Friday, 8 October 2021

Anime REVIEW: Digimon Adventure:

Digimon Adventure:

The Digimon franchise has existed in many different forms over the years but when it comes to sheer popularity, most struggle to compete with the original Digimon Adventure. After being dragged out for six-part film series Digimon Adventure Tri. from 2015-2018 to celebrate the franchise's 15th anniversary and then for further sequel Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna in 2020, it seemed like Toei had exhausted everything they could do with the original Chosen Children - other than reboot the whole thing that is. Digimon Adventure: (also commonly known as Digimon Adventure (2020) to avoid confusion) began in April 2020 - bringing back the cast of the original series in an all-new story. The series ran for a total of 67 episodes, though a significant hiatus was taken after episode three due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taichi meets AgumonThe Chosen Children

In the year 2020, a series of cyber-attacks across Tokyo are the result of catastrophic events in the Digital World - another world within the internet where creatures called Digimon roam. One day Taichi Yagami is sucked into the Digital World, where he meets his partner Digimon Agumon and defeats a swarm of Argomon alongside another boy - Yamato Ishida and his partner Gabumon.

Shortly after while preparing for summer camp, the pair are sucked into the Digital World yet again - this time joined Sora Takenouchi, Koushiro Izumi, Mimi Tachikawa and Joe Kido. As well as meeting their partner Digimon, the six are presented with Digivices and told they are the chosen ones sent to save them from a great catastrophe. From here they begin to traverse the Digital World in search of answers, eventually being joined by a further two Chosen Childen - Yamato's brother Takeshi and Taichi's sister Hikari. With their respective partners, the children fight back against numerous evil forces that threaten the Digital World.

DevimonMillenniumon Rises

Straight off the bat if there's one thing Digimon Adventure: can't be accused of, it's slavishly copying the original. While the series may be classed as a reboot it it's about as far from a remake as you can get, using the same cast of characters to tell a totally different story. If the opening few episodes that solely focus on Taichi and Yamato weren't enough to convince you of that, then the appearance of Omegamon (a Digimon that didn't even appear until the movie in the original) as early as episode two certainly should. While there are still the core beats of the original series still there and for the most part the characters remain mostly unchanged, the direct parallels between the two Digimon Adventures are surprisingly sparse. And that's absolutely the way it should be, as it gives Digimon Adventure: the opportunity to properly stand on its own - having the nostalgia value for existing Digimon fans but also acting as a new version of the story for a new generation of fans.

Unfortunately however, Digimon Adventure: is a pretty troubled series in a myriad of ways. Given the two month delay between episodes three and four it's fair to say that the pandemic had a hand in the series coming out the way it did, but even then a lot of its flaw aren't that surprising with the precedent Digimon animation has set for itself in the past few years. Despite having such a strong mythos as well as really successful projects elsewhere (the recent string of video games for example), Digimon animation has really tried to ride on nostalgia alone. When all else fails, all it needs to do is bring out that original cast of characters and the crowd goes wild. But for some reason, it never quite hits the mark. You could argue that it's down to the lofty expectations of fans, but dissecting the flaws of Digimon Adventure: in particular show that there's a little more to it than that.

The Holy DigimonGoing Mega

It's not like the series was short of good ideas. One advantage Digimon Adventure: had over the original was being able to draw on decades' worth of Digimon content, and together with a bigger episode count it's fair to say it took advantage of that. With the majority of the series told via episodic stories, it featured an extremely diverse range of Digimon – from all the classics people who only watched the original series would recognise to key game characters (the Digimon World fan in me was ecstatic to see Jijimon appear) and more modern creations. It also greatly expanded on the mythos of the Digital World whilst drawing from elements that have become cemented over the years, such as offering its own take on Holy Digimon and knights. Even the fact that it took such a different approach to its story telling is a good idea in itself, making itself completely different from the original even where comparisons could be drawn. For example, Devimon's popularity meant he was a shoo in to appear in Digimon Adventure:, but whereas he was the Chosen Children's first opponent in the original series by the time he turned up here their Digimon partners had already unlocked their Ultimate levels. With the Champion level Devimon not really posing much of a threat in terms of power-scaling, the 2020 reboot played the character very differently – posing him as a shadowy menace before delving more into his relationship/parallels with Angemon and even raising the stakes with his own digivolutions.

