Visually excellent, but hollow in nearly every other respect
I'll admit to being very prepared to rip on this episode for containing the dumbest introduction for a mega-level digimon in the series (an opinion I still hold). However, it gets much right on the technical level and has enough strong moments to just avoid real panning. There's not really much to the story; it's just a matter of getting Calumon out of a chasm. Surrounding that, there are some unsettling indicators as to how dangerous the D-Reaper is, such as Baihumon's exhausted state and the chaos mass deleting some rocks. Unfortunately, this doesn't make us care for Ryo's subplot, which is only exacerbated by Ebonwumon thick-as-tar accents. We also get a look into the more disconcerting aspects of Jeri's life, which will become important later, but should have been established earlier. As it is, just mentioning them like this is too casual, Bridgette Hoffman's acting efforts notwithstanding.
As said, the bulk of the matter concerns the efforts to get Calumon out of a ravine. The scenes within this place look great, atmospheric without being overbearing, and Sakuyamon's evolution footage is very pleasing to the eye, perhaps the best in the whole season. It's a shame, then, that everything leading up to it so unabashedly acts more complementary or profound than it actually is. True, Rika's concern for Jeri leads to a brief discussion on destiny, which is mentioned again before the big leap, but when you get down to it her actions and motivations that trigger the bio-merging are fundamentally no different from 90% of what kids in this franchise have done: face danger steadfastly. In this case, it's just dressed up in the infantile form of a popular sci-fi/fantasy theme. When you consider how lite a presence Rika has become since the arrival in the Digital World and how well Takato's recent bio-merging enhanced his character, that's a real problem. It doesn't enhance her relationship with Renamon, which is only perfunctorily brought up at the 11th hour when Rika refuses to retreat. Honestly, this would have been much more impressive if Renamon were the one who decided to stay and fight, only to have Rika follow her, but even that wouldn't have fixed the forced connection with Rika's other concerns. I've heard the claim that Rika's willingness to sacrifice herself complements her overall character arc, but I disagree. The relevant type of self-sacrifice requires that the person in question deliberately take the full force of any negative effects and spare everyone else of them. The classic example is leaping onto a grenade. In order for this to apply, the notion needed to exist in Rika's mind that her leaping into the Chaos would have saved everyone even without the bio-merging, which is definitely not the case. It's analogous to keeping your fingers crossed for a surge of adrenaline.
Given that this choppy effort is the last Rika-centered episode, I'll take a moment to comment on her general character arc. There is definitely a good outline here, with her relationships and the notion of becoming a more caring person, but all of this stuff feels eviscerated, without substance or weight. Consider her interactions with her mom, which are always too brief, or her friendship with Jeri, which unfolds without any individuality save for its brief bookends. As Takato has mostly gone through the mechanical process of becoming braver, Rika has mostly gone through the mechanical process of becoming more compassionate, and that just fails to grab my interest. Ryo's presence is still not what I'd call helpful, although the way that he and Cyberdramon hold back the chaos is fairly clever.
The scene where Jeri hugs Rika in relief doesn't ring true, and makes me cringe every time. It implies that Jeri's appreciation for the friends she has left will be crucial to her recovery, which obviously doesn't happen. An action like this sticks out like a poison-dart frog in this phase of her story, and just reminds us of a more productive route that could have been taken with her. All the more irritating is the fact that what Rika discusses with Renamon would have been valuable for Jeri to hear, yet she doesn't say anything because of a rather bad ancillary point made by the mystic fox. All of these character missteps notwithstanding, this episode gets a pass for its technical aptitude.
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