(Catch the previous episode review HERE)
The first five episodes of Digimon Frontier dealt mainly with establishing the lore of the series including the narrative of the Legendary Warriors and Lucemon, and the present conflict with Cherubimon who is working to fracture the entire Digital World. In those episodes, our protagonists were focused on gaining their ‘Spirits’ or fighting abilities to survive in this new, unfamiliar world. Finally, the sixth episode of the series introduces a minor villain who is a Legendary Warrior like the Digidestined kids. Through all of this plot development, very little of my least favorite (though often necessary) element of a narrative has been present thus far: character development. Episode 07 picks up the mantle in this regard and begins to flesh out our least identifiable character thus far: Koji.
After the events at KaratsukiNumemon Mountain in the previous episode, the Digidestined find themselves separated once more into two factions. As J.P., Zoe, Bokomon and Neemon travel downstream on a large log, presumably heading in the direction of the Forest Terminal, Takuya, Tommy and Koji fall from their own chaos vortex, after the fracture of the mountain, onto a large floating island housed atop a powerful zeppelin.
The island is a themed area based around toys and vibrant colors, and thereby the gang is lucky to have fallen thereon as a large ball-pit softens the impact and leaves them unharmed. As they investigate the town, the three find it largely abandoned except for the presence of various seemingly conscious, sentient action figures and toy trains. As Tommy is a 3rd grader, and still of prepubescent years, he finds the whole experience to be an upgrade from the rather austere deserts and scary slave labor industrial camps of previous adventures in the Digital World. Koji, unfortunately, deems Tommy’s joyous behavior and willingness to dally and play with toys during their stay on the floating island to be troublesome. He chastises and chides Tommy on numerous occasions for his boyish ways (despite Tommy being just that: a boy) and works to spur on his comrades in the development of a plan to escape the island.
Takuya calls Koji out for being a jerk and contradicts him by telling Tommy to have a good time while on this seemingly innocuous island. Just then a toy train large enough for the three boys to ride upon comes zooming by. The three hop onboard until they find a roving Monzaemon in the fields. They dismount the train cars and approach the bear for advice on how to get back down to the ground below when , all of a sudden, Monzaemon picks up Takuya and throws him to the ground, playfully. The Champion-level Digimon is bored and wishes for his newfound friends to engage in wrestling or some such sport with him to pass the time. The boys run, eventually managing to hide from Monzaemon in the process, whose calls can be heard aft wondering aloud whether he is now playing hide and seek.
The Digidestined’s hiding place turns out to be a carnival food stall filled with ice cream and cotton candy. Takuya goes for the latter and offers up some to Koji and Tommy. The latter of which delights in this worldly pleasure, the former of which finds this all to be another big distraction from escaping the island and heading toward the Forest Terminal to rendezvous with their friends who must surely be heading toward the same landmark if they too survived their fall from KaratsukiNumemon Mountain.
All the while, the audience knows that blimp beneath the island is piloted by a group of nefarious ShadowToyAgumon who wish to fly their island to the Real World in order to seek revenge against all the children there who have thrown out their toys or neglected them over the years. We also see the ShadowToyAgumon leader cast an evil glance toward Monzaemon that transforms/Digivolves him into his dark Ultimate form as WaruMonzaemon. So it comes as no surprise to us when the Digidestined exit the carnival food stall arguing only for WaruMonzaemon to appear during this distraction to kidnap Tommy and take him away to the large Lavender Castle tower in the centre of the island. Takuya and Koji notice just in time to see where Tommy is being taken, but not quickly enough to immediately take action and give chase to WaruMonzaemon. Takuya expresses his annoyance at this turn of events comically: ‘Why do evil things always run faster than normal things?’
Koji immediately blames Takuya for Tommy’s disappearance in spite of the fact that it was Koji’s cold-heartedness that led them to argue and turn their gazes away from Tommy in the first place. Takuya counters by questioning Koji’s ability to communicate with other people and wonders aloud how he acts with his own brothers and sisters. Koji responds that he has no siblings, is an only child. finally, Takuya reminds Koji that Tommy is just a scared kid who needs their support to get through the traumatic experience of leaving home and entering a dangerous world like the Digital World. He calls upon Koji to imagine he were Tommy’s age, which prompts Koji to finally understand.
What happens next, occurs in pretty quick succession as Koji and Takuya run off toward the Lavender Castle to save Tommy, have the drawbridge pulled out beneath them, fall to the moat below, and are rescued by the vigilante hero Pandamon. He explains that while the ShadowToyAgumon took over the island, he fought back as hard as he could. But now that WaruMonzaemon is under their command, Pandamon needs the help of the Legendary Warriors to return his home to its former glory. Pandamon leads Koji and Takuya to a stairway that opens up onto the courtyard of the castle. There, the two Spirit Evolve into Lobomon and Agunimon, respectively, and battle a veritable army of ShadowToyAgumon who transform and combine their Lego-like bodies into Tank forms and finally into two Mecha that are only defeated by trickery and a bit of teamwork on the Digidestined’s part.
These ShadowToyAgumon release a ton Fractal Code and revert to good ToyAgumon before Koji and Takuya run up the stairs and into the tower only to find WaruMonzaemon devolved back into his benevolent form as Monzaemon, playing video games with Tommy, who has also, incidentally, grown much stronger throughout the experience of being kidnapped and overcoming his enemy by discerning his true nature and motivations: playfulness and the wish to have friends who engage in games alongside him. When the gang returns to the castle’s courtyard, Pandamon is there. He reveals that the ToyAgumon will land the island for a time to drop off the Digidestined back on the continent. But elsewhere, their friends have somehow managed to beach their log on the shores of unfamiliar territory where prospects of finding the Forest Terminal quickly dwindle as J.P. Zoe, Bokomon and Neemon realize they are lost.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Check out the previous episode review HERE)
In the lore of Digimon Frontier, there were ten Legendary Warriors who restrained Lucemon after he became the tyrant of the Digital World. Now that Cherubimon has appeared on the scene and threatens to destroy the Digital World by absorbing all of its Fractal Code (presumably to build the world anew to his own specifications at some unspecified future time), the Legendary Warrior’s Spirits have appeared as ancient artifacts that the chosen ones, or Digidestined, must track down and use to fight back.
