Anime Alphabet - D is for Digimon Adventure
Digimon Adventure offers an emotionally intense alternative to the fluffier fun times of other monster-fighting franchises like its more famous contemporary, Pokemon.
(I forgot to post the text version here when this video came out, so I’m doing it now before the next episode releases.)
(This post was written as a script for the edited video above, which provides a more complete experience of the post’s subject. The text version below is just for easier reference and comprehension for anyone in need.)
The late 90s were a pivotal period in the evolution of anime, and especially in the growing popularity of Japanese media worldwide. Myself being born in ‘91, some of the earliest things I remember being a fan of were Power Rangers and Godzilla—right around the same time that Cartoon Network’s Toonami block was popularizing Japan’s biggest hit shows for young boys and girls in the forms of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, respectively, in America. But if any media franchise ripped through the whole of pop culture and readied my generation for a lifetime of Japanese cultural influence in media, it was Pokemon. Between the Game Boy games, the immeasurably popular trading card game which peaked in the US around 1999, the animated series airing on Kids’ WB, Beckett magazines in Wal-Mart and kids’ meal toys at Burger King, it was immediately easy for obsessives like me to inundate our lives with Pokemon. But of course, any incredibly successful business model is bound to spark competition—and in this video I'll be deep-diving the beloved beginnings of one of the most memorable post-Pokemon Monster-fighting mega-franchises, Digimon. My name is Trixie, the Golden Witch, you can find my writing at goldenwitch.substack.com, and this is Anime Alphabet!
D IS FOR DIGIMON ADVENTURE
Despite the inevitable entanglement of Digimon’s reputation with that of Pokemon, Digimon was actually neither initially created to compete with it, nor is the anime series similar to that of Pokemon in almost any way besides that both are aimed at kids and feature evolving fighting monsters--but we’ll get into the meat of the show itself momentarily. Digimon was actually created in 1997 to fill in the demographic gaps left by Tamagotchi--a virtual pet toy which had exploded in popularity worldwide the year before, mostly with young girls. Figuring that they could market a more aesthetically-boyish variant of the same concept, Bandai collaborated with the team behind Tamagotchi to create Digimon. It’s from copying Tamagotchi that some of the core aspects of how the monsters function were established, such as their evolutionary life-cycle and tendency to poop at random. The one unique element to these gadgets as compared to Tamagotchi is that Digital Monsters could work out to get stronger and then be used to battle one-another via link.
Whether or not Bandai had been thinking at all of the 1996 release of Pokemon Green and Red on the Game Boy when they designed the Digital Monsters, I have no doubt that the global success of the Pokemon anime, which started in Japan in 1997 and the US in late 98, helped to spur them into making Digimon into a multimedia franchise: and also that its relationship with Pokemon would slowly dictate more of how the franchise expanded as it went on. You can perhaps see this shift best in the Digimon video games, with the first one, Digital Monster S: Digimon Tamers for the Sega Saturn, being a monster-raising simulator that basically upgrades the experience of the toy for people who don’t have anywhere to go. The very next Digimon game, 1999’s Digimon World for the PSX, is an RPG not unlike Pokemon, and would represent the primary direction of the games going forward, with none of them resembling the Digital Monster toy experience ever again.
Likewise, only one animated adaptation of Digimon would ever attempt to represent something akin to the experience of playing with the toys--but the development of this twenty-minute short film would be pivotal in defining the direction of the franchise from that point forward. Digimon Adventure was originally intended as a twenty-minute stand-alone film until midway through production, when studio Toei was commissioned to make an entire TV show out of the property instead. As such, the short already in production was re-tooled into a prequel to the TV series and debuted just a day before the show went to air. In spite of being significantly different from the show in tone and style, its very straightforward plot was easily slotted into the more complex story of the fifty-four episode TV show, and the deeper themes which were only lightly brushed upon in the short would eventually be fleshed out in a lot more depth.
Digimon Adventure the short film is about a little boy named Taichi and his baby sister Hikari whose family computer spits out an egg while the parents are away, and from it hatches a rapidly-evolving little pet creature. Things are all fun and bubbles when the monster is a baby, but the more it grows, the more subtly scary it becomes to have around, with even its loving second form hugging the kids in a kind of disconcerting way that seems to strangle their faces. Before long, the thing has grown into a room-sized dinosaur destroying the kids’ house.
Here Digimon takes a definitional dark shift, as the kids’ dad is shown coming home late and drunk and getting into an argument with the mom, as their baby is quietly carried out into the streets by the loose dinosaur, which, while loyally defensive of the girl, feels nothing about destroying the environment with his awesome fire breath. The situation escalates until a fully evolved Greymon is doing battle against another Digimon rampaging through the city, narrowly rescuing his child friends before disappearing into the night to become a vague memory for the children later on. When this event is described in the show, it is remembered as a terrorist bombing that the kids happened to have been near the site of--something that could be very real in the minds of children living in Tokyo in the 90s, during which occurred in the horrendous sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway. Terrorism would certainly become a relatable childhood trauma to American audiences just a couple of years later.
