Airing at the bizarre whims of Toei Animation on Crunchyroll
The Digidestined drag Meiko into their fold, hanging out at a hot spring resort and at the school festival, but the threat of the Infected Digimon still looms. And Joe still has exams.
The recent surge of Digimon content has nothing if not rekindled my childhood love for the franchise, and our watch/rewatch of the original Adventure is as great of a nostalgia trip as I cold hope for. I care about all of these characters even more now – with the original fresh in my mind – than I may ever have before, conveniently setting the stage for Tri to leverage that and turn out surprisingly well despite Toei’s usual production hiccups. Slice-of-life antics and deeper character development are especially welcome after the almost too action-packed romp of Reunion.
Joe’s two main character traits were always being a study fiend and being the oldest of the bunch, and Determination pushes hard on both of these buttons, albeit making the former a symptom of the latter. Most of the Digidestined are in high school now, but Joe’s the only senior, the only one with adulthood as a looming threat. He’s caught in a trap created by his own mind: a coward should he abandon the fight to grow up, taking his place in society; a coward should he choose to remain a Chosen Child and set aside his very real problems, even for a moment; and a coward regardless for his indecision when presented with these choices. It’s all a bit undermined by the show’s title being Digimon, but the subject is broached effectively, tying back into the overarching camaraderie theme the franchise has always had. Plus we get to see Vikemon.
During his talk with Mimi in the rain, Joe notes that the same questions keep resurfacing, a sentiment which cleanly encapsulates Mimi’s character conflict during this block. The lesson of her original Crest focus episode (“Princess Karaoke”) was that honest feelings were important but needed to be tempered with tact and kindness. Her new status as American transfer student is a convenient way to revisit that in a greater social context than among only the Digidestined, but other than basic-ass schoolgirl gossiping not much comes of it. Instead, it serves to endear Meiko to the audience. By the time the two of them are dancing on stage together, Meiko feels like she’s truly one of the crew; there’s no need to waste screen time on having the others accept her, because if Mimi does, then we all do.
While Determination‘s character focus lies with those three, plenty of threads from Reunion continue. After rewatching Adventure, teenage Tai’s somber apprehension towards the entire situation is striking, especially his unwillingness to confront Matt at all. Izzy’s newfound crush on Mimi is adorable, and it makes him being the one to call out her rash behavior more effective. He’s often seen standing with TK – whose sudden flirtatiousness also stands out – both here and in Reunion, quietly laying down foreshadowing for the upcoming Confession (cue shipper squealing), where they’re slated to be the two main viewpoints. Himekawa jumps right from unimportant to overtly suspicious, grinning as Leomon receives his customary death. Hackmon is also still creeping around, carrying around the unfortunate implication that the Royal Knights are probably going to be involved at some point, as if Alphamon’s presence didn’t already signal that. Oh, and I guess the Digimon Emperor shows up; remember him?
All of this pales in comparison to the comedy hijinks peppered throughout Determination, including such modern anime cliches as a hot spring resort and a school festival. The original Adventure had practically none of this, and despite such things usually being tiresome, it’s a great opportunity to see the cast hang out and be buds. After 15 years, we don’t really need to see Digimon fighting other Digimon; what’s more important is seeing that all of the Digidestined and their partners are still friends, still happy, even with new (or old) conflicts popping up to ruin their day. Hopefully this will remain the case whenever Toei decides to actually get off their asses and release the next block.
What with Reunion being an entire movie-length reintroduction to the characters and concepts of the Adventure world, I was relatively OK with the first installment of Tri being relatively plot light, but a lot of us were looking for this follow-up to put a bit more story meat on the bones. Does it succeed? Well, sort of. There’s definitely some intriguing hints given as to the future direction that the show is going to be taking. For the most part though, this is another slow paced, largely character focused piece, with all the good and bad that that entails.
Fortunately, there’s definitely more good than bad, and it’s even somewhat refreshing that something that bills itself as the continuation of a shonen action adventure is so aggressively languid in its attitude. Character work was one of the standout strengths of the original show (which I’ve now actually seen!) and Tri seems to sensibly understand the major strength it has is those characters and the ability to poke around in their lives. Consequently, I can’t help but be charmed by the relentless assault of slice-of-life cliches, as stereotypical as they may be. Scenarios like the bathhouse visit are enlivened by punchy character writing and the comedic pratfalls of the Digimon themselves, and once again it’s simply enjoyable to watch these old friendships be rekindled in interesting ways.
