Kemono no Souja Erin (Beast Trainer Erin)

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It’s a curious thing. Good stories tend to come when the creators know their limits and strengths. You cover up your weaknesses and emphasizes your strengths. Some stories know their weak point and still find a way to get around them. Erin is an anime that’s often focused on its weak parts, yet aside from a weak patch in the middle it’s fantastic.

The strength and weakness is in Erin herself. She’s not a psychological portrait but a mythic one. The whole story is, in fact, more mythic than psychological. Characters aren’t complex or odd, but have very specific role they fill.

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It can sound limiting, but it’s not. Giving your characters a certain role gives you focus. Since the series never pretends to be a deep psychological examination of these roles, they manage to breathe life into them in other ways. Sometimes, two characters have the same role but act on it differently. Jone and Esal are two very different kind of teachers.

These aren’t roles that limit characters. They are never moral ones, of villains and heroes. They give them agency and define who they are. The story is often more than about Erin. There are many episodes in which she barely appears. Other characters star them and their viewpoint is explored.

Excluding one power-hungry villain that only reveals himself in the end, Erin is a series full of shades of grey. Almost any character that is introduced as villainous is immidiately revealed have a logical viewpoint. Even when their intentions still side against Erin, the anime expects us to understand them. This goes further than grey morality. Erin is clearly a moral hero, yet we’re expected to understand her enemies.

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As for Erin, she’s a great example of how a moral hero should be. She’s not defined by her morality. Her moral behavior comes from somewhere, specifically her fascination with nature which her mother gave her.

This is also where the series, despite not being psychological manages to accurately display what growing up is. Like any good story for children, it deals with the themes of childhood. Erin has the natural curiosity of a child. The difference between her and others is that her mother encourages it. As Erin grows up and meets more mentors, they keep on encouraging it rather than discouraging for some bizarre reasons that create the contemporary education system.

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When Erin starts to display extraordinary abilities, it’s not a case of Mary Sue-ness. Erin is a moral hero who represents curiosity, and curiosity naturally leads us to develop our skills. Curiosity is also what what makes us reach towards others and understand them.

That’s its answer to the main conflict. The show doesn’t have a central theme but it builds towards an epic climax that’s expressive, rather than a placeholder. The central conflict between the two populations is simple. It doesn’t rival the complexity of real life conflicts and it doesn’t have to.

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Political ‘intrigue’ is often a crutch authors rely on, killing characters off to surprise (Game of Thrones still suck). The root of many conflicts is in disagreements, and violence is what we use when we don’t try or think we can reach out to the other side.

As the best episode displays, it’s easy to love one another when you agree with that person. It’s harder to still love them they take a separate path from yours. The episode that chronicles this divide between two brothers is easily the best one of the show.

While the lack of a central theme and psychological exploration don’t harm the series, they do take its toll on the middle part. It’s almost neglectful of a traumatic experience and the pace grinds into a halt.

It doesn’t replicate the serenity of Mushishi. The view of the natural world is different. Rather, the show gets stuck, recycling the same ideas (Erin’s curiosity) and adding characters who only become fleshed out later on. There are worthwhile moments there, but about 8 episodes could have been cut.

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There’s also the odd technique of repeated flashbacks. While some are well-placed, showing them over and over first makes them lose their impact. Then it comes off as lazy and just trying to kill time. The big traumatic event’s repetition is especially bad. Since the series isn’t psychological, the flashbacks don’t make sense and they just make it lose its impact. That said, when they do return in the last arcs of the series they retain their impact.

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The series also teases too much in these episodes about characters who become fleshed out later. Since the series is static during that section, it’s not a slow build-up. Rather, the series feels shy at throwing itself at something greater. What’s weird is that anytime it does become ambitious are fantastic. Nearly every dramatic moment is powerful regardless of Erin’s age. The line “Don’t harm these people with the same hands that can play such a beautiful song” is more profound than any time with realistic design and adult characters wearing suits.

