Serial Experiments Lain

lain
I don’t get it. Maybe this is just a relic from a time before we talked about the Singularity and before the internet.

The anime clearly strives for something. It has a lot of philosophical quotes. Characters say things like “what isn’t remembered never happened”. There is typography on the screen, references to Roswell and Jung and the theme of ‘identity’ (Why do I always roll eyes when I see this?).

Now, it’s not just a collection of anime-style drawings stuck together in a pretentious and unbearable form. Lain doesn’t just copy the form of ‘intelligent’ storytelling. There is always a drive behind it. It feels more like the writers have a lot to ask and to say. They’re so excited by it that they will use all these techniques with hope of transmitting it to the viewer.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-12h08m26s101

Too bad it never really gels. It asks questions about identity, but how? How is having different versions of Lain automatically question the theme of ‘identity’? Couldn’t they think of a less predictable and perhaps more meaningful way to do it?

It’s almost as if the themes are expressed and name-dropped, but not actually demonstrated. Having people mention God and omniscience doesn’t mean you explore the theme of theology. You need to show how it affects characters’ lives and perception of reality. You need to show what effects such a God would have if it existed.

It’s not enough to just have characters with multiple identities. You need this to blend into the story. You need this to be a meaningful story element first of all. Themes shouldn’t just be talked about. You need moments that demonstrate the effect of these ideas. Only complete morons think philosophy is solely for discussions. We constantly act on our philosophies.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-12h09m16s125

This attitude towards philosophy is perhaps what fuels the anime, and what ruins it. It’s a shame because there’s more drive than pretense, more desire to explore than to look smart. Lain never feels like more than an armchair exercise, a ‘what if?’ thought experiment that has profound words but lacking conclusions.

Often, there are moments that point to a brilliant anime. The anime isn’t a monochrome grimdark piece of crap. Even if the mood is generally gloomy, it’s not afraid of showing the sun or the occasional smile. Its setting is believable enough psychologically. It also has a clear aesthetics and knows how to express it. Still shots of wires appear often, but ever enough to become distracting. They add some atmosphere and go away. Artificial light also gets a lot of focus, but never too much. Plenty of times, it’s just another element in the show. Unlike its little brother Texhnolyze, the anime’s scenes always have more than one purpose.

Its sense of style saves what could’ve been hilariously bad scenes. There are almost whole episodes dedicated to info dumps about certain topics. They’re entertaining though. The combination of imagery with the electronic soundtrack fits the mood. Since exchanging information is a big theme, this technique of info dumps actually fits themetically too.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-12h09m31s241

This sort of ‘experimental narrative’ isn’t too original if you watched a film like Pi or Eraserhead, but the creators know it’s not enough. You need to do more than just rip off the conventional story structure. So by replacing it with odd imagery that’s always loaded, the anime is amusing enough. It never just tells you how it intelligent it is. It tries to make you involved in the imagery, in its meaning and emotional implication.

All this effort is wasted, though. In the end, the story is too divorced from reality. It gets lost in its experimental narrative and weird imagery. It’s as if I was too busy figuring out what’s going on, what it expresses. It was too distant. It was too experimental, as if I’m busy figuring out the anime rather than thinking about the themes. I’m not interested in pounding my head to understand a cryptic philosophical quote. I want a statement so profound I could connect it logically to a hundred subjects. Crypticness isn’t profound. A wide-eyed approach is.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-12h10m06s90

I can imagine this story working if only the creators scaled back a bit. Have a little more dialogue. Have a little more exposition. Tone down the weird imagery a little. Focus on asking whether the ideas are clear, and less on weirding the audience out. Think, first of all, why theology and identity and communication matters. Only then set out to explore them. If you can’t convince me the theme is important in the first place, I’m not interested in thinking about it.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-12h10m22s7

Of course, I’m not writing it off as just a bunch of pretentious dudes patting themselves on the back. It’s a, well, failed experiment. It kept me curious enough that I enjoyed it even while being utterly confused. It does have a conclusion that ties it together. It has a purpose, but I wasn’t sure what it is. Hopefully someday I’ll know.

It’s better than Texhnolyze, at least.