That said, our original cast of kids who arrived in the Digital World for this purpose could have numbered far greater than ten in number as there were at least dozen of children in the Shibuya Station Underground Terminal back in Episode 01. This means that some of these children will become spooked and turn back to their own world, thereby not embracing their destinies by virtue of their own free will, or worse, some children will be unable to return to the Real World or find ‘Spirits’ and will probably become trapped in the Digital World or be killed by aggressive, evil Digimon following Cherubimon’s orders.
As our protagonists number only five, however, there are five open slots for other Digidestined to become Legendary Warriors if their temperaments are suitable to the particular ‘Spirits’ they are able to find. Because Digimon is not a 12-26 episode kind of series, much of the series’ first half will be spent in powering up our characters and introducing them to other characters who will recur throughout the remainder of the series. As such, we can expect that our protagonists will begin to meet the other Legendary Warriors in the coming episode. And in fact that is exactly what happens beginning with Episode 06, immediately after all of our protagonists have gained the ability to Spirit Evolve.
The episode begins as Koji scales a treacherous mountain path barely wide enough for one to traverse by foot. He finds a cavern wherein a group of KaratsukiNumemon are locked up behind bars. Just as Koji attempts to help these Digimon out, Grumblemon appears behind him and throws him out of the cavern and off the mountain.
At the foot of the mountain, there is a bustling Digimon city wherein the others try their best to find food. Unfortunately, Bokomon is broke and Zoe’s human money is worthless in this world, so the group are turned away from every eating establishment including the one run by the Golden Armor Digimon Kongoumon. The very presence of a such a Legendary Digimon, presumably with the strength of a Golden Rapidmon or a Magnamon, who has devoted his life to cooking food and making a profit rather than fighting back against Cherubimon’s evil forces and the increasing fracture of the Digital World is a bit confusing. But hey man, it’s a free country, at least until Cherubimon takes total control that is.
Luckily for the Digidestined, they find a sign in town that seems perfectly directed toward themselves both in their state of hunger and in their designation at Digidestined with the power of the Legendary Warriors: ‘Heroes Wanted: All Your Meals For Free!’. J.P. narrows in on the message and alerts his friends to it. Within the building adjacent to the sign, they find a group KaratsukiNumemon whose eyes alight with joy once J.P. explains that he and his friends are the heroes that they have been looking for.
The KaratsukiNumemon lead the Digidestined toward their village in the mountains along a treacherous path with inverted loops hitched onto a cargo Trailmon. There, they find that the village is oriented on the face of the mountain in such a way that only slimy Digimon like Numemon could live there without falling directly to their doom upon the rocks below. Fortunately, the KaratsukiNumemon have invested in a series of rope ladders that allow the Digidestined to reside in this domain while they learn the story of Grumblemon who has arrived to steal their mountain’s Fractal Code, was unable to find it and thereby decided to kidnap all of the female KaratsukiNumemon in the village to spur on the men to find the Fractal Code for him. The Digidestined also find Koji within the village whose fall was miraculously cut short by the villages outer gate.
The food of the village, many-colored cabbages and heads of lettuce that taste of what one wishes most to eat (steak, chicken, potatoes, even asparagus in Takuya’s case), is exquisite and the KaratsukiNumemon are more than accommodating. This all changes when Takuya mentions that they will surely be able to defeat Grumblemon with the help from the ‘Spirits’ of the Legendary Warriors. After this revelation to the KaratsukiNumemon, they begin to act differently toward their heroes and insist that the Digidestined rest for the night before beginning their journey in the morning. All the while, the denizens of the village restrain the Digidestined and their friends Bokomon and Neemon while they sleep and tie them to sticks overhanging the cliff-side where they can be cut free to fall to their deaths at any time.
The Digidestined awaken to find the KaratsukiNumemon pissed off that Legendary Warriors came to their aid. Their reasoning is that Grumblemon himself is apparently the new holder of the H Spirit of Earth and is thereby a Legendary Warrior himself. The KaratsukiNumemon believe that the Digidestined, likewise Legendary Warriors, must be cahoots with Grumblemon and only came to the village to trick its denizens, waste their time, and force them to give up the location of the mountain’s Fractal Code. When Grumblemon himself appears to warn the KaratsukiNumemon to help him find the Fractal Code, he makes it apparent that he has connection with the Digidestined whatsoever.
Next, the KaratsukiNumemon free the Digidestined Legendary Warriors from their binds and a battle ensues in which the combined forces of Agunimon, Beetlemon, and Lobomon are unable to defeat Grumblemon who is himself in his H Spirit form. Kazemon and Kumamon fly off and free the female KaratsukiNumemon during this battle, only to return just as it begins raining and Beetlemon uses the rain’s cascading motion as inspiration to strike the mountain side with a Thunder attack that brings rocks cascading and sliding down toward Grumblemon with enough force to finally defeat him.
Or so he thinks. Grumblemon possesses the next form of Spirit Evolution and in his current form he activates this B (or Beast) Spirit of Earth using a Slide Evolution technique that releases his most powerful form as Gigasmon. The combined attacks of all the Digidestined in their H Spirit forms are not enough to even put a dent in Gigasmon’s defenses, and what’s worse is that the rock slide uncovered the mountain’s Fractal Code beneath its face. Gigasmon takes the code and plunges the area into chaos, destroying the KaratsukiNumemon Village and sending everyone plummeting hundreds and thousands of feet into the void below.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Check out my review of the previous Studio Ponoc film here: Mary and the Witch’s Flower)
When Studio Ponoc was founded after the initial dissolution of Studio Ghibli in 2014, it seemed that its head talent and lead director was Hiromasa Yonebayashi who had previously directed two films for Studio Ghibli (The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There). Yonebayashi had well over two decades of experience in animation by this time as an in-between and key animator for Ghibli productions like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Tales of Earthsea, Ponyo, and From Up on Poppy Hill as well as the Nasu films by fellow Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka (and director of the highly anticipated Studio Madhouse feature Okko’s Inn) and acclaimed anime series like Monster and Serial Experiments Lain.
However, with the arrival of Studio Ponoc’s first anthology film comprised of short films by three different directors, it seems the studio is working to recruit many talents (probably to avoid the successor problem that hounded Ghibli throughout its days). In an extensive interview (released as part of Modest Heroes’ U.S. theatrical run) with Studio Ponoc producer and former Ghibli producer (Howl’s Moving Castle, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, The Tale of Princess Kaguya) Yoshiaki Nishimura discussed the future direction of the Studio and revealed therein just how integral his vision is for that future.
