsumon intervenes and saves Koji just as Koji attempted to save Gotsumon’s Village previously. Gotsumon holds off Gigasmon long enough for Koji to regain his composure and to place the gem within the eye of the final statue. The three stone heads launch a beam attack toward Gigasmon the aggressor, which gives Gotsumon a break, as well as yielding Koji enough time to claim his B Spirit of Light and to Spirit Evolve into KendoGarurumon, his untapped power form. Through this new Digivolution, Koji is able to defeat Gigasmon momentarily by knocking him off of the adjacent cliff and into the waves below. but is unable to reclaim Zoe’s H Spirit of Wind in the process. Although Koji grew as a person by allowing himself to trust Gotsumon and to help him as a friend despite knowing he was unable to defeat Gigasmon without the B Spirit upgrade, he was unable to truly destroy Gigasmon, and thereby, much of the the Digital World’s Fractal Code is still tied up in the form of Grumblemon and what’s even worse, Zoe will be unable to help her friends in the fight from here on out until Grumblemon is defeated.
Finally, a substantive episode!
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Check out the previous review HERE)
Now that the Digidestined gang has been reassembled, they are jointly back on the path toward the Forest Terminal within the Forest Kingdom. However, when we pick back up with our protagonists at the outset of this episode, J.P. and Tommy are totally exhausted and in need of rest. The area in which the group decides finally to retire for the evening is also home to a large apple tree whereupon grows savoury Meat Apples, which are raw until cooked at which point they deliver delectable tastes from prime rib and filet mignon to the more common tastes like meat bun, fried chicken and hot dog.
The group reclines within a comfortable glade and prepares a fire to roast there apples within. Unbeknownst to the group, however, a Bakumon (or Tapirmon) has been stalking their every move for some time now and seems to have an evil plan in store for the Digidestined. Such dangers are the last thing on everyone’s mind right now as food and sleep are the most pressing matters for most, and Koji is more interested in reflecting on why they were unable to defeat Gigasmon (Grumblemon’s second Digivolution form) despite all five of the Legendary Warrior Digidestined going up against him. He asks Bokomon about this new Beast form acquired by Grumblemon, but Bokomon can find nothing related to the topic in his book of legends until Neemon notices a foldout page. Once folded out, this page mentions that the Legendary Warriors each have a Human Spirit form (the one already acquired by the Digidestined) and a Beast Spirit form.
J.P. finds this information distressing as it basically means that they are all once again at square one in the search for powers that will allow them to return home. Koji continues to reflect upon this Beast Spirit revelation alongside a message he received from his D-Tector when he first arrived in the Digital World: ‘Everything will become clear when you find your spirit.’
A cloud appears above the forest glade, which dims the area and activates the TV trees in this TV Forest. The images thereon are of the Real World as Bokomon explains that this forest is something of a video gateway to the other world. While all the older kids find the images soothing after such a long absence from their own world, Tommy finds them depressing after he sees an image of his worried mother on one of the screens. And after Tommy falls asleep that night, his worried state will be the perfect vehicle for the evil Bakumon to cast Nightmare Syndrome on the little guy and instill within him an anxious dream about his friends deserting him or bullying him. This causes Tommy to awaken and attack his friends, first with a large stick from the fire, then by Spirit Evolving into Kumamon, freezing the campfire, destroying many trees, and targeting his friends with his ice attacks.
Everyone awakens before being turned into icicles and then they run off in separate directions. Takuya fortunately notices the glimpse of a figure just out of eye shot, a figure moving through the adjacent trees at a breakneck pace. He passes this information on to Koji who Spirit Evolves into Lobomon and uses his power as the Legendary Warrior of Light to send up a beam that alights the surrounding forest and reveals Bakumon’s hiding place to Takuya. As Lobomon fends off Kumamon, all the whole careful not to hurt the little guy in the process, Takuya Spirit Evolves into Agunimon and tries to catch Bakumon.