I cannot know how it came to be that Toei’s initial idea for a Digimon short film was more or less a twenty-minute kid-friendly horror movie, but I do have a vague idea of how the staff came together to make it. Digimon Adventure was written by Yoshida Reiko and directed by Hosoda Mamoru, both of whom got their start in the anime industry in the early 90s working as an episode writer and key animator respectively on Dragon Ball Z; and by 1998, they’d be working as episode writer and episode director respectively on the reboot of classic magical girl series, Himitsu no Akko-chan. Each of these incredibly talented creators would eventually achieve the status of industry titans for their work in the decades that followed this short film’s release.
Yoshida-sensei is known for her incredibly warm and humanistic slice-of-life stories like Kaikan Phrase, Maria-sama Watches Over Us, K-On!!, Tamako Market, Non Non Biyori, and Violet Evergarden; as well as for creating Tokyo Mew Mew and writing magical girl shows like Kaleido Star and Sugar Sugar Rune; and for adapting monolithic shounen manga like D.Gray-Man, Bakuman, and Yowamushi Pedal to animation. She’s also responsible for writing some of the cutest action shows around, like Girls Und Panzer and High School Fleet.
You’ve much more likely heard of director Hosoda-san, however, as he would quickly rise to prominence as one of the industry’s most-watched directors after his work on Digimon episode 21, the sequel film Our War Game, and his 2005 contribution to the One Piece filmography with its six feature, Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island. He almost became a director at Ghibli just off of the hype he garnered from his Digimon films, initially in charge of Howl’s Moving Castle until he was removed from the project and Miyazaki-sama took over. Hosoda would truly make his mainstream splash with studio Madhouse on the 2006 high-concept teen sci-fi drama, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, following that with a string of critical and commercial successes in Summer Wars, the ultimate mom movie, Wolf Children, the oblong and intense Boy and the Beast, and the emotionally gripping if structurally bizarre Mirai of the Future, most of which were made after establishing his own Studio Chizu.
Considering how quickly Hosoda would be recognized as a visionary, it’s hard for me not to think that the original Digimon Adventure concept came from Toei getting a loose commission from Bandai and basically using it as a chance to show off the talent of this hot young director and writer combo. Honestly, just because Himitsu no Akko-chan 1998 is almost impossible to find, I can’t discover if episode fourteen, which Hosoda-san and Yoshida-sensei first worked on together, sets any kind of precedent for what we’d get in Digimon--but Hosoda’s work on Digimon certainly set a precedent for the rest of his career, with Our War Game serving as something of a prototype for the more expansive story of Summer Wars, and some of the themes hinted at in Digimon Adventure getting thoroughly fleshed out in The Boy and the Beast and Mirai of the Future. All of this is simply to say that the original short feels very definitionally Mamoru Hosoda-esque, and while he would only direct a single episode of the TV show in something resembling the same style as the short, also written by Yoshida-sensei, the weirdly off-kilter element of traumatic horror that pervaded its atmosphere would serve as a secret thematic backbone for the TV expansion.
The creation of 1999’s fifty-four episode Digimon Adventure TV series would forever change the direction of the franchise into something much more expansive than a simple pet simulation game, and serve as most of the world’s introduction to what would immediately be seen (and in the eyes of many, derided) as a direct attempt to copy Pokemon’s success--but Digimon managed to stand apart from its contemporary monster-fighting franchise by taking a completely different approach to its anime story.
Pokemon was by and large a comedy series in the beginning, and its presentation was heavily steeped in irony. The main character was an arrogant brat who sucks at Pokemon training in all ways except for his determination and endless respect for the creatures themselves, and loses most of the battles that he fights, only ever achieving moral victories in the face of his bumbling mortal enemies, the indomitable Team Rocket. The worldbuilding and narrative emphasize breadth over depth--Ash and friends rarely change or grow more than a little over the course of two-hundred-plus episodes, but there’s constantly new ideas and inventive detail giving life to the world. As Pokemon has graduated into a legacy series with some sense of responsibility, it has taken its story and characters much more seriously over the years, but even in the more action-oriented and plot-heavy seasons like the currently-running Pokemon Journeys, the level of narrative stakes and genuine, sincerely emotional dramatic storytelling never comes close to what you’ll find in Digimon Adventure.
Where Pokemon exists for you to escape into an endlessly complex meta-reality with the hopes that enough people around you will have done the same for you to talk about it with them as though it were real, Digimon is not trying to trap you for any longer than you personally feel the need to be involved with it. If anything, I would say that the writers of Digimon Adventure, at least, were simultaneously hopeful that the children depending on their series for escape might find some catharsis in it and the strength to move on--while still promising along the way that the Digimon World will continue to exist in tandem with theirs any time that they need to access it for comfort. It is, after all, a show about coming to terms with childhood trauma--a completely straight-faced coming-of-age story in which young children are asked to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, only really made child-friendly by the length at which the narrative is decompressed and the hushed way that it discusses its most serious subject matter. Make no mistake, though, Digimon Adventure belongs in the same category as Avatar: The Last Airbender as an epic adventure story that takes its world and characters completely seriously and tasks them with real human growth and loss by the end of their struggle to save the world--and despite the existence of a Digital World in the story, it is OUR world--the HUMAN world--which is at risk of absolute destruction in Digimon Adventure.
