The Facebook Suicide Algorithm or: Getting Closer to Getting Further Away

Recently, Facebook announced they got a new algorithm that’s supposed to spot suicidal behavior. What I’m about to present isn’t a claim for or against this. This doesn’t have much to do with my philosophy of suicide. Rather, I’ll analyze the technology based on the McLuhan-ian view of technology as extensions of man. My purpose is to present this analysis and let people decide whether this technology is worthwhile. Spoiler alert, I think the conclusion means it’s bad.

First off, here’s the basic theory of McLuhan. When McLuhan talks about ‘media’, he talks about any technology. Any technology is an extension of a function of us. A ‘weapon’ isn’t something that sprang out of nowhere. Every weapon is an extension of our ability to hurt other people. Another integral fact is that every extension is meant to be more effecient in achieving its end, but means less involvement.

A hammer is an extension of our ability to hit things. What the hammer does and what the hand does when they beat the nail isn’t any different. The difference is in the effiency and involvement. The hammer is better at knocking the nail, can insert it more quickly into the surface. Once we use the hammer, we’re also less involved in the process. This is more vague, but what it means is our experience is limited. When we knock the nail with the hammer, we don’t feel the nail.

To use the weapon example, think of the atom bomb. It is just an extension of our ability to cause destruction, only far worse than a fist hitting a board. When you hit something with your fist in order to destroy it, you’re deeply involved in the process, you feel the surface of the object being destroyed. The object has to be close to you so you’ll use your fist. The atom bomb makes us less involved, since we don’t feel the surface of the buildings being destroyed. We don’t even see the victims since we have to drop the bomb from far away. This fact explains why technology leads to far deadlier wars, since people are less involved in the act of killing.

Of course, it’s possible this is not exactly what McLuhan meant. His writing can be cryptic, but this is the framework I’m working with here.

Now, for the algorithm. People have the ability to reach out to people that they consider in need of help. In our case, being suicidal means needing help. Life’s positive value is an axiom for many. Currently users can report posts they consider problematic – by that, I mean containing signals of ‘self-harm’ or suicide. I’m not sure if this can be called an extension of our ability to reach out, since it is already embedded in a technology – Facebook, which is an extension of our social circle/neighbourhood. What the algorithm does is search for these signals of ‘self-harm’ and report them, instead of users doing it.

Our ability to offer help is extended via this algorithm. It serves the same function, yet unlike a single person it scans thousands or millions posts a day. This alone makes it more efficient, since no post will go unnoticed and every distressing signal will be reported. In general, people will report a distressing suicide if it will be explicit. A show of hands: How many of you had people reaching out to you because you expressed something sad? By ‘reaching out’, I don’t mean commenting but engaging in conversation. If our current methods were efficient, we wouldn’t create an algorithm to do this. We wouldn’t feel the need to extend this ability if we did it right, just as we don’t have a machine to extended our ability to chew because our teeth work.

Now comes the bad side. Extensions of ourselves make us less involved, which is good if the experience wasn’t worth much. No one is going to miss feeling the pain of hitting a needle. In this case, the algorithm makes us less involved because we’re no longer reaching out as a person. Many in Sanctioned Suicide mocked this. We’re less involved since we’re no longer giving personal feedback, seeing the distressing signals with our own eyes and containing it. We don’t contact the person and hear what they got to say and hear their feedback to our attempts at help. Although this algorithm will be more efficient at finding distressing signals, we will be less involved in the experience of reaching out.

The question is, is this bad? My answer is, yes.

Involvement is critical when it comes to personal issues. Else, we’d all confess our sins to Cleverbot. A common complaint against psychotherapy is that the therapist isn’t actually involved and doesn’t really care. It’s a profession for them, they ask questions for the salary. The whole idea of caring demands involvement. In order for someone to care for us, for our troubles to mean to them something they need to be involved in our life. They need to find our troubles affecting, consider them important. Try reading about a serial killer and then watching an interview with him. In the second instance, you’re more involved with this person, you see them and hear their voices. Empathy demands involvement, since we can’t be empathetic unless we imagine ourselves in the position of the person suffering.