Yet, the little nightmare Digimon is quite quick and avoids being captured. Bokomon and Neemon notice that Bakumon is missing his arm ringlet that gives him his powers and they decide that Cherubimon must have made Bakumon turn evil by stealing this ring and thereby manipulating Bakumon’s personality in the process. During the discussion, Bakumon strikes back at Agunimon with Nightmare Syndrome, which throws Agunimon into a dream world of negative emotions in which he begins to imagine that his friends are in truth his foes. Unlike Tommy, Takuya has a stronger will or resolve and is able to reason his way out of the situation as his friends would not under any normal circumstances turn on him for no reason. As such, Takuya breaks the mental bonds of Bakumon’s attacks and goes on the attack, launching a fire projectile toward Bakumon. Agunimon then takes the little guy’s Fractal Code, which returns him back to the good form of Bakumon.
Bakumon’s transformation likewise releases Tommy from his mental bondage to the evil Bakumon and as such, the gang returns to their travels, for a time, before succumbing once more to fatigue and deciding to call it a night. Their hopes for good dreams are aided by an appreciative Bakumon who now casts his dream magic on the Digidestined to destroy their nightmares and cede toward them a peaceful night’s sleep. Watched over by Bakumon, none of the group find it necessary to keep a night watch. Nonetheless, Koji finds himself unable to sleep and keeps thinking about what truth might be revealed to him once he finds his Beast Spirit. Just then, he is shaken from his stupor by a message from his D-Tector informing him that his B-Spirit awaits him, but that he has some growing up to do before it will become apparent to him.
Like the previous two episodes, Episode 09 is largely about character development. Its purpose is to show us the Digidestined under pressure in a situation that will reveal their characters. But this is also an episode about story development, and specifically about explaining what was going on with Gigasmon a few episodes previously. If anything else it introduced Meat Apples to the story, which was quite possibly one of the weirdest items introduced to the Digital World at this point in the anime’s development. And Bokomon and Neemon’s constant bickering and comedic potential as a straight man-goofy man pair are first made totally apparent here for viewers of the English dub especially. So that’s something.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Catch the previous episode review HERE)
In the final moments of Episode 07 of Digimon Frontier, Zoe, J.P. Bokomon and Neemon’s makeshift log-raft washed up on the beach of a territory unknown to any of the group. They quickly find a walking path through a field of seemingly endless cereal grains wherein J.P. musters up a brave face and resolve for the long trip ahead only to later complain about the length of their journey through this maze of plants. Zoe looks down upon J.P. for his emotional oscillation and because the big lug seems only to care about food and sleep. Thus sets up the beginning of Episode 08, which will take us along an adventure with the half of the Digidestined gang not followed in the previous episode. The goal: another character development arc.
As J.P. tires and begins to appear at the end of his rope, all his stamina completely used up by the long walk, a Tsunemon appears on the path ahead from without the surrounding grain stalks. The little guy is surprised to see human beings before him. So surprised in fact that he forgets himself and allies long enough for his pursuer, a motherly Togemon, to find him and carry him off back toward the Digimon School with his fellow Baby and In-Training Digimon schoolmates. But not before the Digidestined speak with Togemon, hear of the school and the promise of food if they are willing to teach the children at the school about the Human World, and eventually give into the pressures to follow (J.P. being the prime motivator in this course of action as the promised food is a much-needed provision in his current ragged state).
Once the group arrives at the Digimon School (wherein both Bokomon and Neemon, as well as all Digimon , were once reared), they find it to be a haggard, dreary little hut bustling with eight little Digimon (including Tsunemon). Among the throng include Digimon who should be familiar to all Digimon fans who have watched the previous seasons of the show like Yaamon, Kapurimon, and Tsunemon, but also Digimon shown in the anime for the first time in this episode including Jyarimon, YukimiBotamon, Zerimon, Conomon, and Nyaromon. However, one of these little Digimon does not fit in with the others: namely, the aforementioned Tsunemon who dislikes being at Digimon School so much that he attempted running away and was only foiled in his escape by his bewilderment at running into the humans.