Nishimura is not only the one who drums up support and funding for projects at the Studio, but he is also the one who brought Yonebayashi along with him to start the Studio. Nishimura was also the one who initially came up the idea to start a short films anthology series at the Studio to help develop new talent. The idea came to Nishimura while at Ghibli where tons of short films were produced throughout the years for commercial use at the Studio Ghibli Museum. Unfortunately for all of the talented young directors who worked their ways up in the ranks of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki cannibalized most opportunities to work in this way, and few beyond the old master ever got the opportunity to direct anything for Ghibli during their tenure there. Nishimura reasoned that this lack of opportunity for other directors beyond Miyazaki and Takahata to direct was the principal reason that Studio was unable to find a successor, and as such, Nishimura has no such plans to repeat their mistake.
The first short films anthology begins with ‘Kanini and Kanino’ directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and based on an original idea by Nishimura (as are all three short films in the anthology, once again establishing Nishimura’s role at Studio Ponoc as a bonafied auteur in his own right). When Yonebayashi released Mary and the Witch’s Flower, it was received with open arms by an anime community yearning for more works in the Ghibli tradition. However, many criticized the film for being unambiguously Ghibli and too similar to past Miyazaki films and plots, with characters all too similar to those we already know well. Mary was also Yonebayashi’s first film created with an original script not based on a classic British fantasy novel. If anything, that misstep merely reveals that he ought to stick to adaptations until a time comes when his abilities as a writer improve. Suffice it to say that ‘Kanini and Kanino’ suffers from much the same problem and is the least compelling of the three films in the anthology.
The second film is entitled, somewhat awkwardly, ‘Life Ain’t Gonna Lose.’ It is the tale of a young boy who is deathly allergic to eggs. The boy finds his life difficult because of the presence of eggs in almost any baked good and often avoids outings with other children to avoid potentially life-threatening accidental exposure. As a spiritual successor to the Ghibli helm however, the situation works out for the best as this little boy works to overcome his allergy by deciding to go to the hospital on a more regular basis where he can be treated through exposure therapy until he is one day able to eat eggs like other children.
This segment was directed by Yoshiyuki Momose who had previously only directed on two occasions (Ghiblies Episode 2 and Space Station No. 9) for the rare Studio Ghibli short films not helmed by Miyazaki-san himself. Momose is an animator whose career began all the back in 1971, or shortly thereafter Miyazaki himself entered the field of animation in the mid to late sixties, and therefore, it was imperative for Nishimura to hire Momose on to direct something as a test to see whether he was ready for feature film work down the road. Imperative, because Momose is currently 66 years old, and although he may have thirty more years of productivity ahead, the fates may also find it fit to yield less than ten to him (fickle as they are). Momose’s career hitherto has involved animation work for classics like Lensman, A Journey Through Fairyland, Grave of the Fireflies, Porco Rosso, whisper of the Heart, Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and the popular Ghibli inspired RPG series Ni no Kuni. Hopefully, we will see more work from him in the coming years through Studio Ponoc.
Finally, the third and final film in this short film anthology is ‘Invisible’ by director Akihiko Yamashita. The story is by far the most visually, aurally, and thematically arresting of the three tales as it depicts the bleak, grey life of a man doomed to live in the world as a spectre, invisible to all but those who suffer his same misfortune, though they too are few and far between. The heaven’s call toward him as some sort of suicidal impulse he can only assuage by carrying heavy objects that weigh him down using the earth’s gravity. But through a redemptive action wherein he saves the life of another, of an innocent child, the invisible man finds redemption and solace, and more importantly he finds himself once again.
Akihiko Yamashita is the least experience director of the three in this anthology as he has only previously directed the Studio Ghibli short film A Sumo Wrestler’s Tail. Yet, Yamashita can also be considered the most accomplished animator of the three as he has served in more capacities than merely an in-betweener or key animator. Thus far, his credits include highly prestigious production roles like Assistant Animation Director on The Cat Returns, Ponyo, When Marnie Was There, and Mary; Head animation Director on Howl’s Moving Castle and Arrietty; and Assistant Director on Tales From Earthsea. Moreover, his work outside of Ghibli and Ponoc includes more classic anime than any of his fellow Ponoc directors: e.g. Urusei Yatsura, Legend of the Overfiend, Nadia, Giant Robo, Serial Experiments Lain, Blue Submarine No. 6, and Big O.
Besides the hope for a future for Ghibli animation, this short film anthology signals the willingness of Studio Ponoc to experiment continually with the medium of animation, to foster a home for new animators and a testing ground for future directors, and as a future gateway for potential droves of new viewers to rediscover Ghibli in the future when the all too short-sighted masses begin to forget its impact. The most hopeful takeaway for me, however, toward this end was Nishimura’s stated promise that he enjoyed the process of producing films, was good at drumming up financial support, and that the Studio’s films have thus far been moderately profitable enough for him to continue the series. And not only to continue it for a while, but indefinitely as Nishimura plans to release Ponoc short film anthologies well past the tenth installment, and until the very day he dies.
A final rejoinder. This anthology was originally sleighted to be somewhat longer due to the initial plan for a fourth film by Studio Ghibli founder Isao Takahata. Unfortunately, Takahata passed away before such a plan could come to fruition. Modest Heroes is dedicated to his memory and to the influence of his films without which anime would be a completely different beast than the one we know it as today.
(Catch my previous Back film review here: The Creation of Birds)
In 1972, Frederic Back directed and animated his second and third animated films. And although I reviewed it first, The Creation of Birds is actually his third film. Inon, a tale derived from Native American myth was Back’s second go at direction in animation for television. Inon, at around nine and a half minutes in length, was also Back’s longest animation to date. The Creation of Birds would up the ante at around 11 minutes in length. Moreover, his animation style at this time, though still primitive in nature in keeping with his inspiration from Native American cave art and iconography, was improving drastically from film to film. One can see this most effectively in the minute-long establishing montage at Inon’s beginning that immediately propels the audience into the world of Back’s imagined American past.
