Sunday, June 23, 2024

Digimon Adventure 2020 Is Off To A Promising Start

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An Introduction

Digimon Adventure is a children’s anime series from 1999, originally intended as a 13 episode toy marketing vehicle for Toei to sell games that featured similar creatures – the eponymous Digimon – as Tamagotchi-like digital pets, which was then extended to a 54 episode full series.

It was a show about originally seven children being trapped in a digital world full of the eponymous Digimon, having to fight for their survival with their partner Digimon against many foes and also death by starvation or exposure at times, and having many a surprisingly in-depth character arc along the way. And that all on the budget of maybe two potatoes per episode.

And while neither the show nor the games ever quite got the dominant market position of Pokémon, in the late 90ies/early 2000s monster series wars, the show was a solid second and still a great success that spawned a massive franchise, which has included but is by no means limited to:

  1. A direct sequel series called Digimon 02 (not Adventure 02!)
  2. One Digimon: The Movie internationally that was technically three short films in the original Japanese
  3. A fourth movie that served as a sequel to the second movie
  4. Six more seasons that featured Digimon in the title and as the main premise but with widely different stories and casts of characters (and Digimon)
  5. A series of 6 movies to expand on the original Adventure story called Digimon Adventure tri.
  6. A final movie set to be released this year intended to conclude the original Adventure story
  7. And finally, as of last Sunday, a reboot titled Digimon Adventure 2020.
I know. I know. I’ll get to the designs. Eventually.

And that’s not even mentioning the numerous video games, manga, light novels, card games, and audio dramas also associated with the franchise. And the movies all those other seasons got. This is completely normal and not at all convoluted, you guys.

Anyway! As of last Sunday, a new version of the very first series has started, taking all the original characters and putting them into new-ish and exciting circumstances! And that’s what I’m here to review for you.

Common Ground

I have been a fan of Digimon ever since I watched the very first episode of the German broadcast. I’ve watched the original Adventure at least three times; twice in German, once in Japanese with English subtitles, and the sequel series 02 at least twice (German and Japanese), I’ve seen the one movie in German and English, and the three movies it was frankenstein’d out of in Japanese, as well as the fourth movie no one cared to bring to the west, and all of tri. Also most of Tamers, chunks of Frontier, and few episodes of Data Squad, but none of the seasons that came after.

So, yeah, I have a lot of nostalgia associated with Adventure in particular, and specifically with the version I watched, which was occasionally quite fundamentally different to the US version most of you, dear readers, might be familiar with.

Now you do yourselves a favor and familiarize yourself with the wonderful amazing opening of Adventure. This with completely different German lyrics in my jam, okay.

For those unaware, the English dub made some changes to characterization, added in jokes where they were none, and had an entirely new and different soundtrack. From what I’ve seen, except for the digivolution songs, it was mostly fine? But I have no nostalgia for the Digirap or Hey Digimon or I’m Going Digital, even if they were featured in the movie version I saw, and I might refer to dialogue or events that some of you might not be familiar with, having only watched the dub. Sorry about that in advance.

My reviews and analysis will be based on the subtitled version of the new series. And since that’s all that’s out so far and we have long left the times of dubs changing the characters’ names to be more marketable in the west behind us, I too will try my best to refer to the characters by their Japanese names. It should be pretty easy, since from what I’ve seen so far, this is a complete and total reboot with little to no plot similarities to the original. So, in case you’re unfamiliar, the changes are as follows:

Tai Kamiya Taichi Yagami
Kari Kamiya Hikari Yagami
Izzy Izumi Koushiro Izumi
Matt Ishida Yamato Ishida
T.K. Takaishi Takeru Takaishi
Joe Kido Jou Kido

Mimi Tachikawa and Sora Takenouchi stay the same. I’ve also decided to go with the English names for the Digimon, since no one is any better off if I awkwardly type out Metarugureimon or Enjeuumon when that’s just supposed to be MetalGreymon and Angewomon. I’ll also refer to the power levels and stages by their English names, so the Champion level is followed by the Ultimate level is followed by the Mega level and nobody’s perfect.

With that out of the way, let’s get to…

The Game Plan

New episodes are available on Crunchyroll every Sunday. I think it’s also supposed to be on Netflix in the US? Not sure about that, though. Crunchyroll will definitely be your safest way to come along on this journey with me!

And journey we shall. My plan is to get a review of the new episode out by Wednesday every week, quarantine life be willing, and to both provide a spoiler-free summary and review and a spoiler-ific analysis of what we’ve seen, because why just do one thing when you can to both. No worries, spoilers will be clearly marked. Then I’ll take a look at the promotional material available for the following episodes and close us all out on some random remarks I might have.