The art style is excellent and beautiful. It’s ‘childish’, but in a good way. There is a simplicity and elegance to it like a children’s drawing. The backgrounds are where the series does it best. They often have a sketchy look to them, relying more on basic shapes and colors to create an atmosphere. It’s not chaotic, though. The sketchiness creates a bare background which fits with the sombre atmosphere. When the series gets dark, it stands in contrast.

 

Erin doesn’t justify its length. It lags in the middle and has too many repeating flashbacks. The varied cast also don’t the development they clearly can. While these flaws can make it tedious at times, the improvement at the second half saves it. From then on, as an example of how deep and emotionally engrossing children’s stories can be it’s perfect. It may focus on a single heroine, but it’s a world of shades of grey, with only one truly villainous character who has a purpose anyway. It fell off the radar because it’s not immediate, but it’s worth pushing through its weak parts. At its best, it’s almost the best anime ever.

4 lizards out of 5

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The End of Evangelion

Let’s get rid of the obvious first. The End of Evangelion is inaccessible to anyone who didn’t watch the series. This shouldn’t be a point against the movie, though. There are enough great sequels who needed the first film. The fact this is two episodes smashed together to form a movie has no bearings on its quality.

There are far worse problems here. Evangelion was a brilliant series with a disappointing ending. Instead of using intelligence to lift up its story of saving the world, it went full retard. The deviation is only impressive if you haven’t been to the edge of weird storytelling. It contributed nothing to the series but was just a scattered essay with moving pictures.

The film was supposed to fix that, but sadly it doesn’t. Evangelion was never as deep as people say it is. It attempted subversions, but it lacked a theme to unite it all together. Religious symbolism and psychological portraits do not necessarily mean there’s a grand theme. They are ways to express ideas.

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The problems are already apparent in the beginning. It kicks off into a huge action sequence that lives little room for character development. It also perfectly replicates the intensity that made the TV show so fun.

Nobody talks about how fun the TV show us. The drama was engrossing and the action scenes were beautifully animated. Every metal bending, every hit, every explosion is full of power. The enemies have the unique, Angel-esque design and the scene is clean. The environment is bare, making it easy to follow exactly what’s happening. Michael Bay has a lot to learn from this film.

The film attempts the same psychological-monologue-slideshow thing, and it’s just as unnecessary and messy as in the series. It’s a little better, but the core problem remains.

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Moving to such territory is unnecessary. The story isn’t made for such experimental methods. At its heart, it’s a simple story about saving the world from the Unknown Enemy while realizing that humanity can be its own enemy, too. All you need for this story are characters who are convincing enough.

The monologues just go in circles, bouncing from one subject into another with no ideas concluding or connecting. This technique works in novels, but not so for films. You read novels in your own pace, so you take your own time to digest the word salad.

Movies set their own pace, so Anno is throwing at you images and words in machine-gun velocity. This could still have a chance of being entertaining, but experimental films often have a plot that works well with the method. You couldn’t tell the story of Pi without going full retard. It’s an abstract story at heart that happens only in Max Cohen’s head.

There is something about loneliness and the desire to connect. I heard this before and searched for it in this film. While the conclusion does touch that in a symbolic way that works, everything else was over the place like I remembered. Shinji is a neurotic and angsty teen, but his type of angst isn’t focused on enough. Is he a person who gave up on connecting to people like Mirai Nikki‘s Yukki? Is he an obsessive person who sees everything in absolutes like Max Cohen?

Perhaps I missed something in the series, but nothing here connected to a single theme. It starts to look like Digimon Tamers is an attempt to remake Evangelion with coherency. At least Tamers has a theme and symbols that point to it.

I once read that Anno said Evangelion could mean anything the viewer wants to. If so, then the show is about nothing. This isn’t how vagueness works. A story should not give simple answers, but it still needs to ask questions. Asking questions means it confronts a subject, and it’s not just about anything. Medabots asks whether weapons only lead to destruction, or whether they can be used for fun. The vagueness is in how the series makes strong cases for both viewpoints.