The film centers around one of the most important inventions, or discoveries, in human history: the attainment of fire and its variable powers (warmth and safety from predators at night; cognitive improvement through the cooking of food which develops and makes more acute many raw food’s nutritive qualities). The film’s establishing shot makes apparent the desolation of the landscape during winter before the conquest for fire. Animals and men alike suffered through these harsh climes and found it difficult to subsist without the loss of life. And so they endeavor to work together, the animals and the humans, to track down fire and master its power’s thereby.
However, there is a significant hitch in their plans as the keeper of fire, the God of Thunder Inon, is an evil god who uses his powers to cause pain and suffering. Inon is not like the Greek god Prometheus who willingly brought fire to men as an act of good faith, even if it meant eternal punishment from the other gods in his heavenly host. Perhaps understanding the plight of his brother God on the European continent, Inon refuses to yield his magic to the people of the Earth in an effort to keep it for himself, to retain his hegemony as one who giveth and taketh away at will, and to please himself as a manipulative god who enjoys causing the death and suffering of others.
Bear has a dream-vision of the location of the fire on Earth. He searches amongst the host of animals: the birds and geese, the wolves and foxes, the hawks and the rabbits and stags. Eventually three champions are chosen for the journey: Hawk, Beaver, and Wolf. Mankind rejoices in their journey and the three are off. But wolf, whose purposes are often at odds with those of men as predators of those beings wolf predates upon, decides to run off to chase a rabbit during his travels. This leaves only Beaver and Hawk left in their journeying. The two eventually find the location of the eternal fire, but find that it is has been entrusted into the care of warlike Dryads who protect the fire using bows and arrows.
Beaver and Hawk use their wile and skill, respectively, to work as a team and claim the fire. But on the return journey home, Inon learns that his precious fire has been stolen from its resting place with the dryads and as such, Inon descends from the clouds to reclaim the fire. He manages to harm Hawk and Beaver on numerous occasions during their trip through the power of storms, of lightning, and of fire itself, but the two trudge onward, always one step ahead of Inon who is one and has not the power of teamwork on his side. When Beaver and Hawk finally arrive to spread the power of fire to men, they retire back to the forest as beings who are no longer needed by men and must return to their own domain. Yet, the men remember the deeds of Beaver and Hawk and thereby revere them from then onward in their sacred rites of fire.
Back’s rendition of this Algonquin legend is one perfectly in keeping with his purposes as an environmentally conscious person who believes that men must live with the land and give back to it rather than merely stripping it of resources and destroying other species in the process. Back, like all truth seekers of the modern age, know through scientific reasoning and hard and fast logic that man is no more special than any beast on Earth. That he is one of the beasts and that thereby this world entrusted to man by the gods or by chance and nothingness is a gift to be shared. This tale of man and beast working together to fight back against evil gods is like a call to arms by man to harness the powers of nature and physics to make the world a better place. It is likewise a tale of solidarity between all beasts and a reminder that while most animals are not intelligent enough to actually help mankind or one another, the conscious beasts can and do do so: e.g. dolphins who help fishermen to catch large harvests or apes and wolves who welcome lost children into their fold and protect them until the children can be reunited with their own peoples.
But there is a warning here as well. When the beasts found fire and gave men this magic, they were separated from men forever thereafter. Fire yielded smelting and smithing, and thereby weapons and warfare at a greater destructive degree than ever previously thought possible. Fire lead to manufacturing and industrialization and civilization, but also to all of their discontents: deforestation, land stripping, the death of species, the atomic bomb. And though the power of fire has landed men on the moon and sent our technology to the farthest reaches of our solar system and even beyond these limits, it always has the literal destructive power to render our world unlivable, as well as the psychical power of forgetfulness. Of erasure of our memory as a beast-people who live with the world and cannot survive properly in its absence, or in the absence of our fellow world-travelers: the Beasts.
[Next up: ¿Illusion?]
(Check out the previous review HERE)
The Digidestined are still traveling toward the Forest Terminal. However, Koji has been more tactful than his counterparts thus far and is reclining in style within the cabin of a train while Takuya’s crew trudge along through tracks in the desert toward the terminal. I guess you can say that the old adage ‘two heads are better than one’ doesn’t really apply to one with an above average intellect like Koji.
Like the previous four episodes of the series, episode five is used to round out our characters and power them up with ‘Spirits’. And as J.P. is the last one of the gang without a spirit, its now finally his turn to make himself useful. What the episode lacks that all previous ones had to greater or lesser degrees is the addition of backstory from Bokomon’s precious book of legends. Whereas the other episodes managed some sense of gravitas, or relative importance, to the narrative at hand, this episode’s dearth of backstory leaves it a little lacking in interest.
Nevertheless, it begins as Takuya, Zoe, Tommy, J.P., Bokomon, and Neemon sojourn through a desert storm along a set tracks that leads them to a place known as the Wind Factory Corporation. Therein, a group of friendly, but cowardly, Kokuwamon toil away in the industrial townscape creating electric fans for use by their masters: the Goblimon foreman, Minomon guards and watchers, and their boss Snimon. Worst yet, these enslaved Kokuwamon are tortured using fear tactics into releasing their latent energy to perpetuate the factory’s operation.
Snimon and his goons rule through fear and trembling, through brute strength, and nonetheless all there know that might is not actually right. The Kokuwamon work for no wage but a subsistence level of energy (food) and housing. They are protected from Cherubimon’s ravages of the Digital World whilst within this dark factory, but only because their captors are complicit in that dark lord’s scheme. The plot would be relatively innocuous to a viewer in Switzerland or its peaceful ilk, but to American viewers who themselves live within an empire of power and terror and most likely hire out their work to corporations complicit with that empire’s evil schemes (even just through taxation that might support MIC) for something below a comfortable living wage, the parallel is all too real. That said, the factory is evil partially because it is based on slave labor and partially because it supports and is supported by an evil regime outside of itself; it is deemed evil by our young protagonists who understand this all implicitly; and hence, I would conclude that even a children’s TV show like Digimon is never quite as simple as one might initially imagine (But hey, Miyazaki’s already taught us this lesson with his films, no?).
