Digimon Adventure Adventure: Part 4

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Aquagaze and Irothtin love Digimon. Zigg has never watched Digimon. 16 years after the original Digimon Adventure started airing, can it hold up to Aqua and Iro’s preteen memories? Can it convert Zigg, seeing it for the first time? Can anyone shut the super-annoying PicoDevimon up?

This Time… Vamdemon/Myotismon Arc, Part 1 (Digimon Adventure episodes 22-28)

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Aqua remembers… The Myotismon arc is to many the absolute highlight of Digimon Adventure, and it’s hard not to see why. Growing up in a country blessed with some of the most excellent children’s programming of the western hemisphere, kids’ shows tackling themes like divorce, death, adoption or fear of abandonment wasn’t exactly new to me, but Digimon‘s — and in particular, this arc’s — handling of such content has always been the defining characteristic that set my recollection of the Digimon anime apart from its tamer counterpart Pokémon. Nevertheless, as I already mentioned, Pokémon vs. Digimon was never really a thing on the playgrounds I frequented. If anything, my friends and I mostly just wished for the two franchises to adopt some aspects from the other we preferred. Why couldn’t Pokémon talk or de-evolve back to their earlier forms? And why couldn’t the DigiDestined catch more than one Digimon, and why didn’t they ever fight each other, or compete in a Digimon League? Figuring we knew better than the weird men in Japan who kept us entertained, we decided to think up our own collectible monsters… but that’s a story for next time.

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Iro remembers… The Myotismon Arc is probably the best stretch of the show, using the Crests as a convenient excuse to further explore the characters and snag cool new power-ups while Tai puts the band back together. I continue to be surprised at how well it’s all been holding up, particularly the more emotional moments. None of it gets particularly deep, but we’re talking about a kid’s show here, and what we do get feels genuine. You need a cold, dead heart to not feel sympathy for TK as he’s emotionally manipulated into believing he’s been abandoned.

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Zigg’s Thoughts… Between the slapdash nature of the Etemon Arc and the bizarre interlude of Hosoda’s episode, it’s been quite a while since we’ve had any prime ‘regular’ episodes of Digimon Adventure, but this arc thankfully corrects that and more, providing some of the strongest episodes in the show’s run so far. What’s especially gratifying is that the story isn’t content to sit on its laurels but instead continues to evolve alongside the characters and the situations that they face. In this arc we begin to see some of the more subtle and in-depth work which ensured Adventure is remembered as a classic rather than an also ran.

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The first key step in this evolution is something I initially thought was a disastrous move but turned out to be one of the smartest ones going – splitting the team up. I was really nervous about this, because as good as the individual characters are it’s really as an ensemble that they function the best. Fortunately, the writers knew this as well and so the entire story of this arc is basically about how they need to put the band back together. It’s a fun premise that works on multiple levels – not only do we get to stay with Tai’s perspective initially and be just as baffled as he is, but it also gives a lot of room for the others to get out from under his shadow and grow their own stories.DAA031

The best of these is undoubtedly the first, TK and Matt’s emotional separation caused by the machinations of PicoDevimon, one of the more agreeably hateable villains in the series thus far. The reason it’s so great is that it takes what we already know about TK’s character – he’s the kid of the group, a bit of a crybaby and has an uneasy relationship with his brother – and builds on that, using character drama to both create story momentum and further character development in turn. There’s a lot of relatable drama here, particularly TK’s appropriation of Tai as a surrogate brother figure. With his own brother relatively distant and something of a loner, it’s not inconceivable that TK would be drawn to Tai, who is the same age as Matt but much cheerier, more openly affectionate and doesn’t have the emotional baggage of the siblings’ traumatic past. I also really like that a major point of the episode is that TK and Tokomon have a major falling out. It’s useful for both sides, since up to now the Digimon companions have basically been presented as perfect sidekicks, so it’s nice to see them show a light edge. Likewise, it’s important for TK to display negative character traits (in this case gullibility) that further our view of him as a fully rounded person.

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This idea of deepening and rounding out the characters is a persistent theme throughout this arc, and in many ways it’s an extension of the process Tai went through in the previous set of episodes. One great thing which Digimon Adventure does which many kids shows, or indeed many shows in general, don’t do is that it allows us to see the honest problems our characters have, then takes steps to fix them. Mimi’s episode is another great example of this. Mimi isn’t being mean and selfish because she’s been corrupted, or because she’s under some sort of evil mind control, she’s being mean and selfish because…well, she’s sometimes kind of a jerk. That the show allows our heroes to have honest flaws, and then to recognise and fix those flaws themselves, really marks it out as a great character piece. It’s definitely not perfect – Sora’s story comes across as mostly cliche, and Joe doesn’t come out looking great (though maybe that’s the point) – but there’s an honest attempt and it works more often than not. By the time everyone’s back together again they feel closer than ever, and it’s a great moment that really pumps you up for the climax of this arc.

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The other major factor which bumps this arc up over the previous ones is the higher quality of villains. As previously mentioned, PicoDevimon is absolutely unbearable, a devious flying little shitbag who you just want to constantly punch in the mouth, which basically makes him perfect for his role as cowardly behind the scenes manipulator. Vamdemon himself is also a massive improvement over previous baddies, both in general manner and in his activity. Granted, he doesn’t appear too much in this run of episodes, but when he does he’s appropriately powerful and evil, and the show builds to his first unveiling well. There’s always the slight whiff of camp when you have a vampire as your main villain but that’s largely not a handicap (although the terrible CGI of his ‘Night Raid’ attack most certainly is). As for Tailmon, introduced as Vamdemon’s general, I’m not going to pass comment because, look, I’ve seen the closing credits and Tri and you guys probably have as well, so we all know where this is going. I will say the idea of a second-in-command who’s small and cute on the outside but packing a punch is a fun idea.

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Throughout this entire run of episodes, the impression I  got was of a show growing more comfortable in its own skin, and more willing to experiment with its characters and format, often to great success. Despite the heavy character focus, this is definitely also the silliest and funniest part of Digimon Adventure so far, with brilliant gags such as ‘Punk Agumon and Reggae Palmon’ or the inspired karaoke sequence. It’s also the most conscientious about building a mythology for the ongoing plot to tap, as we delve deeper into Gennai, the link between the digital and real worlds, and of course the mysterious Eighth Child which would be an important puzzle if we didn’t already know exactly who it was. Regardless, this is the best stretch of Digimon Adventure yet and a superb slice of quality television.

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Random Observations

  • The new ending theme Keep On is marvelously catchy but also spoils every single new form from now until the end of the show.
  • The English dub beautifully punned on the title of Mimi’s focus episode by calling it ‘Princess Karaoke’.
  • Speaking of puns, when Tai says “Hirake, Gomamon” when opening the door, it’s a pun on”Hirake, Goma”, which is the Japanese equivalent of ‘Open Sesame’.
  • Anybody looking for a unique font choice, try this
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