Rei’s backstory feels all too familiar to Digimon fans. Touma’s dead mother strengthened the bond with his sibling. Takeru desired to keep his family together. Nene fought to rescue a captured brother. Kenji was naively tricked into solving a riddle to serve a dangerous AI program (Summer Wars is basically Digimon, right?). Despite striking a lot of the same notes, the combination of all of these paints a complex picture of Rei, both before and after his first run-in with Leviathan. Not content to stop there, Haru’s response to this knowledge sets him apart as well.
Something as traumatic as losing his entire family is usually enough to understand why someone is a stubborn ass. Sure was for Kiriha. But Rei’s determination to save Hajime and his inclination to push Haru away has nothing to do with losing his mother or his Leviathan business. Not only has he always been a stubborn ass, he’s a stubborn ass that refuses to seek help. His backstory illustrates not just his situation, but how he’s suffered because of who he is. You can admire the way he insists on taking care of Hajime alone, but help was available. The price, separation from Hajime, caused him to reject it, hacking official records to do so.
There are some sweet moments showing his commitment to being his brother’s new mommy, and these are worth filing away for later. The takeaway from those is right now is he’ll do anything for Hajime… except ask for help. When Rei’s new puzzle hobby isolates and later costs him Hajime, there’s a bit of poetic irony when Leviathan removes any trace of Hajime’s existence. Rei’s response is to scour the internet on his own looking for clues. He’s done well to get this far, but fighting Haru and stealing his chips feels more like the next step of a recurring pattern than the product of years of torment.
Once this leads to Sakusimon capturing him, it leaves the others with the chance to leave this meddlesome bully for dead. It’s not a tough choice for Eri and Tora, but Haru, realizing why Rei’s fighting, is more conflicted. It’s hard to say if his gut reaction was to go after Rei. There’s a sense of obligation in his speech, the notion that he agreed to play the role of the protagonist rather than follow his sidekick instincts. This means rather than exercising discretion, doing something strategically unwise to take a stand for a cause he felt strongly about. Most of the time characters aren’t aware of their own development, or only acknowledge it after the fact. Haru feels it brimming within him, and winning over everyone else and charging in after the kid who treated them so poorly is a huge step forward even he seems awed by.
So Haru charges in like the badass he is, uses the tools Dogatchmon provides, and rescues Rei in an action sequence that really stands out in its visual appeal. Sakusimon’s systematic destruction of Raidramon and explicit torture and promise to kill Rei leaves no doubt to the necessity of Haru’s intervention. The initial exchange knocks everybody down, but Haru and Dogatchmon protagonist their way back up, get reluctant support from Rei, and the App Linked Dogatchmon/Raidramon combo moves too fast and predicts Sakusimon’s movements to leave him an opening. It’s an incredible turnaround, and they don’t skimp on the consequences: Leviathan destroys Sakusimon before he can spill too much information.
Even if an episode justifying Rei ends up being stolen by Haru, Rei begrudgingly gets some development, assisting in the battle and giving Haru all three Seven Code chips as payment for saving his life. He’s still miserable and no closer to actually saving Hajime, and knowing what Leviathan probably wants with them doesn’t bode well for either. But for a show that again fell under the curse of a slow start, it’s radical progress that gets them right back on pace at the quarter pole.
My Grade: A-
- For a concept that is never really used this season, there’s too much talk about Raidramon eating Gatchmon and the other chips to grow stronger. It may be a common mechanic in mobile games, but outside Xros Wars and the absorption of deleted enemy data in Tamers only the most grotesque of villains stooped to this.
- Rei uses some wildly pragmatic justifications for not enlisting Haru’s help. He doesn’t want to explain Hajime because he doesn’t see any obvious benefit to it. It actually makes the well crafted, deep flashback seem out of place since Rei volunteering so much information feels unlikely.
- Digimon isn’t great about planting hidden seeds that turn out to be major hints at upcoming reveals. Everything’s either a very obvious clue (why yes, Yujin will be back next time, why do you ask?), the twists are totally out of left field, or there aren’t any surprises to begin with. The flashback is full of tiny hints about what was really going on with Leviathan’s capture of Hajime that don’t come out until much later.
- Gotta love how quickly Eri and Tora fall into their roles when they join Haru. Eri goes as the beautiful idol sidekick, complete with wind-whipping-through-hair shot, while Tora gets hyped on the idea of walking into a doomed battle.
- We love to joke about how much these kids suffer but Sakusimon is straight up electrocuting Rei as he’s tied up and that’s impressively extreme for Digimon, especially so relatively early on in the series.
- The melee fighting between Sakusimon and Xros Up Dogatchmon is incredible enough and really sells you on the idea of using CG animation for the higher forms. But the battle is also careful to show how Gatchmon’s searching, Navimon’s routing, and Raidramon’s speed and hacking all contribute to the victory. There’s a good battle psychologically there that we rarely ever see.