The first arc had the group learning to form. That’s a story that will never get old, because what drives it are the difference between the characters and how they bridge their gap. The last arc of Tamers has the D-Reaper, where it’s supposed go full-psycho. The Deva arc was supposes to be the weakest. We even get a bit of bland, ‘we must protect our world’ motive to shower the episodes with villains of the week.
The Deva arc is longer and drags a little more than the Hypnos arc. We get the occasional pointless dialogue that made the first Adventure so awful. Characters sayng they must do something, or telling us that they already know. The Villain of the Week structure is also a little tiring by this point. Yet, the creators all use these methods to continue to develop their characters.
The Digital World section is where it gets intense. The arc is pretty slow until then, but it’s still fun. The Devas are much better designed than the enemies of Adventure. They sometimes suffer from over-detailing, but the monkey and the snake have an elegance to them that suggest careful choice of details rather than piling them. That said, they’re never very interesting. They’re no different than the Villians of the Week from the previous arc, only they talk a lot more.
While the heroes remain the real world, Impmon’s story continues. His degeneration goes on until he reaches his breakdown and succumbs to self-loathing. It’s a heavy subject, but its presentation is fantastic. Impmon is not even presented as a villain with a reasonable motive. He’s just a person who sank so far down into his self-loathing that he can’t accept help from anyone. As the saying goes, if you don’t love yourself no one will love you.
Moving to the Digital World lifts the arc up. The series becomes a response to Adventure, complete with a huge cast. Three more characters join in, but they’re not brushed aside. They’re not even given a token episode so we’ll remember they exist. Kazu and Kenta don’t get the development and breakdowns of the other characters, but they still modify the scenes they’re in. They have their worldview – Kazu is cocky, Kenta wants to be but always backs down – and each scene they’re in is modified by them.
The new center is Jeri. Unlike our protagonists, Jeri doesn’t have a heroic worldview. She’s an ordinary girl who finds wonder in something fantastical like the Digital World. In a way, she’s no different than us. Like us, she expects a fun adventure, hopefully something like the first season.
Adventures are only exciting because they contain a variety of emotional moments, both happy and tragic. Jeri faces these head-on. At some point, Jeri becomes the emotional core of the series.
It’s a bold move. Her optimistic and innocent views may more appropriate for a shoujo romance. Her femininity is the sort of thing that makes other shounen series uncomfortable. Look at how Soul Eater put some boobs, but none of that female softness that make women look like women. How many shounen shows have a female protagonist who’s not an attempt to make women more approachable by making them ‘sexier’ or ‘strong’ (read: making them beat up bad guys)?
Her breakdown goes along with Impmon’s. The final episodes of these arc are intense because of these emotional stakes. The final battle is amazing, but less because of the animation (fighting in Digimon is often boring). Impmon’s, Takato’s and Jeri’s worldviews all come into questions.
Mature shows don’t often put their characters in such positions. Seeing it in a kid’s show is even more impressive. This is not darkness for darkness’ sake. The only reason it’s dark is because questioning your own worldview is an emotionally draining activity.
The darkness is even more effective because of the lighter moments. There are lighter episodes of silly antics, and they are necessary. Constant darkness is often a gimmick and a cover. An emotionally-rich work must address a variety of emotions, and Tamers captures the joy and wonder of childhood when the children are allowed to be children. Seeing the kids having fun at camp somehow feels profound, but that’s because the series invested effort into making these characters seem real. An episode where Kazu and Kenta meet a married Digimon couple that fights because they’re bored out of their minds is hilarious. These are necessary to let us know these are real human beings, and their life contains not only tragedy but joy and absurdity.
The Devas/Sovereign aren’t much of an antagonist, but it becomes obvious Impmon is the main event. Still, the Devas aren’t allowed to be senseless bad guys. They’re simpler than Yamaki but even in their brief speeches they let on that they have a legitimate reason for what they do. When the big reveal comes in, it turns out it’s true. The sovereign are not evil. They just have a purpose that collides with our main characters’.
I expected this to be just filler until the D-Reaper comes in, but it’s not. In some ways the D-Reaper arc is a little worse. While some episodes can be easily merged, this arc is another reason why Tamers is one of the best anime series we have.