It was this aspect which finally drew me to check out Digimon for myself when I was a kid way back in the year 2000. I had been a die-hard Pokemon fan for years by that point, and my first impression of Digimon had been that it was aesthetically uglier than Pokemon and basically had no reason to exist. I decided to begrudgingly respect its existence after a kid at school mistakenly convinced me that it had actually come out first in Japan, but it wasn’t until I happened to catch part of the Vampdemon arc on TV, in which the evil Digimon have begun wrecking havoc in the real world to the effect of kaiju-scale destruction, that I realized Digimon’s story was way the hell more intense than what I was used to from cartoons at the time.
That newfound interest lead me to catch up on the series through its reruns and even buy a deck of the trading cards, which every popular series inevitably had around the turn of the millennium--but for the aforementioned reason that I didn’t really have anyone to share its universe with, I ended up losing interest. Digimon didn’t quite catch on to the crazy degree that Pokemon did, but in my short time with it I felt impressed to have gotten to see a show in a style that appealed to me with such a serious plot, which no doubt helped to influence the trend toward continuous dramatic narratives in Western cartoons that has grown over the last two decades. I would eventually learn through talking to adults who carried Digimon around as an integral part of their upbringing in the way that I did Pokemon about why the show meant so much to the kids that it managed to reach out to.
Just to set the stage a bit for what it was like to be an elementary school kid in 1999, it had been widely rumored and even discussed on television throughout the 90s that as soon as the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 2000, the world might literally end in a nuclear holocaust because of all technology going haywire; and knowledge of climate disaster potentially limiting humanity’s future was becoming mainstream. Digimon’s first episode opens by telling us that the world is already in the middle of an unexplainable apocalyptic climate disaster, with tidal floods crashing through the desert, America getting buried under snow, and Earthquakes shaking the whole foundation of the continents. At no point do we ever get to see what a peaceful and functional planet Earth looks like in Digimon, because these children are growing up on a planet that doesn’t seem to have a future, just as many children become afraid of around this age.
Digimon Adventure’s seven elementary-school protagonists are hiding out from a sudden snow storm during their first day at summer camp when they find themselves summoned to the digital world, and each is introduced to a monster child who unconditionally loves and supports them immediately upon arrival. The digital world full of digital monsters might have been a fun place to end up, were it not for the dangerous evil Digimon, as well as good ones who have been corrupted by the evil influence of dark gears, all constantly trying to destroy the children; yet it is revealed already in the first episode that the Digital World is nothing but a facade--the trees are hollow on the inside, merely projecting the idea of a magical fantasy world for children. As the characters quickly learn, this whole place is just a computer program that they’re trapped inside of; and so their primary quest is initially just to find their way back home.
Between all of the kids and their Digimon there are basically fourteen main characters of Digimon Adventure right from the start, and so it does take a while to begin really fleshing out their personalities and relationships over the course of episodically introducing new bad Digimon for the chosen children and their friends to alternately run from or fight against; but for kids watching the show in 1999, it is likely that having a favorite character or Digimon design right from the get-go would’ve done a lot to connect you to the story--so let’s take a moment to discuss the design philosophy of Digimon--starting with Pokemon.
Pokemon emphasized cuteness first and foremost in its designs, with final evolutions portrayed as far-off cool and mysterious powerhouses which, even still, are pretty simplistic in their designs; and it builds its monsters out of the setting--a version of our reality altered by the mysterious integration of a type of creature which has evolved out of the of things that already existed in our version of Earth.
Digimon puts a lot more emphasis on its cooler, more complex final forms, with the monsters actually being able to transform back and forth between their evolutionary stages circumstantially, and thus doing so in something akin to a magical girl transformation sequence in every episode. They spend most of their time in their third, or child forms, which in spite of being about the size of second-stage Pokemon evolutions, have much more complex and action figure-like designs. My very first impression of Digimon as a kid, with Charmander having always been my favorite Pokemon, was that Agumon was an uglier version of the same design--but really, the thing that bothered me the most about the Digimon is just that they were too complicated for me to draw.
That, of course, was before I realized that the Digimon change forms regularly, and even have super-evolved extra-badass forms that I’m sure I would’ve wanted toys of had I been a couple of years younger, and not by then largely moved onto more complex games. I never did end up playing any of the Digimon video games, though, because most of them got middling reviews from the gaming magazines I went to over the years, even though a lot of fans still remember some of the RPGs and fighting games fondly anyways.
The seven Chosen Children, or DigiDestined if you will, follow a sort of Breakfast Club design philosophy, with each representing a stereotypical personality of a Japanese elementary schooler. Taichi and Sora represent the sporty soccer player boy and girl archetypes respectively; Yamato is the edgy kid, and his younger brother Takeru the innocent child; Koushiro is the computer geek, Mimi is the beautiful spoiled girl, and Joe is the dorky but dependable hapless voice of reason. Each of them will be given a specific richness as the story continues, but the unmistakable hope is that one of these characters will appeal to any child that happens to catch a glimpse of the show on TV.