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The film still gets by because of its visuals. Despite the attempts at philosophy, the second part works in the same way the first part. Its epicness is exciting. It’s not as meaningful as before. We get monologues, instead of seeing characters in action but the visuals are still beautiful, and there’s a sense of self-importance that actually makes it fun. It stretches itself so far so just seeing how crazy it will go is entertaining. Despite the philosophizing, the film never forgets it’s a visual medium and that it should take advantage of it.

It’s an interesting addition to the Evangelion canon, but it supports the haters more than the fans. Instead of giving Evangelion a coherent ending, it shows how the series never had a grand theme to begin with. Knowing your limitations is important. If Evangelion stuck to its story of saving the world, it would’ve been fantastic. Still, a scattered but creative mind still has plenty of worthwhile ideas.

3.5 Angels out of 5

 

Iron Man (2008)

Iron-Man-2008

I almost wish she was the center of the film

“Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?

There’s a reason why the film ends with the riff from the famous Black Sabbath song but without the lyrics. Black Sabbath’s song described a flawed and conflicted person. He might be interesting, but nothing we’d hope to be. The same thing can’t be said of Iron Man‘s Tony Star. Black Sabbath said about their character that nobody wants him. You couldn’t find a more unfit description for Tony Stark

If this was just a dumb superhero film, I might have forgiven that. It wouldn’t work well as one anyway, though. There isn’t enough violence and the characters aren’t insane enough. Too many moments hint that the creators wanted to make this an important superhero film. The nature of weaponry is an obvious theme. The creators understand a superhero should be a symbol for some idea, not just a human with superpowers.

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A time before duckface

Tony Stark’s suit leaves little room for exploration, though. It’s not a Medabot. Medabots symbolized toys as weapons, and were an exaggerated portrayal of violent toys. It’s not a Terminator, which was a weapon with the appearance of a human being. Tony Stark’s suit is just a means to save people and instigate the final action scene.

There is something about how weapons can be harmful in the wrong hands, but that’s an idea that goes nowhere. The film never asks if there is more to do with weapons other than attack other human beings or if weaponry (and violence) is a part of being human.

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No hair, no heart?

The people who represent the bad way of using weapons are evil clowns. The Ten Rings are just a gang of mooks who are like the bandits from Borderlands without the humor. As for Obadiah, he was stuck under Tony’s shadow and for some reason we’re expected to dislike him for his evil deeds. No matter how hard the film tries to make Obadiah look like the devil, his story remains more interesting psychologically.

Obadiah’s development happens off-screen, but his is a story that can never get old. He’s a man stuck under another’s shadow who felt like he never got what he deserved. This is a common sentiment and the fact Obadiah still lives a kickin’ life makes it even better. Even as a villain, these ideas could’ve been explored. Why Obadiah wants Stark’s place so much? Why can’t he be content with still being stinking rich? They say no matter what you do there’s always someone better than you. What if there’s only one person who’s better than you?

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This is a sci-fi film, in case you didn’t notice

Obadiah’s motives have nothing to do with these. He’s evil so there will be someone to fight with (and also because he’s not as pretty). These so-called motives are here to put a cover that a film is serious and that its villains have motives.

Tony has some sort of arc, but it barely qualifies as a cheap psycho-drama. His development happens in 20 minutes. After spending some time in a cave and seeing that people shoot each other in real life, he develops a desire to save the world. That’s all that happens. It doesn’t affect anything else. He’s still a womanizer and he still loves being funny.

He was a selfish person in the beginning. That was why we saw him have sex with a lot of women and being told he has nothing because he doesn’t have a family. You’d think that such a person would change dramatically along with his desire to save the world. You don’t have to make a complete 180-turn. Impmon became less of a bully but he still retained his sarcastic personality. Tony doesn’t become anything new but is just given a desire to save the world.

Allow me to be cynical, but that’s because the film wants to keep Tony’s coolness. The beginning isn’t meant to satire the lives of the rich and famous. It’s meant to portray them as cool, charismatic and living an ideal life. Tony may have given up selling weapons, but no way will he give up the cool lifestyle of casinos and having sex with anyone he wants. Even if the rich truly live such perfect lives with no problems at all, isn’t it insulting? Most people will never live this way, so why dangle the carrot?