The algorithm, by making us less involved in the process of reaching out to people undermines itself. By removing ourselves, we remove the most crucial thing. The basis of reaching out is that someone actually cares about your troubles and wants to be involved in getting through them. Remove the person who cares, and there is no ‘caring’. An algorithm cannot care, it is not a person.

The main message this algorithm sends is not that someone is so caring they’ll invent this technology but the opposite. Someone is so uncaring that they’ll invent a technology that will do the caring for them. You can lead a horse to water, but a bunch of professionals showing up at a person’s house doesn’t send the message you care but that you want control. The reason communities like Sanctioned Suicide work compared to R/SuicideWatch is that the people in SS are deeply involved with one another, they communicate and exchange ideas, don’t aim for a specific result but are just there with a person.

Let’s assume we take the position that suicide is bad. This algorithm is another symptom of our pathetic attempts at controlling people, rather than helping them. If suicidal people are really in a bad situation and in need of help, how can we help them by patronizing them, caging them, trying to control them rather than reaching out to them? We can’t complain about being mystified by suicide since we don’t even try to understand it. Technology now extends our ability to reach out for others, to letting them know we hear their troubles in such a way that actually tells them we don’t care.

If we really did care, we wouldn’t need to invent a technology to do it for us.

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Ivan Illich – Deschooling Society

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Ivan rages against the machine. He rages so much that the book might as well be considered the pioneer of Rap Metal with how angry it is. Has intellectual writing ever been so energetic, so kinetic? The medium of text isn’t very good with emotions. It is, after all, just ink on paper. It can explain an idea, but the sensory experience of taste and touch, the emotions of anger and sadness can never be summed up with words. Deschooling Society is an expressive book.

The comparison to the political ‘rap’ metal band (Zack cannot rap for shit) doesn’t end with simply raging and machines. Rage Against the Machine made impressive noise that was fun as it lacked insight. Anyone reading the band’s lyrics will only hear some frustrated dude screaming about taking the power back and how we should settle for nothing. These are great lyrics for rock shows, but they mean nothing. Illich’s situation isn’t that bad, but it’s close.

His paragraphs are often a series of attacks without much explanation or defining terms. Without defining terms, you cannot have a sensible discussion. Every word is just a collection of syllables or symbols until you attach meaning to it. If you don’t explain what you mean by ‘learning’, what are you discussing? Illich operates in the realm of the abstract. He doesn’t talk about physical objects like rocks or guns or tables, which are easier to define.

Many concepts we use everyday aren’t defined well. Schools are a perfect example of how warped our concept of ‘learning’. I agree with Illich that schools don’t cause learning, but I never understood what Illich meant when he was talking about ‘learning’. When Postman attacked the education system, he had an idea of what ‘learning’ should be. In general, ‘learning’ for Postman is finding meaning in data. That’s why he provided some narratives that schools can adopt. For him, knowing a bunch of equations isn’t learning but just gathering data.

In fact, it seems Illich’s ideas about what learning is, are close to what schools say about learning. He claims schools must provide people resources for information, but is it enough? We’re currently living in the age of information. The internet doesn’t have all the info you need, but you can use it to track down enough.

Yet are we learning? Are we being flooded with intellectuals and philosophers making breakthroughs everyday thanks to all that information available? It’s not enough for information to just be available. You can’t publish a book that contains an essay about history, an essay about psychology and some sport statistics. Connecting pieces of data is the actual process of learning. It’s what separates active organism, which observe their environment and react to it from passive ones. The octopus realizes he can push the lid off or use a stick to beat a shell. The squid doesn’t.

Then again, Illich’s gripe isn’t so much with schools themselves as with institutions. Talk about being able to connect pieces of data. Illich has some interesting things to say about institutions, especially the idea that some create the demand for their product. What he says about our reliance about institutions is especially important.

We do rely on institutions a little too much. How many of you met friends through places that are not work or school? When I talk about how harmful schools are, I often hear about how school is important because it’s where you meet friends. Yet how deep can these connections be when the main common ground is an institution? What connects people are shared experiences, common ground and chemistry. Some of it institutions can create, but it says a lot about our society when we have a hard time meeting people outside workplaces or schools.

