Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: Digimon Frontier
Anime Studio: Toei Animation
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Fantasy / Adventure
Released: October 29th 2018
Running Time: 1250 mins
Extras: None on discs provided
Five kids from the Real World have been called to the Digital World to acquire the ‘legendary spirits’ to save the Digital World from one of the three Holy Angels, Cherubimon, who has revolted against the other two. Takuya, Kouji, Izumi, Junpei and Tomoki are the five Chosen Children from the Real World that have to use the spirits to ‘Spirit Evolve’ into the legendary warriors themselves.
With the first episode airing mere months after the finale of Digimon Tamers, Digimon Frontier continued the trend of moving the franchise in a different direction by way of an alternate universe. It was also the first Digimon series to be entirely dubbed by Disney, with Sensation Animation being delegated the job. Sensation Animation, for what it’s worth, were composed of members of Saban Entertainment and were actually responsible for the final episodes of Digimon Tamers.
This time around, the writing credits go to Sukehiro Tomita, who was also responsible for some parts of Sailor Moon and Yu Yu Hakusho. If those credits weren’t a big clue, this led to Frontier being tonally very different to Tamers. For me, that isn’t by default a bad thing. Experimentation can be good for a series, and it certainly helps things avoid stagnation. That all being said, there is a little of a step back towards the original two series here. In particular, we see the return of The Village of Beginnings, where all Digimon are born and go to to be reborn after death. While the sacrifices made by various characters do still pack a punch, knowing that the could return however many days or years later, does make things feel less impactful than the perma-death of Tamers. The style of the show feels a little more cartoony at times too, with the ever present Trailmon being prime examples of this when compared to the likes of Renamon and Beelzemon.
That’s not to say that it’s all a return to the old style though, as there are plenty of really interesting ideas here. The inclusion of the Fractal Codes, for example, is a nice touch. Acting as not only a building block for the Digital World itself, but also as being part of the reason for the Spirit Evolution concept, it’s a concept that helps flesh out the world as a whole. And as to the aforementioned Spirit Evolution … that’s something that divides fans. The idea is that instead of having partner Digimon, the child protagonists here use their D-Tectors (their version of a Digivice) and Fractal Codes to transform into Digimon.
Here’s the thing: that isn’t an entirely new concept. Not only do we have the Biomerge evolutions of Tamers, but Yukio Oikawa in Digimon Adventure Zero Two also merged with Miyotismon. Of course, it never went to quite this level before. Here, the children have two Digimon forms – human and beast, mirroring the civil war from the series lore – that they must find as they go along. Whether this is a bad thing for you or not will likely depend on first, how much importance you placed on the child/partner relationship, and secondly, how willing you are to put this aside. It’s a very different dynamic, but one that fits more neatly alongside Western series more. I mean, how many teen heroes are there out there? And of course, the same can be applied to non-monster related anime, especially in the shounen category.
Another big change is that Frontier takes a slightly softer approach to some of the darker moments. Without spoiling things, there are certainly a few atypical Digimon franchise style moments relating to the children’s real world families, but rather than pull the trigger on it all, it backtracks and gives a happy resolution. This was, in my opinion, a shame, but it does make things more child friendly in the eyes of some, which should be seen as a good thing if you’re looking at this as potential family viewing rather than a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
So, everything so far in the series is decidedly divisive. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that things go down a road that will either be loved or hated by many viewers. Unfortunately, other than some decent animation, the remaining points to broach aren’t so much divisive as they are simply an outright mixed bag. Take the dubbed cast for example. The protagonists are certainly fine, but some of the villains come across as a bit too goofy for my liking. The real shame there is that there are scenes where the antagonists could be creepy if it weren’t for the gimmicky voice that they’ve been given. Meanwhile, Frontier continues the trend of keeping the major plot points intact. What that means is that we get to see the wonderful ideas that permeate the world, but also see the inconsistent pacing that runs throughout the story. As a result, we get everything from promising beginnings to long runs of filler, and all the way back to an excellent ending arc, complete with some tearjerker moments. In a way, you almost wish they’d made a few more changes to try to tidy things up a bit, or even just condensed some arcs down.
On the definitely positive side though, the dubbed version does see the removal of some questionable content, getting rid of some fan service based around eleven year old protagonist Zoe Orimoto. It should also be noted that Frontier features by far the best of the dubbed theme songs in the form of ‘A World For Us All’. There are lots of little nods to the original seasons to be found in the background for long term fans too, including a bittersweet cameo from Gatomon and Wizardmon.
But where does that leave Digimon Frontier as a whole? It’s certainly weaker than its predecessor, and I can’t help but think that the mixed reception it had is part of why there was a three year hiatus before the next – and in my opinion superior – season Digimon Savers/Data Squad finally aired. However, Digimon Frontier is not without its charm. Even with all its faults, there is plenty of fun to be had, and the finale is more than worth a watch for fans of the franchise. For all those positives, it’s worth a 3.75 out of 5.