Digimon Adventure Adventure: Part 5

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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 avenge Pump and Gotsu?

This Time…Vamdemon/Myotismon Arc, Part 2 (Digimon Adventure episodes 29-39)

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Aqua remembers… This is the best part of Digimon Adventure, but I don’t need to tell you that. Moving back to the real world was a masterstroke, bringing themes few other cartoons dared to address into the fray and introducing Kari, whose mysterious specialness and gentle nature made her my favourite character of the original eight. Digimon‘s character was always what set it apart from its competitors, something even my friends and I in grade school thought that other collectible monsters show we liked just a tad bit more, Pokémon, was missing a bit. So, as I’ve mentioned before, we made up our own monster buddies to get the best of both worlds. The Arrowmon — named as such because they evolved when struck by magical light arrows thrown by their trainers — could talk and de-evolve at will, like Digimon, but like Pokémon, you could also have a whole party of them, trade them or have them play-fight against each other for fun. My Arrowmon tended to play-lose the play-fights because I was a weird kid who cared more about the laws of good and fair storytelling than about one-upping my friends with my Super-Ultra Beam that deals infinity to the infinite power damage. This is also part of why I tended to ‘play’ a girl character — the other part being that I usually just plain liked the female characters in a given cartoon better, as mentioned above — a tradition I will still proudly adhere to whenever I get the chance. Yeah, I wasn’t exactly your typical eight-year-old boy, wasn’t I?

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Iro remembers… Everybody remembers this part, because it’s the best part. After almost 30 episodes in the surreal Digital World, coming back to the real world provides a more comfortable backdrop and lets things kick into high gear without having to spend a ton of time explaining what the hell is going on. Which is good, because a hell of a lot does go indeed go on, and dragging both the kids’ hometown and their families into the fray is always a solid method of upping the stakes. What I didn’t realize as a kid is that – in a classic example of anime time dilation – this all takes place over perhaps two or three days. I always thought of them as spending weeks in the real world, since they also spent weeks in the Digital World.

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Zigg’s Thoughts: As Aqua and Iro have just demonstrated, this is probably the part of the show that’s remembered most fondly by its childhood fans. The return to the real world brings with it a welcome shift in the tone and style of the show, and the stakes are upped all the way to global destruction. Plus we have the introduction of a new team member and battles on a scale we’ve never seen before, culminating in a very public skyscraper-scale confrontation. It’s all very exciting, and yet there’s a part of me that feels that there’s also some wasted potential here. Make no mistake, this part of the show shines with action and adventure, but it’s also irritatingly messy in the back half, which diminishes the impact of some of the more major moments.

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The biggest change in this segment of the show is obviously the relocation to urban Tokyo, which dramatically alters the tempo, premise and nature of the show. For the first time the gang have start behaving like, you know, actual children, with parents, mealtimes and bedtimes to observe. You’d think this would be a bit of a downer compared to the kid’s paradise that is the Digital World (well, except for all the things trying to kill you). Thing is though, the show cleverly leans into the normality, turning things like a train ride or a night on the town into funny, action packed adventures full of Digimon hijinks. Rather than the surreal ‘anything can happen’ landscapes the story has dealt in up to this point, here the humour and excitement comes from familiar locations and routines being disrupted, played with and ultimately spectacularly wrecked.

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The other big change the shift to the reality brings with it is the introduction of other human characters, primarily of course the Digidestined’s families. Again, the introduction of mundane home living and authority living had a chance to halt the story’s freewheeling spirit abruptly, but instead smart writing means we instead get a chance to peek a little more into the lives our kid heroes have lived up to this point. Izzy is the headliner here of course, his conflicted feelings over his adoption coming to the forefront now he’s back with his parents. Although it doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime it’s a wonderful little piece of character building that tugs at the heartstrings without ever seeming contrived or overly-dramatic. None of the other children get quite such a powerful arc but there are great moments scattered through, like Tai crying as he’s reunited with his folks or Mimi’s dad’s hilarious ineffective ramming attack.