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Tony aims for Chris Martin’s ex

The seriousness of the film is ridiculous when you look deeper, but there’s a good side to this. The storytelling is so focused that it feels much shorter than it is. No scenes are unnecessary. There are no extra characters that don’t serve some purpose later. Action scenes don’t clog the film with incoherent explosions. In fact, there are few of them and even in those scenes they don’t go full retard. They’re not a series of endless explosions but a collection of set-pieces that build up to a conclusion. It’s not one of the best action scenes ever, but it’s purposeful.

Pepper Potts is also a unique character to see in such a film. It’s been a while since we had a female side kick that could be worthwhile without packing heat. She’s not developed, but the script never lets her fall into cliches. She never becomes pure eye candy, or a woman whose character is passed off as strong because she kills people. She almost ended up as an empty character, but Paltrow’s performance gives her a humanity everyone else lacks. Everyone is charismatic enough, but Paltrow is the only one who plays like her character can star in a variety of other stories.

Guitars also make constant apperance in the musical score. It’s a bold decision. It’s not the most uncommon element yet but it’s still rare compared to cliched orchestras. This adds some punch to many scenes. If the only point of Tony’s character is that he’s cool and macho, add some macho guitars to go along with it.

Iron Man became popular because it’s a well-constructed film. All the professionals in the film industry and I still see a lot of incoherent stories. Simplicity is rarely a death sentence in films, especially when you want to make some easy fun. Iron Man’s attempts at depth aren’t convincing, but it’s fun enough.

3 cool suits out of 5

Digimon Tamers – The Hypnos Arc

The D-Reaper is where it’s at. It’s a personification of death in a children’s show. After the disappointment of the first Digimon Adventure, I just hoped this will be good enough until that arrives. I did not expect it to be this subversive, well-written and exciting early on.

The original Digimon Adventure was very basic. It was all about becoming more powerful to defeat a senseless enemy that wants to destroy in order to destroy. They somehow managed to drag it for 50 episodes. It’s a remarkable achievement for such a thin premise where even the action is unexciting. Throughout the first arc, Tamers constantly questions it.

We get Villains of the Weak whose sole purpose is to be defeated, but they are not the center. It’s Yamaki and Impmon – two characters closer to being antagonists – that define this series.

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Yamaki is first seen as an evil, detatched Government Agent who wants to destroy Digimon because he’s cruel and wears a suit. Very early though, it’s shown he’s more than that. Yamaki is not villainous. He’s a person in need of control, but because he sees what chaos does. The Villains of the Weak wreck havoc and cause nothing but panic. It’s only logical to want to stop them.

He’s not like the kids, who got their Digimon and felt like their dream was coming true. He views things from a wider, but more detatched angle. He sees all the havoc that’s going on and doesn’t mind to hurt a few kids’ feeling if it means peace to everyone else.

But Yamaki is a person who wants control so much that this desire controls him. He tries to tighten his control more and more, moving from observing to trying to destroy to trying to eradicate all Digimon. Yet his own technology spins out of control, just like the Digimon are a technology that’s gone out of control (doesn’t it happen all the time?). Yamaki eventually breaks down and even gets a little violent. But what makes it so powerful is not because his violent reaction is cruel (it’s not), it’s because we’ve come to see Yamaki is like us when things go out of our control.

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Impmon is another case. Impmon is a person who found out he doesn’t fit in society. He had his chance, but he couldn’t do it. So now he tries to live outside of it, bragging about his independence and not being a slave like all the Digimon.

He’s like that kid who made fun of you for being a slave for Pop music, when his whole existance is letting people know how special he is. Impmon doesn’t live outside of human society because he relies on their feedback. He pulls pranks and scares them for fun. Without humans to be scared of him, he’s nothing.

He’s an Antichrist Superstar, a person who couldn’t fit into society yet can’t live outside of it. Like Manson’s character, this leads to a desire for power to overcome this. Impmon can’t help but feel weak. His pranks are nothing but a nuiscance. As the series goes on, Impmon realizes how pointless his whole quest is. He’s starting to reconsider his worldview, but not his hatred for humans.