Post-Script: This review has been written a long time ago and I’ve been wary of publishing it. The anime isn’t confusing in the traditional, ‘I don’t know what’s happening so it’s good!’ way. It’s too stylish for me to write it off as pretentious doodle, but it’s too abstract to explore its themes in a satisfying manner.

I’m reminded of abstract stories like Paranoia Agent and Pi. These stories relied more on meaningful scenes than coherent storytelling, but exploring their ideas was their primary focus. They never get unnecessarily weird. It’s easy to follow the abstract parts because the themes are established and followed. Lain dives headfirst into the surrealism with so much conviction, it’s as if the excitement over being experimental overtakes the desire to explore ideas.

I consider this my most inconclusive review so far. I’ll need to watch this again soon to determine whether it’s just pretentious doohicky or if it really went over my head.

3 boxes of cereal out of 5

Mudvayne – L.D. 50

mudvayne-ld-50-atoms
Nu Metal always had its weird side, and Mudvayne are trying to take it to the extreme. “Dig” was an obvious single, but Mudvayne’s quirks are there. The hook is a catchy chant, but behind the chanting the band just beats the sound to the ground. There’s a messiness and intensity to the riffs that doesn’t match other Nu Metal bands. More is going on besides noise or groovey riffs.

The bounce of “Internal Primates Forever” only confirms Mudvayne are on to something special. The “jump!” screaming adds some fun to song that tries so hard to be complex. For all of its shifting part and Patton-esque vocals, it’s a fun rocker. Both of these songs are brilliant because the band sounds like they can do anything and still make it accessible and intense and moshpit-friendly. It’s a more complex but organized version of Slipknot’s early output.

The next two tracks are okay, but it’s hard to find the difference between them. The band had a great sound, but all of their ideas were done in the first two songs and “Under My Skin” which only arrives at the end.

What went wrong? There are interesting moments. The tempo shifts in “Death Blooms” are effective and the band sounds good in a more funky setting. The melodic beginning of “-1” isn’t catchy, but it’s an addition that still contributes and adds contrast. The band never sounds tired.

It’s so boring, though. It’s hard to make a loud album that wants to literally break ground with its anger. Some did it, but not like Mudvayne. Glassjaw had heartbreak that made every song stick out. My Ticket Home’s album was short and catchy. Nine Inch Nails made it an EP. Even Slipknot couldn’t drag this for a whole album. Melody made their music heavier, but they still ran out of steam at the end of Vol. 3.

It’s somewhere around “Cradle” that the album loses all potential of a masterpiece. The song doesn’t end where it should but literally restarts. It exhausts all of its ideas and restarts anyway. Worse, it’s not very different than what came before.

It turns out Mudvayne don’t do much with their intense sound. Most of the songs consist of the vocalist screaming while the band pummels in the back and being loud. Catchy hooks and funky breaks are rare, and they’re always too short and too late to save the song.

The attempt at rapping in “Under My Skin” is a blessing. It doesn’t matter whether the label ‘forced’ them to make it or not. You can actually find traces of Hip-Hop in previous songs, anyway. It’s a lighter, catchier and more organized songs than everything around it. The band finally sounds experimental as they want to be. Being experimental isn’t just removing hooks. It also offers the guitarist to play other riffs besides slow sledgehammers.

L.D. 50 deserves some credit for making interludes sound like a good idea. The interludes scattered around the album (which also steal all the best song titles) connect to the songs, and the weird electronics offers a nice respite from the chaos. “Dig” sounds more effective if you have the build-up of “Monolith”. If only Mudvayne used these electronics to create actual songs. Maybe we could have had a nice contrast of cold electronica and chaothic Nu Metal. There’s some fun to be had here, but it’s a band being ambitious without any idea what to do.

2 doses out of 5

Digimon Tamers

Digimon_Tamers
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.

14061301095938344

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.

18a

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.

List_of_Digimon_Tamers_episodes_19

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.

Trap

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.

ADR-08_Rise

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.

tumblr_inline_nt6rduMEjb1s6311u_500

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.

List_of_Digimon_Tamers_episodes_15

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.

List_of_Digimon_Tamers_episodes_25

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

11070l
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

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 Etemon Arc

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.