My favorite was always Mimi, what with her having easily the coolest outfit, and that iconically massive pink hat, as well as consistently my favorite Digimon companion designs. I didn’t really project onto her character as a kid because I was highly resistant to identifying with female characters at the time, and she’s also portrayed as kind of a brat, and I was not self-aware enough yet to see myself that way. Still, she’s the only character I can say that I really connect with out of the original seven.
Because I connected with any of the designs at all, though, and appreciated the uniqueness and potential coolness of most of the Digimon, I am hesitant to be critical of any of them, even though I’m not the biggest fan of the show’s visual aesthetic overall. I do believe that it is thematically integral to Digimon that on some level, it should challenge the viewer to deal with elements they might not immediately connect with or like, but can grow to understand and see the necessity of by the end. If Taichi and Yamato had been the only main characters in Digimon, I might not have ever watched it as a kid--but because I thought Mimi looked cool and Takeru was adorable, and Palmon, Patamon, Gabumon, Biyomon, and Gatomon were strong enough designs, I gave the series a shot; and I ended up enjoying it in the end.
In the interest of keeping all those varied audiences engaged with the story, the visuals can be kind of chaotic a lot of the time, with colorful characters cramming the screen. I think the decision to give the kids huge heads, hands, and feet, as well as putting almost everyone in gloves, was made because of how often all of the characters were going to be drawn at once in full-body shots, and how difficult it can be to detail those body parts in far-away cuts, especially during the days of paint-on-cel animation. Sometimes the massive number of colors on-screen can start to make the characters feel like they’re pulling out of the background to a degree, but it’s not necessarily an inappropriate feeling considering that the lusciously detailed painterly backgrounds of the digital world are mere projections of a false reality. During the arc wherein the characters return to Tokyo, it is presented with a stark lack of stylization, perhaps more realistically reflecting the pace of daily life in the big city than most anime have ever tried to accomplish. By this late point in the show, it has become more cinematic, and no longer feels the need to have every character in every scene at all times--though it sort of slides back into that style in the final arc, after the children return to the digital world to wrap up the adventure; but I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s get back to discussing the story.
For the first eight episodes, the DigiDestined are mostly unified in their intentions and characterized only by things like the differences between what they’re looking forward to when they get home, or which specific brand of surprise and/or acceptance they have for their environment. Once character duos start getting episodes to themselves, their backstories and relationships come into more intimate focus and start to effect their individual decision-making.
Aside from the much more intense survival tone as compared to Pokemon, Digimon Adventure doesn’t necessarily come off as dark or serious, what with its occasional scatalogical humor and sometimes kind of humorous villains, until episode thirteen, when the kids have their final confrontation with Devimon, the first-arc villain. Up until this point, each of the Digimon have been able to achieve their adult form and go into battle against stronger Digimon except for Patamon, the Digimon belonging to the youngest of the children, Takeru. When all of the other adult Digimon are getting beaten, Takeru and Patamon are frustrated with their youth and inability to help in the situation until Patamon wills itself into evolving into Angelmon--but in using such a massive amount of power to destroy Devimon, Angelmon instantly dies.
While the narrative consequences of this death are fairly minor, in that Angelmon immediately reincarnates into an egg which hatches into a new Patamon a few episodes later, conceptually I think it’s a hell of a moment for the end of the first arc in a children’s adventure show. First off, just how cold is it to kill the youngest character’s Digimon first? Assuming that this was the character the very youngest members of the audience were meant to project onto, then even if they hadn’t related to his already dramatic circumstances of having recently-divorced parents, they would at least have to face the death of their Digimon front and center just a little while into the show. It’s such a blunt and easily-understood trauma to face a child with, but it also offers hope immediately in the ideas of reincarnation and new friendships. There’s not a lot of darker things for a young child to have to face than death, and even if the portrayal of it feels very gentle from an adult perspective, to a kid a scene like this could be devastatingly serious; and the hope proposed in the face of it could be direly necessary. I couldn’t help relating the idea of Angelmon’s death in my mind to something like an 18 year-old footsoldier catching a bullet in the second his boat hits the beach--which is a real type of scenario that many families in all cultures throughout history have had to face.
Having defeated Devimon, the DigiDestined head to a new continent of the digital world, where they need to search for the crests which symbolize the virtues that each child represents, and allow their Digimon to achieve their Ultimate form. Taichi is predictably the first to find his Crest of Courage; but it’s after Agumon battles in his ultimate form, when he enters an extended period of needed rest and recovery from using so much power, that we first start to really peel back the layers on Taichi’s personality, and reveal what I think is one of the most powerful themes explored by the series: that of the cycle of abuse.
Thinking that Agumon’s evolutions will be the only thing capable of protecting the group until the others find their crests, Taichi starts pushing his Digimon harder and harder, culminating in a moment when he forces a still-exhausted Agumon to try and evolve into his ultimate form. The horrifying result is Skull Greymon--an out-of-control skeleton monster that goes on a rampage until it’s exhausted all of its energy and returned to baby form. Taichi has effectively traumatized his Digimon by accidentally breaking it psychologically, forcing it to revert to an earlier developmental stage to cope.