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Speaking of family, let’s talk again about Tai’s little sister Hikari, who officially joins the crew in this arc as their sixth eighth ranger. We’ve seen Kari before of course, back in both the pilot movie and episode 21, but outside of those very specific circumstances she’s a little different. This ‘regular’ version of Kari is a little more chatty and cheerful than the near silent, mournful figure she was when we last saw her. Having said that, she’s still very clearly a much more quiet, contemplative figure than most of our heroes and heroines, and the story plays up her innocence, friendliness and general lack of malice. She comes dangerously close to being painted as an overwhelmingly flawless character but I think the writing does just reign in her purity enough to make her likable rather than irritating, and her big moment (willingly giving herself up to prevent Matt and Sora being attacked) rings true to her personality.

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So with so much good stuff on the table, where do my issues with this arc arise? I think that what really prevents this segment of the story from being top tier A+ work is a general level of sloppiness when it comes to pacing, which makes this entire segment feel a little uneven. We get a lot of slow character work to begin with, followed by an extremely rushed two or three episodes, and then a finale which I’d probably describe as over-long at the very least. Given the stakes of the situation, this is one arc where a little more urgency and tighter cutting and writing would have made a big difference. As it is, there’s definitely a feeling of time occasionally being allocated poorly.

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To me, the biggest casualty of this mismanagement is the plot-critical relationship between Gatomon and Wizardmon. It’s a really bold, audacious attempt to humanise the bad guys and make Gatomon’s eventual turn more realistic, but it’s just too rushed and glossed over to have the necessary impact. Wizardmon goes from anonymous background mook to the most important character in Gatomon’s life, to dead in the span of a few episodes. Gatomon meanwhile pivots from her villainous position and unravels her abusive past so quickly it’s difficult to believe she was that on board to begin with, which makes stuff like her almost-murder of Kari even more unbelievable in retrospect. It’s a shame since as I said there’s the skeleton of a great character story here and there are still great moments (Wizardmon’s actual death is fantastic, partly thanks to excellent presentation). One wonders why they couldn’t have devoted, say, the Pump and Gotsu filler episode to explore the two’s friendship further instead.

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My other big issue is the story climax, or rather, the second story climax. Myotismon’s initial defeat at the hands of Angewomon is really rather splendid and a fine way to close the loop on this particular chunk of the tale. What I’m not so keen on is the Super Sentai style giant monster assault afterwards. Whereas Angewomon’s debut and initial slaying of Myotismon is satisfactory on both character, plot and thematic levels, this giant, poorly designed beast just feels like an afterthought. In fact the show immediately proves that suspicion true by using him as an excuse to introduce a pair of new powerups with one of the most lame and shallow deus ex machinas ever put on a screen. Even Izzy’s decoding of the last-minute prophecy stretches credibility, let alone its mere existence. It’s aggravating to see the show effectively collapse back into bog-standard shonen cliche, even if its only for a short while. No matter how cool WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon are (very, for the record) it’s hard not to feel the final battle is something of an anti-climax, especially since the animation is clearly not up to the task of rendering a skyscraper-scale battle. Typically, the best moments in the battle are the intimate, character based ones. Matt and Tai’s friendly false bluster is a cute and insightful highlight.

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Nevertheless, I’m probably inclined to agree with Aqua and Iro that this is the strongest part of Digimon Adventure, at least so far. There’s so much rich comedy, drama and character here that it’s easy to forgive the occasional messy exposition dump or loose story end. Crucially, the show continues to tread where other kids adventures are reluctant to, exploring the inner lives and feelings of our heroes and growing our affection for them. With the team finally complete, all that remains is to head back to the Digital World and confront the ultimate threat.

Random Observations

  • In the original version, Joe mentions that the Digimon incident in Hikarigaoka was misreported as a terrorist bombing. Amazingly, this made it into the dub but was cut out for any TV airings following the September 11th attacks.
  • Other notable cuts are made in the hitchiking segment where the anonymous creeper who picks up the crew is changed into Sora’s slacker cousin. The incident where Matt is lured by a femme fatale convertible driver is cut out altogether.
  • A number of famous Odaiba landmarks appear throughout this portion of the show. Most notable are the Tokyo Big Sight convention centre, which is where Myotismon holds his hostages, and the Fuji TV Building, which is where Matt’s father works and which is severely damaged in the final battle. Fuji TV was the network which originally broadcast Digimon Adventure.
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