Monday 6 April 2020

First Impressions: Digimon Adventure:

Digimon Adventure (2020)
Digimon Adventure: is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

The Digimon franchise has continued to trundle on comfortably over the past two decades, but no matter how good subsequent instalments have been as far as the anime goes it's never been able to fully escape the shadow of the original Digimon Adventure. Whether this is a case of the fans refusing to move or Toei Animation themselves, 2015-18's six-film sequel series Digimon Adventure Tri still wasn't the last we'd be seeing of the eight original Chosen Children (or for a certain generation of fans, Digi Destined). On top of a further sequel to Tri in the form of Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, 2020 has also spawned a complete reboot to the original series - once again simply taking the name Digimon Adventure: (that colon makes all the difference). On top of completely reworking the story from the ground up, this series also brings the timeline forward to present day. Given the huge advances there's been in the internet since 1997, that alone could lead to a very different series indeed.

Taichi and Koichiro meetEntering the Digital World

Whilst preparing for his upcoming school camp, Taichi Yagami is visited by his neighbour Koichiro Izumi. Whilst talking they discover electronics across Tokyo have gone crazy, including the train Taichi's mother and sister Hikari are riding.

Running to their rescue, Taichi is transported to another world where he finds the injured Koromon. When they make contact, Taichi receives a Digivice and the Koromon is able to evolve into Agumon. Together, the two new friends must defeat a swarm of enemy Digimon causing chaos across the internet. But when the enemy evolves into something even more dangerous, Agumon is able to unlock an even greater power.

Agumon attacksDigivolve!

"Reboot" is a word that rarely instills confidence, and following the plodding snooze-fest that was Digimon Adventure Tri the thought of Toei once again wheeling out a beloved piece of my childhood for another round wasn't something I was especially looking forward to. But putting these hesitations aside, I stepped into Digimon Adventure: with relatively low expectations and found myself pleasantly surprised. While this first episode (entitled "Tokyo Digital Crisis") focused squarely on Taichi and Agumon, it presented a very different origin story that suggests this won't just be a retread of the original series with a new coat of paint. In fact this retelling seems to have more in common with the movie Our War Game than the series itself, both in its storyline and the prominence of Taichi and Koichiro over the other Chosen Children. They all make very brief cameos in the episode, but if any of those are your favourites then prepare to be holding out for at least few more episodes. By the looks of it they'll be introducing the cast gradually.

Whereas the original series saw the children dropped into a Digital World that wasn't too dissimilar from the one we inhabit, this reboot seems to take the the name a lot more literally. The landscapes we see here are truly a digital world, with green circuitboard-like floors and rectangular structures covered in binary code. While it makes for a much plainer image than the rocky landscapes and thick jungles the original showed off during the fight with Kuwagamon, but the stark difference between them as well as the closer adherence to the core concept certainly makes this take an interesting one.  The other big difference is the connectivity between the human and Digital Worlds - whilst the original saw the children trying to return home across several arcs, here the Digimon have a direct influence on occurrences in the real world - much like the chaos Diablomon caused in Our War Game.

The evolved ArgomonYamato watches

The absence of a larger cast to play off of means the first meeting between Taichi and Agumon is a little more clinical this time around, but a completely different take is still far more preferable than a shallow imitation. Their bond seems to develop rather quickly but at the same time it wouldn't feel right to call them "friends" just set. Similarly the pacing may feel a little off introducing Greymon immediately in the first episode, but then the original did it in the second so in comparison there really is little difference. The important thing is that the dynamic between them is good, which makes Koichiro feel a little like a tagalong here. While he's integral for explaining all the technical aspects of what's going on in Digimon that's pretty much ALL he does here, and the decision to also make this his and Taichi's first meeting is a little baffling since it makes that feel relatively underdeveloped as well.

But if there's one thing that Digimon Adventure: does well it's the visuals. The original Digimon Adventure hasn't aged that badly all things considered, but there's a modern sharpness to version that's great to see with the old (albeit updated) character models. The absence of stock footage for Agumon's evolutions is also a big surprise given previous instalments over-reliance on them, which could be very interesting for fight sequences going forwards if they keep this up. Again while the episode doesn't do anything particularly special in terms of fight sequences it still looks good throughout, and Greymon's triumph at the climax is a punch the air moment akin to the original's victory over Parrotmon in the original film.

The DigiviceMeeting Greymon

Despite my initial reservations this was an extremely promising debut for Digimon Adventure:. The nostalgia factor is alive and kicking, but immediately from episode one this is a different enough story to hold interest and escape the usual reboot woes. With a new story, a seemingly gradual introduction of the cast and eye-catching animation there's a lot of potential here that fans both old and new will be able to enjoy. Digimon are the champions indeed.

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