While the humour and bonding elements work well in this context, the movie also attempts some much heavier character work which is a noticeably more mixed bag. Of the two focus characters, I think Mimi comes off worse here by a considerable margin. The moral they’re going for seems confused and muddy – is Mimi bad because she’s restless, headstrong and doesn’t consider others before throwing herself into the fray? Or is she good because of….exactly those same things? It doesn’t help that she’s always been a boisterous character and the way she acts within this movie is hardly at odds with how we’ve seen her acting before. In the end, it just doesn’t feel like she has much of an arc beyond ‘I’m happy, now I’m sad, now I’m happy again’. The most worthwhile thing to be gained from it is probably her odd-couple friendship with Meiko, which is forced but very cute nonetheless and leads to some solid character development for the latter. Yes, they go with the old and hoary ‘shy girl gets embarrassed in a skimpy outfit’ angle but the key here is she does it of her own volition, for Mimi, which manages to couple an inevitable fanservice op with a better insight into our newest team member.
Much more successful is Joe’s story, which is aided by the fact that it’s been bubbling under since the first movie. Joe’s always been portrayed as the team’s outsider to a certain extent – he’s older, goes to a different school and has always been an avowed sceptic of the whole excitement and adventure thing. Blowing that up into a general disdain for being a Digidestined in general isn’t much of leap, especially given the pressure that he’s under. It’s one of the few times that this supposedly adult-targeted reboot actually feels like it’s addressing adult concerns, and Joe’s desire to create his own life outside of his supposed destiny is both relatable and charmingly meta given the state of the franchise. Drawing Gomamon into the argument is smart too, since not only does it give us his agonizingly heartbreaking upset face but it also creates a nice bit of tension between the human characters and the Digimon, who too often are portrayed as having somewhat idyllic friendships. Their confrontation on the rooftop, as brief as it is, is arguably the best scene in the movie as Joe struggles to articulate his feelings. His return at the end to trigger the final battle is pleasantly understated and the brief moment he shares with Mimi a good payoff to their earlier anguished talk in the rain. Great stuff all round.
As for that plot? Yeah, it’s a weird one. The return of the Digimon Kaiser/Emperor as our main antagonist seems odd and the kind of thing that is almost entirely a fan pleasing move. I’m not even convinced that it really is dear old Ken under those glasses either, not until he actually speaks at least. The shocking last-minute swerve with Meicoomon seems to confirm that she’s the factor that ties all of the odd plot lines together, but those odd plot lines are still so disparate and under-developed that it’s difficult to get a grasp on any fixed direction the story might be going. Really, very little happens in this movie in a meaningful way to advance the plot, which is not necessarily a problem but may well become one down the line. With a third of our runtime now filled it’s probably time for the show to put the pedal to the metal and start delivering answers, or at the very least a concrete thread for our heroes to follow. Given the sudden upset to the group dynamic it seems unlikely that we can continue down the same meandering path we have up to this point at least.
This new installment of Tri probably won’t win over anyone who wasn’t enchanted by part 1, and certainly won’t convert anyone who was already sceptical about the series as a whole. Toei are ploughing a safe furrow here, full of nostalgia, shout-outs, and easily palatable fanservice. But it’s so warmly, charmingly done that it’s difficult to complain too much. There were so many sequences in this film that put a smile on my face that it would be churlish to keep picking at its flaws. More ambition is needed to make Tri a classic but right now it’s just a great big comfy blanket of laughs and tears, and that’s more than enough.
- In the opening segment Mimi is wearing an appropriately modified version of her costume from the original Adventure, complete with pink cowboy hat.
- As expected, Toei’s animation is competent at best and occasionally laughably bad. The moment in the climax where they cut from a still shot to… the same still shot is particularly noticeable. Apparently thirty-eight studios are credited with aiding animation in some form.
- Izzy’s continued disastrous forays into the world of fashion are the most adorable thing.
- In the montage of reaction shots after Meicoomon kills Leomon, Himekawa can very briefly be seen smiling.
- Iro: In a subtle call-forward to her career as a fashion designer in 02‘s epilogue, Sora does the sewing for the date cafe uniforms.
- Iro: Matt’s band has changed name again from KNIFE OF DAY to WORLD ON THE KNIFE. I hope this is a running gag.
- Iro: Tentomon uses his second pair of arms here for perhaps the first time onscreen, to eat a bowl of rice.