The Kokuwamon tell the Digidestined of their past glories before being forcibly abducted by the Goblimon. These diminutive Rookie-level electric beetle machine Digimon once lived in the forests and roamed freely. They were happy there, but as the elder often says, not so much ‘here’ (the factory). Takuya reasons that the Kokuwamon have only two real options if they wish to return home to their forests: 1. They must fight back and free themselves by using force against force, fire against fire. 2. They should run away from the Goblimon. However, the problem with option two is that the evil in Wind Factory remains to either track down the Kokuwamon and enslave them once again, or even worse yet, morally speaking, the Goblimon might track down a different group of Digimon to enslave, and thereby the Kokuwamon will only be passing along their enslavement to another group.
Everyone agrees that the only way forward is option one. Takuya even draws up a plan for Zoe as Kazemon to distract the Goblimon and Minomon guards by destroying the front gate and alarm systems, while Agunimon, Kumamon, and everyone else infiltrates the factory in the dead of night to destroy the assembly lines therein. However, J.P., who has still been unable to find his own Legendary Warrior ‘Spirit’ doesn’t like the idea of being a mere accomplice in this plan. He wishes he had the strength to help out and because he does not, he responds by refusing involvement.
Beyond the factory situation itself, the only other interesting element of Episode 05 to comment upon is J.P.’s relationship with a Kokuwamon youth. The tyke has never seen the famed forests of his ancestors because he was born into this hideous captivity. He has hopes and dreams for freedom from the factory, for the pursuit of his happiness without the chains of slave labor. And he entrusts his hopes with J.P.: the eldest of the Digidestined and the largest of their group.The little guy doesn’t know that J.P. doesn’t have a Spirit like his friends and thereby latches onto him as one with a strong character and amiable personality.
That night, Kazemon’s distraction succeeds in giving her friends an opening to invade the factory. Kumamon, Agunimon, and the swarm of beetle-like Kokuwamon defeat Goblimon after Goblimon, destroying as many industrial artifacts as possible along the way. But when they reach the inner sanctum wherein the assembly line is housed, Snimon appears and manages to defeat Agunimon just as the Goblimon make one last rally to repel Kumamon and the Kokuwamon. J.P., inspired by shouldering the weight of all the hopes and dreams of the Kokuwamon, jumps into action, and strikes Snimon with a large crane machine in the room. Snimon’s counter-strike destroys the machine, revealing the H Spirit of Thunder hidden within the metal beams that once held the crane aloft.
J.P.’s D-Tector finally alights upon his own destined Spirit and he uses it to Spirit Evolve into Beetlemon. In this form, he easily defeats Snimon totally and absorbs his Fractal Code within the D-Tector. The group manages to escape the factory just as it explodes and as a strong wind blows through the village carrying away the insubstantial Minomon. As the Kokuwamon celebrate and the Digidestined brace themselves to go back out in search of the Forest Terminal, an evil Digimon named Grumblemon in a cave nearby receives a report on the fifth Digidestined ‘Spirit’ discovery with much displeasure.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Catch the previous review HERE)
Like all of the Digimon series hitherto, Digimon Frontier’s first few episodes are all about powering up our Digidestined to handle any situations they might run into. For a series wherein the most important elements of the story come later in the season when the machinations of antagonists and the specific world-building and metaphysics of the land become apparent, this is a necessary evil. Nonetheless, it would be cool to see a group of Digidestined enter the Digital World and struggle through harsh situations without any aid for at least a few episodes. Such life or death peril could certainly speed along my least favorite element of narrative at least: character development (often merely an excuse for screenwriters with no skill in economy). But I digress.
Because we are still in the phase of Frontier wherein the protagonists are picking up their first offensive artifacts, their ‘Spirits’, not much of consequence occurs in this episode. Koji’s train ends up depositing him at a station near the Soyokaze Village: a now decrepit wasteland whose past opulence is evidenced merely by the presence of a large world-tree and world-weary Floramon. These depressed denizens despair at their town’s loss of vitality since the arrival of Cherubimon drove the Mushroomon Brothers to evil, and more specifically to the destruction of all of the greenery in the Village.
Elsewhere, Takuya and his crew travel by foot along the tracks toward the Forest Terminal. They meet a fork in the tracks, the left of which veers off toward the Soyokaze Village and the large world-tree. The right veers off toward the cruel desert, but is the direction that they were counseled to follow at the denouement of the previous episode. Zoe, J.P., Bokomon and Neemon decide to head left and use their common sense to reach Soyokaze Village where they meet up with Koji before he departs on his own to investigate the barren trees in the forest surrounding the Village. Zoe and her gang eat lunch with the Floramon and hear tell of their situation with the Mushroomon. Their vittles for this meal consist of a stew created by absorbing pears and other fruit within the Venus Fly-trap-like head compartments of the Floramon, which creates a fermented, presumably sweet stew much to the children’s liking viscerally speaking. Though the very thought of this stew’s formation is a little sickening to say the least.
Takuya and Tommy find no end to their travels along the desert tracks. However, the world does fragment eventually, creating an earthquake that leaves the two no path forward for exploration. As such, they return back along the tracks and toward the Soyokaze Village where they will reunite with their friends after the events of the story, thereby missing out on seeing Zoe finding her ‘Spirit’ and doling out a beating to the Mushroomon Brothers.
As for that narrative, it begins as Zoe offers up J.P.’s services as a digger of holes for planting of flowers, the digging being much too vigorous for the petal arms of the Floramon to achieve unassisted. The Mushroomon Brothers do not take kindly to this assistance and arrive to destroy the work. All the while, Koji, who had previously heard them speaking in the woods, hides behind in the forest to assist the other Digidestined is the need arises. J.P.’s D-Tector alights on the H Spirit of Wind within a hollow of the world-tree of Soyokaze Village. But in the time of need, this spirit flies past J.P. and toward its true owner, Zoe. She Spirit Evolves into Kazemon and defeats the Mushroomon who then fuse together to form the Champion-level Woodmon.
This new Digimon’s defenses are particularly well suited against the air-based attacks of the Legendary Warrior of Wind, and as such, Kazemon is defeated. Luckily, Koji’s spirit evolution Lobomon has no such problem and is able to defeat Woodmon, absorb his Fractal Code, return the Mushroomon to their senses as good friends to the Floramon, and finally release the Fractal Code to restore all greenery to the Village. Koji decides not to stick around any longer however, and instead heads off toward the Forest Terminal as advised by the voice of his D-Tector.
The episode ends shortly thereafter as Takuya and Tommy arrive, having missed everything. J.P. stands aloof from the rest as the only Digidestined of the core group who still remains unable to Spirit Evolve. Based on the name of the following episode, this dearth of ability will not last for very long.
