This is not what I signed up for.
The vague memories I have of Digimon is that it worked like Medabots. They were a part of a better shounen genre. The “Boy and his cool pet” may seem childish, but Medabots kept it at 52 episodes while the ‘mature’ Naruto, Bleach and One Piece are still dragging on. Digimon was supposed to be this weird, hallucinary epic adventure.
During the first 14 episodes, it only hints at that greatness. I’m giving it the benefit of doubt. Maybe it was the English dub, or because they had to do all these introductions. Maybe I just remember how effective Tamers’ climax was that I hope the previous seasons were just as good.
The Devimon arc introduces a lot of great ingridients, but none of them are cooked into a good story. It feels like they’re too busy holding back, talking about every new Digimon that appears instead of exploring the main characters.
The cast is especially strong, or at least can be. Juggling 6 characters can be hard, but their personalities are related. Sora is a mother figure, which contrasts with Tai’s slightly megalomanic and reckless leadership. T.K. is a little kid, which makes him pretty useless for the gang (In a good way. It’s the sort of thing that breeds conflict). Matt is always in competition with Tai, and Joe is neurotic.
Any time the creators stop dumping puzzles for the characters and let them interact, it works. Joe is the highlight. His neuorotic nature puts him more in conflict with the environment than anyone else. His also fairly mature personality puts him also in competition with Matt and Tai. This fairly big amount of leaders isn’t excess, but a way to explore different aspects of leadership. Joe is also the only one who has a developed relationship with his Digimon. Gomamon has a more carefree nature, and this makes for an interesting relationship. T.K.’s useless is also touched upon, and putting him as the key to the main conflict shows the creators know the importance of character. They defeat Devimon not just because they wrote one character more powerful than the others.
The DigiWorld is also fascinating. It’s strange and unpredictible. Elements of fantasy and sci-fi drop randomly. It doesn’t make for a incoherent world, but one whose unpredicitibality is its defining feature. This leads to plenty of interesting set pieces. Phone booths appear in the middle of nowhere. There’s a town ran by toys. There’s a factory that sets up and then dismantles the same thing, over and over. These are cool ideas in and of itself. The creators don’t do much with them, but just throwing them is enough to make it entertaining.
There’s not enough of that. Too many times the group acts as one. It’s as if you have a single protagonist, instead of six characters. They don’t make use of the character’s conflicting worldviews, and this makes the series stiff. A brief fight between Tai and Matt about whether or not to climb Infinity Mountain inject so much life you forgot about every dull moment that came before. It doesn’t help that most of the Digimon don’t have enough character. Without a personality that relates to the children, they become just a tool. It’s true that they become friends with them out of nowhere, instead of letting the relationship to develop over time. I could let that slide. You let the creators get away with the easy plot device of prophecy if they only knew what to do with the game pieces.
There also isn’t an antagonist interesting, or dangerous enough. Devimon’s design is beautiful. One thing that always works is the Digimon’s design. Yet, beyond looking dangerous and devilish there’s nothing to him. He manipulates Digimon and turns them evil, but it’s generic evil. Creating a dangerous villain is easier than a deep one. The arc could have made it with a bad guy who’s bad because he’s bad. Devimon’s badness is not bad enough. This is made more obvious once you move to Etemon’s story, who’s a much better antagonist.
The first arc of Digimon Adventure is disappointing. There are the ingidients for something brilliant, but the end result pretends it’s not there. I will continue watching. The good memories involve much later episodes, and so far Etemon’s arc is much better. Hopefully, Digimon Adventure will recover from this slump and justify its popularity. There’s always Medabots to watch again, if worst comes to worst.