This dark and deeply thoughtful plot beat warns children against putting too much expectation on the people they find themselves in charge of, which by this age a lot of children like Taichi and Yamato have in the form of years-younger siblings that they are often left alone with. But what Digimon Adventure acutely realizes and will convey through so many subtleties over the course of the series is that the most troubling behavior of children is usually something they learn from the people closest to them--most especially their parents.
As I mentioned before, in the Digimon Adventure short film, Taichi’s parents are portrayed as not really being around, and his father comes home aggressively drunk late at night. In episode 21, Taichi and Agumon get sucked through a portal into Tokyo, which is portrayed just as starkly and realistically as it was in the short film, with director Hosoda-san and writer Yoshida-sensei returning to bring their surrealistic tinge to the tone of the story. Once again, Taichi’s parents seem to be absent throughout the day, with younger sister Hikari sitting alone at home, having missed out on the summer camp due to catching cold. I can’t help but think that Hikari is portrayed as sort of dissociated--the result of spending a lot of time inactively sitting alone and not really being used to having to react to someone actively, doubtfully spending nearly as much time even around Taichi as she once had.
While Taichi is at home, there’s a point at which he talks about how he’s sure he can convince his mom to understand his situation, and then, with a very faint hopefulness, throws in, “even dad…”. I hadn’t even seen the short film yet when I first saw this episode and was struck immediately by the suggestion that Taichi doesn’t have the best relationship with his father, and completely understood what that relationship had to be like based on how it had manifested in Taichi’s own relationships.
After this episode Taichi returns to the Digital world, but eventually all of the kids and their Digimon have to come to Tokyo for a lengthy midsection arc, in which we first experience Digimon’s Tokyo without the influence of Hosoda-san’s directing. During this arc, there’s a scene in which Hikari’s dad comes home, and she immediately retrieves a “soda” from the refrigerator to hand over to him. Later on, we see Hikari and her father laughing at the TV together in what is probably the warmest-looking scene of this family unit in the whole show--and even here, I’d say the context more than suggests the dad is drinking. We never see Taichi’s dad acting aggressively drunk or abusing his children in the show, but I think it’s safe to say that the relationship of the characters is meant to be consistent with what was portrayed in the original short film, and that the suggestion about the darker side of that relationship is more than apparent--especially once we introduce the traumatic story of Gatomon.
The reason the DigiDestined end up in Tokyo is that Vampdemon and his handful of henchmen have gone there to wreck havoc in search of the eighth child who is meant to have a Digimon partner in service of saving the world. This is by far my favorite stretch of the show because the action has way more consequences, given that it’s really happening in the middle of Tokyo, and whether anyone has any idea what’s going on, they have to deal with it. Gatomon is one of the evil Digimon working under Vampdemon, but ends up being invited by Hikari into their apartment, and has a tsundere reaction to her kindness. Seeing this go down, Gatomon’s friend Wizardmon becomes convinced that Gatomon is actually the eighth Digimon, and fills in some of the backstory that I’ll describe in full.
Because Hikari didn’t make it to the summer camp, when Gatomon hatched into her baby 1 form, she ended up wandering off and getting adopted by Vampdemon, who regularly abused her physically and mentally, and trained her to be an evil fighting machine. This is by far the most direct abuse narrative present in the show, using the cuteness of a Digimon to offset the sheer harshness of the imagery. While under the employ of Vampdemon, Gatomon found a dying Wizardmon in the desert, claiming to have no one in their life at all, and returned them to health, offering a place within Vampdemon’s ranks. As such, Wizardmon considers their loyalty to Gatomon, and encourages her to leave the abusive relationship with Vampdemon for a chance at a healthier companionship with Hikari.
It is not a coincidence that this incredibly tragic Digimon goes to Hikari, and that what saves them both and brings them together is that namesake light that she represents in the darkness of the people in her life. In spite of whatever Vampdemon was trying to turn Gatomon into, what drove Gatomon’s loyalty in the face of that abuse is that this person had taken her in when she was lost and fending for herself, and gave her a purpose. It’s that kindness which Gatomon pays forward onto Wizardmon--only Gatomon does not continue the cycle of abuse perpetuated by Vampdemon onto Wizardmon. Perhaps Wizardmon is an easy Digimon to get along with, and Gatomon is certainly thornier with certain others, but just like Hikari, it seems like Gatomon’s first instinct is kindness, rather than antipathy--forgiveness, rather than a need for vengeance. Hikari clearly loves her father, and maybe has a better relationship with him than Taichi does; and she clearly loves Taichi, even though it’s likely that they’ve gotten into plenty of fights themselves, because she ultimately appreciates that these people are doing the best they can to protect her. That is the love that she pours forward into Gatomon, which allows her to eventually achieve her ultimate form of Angelwoman.
I have to say that while I think the angel theming possibly makes even more sense here than it did with the other younger child, it’s a little lame that both of these totally different Digimon end up becoming basically the same thing--especially because Angelmon is Patamon’s adult form, and he still has an Ultimate form on top of that, whereas Gatomon is already an adult Digimon in spite of her size, and Angelwoman is an ultimate. I’m just saying, it hurts my OCD. But anyways, this isn’t the only cycle of problematic parenthood perpetuated in Digimon Adventure.