He sees the hero’s Digimon evolving defeating enemies, and he mistakes that for success. Since he has no alternative to society, all he wants is to destroy. This is developed further later in the series, but it’s hinted at early on. Impmon isn’t a buried gun that plays in the background until the series needs him. His downward spiral already beings.

These are the first of many breakdowns that this series will feature. It’s shocking at first to see it in a kid’s show. That’s why it’s brilliant, though. It creates characters and puts their worldview through challenges. Call Mushishi mature all you want because it doesn’t have fighting, but Mushishi never puts his characters through these breakdowns.

The whole idea of power, which the original Digimon and many shounen shows rely on is put into question. Digivolution is not plain getting stronger. The power it gives the Digimon is violent and destructive, and you can’t stay indifferent to it. I remember the first time I held a gun and how it felt.

Power does change people. We all think of changing our environment, but when we’re given the means to do it that’s when we start taking it more seriously. The series gives us three different viewpoints. Takato is a naive kid who, if he’s going to fight will do it for fun. Henry is a pacifist who can’t unsee the harm violence does to others, even when they’re enemies. Rika is a subversion of the Shounen hero. Ash Ketchum wanted to be Pokemon Master. So does Rika, only for Digimon. It’s a violent path to mastery.

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Gargamon’s Digivolution illustrates this best. It’s a shocking episode, one that takes the first series and flips it on its head. Getting stronger, instead of solving the problem creates a worse one. Gargomon has a great design. He’s cute and cuddly, but instead of arms he got two revolver barrels. The series acknowledges these weapons were meant to hurt. How many shows question violence like this?

While these characters don’t experience the serious breakdowns of Impmon’s and Yamaki’s, their viewpoints are constantly being challenged. Henry’s pacifism, Rika’s bullying ambition and Takato’s naivety are all put under constant testing. This will get more serious as the show goes on. Already in the beginning, though, Tamers is brilliant. It makes it look so easy. You don’t need realistic art or no fighting to have a ‘mature anime’. Just continue to test your character’s worldview.

Medabots

Medabots
This is a show where one of the bad guys’ schemes is to redesign every house in a city. They wreck the house and rebuild as a Moai, a Pinocchio or a ukulele.

A little introduction so you’ll know what we’re talking about.

It can be scary to revisit an old childhood favorite. We’re easily impressed when we’re young because we haven’t experienced much. The first chocolate always tastes great, but it becomes ordinary the more types you try. Old favorites can have something cool in them, like battles and explosions but after a few years they made you glad you’ve grown.

I am a critical man who often tires people in discussions. How surprised I was that Medabots was as good as I remembered. Sometimes, it’s even better.

It’s part of the wave of shows that were one big advertisement, like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblade and Pokemon. Yet it tries its best to rise above it. This is not an anime that creates a battle system and a story that’s completely unrelated to it. Medabots‘ story is tied to its setting. You can’t tell the same story in Pokemon‘s or Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s world.

It often feels like Medabots was made by a bunch of guys who looked at battle shounen cliches, and decided to mess with them. Subversions are everywhere. The bad guys often make no sense at all. Their schemes involve building weird houses and a zoo full of penguins. It’s a response to the litany of dull villains who are evil because they’re evil. It points out how goofy the whole world domination is.

The RubberRobo Gang may not have an opposing worldview (although the series gets to that later). They remain evil for evil’s sake throughout the series, but their goofiness gives them humanity. They stop being villains, and become just a bunch of crazies who watched Digimon Adventure and thought they could be Miyotismon.

Ikki himself is a fairly different hero. He starts off as a loser, and remains a bit of one. He’s not given ‘sheer determination’ or ‘heart of gold’ for defining attributes. He’s defined more by his naive passion towards medabots (who are actually weapons). Sometimes anime love to give a quality like recklessness for a ‘flaw’, but it’s often one that ends up helping the hero and gives him charm.