Some institutions are necessary. I wish he’d gone in-depth about why hospitals are so wrong. Medicine is a serious subject. There should be authority figures in it, because screwing up in medicine means causing often irreversible harm. Imagine if an uncertified doctor performed a surgery. We have institutions like hospitals to make sure only the experts perform difficult and dangerous activities. Yes, they are trustworthy. Imagine a doctor screwing up a surgery so bad that the patient dies. Can the secret be kept?

Illich admits not all institutions are the same. He offers a scale which includes on one side institutions that promote activity. These institutions provide services, but the client has a lot of options and can quit or stay any time. They’re toolboxes the client can run with. Authoritarian institutions punish and force clients to stay. They give them something to consume, but the client is more passive.

That’s an interesting thing to explore that Illich doesn’t. He’s too busy ranting. If institutions aren’t all the same, then you can’t create several groups and be done with it. The military and the schools are both fucked, but for different reasons. If Illich wanted to show that authoritarian institutions are problematic by nature, he needed to go more in-depth into why they fail. He needed to present many examples and show why despite the differences their effect is overall bad.

His ideas about ‘learning webs’ are important. He may not define what he means by ‘learning’, but his ideas how to do it are useful. He offers more social, more open ways of educating and teaching. The most important idea here is the web itself. Illich proposes a computer (nowadays it’d be an app) where people can insert their subject of interest and then connect with others who share the same passion. No, the internet hasn’t provided this yet. Reddit is too impersonal. Facebook groups are messy. Illich doesn’t talk about a message board but a private chat. His program would encourage people to meet to explore their subject further, not just discuss it on the internet.

He’s a bit too ahead of his time. If he were alive today to see how message boards rise and fail, I’m sure he’d either taken the initiative or write a more detailed essay about this. As it stands, the idea is buried here. Someone should run with it. I should nag my programmer friends and hopefully it’ll spawn copycats. It’s so simple, but so brilliant. Offering an easy platform for people with the same interests to talk to each other.

The last chapter is ridiculous and a little insulting. All that praising of a primitive men reeks of the Noble Savage cliche. The problem with praising or condemning the primitive is that we don’t know exactly how they lived. We imagine them as peaceful or in harmony with nature or living perfect lives, but that’s just the Fall of Adam story without the Jewish stuff. Besides, if the primitive life was so good why did the primitive ended it? Why did they build fires, invent writing and used tools? If life was so good for them, they wouldn’t starve for change.

As a critique of schools, Deschooling Society is disappointing. It shows a bit of the economical side and has a less spiritual approach than, say, Dumbing Us Down. Illich has some insight and good ideas. His critique of the general nature of institutions is needed when discussing schools. Although Neil Postman wrote a great book, he didn’t consider deschooling. Sadly, Illich is too excited over his ideas to explain them coherently, to slow down and define his terms. There are building blocks to take from here, but this isn’t going to revolutionize your philosophy of education.

3 institutions out of 5

Dennou Coil

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You can’t talk about Dennou Coil¬†without talking about Digimon Tamers. They don’t just use a similar technique to tell their stories. Their stories revolve around the same theme. The ending also includes a girl trapped in a visualization of grief. It never feels like a rip off. Both shows wanted to explore a subject that needs exploration, and found different inspirations.

The core difference between the two is the mode of storytelling. Tamers was a heroic journey, but Coil is closer to something like Mushishi. It’s more concerned with the world it created and what it means.

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Nature is odd, but so is technology. At some point, inventions become so advanced we can’t predict their behavior. Even the most simple ones contain surprises. They often spin out of control, and the internet is the perfect example of this.

Do the people who invented the internet thought it would be used to exchange Japanese cartoons, cat photos and have people’s suicide notes on them? The internet is now out of our control. It’s a constantly-changing frontier, with pages being born and dying. It’s a way to connect to others, where bullshit rumours spread and where you can escape your reality.

The technology in this show is just a visualization of this idea. It juxtaposes the exploration of the virtual frontier and the physical one. You might think kids today are all just stuck on their computers, but weren’t the astronauts stuck on exploring the moon, rather than the Earth?

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Space is not the final frontier. The internet is another one, but it’s one that we create. The spaces weren’t here before. Every piece of data was created by someone else, a product of their thoughts. Exploring the internet is exploring what others think, whether you’re looking for funny pictures someone uploaded, their writings or stuff they thought was cool and reblogged. I think once someone said we are the final frontier. If this is true, then the internet is how we explore it.

The kids in this show may seem too independent,but this isn’t a plot device. Kids on the internet are often more independent and loose than outside of it. If you play outside, your mom can still look out the window and see what you’re doing. If you go somewhere, she’ll want to know where.

It’s easier to build an independent culture when you’re on the internet. Close the door or minimize the window when mom comes in. If she doesn’t know the address, she’ll never know what’s going on. Even if she does, you’re creating a new identity she might not recognize.

The new culture the kids have built in Dennou Coil isn’t alien. I’ve seen it happen myself. I remember those message boards that were the beginning of Nerdom in my country. I still see communities with a distinct identity in message boards or video games.

Here, we got a physical reality along it. So the rivalries aren’t just name-dropping in forum posts but the old fun of shooting each other. That’s something people do online all the time. They shoot cyber-avatars of other humans.

These avatars can be convincingly real, even when they were just pixels. That’s the problem with the internet. A lot of it appears real, and the line between reality and the virtual blurs. Maybe it doesn’t exist at all. Densuke only appears when you put your cyber-glasses, but you can only see Jupiter with a telescope. Densuke is not a real, biological dog. A real dog is also not a virtual one. What makes one dog better than the other?

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Both dogs actually exist. Both respond to us. Even a virtual pet in an RPG game responds to your actions. The fact one is manmade isn’t much of a difference. Dog breeds are an invention of men. The difference is that the virtual world is full of data and information, but nothing sensory.

Stuff on the internet is not something you can feel. That’s why some people can be social on message boards but socially neurotic in real life. Densuke is a virtual dog and will never be a real one. If we try to program humans, they will just be virtual versions. They will never be a real human.

Grief does its thing, though. It messes with our minds, and we want more to find a new reality where the event didn’t happen than find good in our reality. A character gains the option of creating her own reality without the death of a close person.

A purely man-made reality is nothing, though. Nothing is purely man-made or exists on its own. A reality where nothing is connected is barren and dry. This is the same world of the D-Reaper. A grieving person can’t escape into his world. He’ll just dive deeper into his own sadness.

All we create is just a reflection of us. Isako couldn’t re-create with her brother. She could enjoy a projection of him, something similar. It’s not the real thing, and in the end it’s not a proper replacement. Things can’t be replaced with second hand versions.

If this sounds like it’s too heavy for children, then you’re not paying attention to the best of children’s fiction out there. Children deal with loss. Their stories need to address it.

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While Dennou Coil treats it with maturity and empathy, it falls short of Tamers. Its technology is more imaginative and conceptually deep. The Digimon are a plot device, but the idea of a ‘virtual reality’ isn’t explored. Tamers kept the technical stuff at bay. At too many instances the mechanics of the virtual reality will be explored. None of it is ever coherent. It’s just a physical manifestation of the internet and that’s it.

Dennou Coil also sports a problematic art style. There is a great difference of creativity in the character design and the virtual reality design. The designs of anything virtual are beautiful. They’re simple, but the little details are excellent. The Illegals’ black, blurry body, Densuke’s round shape, Oyaji’s lack of mouth and small eyes are all details that stick out.

The character design does the minimalist-realist Mushishi did. It’s not as bad as that one. They find subtle details to give them personality, but too often they feel dry. Auntie is supposed to be the beautiful character, yet nothing about her looks significantly different than the others.

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Two episodes are noteworthy. One is the comic apex of the series. It’s a brief history of humanity as if they were the hairs that compose a beard. The episode is complete with a bearded old lady. The other episode comes right after it, and is actually the most psychologically deep one of the series. The climax isn’t as powerful as Tamers’ D-Reaper. In that episode, it is. If only they could use the ideas there, reshuffle them and make a different climax.

Even if it doesn’t manage to reach the heights of Digimon Tamers, it comes close. It’s not treading the same grounds. It uses the same tools to tell an equally deep story with its own take on things. In some places, it’s weirder and bolder. Anyone who wants to see how good children’s fiction can be should watch this.

4 illegals out of 5

Digimon Tamers

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It boggles the mind why so much anime try to prove their maturity by using bleak colors, adult characters and realistic design. Digimon Tamers has none of that. On the surface, it’s a child-friendly battle shounen about kids and their cool pets.

A surface is easy to copy, though. Putting things beneath the appearance is harder. Like Medabots, Digimon Tamers is a subversive, original and challenging work that doesn’t think children are stupid. This is not the dull Adventure, which was just about beating bad guys. Evil is not being fought here. It’s an anime that imbues its adventure with ideas and emotions, rather than just telling us the bad guy is powerful. It constantly raises questions and it stares suicide, depression and death in the face.

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A truly meaningful and engrossing journey would not consist of only victories. What makes adventures so exciting is because they’re supposed to be a roller coaster of emotions. Tamers uses the adventure not just to have the characters beat up the bad guys by powering up, but by seeing how they cope with breakdowns. In fact, no bad guy is actually being beaten up here.

Every character has a clear worldview, and they modify each scene they’re in. It’s not just the main characters who have differing views on what they should do with their Digimon. The brilliance is not even in how they bring to life side-characters like Kenta, Kazu and their parents. The show’s treatment of its so-called antagonists is where it shines.

Yamaki is first presented as a stereotypical antagonist. He wears a suit, sunglasses (even when inside) and works in a government agent. He’s out there to destroy the Digimon, but he’s not an attempt to sell DVD’s by hating the government.

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Yamaki is a real person. He’s a man of control, who loves order and wants to bring it to the world. We don’t get the false dichotomy of joyful chaos and depressive order. The Digimon who bio-emerge into the real world are causing destruction and mayhem. The children may enjoy their cool pets, but the world suffers because of that. Yamaki isn’t an antagonist but a person with a reasonable worldview. He, like any other character, reaches his breaking point. It’s not a complete 180-turn. Since the show knows that humans are only rational with what they got, Yamaki adjusts and improves his worldview. He doesn’t simply switch sides but becomes a better version of himself.

Impmon is even better. To have such a character in a kid’s show is brilliant. He’s a perfect example of an Antichrist Superstar. Impmon rejects society, which also rejects him. Yet, he can’t truly exist outside of it. He relies on feedback from people, even if the reaction he wants from them is fright.

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He wants to subvert and change things. He needs to power to do that, but his power becomes his objective instead of means. Power alone can’t make him feel any better. You don’t fix a car by just having a wrench. So he goes around, demonstrating how powerful it is only to realize he’s leaving worlds destroyed. Society can reject you for being weird, but it will only hate you and actively try to destroy you if you try to harm it. All his power and data he loaded only worsened his troubles.

It’s all very impressive, but none of that compares to Jeri’s story.

Death, depression and suicide are all connected in a sick cycle. They cause peolpe to question their whole existance. Just read Dylan Kebold’s mother’s essay. How to cope with death, or with your own desire to die is perhaps the greatest philosophical question.

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The D-Reaper is not just a personification of death. He’s a standing symbol for suicide. His whole program exists to reach the conclusion that death is better than life. It was initially meant to get rid of excess data, but any desire to ‘get rid’ can get out of control when no one’s watching.

The D-Reaper distorts every emotion it encounters to turn it into an argument for death. Love is a weakness. It makes us rely on people and we get sad when they go. Hate is terrible. It just makes us want to hurt other people.

The problem with suicide and depression is that almost anything can be distorted to fit the conclusion. Some people complain that a friend is sexually attracted to them. Even such a positive thing can be turned into a nail in the coffin.

The D-Reaper has no choice, though. He’s a program. Humans, at least according to many are not just programs. We have free will. We can distort every good thing to give us a reason to die, or we can hold on to its beauty. It’s no easy to task. Jeri fights hard, but even she couldn’t do it alone. Tamers doesn’t provide an easy, comfortable answer. Yes, we should look for the good things in life, but we should also help each other to do so.

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D-Reaper shares common elements with Terminator‘s Skynet. Both are ways for us to look at ourselves, our self-destruction and question it. Like Skynet, D-Reaper is so frightening because he’s logical. It’s not destruction for its own sake but from a coherent philosophy. A villain is only effective if we understand him and recognize that a part of us is in him/her/it. The D-Reaper is not something from outside that comes to wreck our world. It’s a thought many people have.

There are things to talk about, like animation, pacing and all that fun stuff. Yet none of that is as interesting as what I’ve just described. It’s better in every aspect than the first Adventure. Even the Digivoltuion sequence aren’t as annoying as before. They’re more dynamic now, coming off like a cool music video. The action is still not much to talk about, yet the only two serious fights are driven by their meaning and not movement. Who cares, though, when you got all that D-Reaper symbolism?

It’s worth mentioning that the design of the Reaper and all his agents is also brilliant. They’re similar to Evangelion’s Angels. They look completely alien, but the creators found a different enough style that separates them. Each of the agents’ design is unique and beautiful in a grotesque way. As for the Reaper himself, if I will ever be able to design such a thing my life will be complete.

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The few flaws, like some episodes dragging feel like nothing. A brilliant show is one that overcomes its flaws. Talking about a dull action scene or an unnecessary episode feels pointless when you could instead discuss the characters, the brilliant design of the Reaper and the meaning underneath it all.

5 reapers out of 5

Digimon Tamers: The Deva/Digital World Arc

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.

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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.

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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.

Digimon Adventure: The Dark Masters/Apocalymon Arc

A bit anticlimatic, isn’t it?

It’s not bad as what came for. There is a clear improvement from the very first episode. The Dark Masters are far more interesting than what came before. They represent various types of danger, instead of darkness. While it’s an improvement, the approach itself didn’t change.

There is a brief and very successful attempt at developing these characters when Puppetmon comes around. These few episodes are so good they’re worth watching even if the series doesn’t interest you. It’s a brief moment where the approach changes, and everything that was wrong goes right.

Unlike all the other villains in the series, Puppetmon is a genuine character. He’s not even like Etemon, who is evil but given a method to make him fun. Puppetmon is evil mainly because he’s a Dark Master, but time and again his behavior points to an existence outside of that role.

Most of Puppetmon’s actions aren’t related to his desire to defeat the Digi-Destined and help bring darkness, whatever that will get him. He acts mainly out of frustration. Puppetmon is that spoiled brat who really wants to connect with people, but do it on his own terms. He’s manipulative, but for selfish reasons rather than evil ones. His death isn’t very victorious, but rather tragic.

It’s a first time where the whole ‘friendship is important’ theme is presented actions instead of speeches. Puppetmon’s downfall comes not because they digivolved to UltraMega Something and fired a powerful beam. He devises his own demise. His childish and selfish puts him on a downward spiral and his death is him hitting the bottom. Matt’s Digimon firing his beam is just an extra.

The kids are also on a spiral of their own. Their varied personalities finally come in conflict. It’s not just the rivalry between Matt and Tai that was boiling for the whole series. Everyone starts to look around them and question the point of the whole thing. People begin to choose sides based on their personality. An adventure is only as powerful and tense as how it affects the characters. The excitement is not found in just the explosions and the fights but how the characters react to them. After all, the reason we’re attracted to adventures is because such an experience can’t leave us indifferent and the same.

Yet that only happens in the those episodes. The rest see a return to the generic method of defeating the bad guy by Digivolving. They’re better than what came before. Unlike Miyotismon, the other Dark Masters don’t spend too much time in the shadows. Machinedramon kills off his teddy bear once he fails him and goes to take care of things. It makes him feel more dangerous, but it’s obvious it’s the same formula as before. Improving on a bad formula doesn’t do much, especially when the creators proved themselves capable with Puppetmon.

Apocalymon is the biggest disappointment. He’s too good to be an asspull, something the creators pulled for the last episodes to make it seem big and huge. His episodes aren’t connected to the rest of the story. There’s no actual build-up, and using the weapons of the old bad guys is pretty lame. His speech though, hints that he could have been developed. It invites us not to fear or hate him but understand him a little. He’s a bit of an Antichrist Superstar, someone who represents the weak and whose bitterness consumed him.

He barely has 20 minutes of screen time. There is a long monologue sequence which is like the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but worse. If he was given time to develop, if the creators knew they could do more with him but just pull him out for the climax it would have improved the series greatly. He has one of the best designs in the series. Why did they waste so much time with Miyotismon when they could have had fun with Apocalymon?

The last goodbyes are nice and all, but the little power they have is because I sat through all 54 episodes of the thing. The Dark Masters are an improvement, but I expected the Modus Operandi to change. I expected the characters to be divided throughout the arc, to have some sort of crisis that just such a weird adventure should lead to. I expected villains who are more than just evil and sadistic. I did get that from Puppetmon, and Apocalymon is an idea that I could incorporate in my fiction but overall, it was disappointing and not worth the whole 54 episodes.

Digimon Adventure: The Miyotismon Arc

This is the end of the line. If I didn’t have fond memories of Puppetmon as an interesting villain, I would have dropped the series halfway through this arc. Somehow, the creators learned nothing from Etemon’s story. It’s as if these last two episodes were accidentally good. There is barely any hint of that in this arc.

It doesn’t start so bad. Moving the story to the real world helps to remind that these are, first of all, ordinary kids. They had a full life outside of saving the Digi-World, and this could be used to generate some strong drama. You get some development for the kids’ families. Each one has a distinct family and the ‘missing parent’ cliche is avoided. There’s even a small arc that gives Izzy some heart.

There are never whole episodes of this, though. The dialogue is still stuck in exposition, telling us what already happened or who is who even though we know. None of the comments the characters make help us understand who they are. It’s all interchangeable. The occasional character moment doesn’t redeem this. It just emphasizes how much wasted potential there is here.

It does gain a little dramatic tension when they return to Earth, but by then it’s too late. The first half of that arc consists of dull villain of the week episode. Maybe they would have been bearable if the story wasn’t so episodic. It all builds up to a great battle with a big enemy, but why Miyotismon hides in the shadows so much?

He’s powerful. We know that because we’re being told so and DemiDevimon is afraid of him. His behavior is the complete opposite. He has none of the charisma of Etemon or the late Dark Masters. He’s a typical villain representing darkness, this time taking the form of a vampire. They couldn’t even make him seem dangerous, though.

He sends DemiDevimon to wreck havoc on the kids, but every time he fails he just threatens him. That’s it. For about 10 episodes, or even more. Miyotismon does nothing to make us fear him aside from look dangerous. It takes barely 10 minutes before the Dark Masters reveal themselves to be quite violent, but it’s not until the real world that Miyotismon does something.

It all ends with a big battle that’s as meaningless as this arc is long. Miyotismon is given a last minute ressurection, like Etemon. Only Etemon was fun, and him getting one lost shot kind of fit with his megalomaniac and out of touch personality. Miyotismon comes back in a pathetic attempt to make an epic fight. Big building and big monsters don’t increase the tension though. When they mean nothing, the meaninglessness is all the more apparent.

Maybe if they trimmed it a little, it would’ve been servicable. There’s a decent episode in a resturaunt that builds Matt’s and Joe’s character a little. Instead of connecting it to the larger story though, it ends with everyone being happy and liking each other.

These kids have spent 30 episodes in a strange world that’s pretty violent. They faced Digimon who are awful. If we can’t believe Devimon was that bad, we can at least believe Etemon was a menace. Yet, nothing changed. They still act as a single protagonist. Mimi is still the butt of the jokes. All that’s changed is that the villain is worse this time. At least Devimon converted Digimon by force. He was acting through other Digimon, but it was him. Miyotismon has a bunch of weak saps doing his work for him. How dangerous can he be?