It’s amazing how much changing the antagonist improves the show.
The Etemon arc fails in similar ways like the Devimon’s. In some ways, it’s worse. Yet by the time it concludes it explains why Digimon became such a huge franchise. From the second Etemon appears until the last episode, there’s a sense of focus that hints at a grand conclusion, instead of just boring villain of the week episodes.
Etemon is a fantastic antagonist. He’s a shallow one. He doesn’t have any logical motivation for being evil aside from being evil, but his way of doing it makes the difference. Devimon was a manipulator whose method wasn’t inside his character, anyway. It was just a tacked-on skill, and Devimon was unseen until the last episodes. Etemon comes off as genuinely deranged, and thus dangerous.
Every moment he’s on screen reinforces that Etemon is not right in the head. He doesn’t symbolize darkness, like Devimon or Miyotismon. His appearance is bright and funny. His matter is more jovial than tough. His plans for taking over everything comes from his megalomania, which is a real trait instead of ‘evil’. It’s a genuine motive that drives a character’s behavior.
It’s not deep, of course. Etemon is no deep exploration of megalomania. The series never pretends he should be, though. Defeating the enemy isn’t the focus of Digimon Adventure anyway, but the relationship between the characters. The series needs a charismatic enough antagonist who will also seem dangerous. That will be an effective backdrop for the relationships to develop with.
For some reason, though, the kids act again like a single protagonist instead of a group. They spend most of the arc searching for plot coupons, with Etemon appearing once in a while to add some excitement. It’s the exact plot we’ve seen in the previous arc. The only major change is that there’s a real element of danger. There’s a little more tension, so all this collecting is bit more exciting this time.
The arc redeems itself with the last two episodes, which are years ahead of anything surrounding them. After two dull episodes, one with a boring chicken villain and another with a ‘trainer’ the creators add another extra villain and put the kids face to face with Etemon. The extra villain is not much, but like Etemon he’s a bit funny in the head and that also makes him genuinely dangerous. He’s also a third party, so you get a climax where three different sides collide, just to make it all bigger.
Datamon and Etemon are genuine threats, so when the group finally confronts them it’s intense. The last two episodes have perfect pacing. The first one sets up Datamon as another legitimate threat, while the second one brings an epic, final fight. It still relies on Digivolution to solve it, but there’s more thrill there because Etemon was shown to be tough. Tai also get a strong character moment that reminds us how different these kids are. It’s the most emotionally powerful scene in the series so far (And the next arc doesn’t provide anything better). If only the series had more scenes that stem from the characters’ personality.
The Etemon arc is not as good as expected, but the main antagonist is a joy to watch. It’s the first hint that the creators haven’t wasted all of their ideas in the first few episodes. Etemon is a blueprint for how to make a shallow, but an entertaining and effective villain. You don’t need to watch the first arc to enjoy this one. It’s best to read summaries of the Devimon arc, and start from here. This is where the Digi-World fulfills its promise of weirdness, danger and excitement. Sadly, they slide right back to the mediocrity in the Miyotismon arc.