Yamato and Takeru… oh my god. Oh my god, I just realized. YAMATO… TAKERU…?! COULD IT BE?! (Garzey’s Wing break).
Anyways, Yamato and Takeru are constantly repeating the behavior of their divorced parents by resolving their arguments in running away from each-other--most especially the younger brother, Takeru, who frequently gets into spats with his Digimon resulting in them splitting up from each-other, only for Takeru to end up feeling responsible and running after his Digimon, just as Yamato will do the few times he gets into similar spats with Takeru, because the bonds of brotherhood or of a child and his friends are a lot harder to shake than those of jaded adults.
Sora, we eventually learn, has a contentious relationship with her mother, who doesn’t like that she plays soccer instead of having more traditionally feminine interests. Later into the series, when her Digimon, Biyomon, wants to fly into a battle that Sora doesn’t approve of, Biyomon reacts to Sora’s rejection of her will in the exact way that she had to her own mother, causing Sora to finally understand that her mother does care about and want to protect her, but simply doesn’t understand Sora’s perspective on how she can best use her skills.
Koushiro actually has a great relationship with his parents, but has recently become withdrawn from them after overhearing a conversation about whether or not they would finally reveal to him that he was adopted. By far the most attentive parent in the series, we actually watch Kourisho’s mother become concerned over his behavior, especially after he builds a lock on his room in order to hide his Digimon, Tentomon. Unlike any of the other parental relationships in the series, this one actually sees restitution when Koushiro’s parents tell him the truth: that he was the child of one of his adoptive father’s relatives, and that his real parents died in an accident when he was a baby. Given that these are the only parents Koushiro has ever known, he is eager to end their secret-keeping relationship and retain their familial togetherness. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that in the period between Koushiro finding out he was adopted, and then finding out that his parents were dead, he must have spent a lot of time imagining the possibilities of who his birth parents might have been, and the answer must have left ambivalent feelings.
Joe’s parents are never actually shown in Digimon Adventure, but we hear about them from his older brother, who like Joe has been expected to follow in their footsteps in becoming doctors. Early in the series, Joe is presented as the character most desperate to return to the normalcy of being back in class studying, and feels the most need to take it upon himself to protect the others because he is the oldest--but in this effort, Joe is largely ineffective and bumbling, usually unable to come up with helpful suggestions in new scenarios because all he really understands is how to succeed within the parameters of the structure he’s always belonged to as a hard-working student. Joe reminds me of Ei-chan from Baby Steps in the sense that he’s not necessarily a particularly smart kid--he just works that much harder in order to barely make it to the top of the class, and has no skillset outside of studying. His brother eventually tells him point-blank that he doesn’t think Joe has it in him to become a doctor and shouldn’t burden himself with his parents’ expectations; but this turns out to be his brother’s projection based on the fact that he himself, after heading off to college, has decided to abandon the route to medical practice. Joe doesn’t seem to have such a contentious relationship with the expectations placed on him, and even if he’s not capable enough to make that path easy, he seems to enjoy the challenge and feel most at-home in the environment he’s spent most of his life in, even if he’s not always totally sure that he can handle what he’s trying to do.
Mimi doesn’t seem to have an issue with her parents, who are mostly portrayed as very loving and eccentric, if a little bit overly self-absorbed. Her worst traits are feeling entitled to personal comfort and being easily spoiled, to the point that she ceases an opportunity to be treated like a literal princess in one Digimon village; but her determination to make things right in every situation by herself, her friends, or even justice, make her a heroic character nonetheless.
I think Mimi’s trauma is the most unique in that it has less to do with her parents, and more to do with the way that society reacts to her--namely, in hyper-focusing on her sexuality. And yes, even though this character is not portrayed as sexual in any way shape or form, the reaction that the sleazy Numemon have to Mimi is unmistakably perverse, and she spends an alarming amount of time getting catcalled over the course of the series. Easily the most shocking scene involving this character comes in the real world, when the entire crew attempts to hitchhike their way through Tokyo. None of the boys are successful in getting a ride, but the girls do instantly, and the guy who picks them up literally tells all the boys to think of themselves as luggage, as he’s only letting them ride so that he can have Mimi in the front seat. While none of these scenes are portrayed as especially dark, I don’t really think they’re meant to be humorous either--at least, I was always creeped out by these encounters; but I thought that it fit the tone of the series perfectly, with the characters constantly in danger of all sorts of traumatizing circumstances. If anything, I’m actually really glad that Digimon dares to even brush upon the subject of young girls often getting hounded by sexually aggressive older men from a younger age than media usually wants to even suggest possible.
Of course, these characters wouldn’t be heroes if they were defined by their traumas rather than the strengths which have allowed them to overcome those, which are indicated by the crests that each of them carry symbolizing the values that they represent.