As this review is pretty short, I’ll explain a bit of lore to those relatively new to the series. A central question to everything that has occurred thus far in Digimon Frontier might be this: How can the children fuse with the ‘Spirits’ of the Legendary Warriors in the first place? The question seems straightforward enough, but relies on quite a few assumptions and pieces of knowledge that one needs to unpack before tackling it head on.
First off, Digimon do not typically die forever. Instead, when they are defeated they return to the Digimon nursery as Data where they re-form as DigiEggs that can then be nurtured and hatched into weak Baby-level Digimon. These then gain experience, become In-Training Digimon, Rookies, Champions, and so on, until they once again reach the strength of their former glory. This should be the case for the Legendary Warriors no matter how long ago they defeated Lucemon. As such, there are a few possibilities as to their inability to restore themselves as Digimon. First, Cherubimon has destroyed the Digimon nursery. Second, the Frontier Universe has no Digimon nursery and operates based on different rules (e.g. Digimon ceasing to exist in their current form once being defeated totally). Third, Lucemon has returned and bound the Legendary Warriors in their current forms to prevent them from returning. Four, the Legendary Warriors bound themselves in line with some prophecy that they must unite with the power of human beings to defeat the new evil on the rise in the Digital World.
The first option is possible. The second probably isn’t because Bokomon said that Cerberumon would probably be back even after he was defeated by Agunimon in episode 01. The third makes little sense because if Lucemon were able to defeat and bind the Legendary Warriors, it would be a much better option to destroy them totally, rather than leaving behind artifacts of them that could be used to fight against Lucemon once more (a caveat here is that Lucemon may have overlooked this possibility). Finally, the fourth possibility is also just that.
Next up, the Digidestined are able to fuse with the Legendary Warriors because each child has some link to each warrior based on their character and because they are destined to do so. This is why other Digimon are unable to harness the Legendary Warrior’s powers. The Digidestined can literally fuse with the Data of the Legendary Warriors because of the Technology of the D-Tector and the fact that humans in the Digital World are no longer flesh and blood, but have been transformed into Data themselves. This is coincidentally why Tai and Matt could fuse with their Digimon partners inside the net in Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, but not in the real world in Digimon Adventure 02: Revenge of Diaboromon.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Check out part 2 HERE)
Last episode, I wrote a little bit about the series’ director for Digimon Frontier whose Anime CV before work on the Digimon franchise seemed oddly devoid of recognizable work and thereby vexing insofar as the reasons the Akiyoshi Hongo team had for hiring him in the first place.
As for Sukehiro Tomita, the head writer of Digimon Frontier, none of the concerns are applicable in the slightest. Before work on the series, Tomita’s writing resume for anime reaches back 25 years to 1977. In 1981, Tomita wrote 13 episodes for his first notable project Space Runaway Ideon. In the following years, his talents would contribute scripts for the either the majority of episodes or as the head series’ writer on the following shows and films, amongst others, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Aura Battler Dunbine, Super Space Fortress Macross, Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Yu Yu Hakusho, and tons of work for various incarnations of the Sailor Moon franchise. Needless to say, Tomita was a talented addition to the Digimon franchise whose work’s quality would never really be in question. This latter quality was probably a necessary one in the head writer position for Digimon Frontier to strike a balance between himself and the director of the series.
After the events of the previous episode, the Digidestined team is split in two once more as the lone wolf Koji runs off on his own again. Takuya and his crew, meanwhile, head back to Flame Terminal where Neemon tells J.P. that he can return home using the present Trailmon Franken-type variant. And J.P. would have probably taken the train back home if Tommy was still up to return with him. But the events of the previous two episodes have inspired Tommy to find his own Digimon ‘Spirit’ to pay back Takuya for saving his life from Cerberumon. Because Tommy remains behind, so too does J.P., and just like that, the team is back together.
Bokomon asks the kids if they will help him to retrieve the Fractal Code to return the Digital World back to proper order in lieu of Cherubimon’s chaos. They agree and shortly thereafter, their D-Tectors alight, telling them to head next toward the Forest Terminal (thus far, there is little of the freedom of travel that was present in Adventure or Tamers). We will later learn just who the voice of the D-Tector really is, but for now, the Digidestined just follow marching orders without questioning anything.
Along the way, they find a Candlemon Village wherein a stone carving of Lucemon and the 10 symbols of the Legendary Warriors is found. Bokomon explains, as ‘Keeper of the Book’, that in the ancient Digital World there was once a war between the Humanoid Digimon and the Beast-type Digimon that seemed interminable and ultimately unwinnable without the extinction of one of the groups. Lucemon appeared and somehow managed to quell the fighting and to restore peace to the world. However, Lucemon let the power go to his head and eventually became a tyrant of the Digital World. Legend goes that ten warriors arose to battle Lucemon, to defeat and bind him. These Digimon succeeded in their goal and restored peace to the world.
As the generations passed, these Legendary Warriors disappeared from the world or went into hiding. At this time, Cherubimon made his appearance in the Digital World and once again plunged it toward disarray. The new prophecy goes that the ten Legendary Warriors will once again rise up to save to world. When Zoe and Tommy recognize two of the symbols of the Legendary Warriors as those of Agunimon and Lobomon, it becomes apparent exactly how the Legendary Warriors plan to return to restore order and peace to the world: through fusion with ten courageous human children.
As Bokomon digresses, the Candlemon appear to the children and their friends. But they do not come in peace. Instead, these Candlemon, at the request of their elder, attack the Digidestined (though they inexplicably leave Bokomon and Neemon alone) prompting them to jump into the river passing through the village center and swim beneath the currents to avoid attacks from Candlemon along the way.
Eventually, Takuya decides to Spirit Evolve into Agunimon to fight off the Candlemon and to give his friends time to escape from the overwhelming numbers of Candlemon in the village. The gambit pays off as it leads the others to an ice cave wherein Tommy finds his H Spirit of Ice to Spirit Evolve into Kumamon, but it leaves Agunimon open to attack. Agunimon, as a fire Digimon, has no attacks that deal damage to the Candlemon. However, he is subject to the paraffin wax damage of Candlemon, and worse, when the wax melts it immobilizes him.
