In this episode, a bunch of disagreeable, unhappy children are dropped in the middle of a decaying world with no instructions and no way to defend themselves.
Digimon Frontier gets off to a really trippy start. Normally the process of selecting the digidestined is an intimate process behind closed doors, made well before we see any contact with the real world. Here we get to see an initial qualification process and a bunch of kids are shipped to the Digital World before fate chooses the five that will stick around and save the day.
In order to be Japan's Next Top Digidestined, your first challenge is to haul ass and board a train leaving in a few minutes. This part is beautiful. Everybody in the surrounding area apparently gets an alert on their phones, and it's up to each person to consciously make the decision to heed the call towards a train. Once the digidestined are culled from those who make it on board, they're stuck in the Digital World. And unlike the digidestined in Adventure and Zero Two, they chose this.
Granted, Takuya chose this only because he was bored waiting for his brother's birthday to start. Yes, he passes up free cake for this! He also nearly gets hit by a truck, barely makes two trains, dives into an elevator and risks head trauma at least three times. All of this is solely in the interest of something to do and curiosity. There's no implicit altruism in any of this. Takuya's just chasing the rabbit down the hole because he has nothing better to do.
What's strange about this introductory episode is that none of the primary characters are presented as endearing... at all. Takuya's just seeking a thrill. Koji's cold and indifferent. JP's kind of an asshole (and possibly a sexual predator). Zoe's flighty and initially conspires with JP to ignore Tommy. Tommy's really bad- a blubbering mess that was bullied onto the train and wants no business with any of this. At one point, he climbs onto a narrow, physics-defying rail, comforted by the fact that if he falls to his certain death, at least he won't be there anymore. There's something seriously wrong with this kid.
It's the exact opposite approach that we usually see from cast introductions. Normally, a main character's first major appearance shows how awesome they are, with maybe a wart or two to add intrigue. Putting their worst foot forward is a bold move, in many ways a sign of the franchise's maturity. They trust that the audience will recognize that following these characters is a commitment, ultimately rewarded when their strengths shine and they evolve into better people. Without having to worry about selling the characters, the episode instead focuses on selling the concepts.
One thing's for sure, these concepts are sold well. The main Trailmon featured in this episode has a distinctive personality. Even with no words, you can sense that the Trailmon carrying Koji would have a different distinctive personality. As they approach the refinery-like Flame Terminal, there's a big gaping hole in the entire world. Right off the bat we know something's not right here, with no words necessary. These striking holes will permeate throughout the season.
The concept that needs the hardest sell gets it. The intensity of the first encounter and the mystique of the Spirits support the notion of humans becoming Digimon. Takuya runs into a nasty Cerberumon in a fight that manages to get more intense than past opening battles. He's forced to show some serious courage standing up to it with a lead pipe, which leads to him discovering his Spirit and just going with the rest. The fight is brutal as Cerberumon drags Agunimon down into a void, cutting him up and demonstrating just how much danger these kids are going to be in. It's an eye opening early glimpse of the implications of spirit evolution, making this adventure seem very real.
My Grade: A-
- I wonder about the implications of every phone going off simultaneously with such a cryptic message. That has to have some buzz among the adults, and at least one camera crew or ambitious blogger would go to Shibuya Station to see what all the hubbub is about.
- When Takuya's mom is scolding her husband for not being home for Shinya's birthday, one of the lines she throws out refers to the kids being “away at camp.” If that's not a throwback reference to Adventure... stay tuned because there will be more later.
- There's a strange symbol on the door of the train car Takuya enters. It looks more like a Playstation cheat code than proper digicode (it goes Square-Triangle-X-O-O) and I haven't found anything on line translating it.
- JP and Zoe comment on this train being closest to the elevator. First off, all the trains seemed to be arranged in a semi-circle equidistant to the elevator. Secondly, if it is the closest train to the elevator, why aren't more kids on it? More importantly, if the Digital World is looking for digidestined who will go the extra mile to fulfill their destiny, why choose the group that didn't feel like walking very far?
- When Tommy goes into his high-wire theatrics, JP's line about “rescuing the baby” is filled with such bitterness that you end up hating both of them more. Here's to delightful internal conflict!
- I was all set to give Zoe a pass on the “not endearing” thing until she started fawning over Agunimon. That got her on the list. JP was already on it, but his visible dismay in Zoe's fawning over Agunimon didn't help.