Taichi the courageous is usually the first to come up with a solution to whatever situation the group finds themselves in, and sort of becomes the de facto leader without really trying. He is sometimes in need of halting in order to hear out the suggestions of others, and sometimes he is pleasantly surprised at how their insights can help in his decision-making. At his worst, he is bone-headedly dedicated to a disagreeable solution to the point that he and Yamato end up in a series of fist-fights, usually when Yamato is concerned that one of Taichi’s decisions is going to put himself or Takeru in danger. That feeling of desperation to protect and hold together his friendships is how Yamato validates his own friendship crest. His insistence on coming to an understanding with Taichi, even if through a series of blows, is the necessary force it takes to get through to tough guy Taichi that he needs to take a step back and listen more.
This trouble manifests in Taichi’s relationship with best friend Sora as well, particularly in the short period that it is suggested they are dating in the Our War Game film. While their argument over Sora’s disappointment with Taichi’s unfitting surprise gift is resolved within the span of the film, the epilogue of the sequel series, Digimon Adventure 02, suggests that Sora ends up with Yamato in the end, and them working as a fashion designer and astronaut respectively. Taichi fittingly follows through on his interest in growing personally by way of hearing people out and helping them to implement their solutions by becoming a diplomat. But that’s way ahead of us.
Joe’s crest of reliability signifies his position as the rock of the group, ever determined to do something and push forward even if he doesn’t know exactly what to do. Sora’s crest of love signifies her attentiveness to the feelings of others in the group, and desire to resolve conflicts and bring everyone together in service of their shared ambitions. Mimi’s crest of sincerity is earned in the way that she sincerely wants everyone to have the same quality of life that she’s been able to enjoy before being flung into the traumatic circumstances of the digital world, and is willing to fight to bring those standards to her friends. I’ve explored Hikari’s crest of light already, but Takeru’s similar crest of hope signifies his unyielding belief in the abilities of the people around him and willingness to sacrifice anything to protect their hope for survival.
Koushiro’s crest of knowledge is pretty self-explanatory, but he really gets to show his stuff as practically the only active savior of the entire planet in the forty-minute Our War Game film. Mimi, Sora, and Joe are barely in the film at all, with Yamato and Takeru in minor supporting roles, and most of the film consisting of Taichi hopelessly spectating and cheering on Koushiro as he plugs away at his computer, chasing an evil Digimon through the web as the entire internet spectates and sends encouragement--that encouragement ultimately becoming the weapon which Koushiro turns on the evil Digimon by forwarding it all of his emails. This movie largely reads to me as a love letter to the true digital warriors of the turn of the millennium, and presents a more advanced understanding of the internet and programming than practically any other media of the era; and even more realistically than the imaginative take on the internet that Hosoda would later use in Summer Wars. This film also introduced Hosoda’s super-flat style inspired by the work of Takashi Murakami, which he would expand on in nearly all of his other work going forward, such as the Louis Voitton-commissioned short film, Superflat Monogram.
After the children defeat Vampdemon and return to the Digital World, having grown into strong representations of their virtues and willing warriors in the protection of both theirs and the now-twisted and itself traumatized Digital World, the series seems to ask itself what is the most traumatizing scenario that the average young person might experience within their life--which of course is war--and how much they can actually represent that in a still kind of lighthearted children’s show. The drama really starts in the human world when Vampdemon murders several of his own sympathetic allies, including Wizardmon, but once we get back to the Digital world, weaker enemy Digimon are suddenly presented as sympathetically perilous in the face of the crushing demise facing them at the hands of much stronger Digimon. This is upsetting to the heroes in the face of knowing that they could protect all of the Digimon, and so there is urgency in their need to stop the enemy before too many of these guys are wiped out--and even the egg fields where the reincarnated Digimon would ordinarily revive have been deactivated under the enemy’s control. The battle to save the Digimon world is long and hard-fought, takes all that the kids have in their power to accomplish, and is fraught with sideline deaths--but in the end, when the Digital World is saved, all of the Digimon are reborn once more with healed souls, and the human world is no longer under threat of calamity.
At the end of Digimon Adventure, the children decide to let their Digimon live where they belong in the now-safe Digital World, as they return to their real lives back at home--but we are assured that the Digital World will always be there for us, and will open itself to us when we need it again. I find this poetic, as it almost gives the viewer permission to stop watching Digimon here if they’ve already gotten what they needed to out of it, but also assures them that it will be back if they are still in need of more of whatever the series is giving them--and in case you didn’t realize, the Digital World hasn’t closed off for a single moment in the time since this series concluded back in the year 2000.
Digimon Adventure was immediately followed-up by Digimon Adventure 02, set in 2002 and starring an aged-up Hikari and Takeru leading a new group of kids on another adventure through the digital world under the light supervision of the older generation, particularly Koushiro. The epilogue of this series shows all of the original DigiDestined grown up with fully fledged careers and children that now have their own Digimon partners, seeming intent on putting a capstone on the stories of those characters, even though the series had mostly focused on a different set of children.