Many events unfold that slowly give the Digidestined crew a sense of why Tsunemon is an outcast amongst the otherwise tightly nit group. When YukimiBotamon first meets the humans it is terrified, but Tsunemon merely responds that he was brave and never scared even when he first met them on the footpath. His braggart nature turns off his peers. In the classroom later that day, Tsunemon is stuck in the corner of the room away from the rest of his peers and when snack time arrives, he refuses to eat with the others. During a soccer match later that day, he sees an opening to score a goal for his team, but Kapurimon rushes in to prevent Tsunemon from getting an opportunity to headbutt the ball and hurts himself in the process. Finally, J.P. attempts to mend the situation by bribing Tsunemon’s classmates to play with him by using candy bars and none of the little Digimon take the bait, even then.
All the while, Zoe chafes at J.P.’s increasingly harebrained attempts to discern why Tsunemon’s classmates avoid him like the plague. But Zoe also feels emotionally similar to Tsunemon and eventually reveals some of her past to J.P. We learn that Zoe lived abroad for years in Italy and finds herself uninterested in the things her classmates back home found appealing. Because she is a pretty and stylish girl, all of her classmates initially wanted to be her friend, but her choices not to engage in what she thought to be activities or purchases unfitting to her tastes led her would-be friends to regard her as snobbish or stuck up.
After Tsunemon is rebuffed by his classmates who won’t even fall for J.P.’s bribery scheme, he runs off and accidentally falls into a pond. Zoe, following after the little guy to reassure him to try again to fit in with his friends, also falls into the pond. However, she is the one most taken by surprise and thereby finds herself in danger of drowning. Tsunemon then unveils his power to Digivolve into Gabumon and saves Zoe. He reveals that the others in his class saw him Digivolve one day and thought his resulting Rookie form somewhat monstrous and scary due to the abrupt change and size differential between himself as Gabumon and their smaller forms. Because the others did not have the ability to Digivolve, they viewed Tsunemon with suspicion as one who was different, and thereby to be feared, rather than one who is unique and to be cherished as a potential friend.
That night, a storm passes through the Digimon School territory, which threatens to wash away the very class building by virtue of its ferocity and abundant corresponding rains. The lightning terrifies J.P., who reveals that as a person he is much less brave than when in his Digimon form. Yet, something must be done quickly. Zoe chides J.P. for his cowardice, which manages to spur him onward. J.P. and Zoe both Spirit Evolve and then head off in the direction of the School House where Beetlemon dislodges a large boulder and places it in the path of the raging waters as Kazemon uses her wind attacks to divert the remaining water around the building. Finally, Kapurimon is picked up by the heavy winds from the storm and swept away toward a small sapling where he hangs on for dear life. But a log comes barreling toward him and threatens to wash away and drown the little guy. Only Tsunemon can help, and he Digivolves into Gabumon to do just that.
After the storm subsides, it is clear that Tsunemon’s schoolmates now consider him one of them. It is also clear that Zoe has much more respect and adoration for J.P. after he took up the helm of responsibility and saved the day. The Digimon at the School create a wind-powered landboat for the Digidestined crew’s use to arrive at the Forest Terminal. and by an unlikely stroke of luck, Takuya, Tommy, and Koji find themselves parachuting down from the floating island they investigated in the previous second and landing just inside of this boat in the final moments of the episode. ‘
Many elements of this episode strain credulity for me, and I cannot find a good reason why Beetlemon/J.P. couldn’t have established his respectability in Zoe’s eyes in a situation that also furthered the plot. Or why Zoe couldn’t have revealed some of her backstory in an episode with more thematic weight in the larger narrative of Digimon Frontier. The tale always goes that Adventure 01 and 02 are the best nostalgia kicks in the franchise, Digimon Tamers is the best and most critically acclaimed series, and Frontier is the first to really show narrative fatigue. I have never watched Frontier in its entirety (as I will endeavor to do in the following weeks and months), but the first eight episodes of the total 50-episode series (or a total of 16% of the show) has thus far been found wanting in my estimation. I can only hope things are on the up and up from here on out.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
Anime still may not be mainstream in America, but with its presence on practically every streaming platform, tons of TV channels, in large theatre chains, most large retail stores, and with multiple anime-themed conventions for just about any weekend in the year, we’ve got a good thing going, eh?