Ikki is a narcisstic and brat who swings from adoring himself to giving up. He’s an average dude with dreams of glory but who actually has to go through hardship to gain it. He’s never truly heroic. He’s allowed to lose and to be an asshole. Ikki often loses not because he deals with a strong opponenet, but because he thinks too much of himself (or not enough about his partner). It’s the opposite of characters who shoot fireballs because they have enough faith in themselves.

Where the series truly outshines everyone else is when it questions its premise, and presents characters with alternative worldviews.

Rokusho is a pacifist. In a world where everyone is obsessed with shooting missiles at the other’s robots, he just likes to look at insects. A series of events lead him to a breakdown and eventually, to a robattle. This isn’t the fun battles of previous. This is a robot fighting because he genuinaly wants to hurt to destroy. This is also the moment when Robo-Emperor appears, who is classified as weapon-type.

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This is when the series doesn’t just let the premise give us cool battles. It questions it. It forces the viewer to be reminded that, even though these medabots are cool they are in the end weapons. The whole final arc revolves around this theme. Unlike Evangelion, Medabots can explore its themes without having to resort to two episodes of inner monologues.

Its treatment of the subject matter is also very mature. It looks further than the pacifist/violence dichotomy. It’s a series where weapons are both used for fun sports and for destruction. It gives us various views – Rokusho’s pacifism, Ikki’s naivety, Victor’s cynicism and Aki’s greed. Even the way it ends is not by just getting stronger, but by destroying two giant weapons of war. Medabots’ view is that violence is fine, so long as its for sport.

The series doesn’t use this exploration to go slack on any other department. In fact, because everything else in the series is so good that it can be easy to miss this little bit of philosophy.

Before it goes deep, it’s a hilarious slice of life anime full of odd characters. It celebrates the characters’ goofiness. There is a running theme of narcissism here, where everyone thinks of themselves as bigger than they are. That sometimes ruins the halo of even the talented ones, like Dr. Aki. Spike remains a loser who doesn’t progress by becoming a winner, but by still trying. Karin is a love interest who refuses to play the role and remains oblivious to her admirers.

This is why the climax feels so powerful. The series establishes that all these people have a life of their own. These characters don’t just live for the journey. Rather, the journey is what happens between ordinary days. This is the role most of the lighter episodes. Some of them are pretty weak, but they’re an integral part of the experience. The climax wouldn’t be so powerful if the climax was the only thing there was.

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The series also doesn’t forget to let us enjoy the coolness of medabots. Almost everyone of them is beautifully designed. Whereas most Digimon are just exaggerated versions of real-life animals and objects, Medabots has a style of its own. It creates a template and then forces various things – gorillas, beetles, kings – fit it. It’s always interesting to examine every medabot and see how they morphed the original subject to fit the style.

The action scenes are often brief, but intense. Despite the Medaforce serving as One-Hit-KO in many episodes, plenty of time rely on an actual startergy. The oppponent’s medabot has a certain style that Ikki and Metabee have to overcome. It means most opponents are defeated by just one missile, but first Ikki has to get them in a position where he could shoot the missile. The last robattle between team Japan and team Kenya also deserves an honorable mention. A fight so intense and beautifully animated it will keep me coming back.

There is also Mr. Referee, who teleports whenever there’s a robattle. It’s a complete absurdity that everyone is fine with. Then again, isn’t life absurd?

There are some flaws, of course. There are explorations that remain undeveloped, including a weird alien thing that doesn’t feel like it belongs. The battle system isn’t exactly well-thought-out in terms of specifics. There are some useless episodes and the Medolarian backstory needed more screen time. A series’ greatness isn’t measured by its lack of flaws, though. A series that just avoids flaws is like a food that avoids unpleasant tastes. More impressive is a series that overcome the flaws. It’s an anime that could be trimmed and polished on the sides, but the end result is full of fun characters, a deep exploration of a subject, goofy scenarios, intense fights and a fantastic. The last six episodes can only be watched in sitting. Despite the occasional flaw, it’s a rich anime full of many good things. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so popular. It’s far more experimental. Thankfully, the experiment is more successful than anything I hope an anime can be.

The Wu-Tang Clan logo appears a few times, for some reason.

5 medals out of 5

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

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.