I have to imagine that Digimon was in an odd position as a franchise in the immediate wake of Digimon Adventure breaking worldwide, because the anime now had to form the backbone of a cultural juggernaut with enough steam to keep trucking year after year. Pokemon had taken the approach of centering on a few consistent main characters, but cycling out Ash’s companions and Pokemon each time he entered a new region, thus making the series feel fresh for new audiences getting into the adventure for the first time, but still familiar to people who’d formed a bond with the original conception of the show and want to see it perpetuated indefinitely to sate their nostalgia--and ensuring a consistent nostalgia experience between multiple generations of the franchise’s fans. Everyone who knows about Pokemon at the very least has a similar conception of what the anime and video games are, with the main series of Pokemon games having enough consistency in quality and structure to represent the core of the whole mega-franchise’s identity beyond the Pokemon designs themselves.
Digimon designs are good, but they are not as instantly recognizable or endlessly reproducible as Pokemon. They suit the narrative tone of the anime, but that tone is almost deliberately repellant outside the context of trying to cope with traumatic experiences, as opposed to just having a good time like the average Pokemon episode. Digimon Adventure is a show that lingers in your mind because it’s interesting and emotionally effecting to think about, but not because it’s something that you could just pop on an episode of every single morning for the rest of your life like Pokemon. When Digimon puts you through yet another Digimon adventure, it has a tall task of connecting just as well with its new audience of younger children as the first show did with its audience, while also ensuring that those kids who did still need the Digital World to be there for them wasn’t going to be let down.
Digimon Tamers, which introduced an entirely new cast and went to air right after Adventure 02, is considered by a lot of people to be the outright best season of Digimon, though I’ve also talked to people who essentially lost interest by the end of Adventure 02, as their connection to the series was so dependent on their relationship to those particular characters--apart from the usual cause of losing interest in childhood hobbies of growing a couple years older and getting into something else. After the end of the fourth series, Digimon Frontier, in 2003, the franchise would start taking three-year gaps in-between anime installations, likely resolving that each series basically had one shot with the current generation of children, and then would have to leave them alone for a while as they lost interest.
That isn’t to say that the franchise ever truly laid dormant, though, with feature films, manga publications, and video games in a slew of genres consistently dropping every couple of years. While Digimon didn’t spend a lot of time at a mainstream level of popularity in America that would put it on t-shirts in Wal-Mart like Pokemon, it’s nevertheless remained about as popular as literally any other anime series that Americans know about as a nostalgia property, and I have to imagine has even more presence in plenty of other places worldwide.
Digimon Adventure’s legacy has always seemed to loom large over the rest of the franchise as a sort of pinnacle moment in its reach and reaction with audiences; and so eventually Toei figured out that their best way forward was in returning to those characters--and so for the fifteenth anniversary of the original series, they launched the Digimon Adventure Tri. film series, consisting of six movies broken further into 26 episodes which tell the stories of the characters in high school having to rekindle their friendships in order to face a new threat to both worlds. The launch of this sequel was heavily hyped and ended up becoming a pretty big event, with fans of the original show proving that they definitely still cared very deeply about these characters and where their stories might go in spite of the ending of Digimon Adventure 02.
I remember around this time that the singer of the show’s utterly iconic opening theme and insert songs which feature in nearly every episode, Wada Kouji-san, was pushing through nasopharynx cancer that heavily effected his singing voice in order to belt out that iconic chorus to event-goers surrounding the launch of the film series. Wada-san tragically lost his life to complications related to cancer in 2016 at 42 years-old, having inspired millions around the world with his soaring performances.
The success of Digimon Adventure Tri eventually lead Toei to launch a full-on reboot of the original series, with all-new animation and additional partner Digimon added into a much longer and more fleshed-out story, which is still airing with 62 episodes released at the time of this writing--already eight more than the original series had.
I am curious to investigate certain parts of the Digimon franchise, especially Tamers because of its being written by Chiaki J. Konaka-sensei, but I also wish to continue with the Anime Alphabet series before I go watching another fifty-plus episodes of Digimon. I had the idea in the comments of my previous video on Cardcaptor Sakura to produce follow-up videos to each episode of the Anime Alphabet series once they cross view count thresholds which show me that enough people like hearing me talk about the series that I should talk about it more. As such, when the Attack no. 1 video reaches 50,000 views, I will make a video about Attacker You!, the also-popular 80s volleyball series that it inspired. When the Sailor Moon video reaches 50,000 views, I will cover the other four seasons and corresponding movies of the original series in one big video--and then when it reaches 75,000, I will cover not only Sailor Moon Crystal and the new movie that just came out for that, but also the mid-2000s live-action adaptation. This includes reading the whole manga for comparison as well. When the Cardcaptor video reaches 25,000 views, I will make a video reviewing all of the outfits shown on-screen in the entire show, and when it reaches 50,000 views, I will talk about the Clear Card arc, provided only that the manga has ended by that point. If another anime season gets announced, I’ll wait for that to be over as well before covering it.
When this Digimon video reaches 50,000 views, I will cover Digimon Adventure 02, Digimon Adventure Tri., and the new reboot of Digimon Adventure, provided that it has concluded by the time I reach that view count--if not, I’ll make a separate video about it when it’s over. When it reaches 75,000 views, I’ll make a video about Digimon Tamers. If there are any other parts of the Digimon franchise you think I should talk about, let me know in the comments below, and we can append some more benchmarks onto this video’s future!
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