But it was the failure to fully capitalise on these ideas that let Digimon Adventure: down, and its overall handling of digivolution and all the faucets that come with it is the perfect example of this. Looking back on it the 2020 reboot immediately stands out from the original simply for the fact it featured the mega evolutions for all eight of the Chosen Children's partner Digimon – something that wouldn't be (poorly) done until the Tri films with the original. But on top of that it also toyed with the idea of branching evolution – a concept which is extremely important to the franchise as a whole but much less significant in animation and barely acknowledged in the first Adventure. Presenting Pegasusmon as an alternate champion evolution for Patamon isn't just really cool to see it happen onscreen, it also helps preserve how important Angemon is. Similarly, seeing the likes of BlitzGreymon, CresGarurumon and even Ponchomon should have been really big moments. But while they certainly work as basic fanservice, they feel both hollow and detached from the story itself. In fact they're barely addressed within the narrative itself – acknowledged as one-off things that don't really serve to enrich the story in any way. 

PegausmonBlitzGreymon

It's that mindset that perhaps sums up Digimon Adventure: best – a series of one-off things that don't really enrich the overall product. Although the series has a number of "core" story arcs, as mentioned earlier the majority of it is actually episodic – taking select characters and putting them in different situations as they travel across the Digital World. On the one hand it works in making the Digital World (as well as the show itself) feel much bigger, but on the other it results in it being a pacing nightmare. The main story is completely pushed aside in favour of these episodic adventures, so a lot of the time it barely feels like it's moving at all. Once it does start going, things that could have easily been stretched out for tension or dramatic effect are resolved in a handful of episodes and the group are off on their next adventure – which again is drawn out by a focus on episodic stories. Arguably the show would have been much better without the overarching stories, because big things like Millenniumon, Negamon and even (to a lesser extent) Devimon turn out as some of its most forgettable elements. Without the narration constantly reminding viewers that the Chosen Children were on a much bigger quest, these smaller stories really would have been able to thrive.

But undoubtedly the biggest sin of all is the focus Digimon Adventure: put on Taichi and Agumon. Admittedly right from the beginning the production staff said this would be the case and it isn't all that surprising as throughout Digimon's history the goggle-wearing character has always effectively been the main protagonist, but fans weren't quite ready for just how bad things were going to be with this series. Despite the children actually being separated for a lot of the time, it was clearly a series mandate that the pair appear in every single episode – even if there's absolutely no reason for it. Even in episodes that specifically focus on other characters, they will just randomly show up and attempt to take some of the glory. It's not unusual for a show to focus on a specific character more than others, but half the appeal of there being eight Chosen Children is that it's an ensemble piece. They're ALL required to help save the Digital World, if Taichi is that important then the show could have easily been done with a smaller cast. That brings things back to the argument of Digimon animation relying on nostalgia – it has all the main players in place, but it's only really interested in using a select few of them. With Metal Garurumon being the other half of Omegamon one would expect that Yamato and Gabumon would be fairly prominent in the series as well, but arguably they're the most forgettable of the lot.