When Kumamon shows up, he is able to freeze the Candlemon who defeated his friend by encasing the diminutive little Digimon in a block of ice. This frees Agunimon from his own bondage just in time to face off against a Candlemon who Digivolves to Wizardmon and uses his magic to create dozens of illusory Wizardmon copies. Kumamon-Tommy uses his ingenuity to recognize Wizardmon’s weakness: Only the original has a shadow! Agunimon attacks the proper the Wizardmon, forcing him to revert back to his Rookie-level as Candlemon and simultaneously releasing Wizardmon’s stored Fractal Code.
While this Fractal Code initially seems like a plot-hole as only malevolent Digimon like Cerberumon and Raremon (Pagumon) previously released Fractal Code they had managed to store up by destroying the Digital World, it is revealed that this Candlemon had Fractal Code because of his designation as Candlemon Village’s protector. Once released, the Fractal Code creates a bridge from the domain of the Candlemon to the land of Forest Terminal: Code that Candlemon hid and protected to prevent their village from being discovered from evil Digimon. Furthermore, we learn that the Candlemon are not evil like the Pagumon from Forest Terminal Island. No, the Candlemon merely meant to test the Digidestined to find out if they were truly the new incarnations of the Legendary Warriors, and if they were, they would have freely handed over their ‘Ancient Artifact’ (Presumably the H Spirit of Ice). This all sounds a bit like too little too late explanation from a defeated group who wishes to prevent their further destruction at the hands of a just and powerful enemy, but the Digidestined accept it as true, so I guess we’ll just have to as well.
Outside the village, the Trailmon Franken-variant is seen crossing the newly restored bridge. Its only passenger: Koji.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
(Catch Episode 1 HERE)
Digimon Frontier’s production is something of an oddity to me. Not only did it go all in on the Human-Digimon fusion mechanic at a very basic level of the series’ operation, but it changed the Digidestined formula from one of Predetermination of a few children as the chosen ones toward a new formula wherein all children of Tokyo had the chance to become a Digidestined given their willingness to embrace the text-quest game and enter the trains at the Shibuya Station Underground Terminal (needless to say, NGE’s Shinji would have stayed home).
Another oddity is the series director Yukio Kaizawa. He began work for the Digimon Franchise initially as the head director of Digimon Tamers. On Frontier and later, on Xros Wars, he also was sleighted as head director. However, before his work on Tamer’s, Kaizawa’s career showed little promise. He had been directing anime since 1986, but only on franchise’s that few Westerners would be apt to recognize like Maple Town, Majikaru Taruruto-kun, and Jigoku sensei Nube (Congrats. If you know any of these series you a better weeb than I). How such a director could be hired to helm one of Toei’s most popular and commercially viable series with so little relevant previous expertise is a story that needs to be researched and told (and if anyone reading this post has information regarding this development, and ultimately successful choice by the Digimon franchise, please don’t hesitate to send that information my way).
After Takuya defeated the Ultimate-level Cerberumon (again, in episode 01!) using his H Spirit Evolution form of Agunimon, he returns back to his human form as Takuya. Immediately, he has the response that I imagine all real kids would have after turning into a Digimon and succeeding in one’s first battle: He is in awe and super excited. Takuya toys with his D-Tector in an attempt to revert back to Agunimon, and instead presses a button combination on his device that releases the Fractal Code absorbed after defeating Cerberumon. This code transforms Flame Terminal Island into a peninsula once more attached to the the main adjacent landmass.
During this segment, we learn a bit of backstory about what has happened in the Digital World to make it fragment so. Bokomon, the self-described ‘Keeper of the Book’, explains that the Digital World was once peaceful and in proper order until the arrival of Cherubimon whose demicky disposition somehow triggered the current situation. If the book is this vague about the events in the Digital World’s deep past, then no wonder no Digimon has been able to restore the world to its former glory: You can’t really fix a problem until you diagnose it first.
Although Koji previously left the Shibuya Station Underground Terminal from a different, albeit adjacent, train to that in which Takuya and his crew traveled, he somehow arrives at Flame Terminal nonetheless. Furthermore, instead of being informed by his Trailmon train about the necessity of tracking down a ‘Spirit’ to survive in the Digital World, his D-Tector’s voice gives him this information and even manifests a tracker application to help him find it. While the latter option is pretty helpful, the former feels like a Deus ex Machina of the sort of a bad DM in D&D might introduce to prevent players from straying from the ‘established’ game path, but whatevs.
For some reason, Takuya, Zoe, Bokomon, and Neemon split off from J.P. and Tommy to investigate the Poyomon and Pagumon town on Flame Terminal while the latter traverse the woods, searching all the way for a way to return home. J.P. uses his large number of chocolate bars as barter for information from a Pagumon on how to return home, finds out that the trains ought to be able to do so, and then ventures out to bribe a train to bring them back home using two more chocolate bars. Trailmon has, unfortunately, been advised by the powers that be not to return any children to the Real World and only to serve as a one-way path to the Digital World. As such, Trailmon rides off after eating the chocolate bars, leaving J.P. and Tommy at the mercy of increasingly greedy Pagumon who have heard about the delicious candy on J.P.’s person.
Meanwhile, Koji’s tracker leads him into an Underground Labyrinth of machines wherein his H Spirit of Light supposedly resides. J.P. and Tommy find themselves within the passageways after falling through the ground in the forest whilst running from the Pagumon, and eventually Takuya, Zoe, and the others find this entrance and drop down likewise to save their friends. However, before Takuya and his crew can arrive to help J.P. and Tommy in the maze, the latter are attacked once more by a group of Pagumon and Koji intervenes, fighting off the demonic little In-training Digimon with a metal pole qua staff and his honed martial arts skills.
When Takuya arrives, the Pagumon mob is still not beaten, and what’s worse, one has Digivolved into the Champion-level acid-spitting Raremon whose power is well beyond the ability of an unassisted human being to defeat. Takuya manages to Spirit evolve once more into Agunimon, but not for long as his energy levels have already been used up by his fight against Cerberumon mere hours previously. In the course of the battle, Koji falls into a pit in the center of the room and finds the H Spirit of Light. Using his D-Tector he Spirit evolves into Lobomon for the first time and makes short work of the Champion-level Raremon (as has already been established, he could potentially make short work of an Ultimate if need be).