Personally, I’ve been attending anime conventions since 2011, and have been watching anime as long as I can remember. I have also been running this blog with a mostly anime theme for about two full years thus far with over 400 unique articles on my favorite anime series and films. So, while I may be no real expert in the field, I am a pretty hardcore fan well in the know.
Over the years, I’ve drawn up a long list of groups releasing the best anime and manga in the states and would like to present that information here on a month-to-month basis in order to keep my followers on WordPress, and my friends at home, updated and inundated with reminders about anime so they won’t miss out on all the cool stuff I brag incessantly about seeing on the reg.
First off, the anime film every one was talking about at Ichibancon 10 this month: Dragon Ball Super: Broly. This new Dragon Ball film has been out since last Thursday (compliments of Funimation), but as far as I can currently tell, will continue screening in theaters nationwide until this Thursday. So if you can’t get enough of the classic Shonen Series, but don’t want to watch the interminably long Super TV series, check this out ASAP!
Second theatrical film to mention is the theatrical re-release of the critically-acclaimed and widely popular commercial success that was 2016’s A Silent Voice. The film will be in theaters for two days only on Monday 28th and Thursday 31st, compliments of Fathom Events. If you’re not familiar Fathom, definitely check these guys out. For the past few years, they have released high-quality anime to theaters nationwide including the North American release of Mirai of the Future last December and Studio Ponoc’s Modest Heroes just a few weeks ago. Fathom Events has also hosted a 9-month, 9-film Ghibli Fest for the past two years, which focuses on presenting Western audiences with both beloved and obscure works (and has allowed me to see all ten of Miyazaki’s feature films on the big screen). No details for Ghibli Fest 2019 have been released yet (the event has started in March in years past), but Kotaku reports that a new lineup of films is in the works.
As for anime home video releases, my favorite indie company in the field, Discotek Media, has a few releases up its sleeve, all slated for a January 29th release. The three that most piqued my interest were Tetsujin 28: Morning Moon of Midday on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, Shin Tetsujin 28 Complete Series Blu-Ray, and a Lupin the 3rd: Series 2 Boxset 3 (Episodes 80-117) on DVD. If you’re a fan of classic anime series and films, you will find old Madhouse, Lupin III, and pre-Ghibli Takahata and Miyazaki works in spades amongst their modest catalog.
Second up for anime home video release is GKIDS release of Masaaki Yuasa’s 2017 masterpiece The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. If you think you recognize that name, it’s because Yuasa is the director of top-tier contender for 2018’s G.O.A.T. (G.O.A.Y.?) anime Devilman Crybaby. Also available at GKIDS is Yuasa’s 2004 film Mind Game, and in early February I discuss GKIDS’ third slated Yuasa release.
This time around I couldn’t find any manga set for release in January that has not already been released by this time in the month, but suffice it to say that I’ll be checking into Viz and Seven Seas Entertainment to bring classic manga, or anything by Junji Ito, to your awareness. And for those who live in Southeast like myself, I’ll be keeping everyone updated on good regional anime conventions to keep an eye out for as well as passing along any information about panels I may or may not be delivering at said conventions.
Well, that’s all for now. As always thanks for checking out this blogspace. Likes, comments, and especially shares would be most appreciated from anyone who found this guide to the remainder of January and Anime in America useful.
Ciao for now,
[Postscript: I am not endorsed by any of the brands or media companies listed above. However, I wouldn’t complain if any of them offered their support :1. Or if Kotaku needs another staff writer? Hey, I did live in Japan for three months not too long ago after all…]