Hikari & TakeruMimi & Ponchomon

Of course, this focus on Taichi and Agumon leads to incredibly uneven characterisation and development. It would be unfair to say that Digimon Adventure: doesn't focus on or develop the other Chosen Children at all, because there's actually a lot to like here. Yamato might get the short end of the stick but the show does some good things with Koishiro/Tentomon, Mimi/Palmon and Joe/Gomamon. In fact any Mimi-centric episode is guaranteed to be one of the show's best, and she easily comes away as the best character in the whole thing. As far as the core story goes there's also a far more expanded role for Takeshi and Hikari (despite them joining the cast later on) because of the role of Patamon and Tailmon as Holy Digimon. It's a shame Tailmon loses a lot of personality and becomes mostly an explanatory device in the process, but it's nice to see them all doing more. Sora and Piyomon have their moments as well, but not to the same extent. Everyone's present and they all get their focus episodes (which Taichi and Agumon naturally muscle in on), but how much they actually develop over the course of the show is a different matter entirely. It's not that they don't change at all, but more that they lack any substantial progression or character arcs worth noting. Something like Joe getting braver as the show goes on feels like a given. With 67 episodes to play with, there was plenty more the show could have done even if it had to be spread across eight (technically 16) characters.

On paper this all sounds pretty bleak, but it really is worth stressing that if you're all-in on episodic adventures then Digimon Adventure: can prove to be a good time. What it lacks in being able to stress the more serious aspects of the story it makes up for in having fun, and so it's often the silliest episodes that prove to be the most memorable. The wide range of settings and characters that Digimon has means you never really know what's coming next, and that surprise element always tries to make that next episode feel enticing even if it ends up missing the mark. But nothing is ever straightforward with this show, and the trade-off for getting these good episodic stories is that the cast is almost constantly divided. Whether it's into smaller teams or the eight of them going alone with their partners, the episodes with all eight together seem few and far between. And it's a huge shame, because these eight children being brought together is half of what makes the show interesting in the first place. 

WarGreymonOmegamon Alter S

Finally the one thing Digimon Adventure: will always have going for it is that it's a damn fine looking show. Toei have always been a heavy-hitter when it comes to anime studios but they've really stepped their game up in the last few years, and even as a project affected by a global pandemic Digimon Adventure: is a sharp looking show with some great action sequences. Even though there's still some very obvious preferential treatment going on with how detailed the digivolving sequences are, it's fair to say that each character gets a memorable debut at each of their stages. The fact that all eight Mega evolutions were featured in the series itself is satisfying enough, but the fact they're all treated with far more gravitas than Try is another positive. But undoubtedly the biggest takeaway of all from this series is the soundtrack, because those insert tracks are tunes. As well as singing opening theme "Mikakunin Hikousen", vocalist Takayoshi Tanimoto (whose credits include the Juken Sentai Gekiranger theme) sings all three insert songs, one for each digivolution level – "Be the Winners" (Champion), "X-treme Fight" (Ultimate) and "Break the Chain" (Mega). All three are extremely infectious, and not just because at least one of them is played in pretty much every episode.

Digimon Adventure: isn't a bad series, just a flawed and somewhat confused one. While some of these flaws might could be down to the pandemic messing with the production, the sad truth is that it largely tracks with the way the franchise has treated Adventure for some time now – a easy source of nostalgia that doesn't need the quality to back it up. Had this been a different show with a smaller cast then maybe it wouldn't have been so disappointing, but as a reboot of Digimon's first animated outing certain expectations were placed on it – and though you can try to avoid comparing the two ultimately many of those expectations weren't met. Digimon Adventure: is a series that thrives on adventure but lacks that greater sense of story, as well as that ensemble feel that made the original series cast so memorable in the first place. If anything it proves that Digimon is at its best when it’s constantly reimagining itself, so hopefully the clean slate for new series Digimon Ghost Game might be exactly the kind of revitalisation it needs.

3 comments:

M said...

What is your favorite Digimon Anime? Mine is the first Adventure.

Manpig said...

This show was overall a pretty big letdown that didn't live up to the original, but have you checked out Ghost Game? It's looking like the direct opposite to this series in every way so far and it's got insane potential in my opinion

Alex said...

Not had a chance to start it yet, but I'm very excited to get to it and hearing that just makes me all the more excited!