After Lobomon reverts to his human form as Koji, he reflects his lone wolf status by begrudgingly explaining that his debt to Takuya for momentarily saving him as Agunimon before Koji was able to take over the fight as Lobomon has now been paid by defeating Raremon. Koji splits off from the rest of the group, which won’t be much of a problem for Takuya’s crew as they have two Digimon and one human who can Spirit Evolve (viz. Takuya himself). However, Koji, now alone, will not be able to Spirit evolve until he regains his energy from the previous fight. Hopefully, his stubborn lone wolf nature won”t lead him to a bad end.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
Digimon Frontier is the fourth series in the popular Digimon: Digital Monsters franchise. Whereas the previous Digimon Adventure (encompassing two different series within the same universe) and Digimon Tamers involved young human characters (Digidestined) who connect and partner with Digital Monsters in order to save both the Real World and the Digital World, Digimon Frontier changes the dynamics of the game. This time around, the Digidestined are drawn into the Digital World in order to track down ‘Spirits’ of Ancient Legendary Warrior Digimon that can be scanned into one’s Digivice to transform the Digidestined themselves into Spirit Transformed beasts with awesome power.
The episode opens onto our first protagonist Takuya running through the streets of Tokyo toward Jiyuugaoka Station in the Meguro Ward. A child drops his soccer ball and Takuya runs to catch it, but finds himself immediately in mortal danger as a large truck comes careening around the corner toward him.
Flashback to a few minutes previous. Takuya is reclining at home when he receives a mysterious message asking him if he wants to start. Takuya responds in the affirmative and is prompted by another message to head toward a specific station platform.
Flash-forward. Takuya makes it to the station with one minute to spare only to find he forgot to bring money with which to purchase a ticket. Distraught, he headbutts the ticket machine, which prompts it to glow redly before administering a Red Ticket unlike those all surrounding would-be passengers. Takuya takes the ticket on faith and tries it at the turnstile. He is admitted onto the station platform and barely makes it onto the train before its doors shut.
From here, Takuya is prompted to change trains at the next station and head toward Shibuya Station. but he is unfamiliar with this part of town and unable to traverse it quickly enough without using an time-losing aid like the station map (which must first be tracked down). Instead, he scans the current train and finds another young kid like himself who seems to be hyper-fixated on his cell phone (a sign then- in 2004- that this kid might have received the same message, but one that would be of little help today when 99% of that subway’s denizens would all be hyper-fixated on their phones). Takuya follows this kid and makes his way successfully to an elevator, which spits the two out onto a seemingly secret Underground Platform in the Shibuya Station (known colloquially as the D-Terminal: a nod to the Japanese connection cable that links one to the internet, amongst other things).
The D-Terminal contains 12 separate railways spread centrifugally from the elevator at the station’s centre. Many children are found throughout the station, revealing thereby that in this case, many kids were called by the Digital World to become potential Digidestined. Only those who chose to take up the challenge and made it to this terminal have the chance of a lifetime. But there is little time to lose as the earliest trains are already beginning to depart the station. Takuya, and the kid he was following who we will later learn is Koji, run off toward the trains and end up on parallel lines rather than the same line as Takuya had hoped. From here onward, Takuya and Koji’s story’s split ways for a time and Takuya once more becomes the central focus of the narrative.
when Takuya boarded his train, it was already taking off, so he only managed to grab onto the back of it. As he enters the cabins, he eventually finds three other riders: Zoe, J.P., and Tommy. The first two are affable enough, though Tommy is the youngest and reveals he was bullied into entering the train and wants more than anything else to return home. In a word, he is the cry-baby who will have to come up against challenge after challenge within the Digital World before gaining the strength of character and courage to take up the helm as a true Digidestined.
Along the way, a flock of flying Poyomon are seen outside and interpreted as either ghosts of children who made this trip and failed to return home. Though the burly J.P. likes to think of them as marshmallows that would be great with chocolate sauce. Also along the way, the train reaches a rough section through a tunnel where the four children fall from their seats to the cabin floor below. Takuya notices, for a brief moment, that his fellow traveler’s appearances glitch heavily and reveal a layer of themselves as Digimon, after which their cellphones morph into D-Tectors (the newest form of the Digivice). Once the trip draws to a close, the children find themselves at Flame Terminal near a village of malevolent and more-generally mean-spirited Pagumon who tell the Digidestined horrible tales about the Digital World and how they will most likely not survive their sojourn therein. The kids also find that their train was no mere human creation, but a variant of the Champion-level Trailmon with the appearance of a Worm not unlike those on Arrakis (Dune) or in the Hollywood film series Tremors.
After the train leaves the station, Tommy tries to follow it back home along the tracks. This is a precarious situation as the tracks are hundreds of feet above the ground resting, as it were, in mid-air. As Takuya tries to coax Tommy off of the tracks by referring to a vague premonition from Trailmon that the only way they will survive is by tracking down the ‘spirits’, Bokomon and Neemon appear, bowling over Takuya in the process. They are being chased by a dangerous Ultimate-level Darkness-type Digimon known as Cerberumon (named after the Greek three-headed dog monster Cerberus) who seemingly has the power to absorb data from the world around him and destroy it irreparably (which explains why the land beneath the train tracks is missing). As Takuya, Tommy, Bokomon, and Neemon fall below the tracks to the one area that is not hundreds of feet below, Takuya’s D-Tector senses a force in the vicinity.
Perched on a platform mere yards from Takuya is a Spirit Crest covered in flames. The object calls out to Takuya and he enters the flames that Cerberumon finds unbearable. Takuya has a spiritual encounter with the Legendary Warrior housed within, Agunimon, and in this spirit vision he becomes one with the crest before Cerberumon can destroy it. Takuya exits the flames, unburned, and uses his D-Tector to Spirit Evolve into Agunimon and take down Cerberumon. This is no mean feat as all previous protagonists in the Digimon franchise began their battling careers with Baby, In-training, or Rookie-level partners fighting only slightly stronger foes. The ease of which Agunimon finds the dispensation of an Ultimate-level powerhouse like Cerberumon is testament to the starting strength of our Frontier protagonists and a sign of good fights to come.
The episode ends as Agunimon absorbs the ‘Fractal Code’ (or Data) of Cerberumon and once more becomes Takuya as he and the others depart the station. Koji’s Trailmon (an Angler variant), meanwhile, arrives at its own station someplace away in the Digital World.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody