Digimon Adventure

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It’s a bit of an anticlimax. A memory of a few powerful episodes made me hope I’d get more of the same. The Digimon series is split into different shows, each spanning about 50 episodes. These are stories that eventually conclude, instead of going on forever. Such decisions separate good storytellers from the bad. I hoped I’d get something more like Medabots – odd characters, light episodes that slowly grow into a dark and intense climax. It turned out something like that, but with none of the skill Medabots displayed.

There are the hilarious comparison to Pokemon. It’s Medabots that is actually far similar, with the whole championship story. Digimon is just a hero’s journey split into 8 protagonists who have a cool pet coming along. I’m sure that if I pick a random Fantasy bestseller, I’d get a hero with a cool pet, too. Even Jon Snow has his albino wolf.

None of the Digimon are as boring as an albino wolf, but that’s damning with faint praise. It’s a limp show. The visual style is brilliant, but in the storytelling department the imagination is so lacking. Isn’t this ‘creative differences’? People who can design Sora, Izzy and Apocalymon shouldn’t be on speaking terms with people who wrote an arc like Miyotismon’s.

The problem that towers above the series is not that the Digivolutions are repetitive, or the monologues about friendship. It’s not even that the action is pathetic. Every battle is solved by getting stronger, with no attention to fighting styles. There is no difference between any of the Digimon, so all the fights are same. Even that can be forgiven. Such dull characters can’t.

You can’t blame the protagonists too much. They didn’t choose to go to the Digi-World, but the villains could have been a bit more. Devimon is evil. That’s his whole character. He sticks black gears in good Digimon, and to remove them you just shoot a fireball and it’s all over. About 13 episodes are dedicated to him.

At least Devimon does something. Miyotismon is supposed to be even more powerful. We know that because we’re told so. This powerful Digimon spends around 10 episodes sending a pathetic bat to mess with the kids’ heads. This create ‘conflicts’ which come and go like a chicken breast meal. No one remembers them. They don’t affect the future and everyone keeps going like nothing happened.

Eventually Miyotismon shows himself, but it’s hard to take him seriously by then. He spent all these episodes threatening his bat buddy but doing nothing. If he has to send a weak Digimon to bother the kids and can’t afford to get angry over him, how dangerous is he? There is a bold attempt to create drama with the kids’ families in the real world, but Miyotismon is there. He is also evil, but that’s it. No method to his madness but just a desire to be an asshole and laugh maniacally.

Once the series moves to more interesting antagonists, everything changes. So Etemon was defeated by Greymon getting stronger. It’s annoying, but it doesn’t make Etemon any less fun. He’s evil, but he’s also a megalomaniac. Every action, every moment he’s on screen is affected by this. He feels more alive and real than the other threats, and thus more dangerous.

Puppetmon is where, suddenly, they get everything right. Even their dull monologues about friendship gain a purpose. Although Puppetmon is supposed to be evil, more often than not he’s just a spoiled kid who wants to connect with people but also have his way. His journey mirrors the kids, and his defeat comes because he refuses the to learn the lesson that they do. For once it makes sense for his death to not come out of a fight. He’s defeated not by strength but because his worldview fails him.

I’m told Digimon is for kids, so expecting moments like these is silly. Yet here they are, and they’re well-executed, intense, exciting and more entertaining than anything else around it. Medabots and Pixar films are for kids too, but they don’t shy away from such symbolism. It doesn’t need to have layers to dig through. It just needs to mean more than ‘they defeated the bad guys’. Even Apocalymon, in his brief time, delivers a speech that shows he’s more than just another evil guy doing evil things.

If your villains are evil and your heroes are good, but they don’t represent more than than then they’re not characters. They’re tools in a game, which works in an Asimov novel but not in a monomyth-esque anime. Even the idea of ‘goodness’ is not really explored. So if it’s all an excuse just to have fights, then the fights need to be interesting. In Digimon, they just power up and that’s it.

The only reason we care about entertainment is because of what it means. Genres are created around themes, like romance or suspense or tragedy. Even music, which tends to be too abstract has genres more dominated by themes and meanings rather than sounds (see also: Industrial music). Digimon Adventure has some monologues about friendship, which is nice. Bad teachers also deliver these monologues with hopes that the kids will shut up, but that doesn’t make the teacher a good one. It doesn’t even make the kids respect them.

There was a lot of potential here, but most of it is wasted. It’s a pretty show, one that has plenty of cool visual ideas. The lazy storytelling even stomps that out sometimes. Halfway through, most new Digimon that appeared just looked like more grotesque versions of animals. It happens a lot in the Miyotismon arc, where the giant monsters look like barely any work was spent on them. You sometimes get something like Apocalymon, one of the more visually uniquee things I’ve seen but it’s dullness all the way. The Etemon arc and the Dark Masters arc are worth a watch, but even they are disappointing.

2 files out of 5

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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?