Sound good? Then let’s get going!

Dive in!

The Spoiler-Free Review

It is the year 2020. Or rather, an alternative version thereof in which kids are still allowed to go to summer camps, which makes this reboot already outdated, too bad so sad. Though I will say that this is the first time in franchise history there has been an in-universe justification for all the kids wearing gloves in summer.

We see Taichi, a fifth-grader again, packing those in preparation for the aforementioned summer camp while his mother and sister are on their way to a class in another part of Tokyo.

Well, okay, before that, the “network” which is supposed to be the internet, is explained to us and we see Koromon and another, less friendly looking Digimon jumping around in this ever-evolving network. That you apparently log onto via dial-up sounds. Wow, that’s way more outdated than people going to summer camps.

Who knew the internet would be so pretty?

Taichi finishes up packing while his mom and sister are about to transfer trains in Shibuya, when a shy and very awkward Koushiro shows up at his door to introduce himself and ask about the upcoming summer camp. They live in the same building and are going to be in the same group, you see. Taichi invites him inside when the news breaks that Tokyo has apparently been attacked by cyber terrorists who are causing major issues with, among everything else, public transportation.

World’s Cutest Littlest Terrorists

In the hopes of rescuing his mother and Hikari, whose train has gotten out of control, Taichi and Koushiro run off to the next train station, and a sudden compulsion to break the law leads to Taichi hearing a voice calling out to him and being transported straight into the Network, where he and Agumon team up under Koushiro’s guidance to fight whatever it is that’s causing these problems.

“Tokyo Network Crisis” is an exciting way to open the reboot, a complete overhaul to how the original started, with a tighter focus on individual characters rather than the whole group. You can also tell that this show has a budget; the animation is pretty and fluid and some frames are outright stunning. There are shots of Tokyo in the beginning that made me gasp because they were so much prettier than anything I’m used to from this franchise.

Also, there wasn’t even any awkward CGI that bothered me; what little was used was either extremely well hidden or integrated into the general atmosphere so well it didn’t bother me. Let’s hope they can keep this quality up for future episodes.

Is it earth-shattering? Award winning? Maybe not, but it’s definitely an improvement for this franchise.

The series also has an entirely new score, and only reuses a single shot – Taichi being thrown into the digital world – from the original opening Butter-Fly I forced you all to watch above. Or, well, the US opening had that sequence, too. The opening is very shonen anime-esque but not necessarily in a bad way, and the background music throughout the episode was excellent. I am kind of sad there was no fun sing-along digivolution song, though.

The Spoiler-ific Analysis

Spoilers from here on out, y’all. And a lot of overthinking.

So, the way it is at the moment, it seems like we have the characters from Adventure, the digital world from Tamers, the blue guy dynamics from Frontier (more on that later), and the just punch a Digimon in the face approach from Data Squad. 02 has once again not been invited to this party.

For the record, I did quite enjoy Taichi helping Agumon fight. A nice justification for the gloves. And it makes sense for him as a character; it’s not like he didn’t attack a Shellmon with a pole in the second episode of the original.

Never fight cyber terrorism without your gloves, kids!

I also think it’d be silly if he kept it up once the monsters get bigger, but I don’t think that will be the case considering how Greymon was allowed to do the whole thing alone.

The fight looked so great, y’all. So dynamic. I can’t mention that enough, how far we’ve come!

I also enjoy the approach of focusing on the characters first before bringing them together as a group. Or at least that’s what I think they’re going for. The scene with Taichi and Koushiro before the plot arrived was great, Koushiro is delightfully formal and awkward and Taichi is just… Oh hey, cool, another kid, I was bored anyway, this is my first name, we’re friends now. And the way he just genuinely praised Koushiro for being smart and good with getting information and computers without a hint of envy? Wholesome.

I’m sorry to keep going on about him, but the episode did pretty much feature Taichi exclusively, and so does the opening which I’ll talk more about later. But did the scene where his mom called him about how they reached Shibuya and need to transfer and how she feels so lost, and Taichi saying that’s why she should have looked for lessons closer to home a little off to anyone else? Storming off to save your mother and sister doesn’t seem too weird, but the fact that Taichi is more comfortable with the subway system – apparently – strikes me as… odd. Ah well. I’ll elaborate on that if we ever get more content with his mom.

The new digivices are fine. I don’t get why they’re all blue, they could have just as easily already have the color of the crests that keep showing up anyway, but the best thing about them is that they now actually have a function beyond “point it at the thing and see what happens”. They’re like phones! Because Taichi left his actual phone behind in the real world. God, imagine how many conflicts could have been solved in the original if they’d had a way to communicate.

