In this episode, the dub of Digimon Frontier is somehow responsible for making it harder to give due reverence to an intense personal tragedy.
There's something taboo about calling this a trite episode. It wouldn't be wrong though. It does nothing to advance the plot directly. Marcus, Thomas and Yoshi continue toward the mountain while Keenan and Gotsumon watch on, confident they'll never get past the Fire Swamp. The trio are caught and tied up as they face a nasty psychic assault that forces them to face their nightmares. They work it out, Thomas triggers a new evolution in the process and they continue storming the castle. We've seen all this before, and it has all the makings of a very forgettable episode. It shows that sometimes a good presentation can make up for a lot of shortcomings.
Dokugumon has been a reliable monster of the week since season one, consistently scaring the bejeezus out of the good guys. How crazy is it that a horde of them are the least of our concerns? Their ambush overwhelms the group, resulting in the humans left dangling and the Digimon trapped and stuck to watch their partners suffer through the cavalcade of nightmares. This is a neat trick, as usually anyone dealing with this sort of thing is either alone or anyone surrounding them is interacting with them in some way. Instead, the Digimon are left helpless, resigned to watch and comment on what kind of hell they imagine their partners going through. These reactions help sell just how nasty a predicament everybody's in.
Far too often, the problem with these kinds of episodes are that the characters are thrown into a very dire situation, but since it's not a pivotal moment in the series it isn't treated with any sort of gravity. It's an adventure show, so life-threatening peril happens all the time, but unless it's a climactic boss battle nobody acts like their lives are in any real danger. It's particularly a problem in many episodes featuring a debut evolution as one of the ingredients is serious duress despite the episode being otherwise routine. The key to the episode's success is that it doesn't shy away from what's actually happening. The Digimon are horrified by what's going on and the three humans grimace and sweat through the whole affair.
Even with the exact same voice as Cherubimon, MetalPhantomon sells his part, with descriptions from Gaomon and Gotsumon covering his credentials. It's hard to argue about the legitimacy of someone who is said to suck away the essence of human hearts, then proceeds to do so in violent fashion. Forcing each of the three humans through this works in many ways. While Marcus and Yoshi aren't the focus of this episode, it's still an important window into their psyche. Marcus's nightmare, while not earth-shattering, is a nice composite of previously encountered Digimon and the way he secretly worries about his family. Yoshi's nightmare isn't wild either, but it hints at some hidden angst that shows they're at least making at effort at giving her some depth. It's certainly enough to seep her energy to the point where she's not instantly better at the end of the episode. Yoshi's so drained that it causes continuity. I know, right?
But of course it's all about Thomas. Even as an adult with the same voice as Koichi and as a child with the same voice as Lucemon, Thomas's nightmare is chilling as he's forced to bear witness to his mother's death for a second time. As rational as he is, he should have figured out that he has no way of changing the past, but he tries and tries, every failure drawing him closer and closer to the moment he doesn't want to see again. It's one of the more tragic family deaths we've seen (and that's saying a lot) and it appears to break Thomas again. It doesn't because he's careful to include the memory of all the good times he had with his mother (cleverly included in the mundane introduction to his nightmare), but holy crap does it piss him off. No surprise that it prompts Gaomon's Ultimate level and the ass kicking that ensues.
My Grade: B+
- For everybody who dislikes this season for doing things too differently from previous seasons, the episode begins and ends with them wandering aimlessly through the desert. So there!
- We pick on Sunflowmon a lot, so we should give her credit for totally pwning the Dokugumon. We won't, because we observe that she can fly, and she's big enough to carry humans over a large gorge. We eviscerated Zoe for not flying over obstacles as Kazemon, so we have to chide Yoshi for the same thing here, especially given what they all went through as a result.
- Gaomon has to feel bewildered by all this. He has to witness Thomas's suffering, goes to Ultimate as a result (anyone notice the “warp digivolve” they snuck in there?) and can only speculate on what exactly caused such distress. It says a lot about him that he doesn't feel comfortable enough to ask.