“TK – he’s out there, and he’s all alone!”

“Why don’t we just call him, then? What, you’re playing tug of war at Digimon preschool with no apparent danger to you or anyone else? Have fun! So much to that, then.”

I guess that counts as a segway to that last-minute reveal. So Yamato’s got a new shirt, is already here, and already on an evolved Garurumon, and looking like all serious business.

Or maybe mildly put off

Followed by an ending theme that visually plays him up as the anti-hero of this season like nobody’s business, swallowed by a darkness (or, say, a dark ocean?) only his little brother can save him from! Or something.

I dunno, I find this strangely more compelling than anything that was done with Matt in the original show. And coming back to what I meant by the blue guy dynamic from Frontier – that was my first association here, that he’s going to be a bit of a Kouji for now. You can, of course, also argue he’s kind of the Rika for this season, being already experienced with Digimon and the network as his character profile text hints at. I’ll cover those at another time.

Of course, you could also say that it’s way too early to compare him to anything because he hasn’t even said a word yet.

Have some cute wholesomeness, y’all

The last thing I want to touch on here is the network. Or internet. Or digital world. I mean, it is already way prettier than the internet has any right to be. But it’s also way less compelling than the digital world used to be. The opening shows us shots that at least have a landscape in them, so I hope this is more of a Tamers like deal in which this is only the surface level, and we can actually get into a proper digital world later on, or do the thing where Digimon come to the real world. Yes, the harm caused in the network is a real threat and it was a very tense episode, but I don’t know how long it’ll take until just fighting in that pretty but ultimately kind of bland place gets old.

Assuming you don’t already think it is, because oh boy, we’re doing the attacks on the internet threaten real life harm to Tokyo and things go crazy schtick for the. What. Third time now if you count Summer Wars?

What comes next (week)

That leads us to the preview for the next episode. It’s called War Game. You know, like “Our War Game” or “Children’s War Game”, the second part of Digimon: The Movie or the second Digimon movie, in which, let me check, a Digimon hacked into the US defense server and launched a nuke at Japan. And then had to be defeated by Yamato and Taichi combining Digimon before it was cool while a nuclear countdown clock went off, Koushiro offered guidance from the real world, and no other character really mattered.

We got a doomsday clock, everyone

By the way, do watch Summer Wars. It’s on Netflix. It has the same plot but with original characters completely independent of Digimon and a really touching family story on top of the threat of nuclear annihilation by malware you can digitally punch in the face. And it’s directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who also directed the first two Digimon movies, and the one episode in the original Adventure when Taichi gets home, the animation is completely different and Hikari is kinda creepy. He remade his own movie and it turned out great.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be involved in this, so they’re going to remake this plot without him. And from what the preview told me, they even brought back Diaboromon.

I think

But hey, who knows, maybe they’ll have a new and surprising twist for us next week!

Random Observations

  • I was going to talk about the character designs here, but since only like four characters have actually had any amount of screentime so far, I’m saving it until they actually show up.
  • Who knows. Maybe Sora’s new outfit doesn’t completely negate her tomboy qualities. Maybe the two shades of pink and one shade of red won’t clash as badly as they seem to from promotional materials.
  • For the record, Taichi wearing orange instead of brown pants now is weird but fine, and Koushiro’s redesign works for him.
  • Though, to quote a friend, if you take way Koushiro’s elite glove typing skills, what does he have left.
  • Yamato’s purple shirt with sleeves and gray pants are… A thing.
  • Koushiro’s tablet computer was apparently made by Mimi’s family. She’s going to be loaded in this, isn’t she?
  • Hey, isn’t that also the symbol Takeru has on his new hat?
  • Agumon already knew Taichi, does that mean the very first movie is still canon? Where’s Hikari’s whistle then?
  • The opening is perfectly fine, don’t get me wrong, but I wish it’d show us more than just Taichi. Yes, everyone else gets brief flashes of their crests and their Champion level Digimon, but only Taichi gets to really exist.

    This is a story about a boy and his dinosaur, apparently
  • They even only took him being thrown into the Digital World from the original, when everyone else got a shot like that, too.
  • Yamato being the only one featured in the ending wasn’t as egregious, I think, and is probably supposed to be the point, really.
  • Takeru and Hikari both get similar symbolism already, and their introduction shot in the opening is different from everyone else’s, but they’re mirroring each other. Also feathers. Feathers everywhere.
  • I have so many thoughts on that. Reddit has betting pools on how often Hikari will be unconscious and/or possessed. And if we reboot everything, can we please reboot their ending? No, I’m not still bitter about the 02 epilogue, you’re still bitter about the 02 epilogue.

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