The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Digimon Adventure: ?
What is this?
In 2020, the whole world is connected by a network known as the Internet. It runs our phones, our T.V.s, our power grids…and, more ominously, our infrastructure. It is also home, as it turns out, to little creatures known as “Digimon,” digital monsters whose lives play out in a digital world. Taichi finds out about this very suddenly when evil Digimon attack Tokyo's transportation system, causing the Tokyo Loop Line trains to go out of control. With his mother and little sister Hikari trapped on a train from Shibuya, Taichi and his new friend Koshiro find themselves on the front lines of the fight when Taichi is transported into the digital world. There he and a little dinosaur named Agumon team up to fight off the evil Digimon in order to save Taichi's family – and maybe all of Tokyo.
How was the first episode?
I have an interesting relationship with the Digimon franchise. When it aired the original Digimon Adventure (sans colon) on Fox Kids back in the late 90s, I was obsessed with it. I loved Pokémon too, but for a lonely little kid who lived out in the styx with hardly a friend to speak of, the idea of having badass monster friends that could get into battles and talk to you was irresistible, and the epic scope of the story's adventure appealed to me a lot more than Pokémon's more episodic flavor. After the original series, though, I never kept up with Digimon; I haven't ever seen the Japanese language of the first series, nor have I watched any of the other shows or movies to come out since then. I put a few solid hours into the Cyber Sleuth game on the PlayStation Vita, but that's about it.
The nostalgia bomb hit me ridiculously hard watching this premiere of the Digimon Adventure: reboot, though. Just seeing Tai and Izzy — er, I mean Taichi and Koshiro again was enough to get me feeling a little misty-eyed and fuzzy, and this new version of the story wastes no time setting up the exciting premise of kids and their Digital Monster friends doing battle against evil cyber monsters. If anything, the first episode maybe moves too fast, speeding past character introductions and exposition to get Taichi and Agumon together in the Digital World so they can become besties and fight some bad guys. Though this show is ostensibly for a brand new generation of fans, I wonder if it wouldn't be even more difficult to get invested in this premiere's story if you didn't already have a frame of reference for the characters and the world. One minute, Taichi is prepping for his summer excursions, and the next minute he and a stranger from the apartment upstairs are sprinting through the city to somehow prevent Taichi's family from getting hurt in a disaster caused by malfunctioning tech all over the city, and then all of a sudden Taichi is sucked into a magical computer universe where he and a dinosaur are fighting virus monster things. And also, the dinosaur turns into an even bigger and cooler dinosaur? Maybe the show is banking on kids either being familiar with the basic premise of the franchise, or just not needing to ask a lot of questions when so much cool stuff is being tossed at the screen, but I wanted this reintroduction to the world of Digimon to feel more solid than what I ended up getting.
Then again, Digimon is cool, isn't it? Pokémon makes for a great game, but I'll always side with Digimon for its efforts to make the DigiDestined and their monster pals feel like real heroes on a high-stakes journey. This 2020 production has a slick and modern edge to it that will likely resonate with the kids who are fused to their smart devices all day, but even with its chaotic storytelling, you can tell its heart is the same as it ever was. There's a unique pleasure that comes from watching a good boy and his dinosaur friend punch computer programs in the face and then light them on fire, and I can bet that it'll be even more fun as soon as the rest of the cast joins the fray as well. It's been over 20 years, but I'm glad to have Digimon Adventure: back.
I am from the age group which grew up on bastardized series like Battle of the Planets and Robotech, so the original Digimon Adventure: series (which debuted in 1999) and all of its successors were quite a bit after my time. Even though I know the franchise remained popular with older viewers, I could never shake the impression of it as a purely kids' series, so I never bothered to check it out. Hence this hard reboot of the franchise is my formal introduction to it. Based on what I saw in the first episode, that's not a problem; while established franchise fans may get a strong sense of nostalgia from it, this was clearly made to be totally accessible to a whole new generation.
Given that the original series came out in a much earlier era of the Internet, an update in the form of a reboot was probably more warranted for this series than many others. The technology certainly keeps up with the time; characters are now using laptops and smart phones to access Net space, for instance, and the level of tech savviness shown even by upper elementary students isn't that big of a stretch. The whole “cool kid” sensibility of the goggles Taichi wears seems a bit silly, but hey, this series is still aimed at younger audiences so that probably doesn't matter. The concept is still a straightforward one: there are digital life forms called Digimon which live within the Net, and some seek to disrupt it while other seek to protect it. Specially-chosen young humans can transport into the virtual space (a la Tron) and team up with certain humans to combat the threat. It's a less cutting-edge concept now than it was 21 years ago, but it still works.
In fact, the whole thing might still work even for much older viewers. I was surprised by how much I got drawn in by the well-staged and decently-animated action elements, and the outside threats that the Digimons' actions posed made the stakes plenty compelling enough. A potently dramatic musical score helps a lot on this, and so does the simple but still effective sense of partnership-building in action. The whole “evolve into a more powerful form” thing wasn't new even at the time of the first series and raises the question about why the Digimon isn't always in its most powerful form, but I expect that will get explained for newcomers at some point. All-in-all, this is a pretty impressive restart that should succeed at its task of making a bunch of new young fans.
I missed the original Digimon craze back when it first hit, but I have to say that its 2020 reboot's first episode impressed me. While I can't speak to the changes made in the past twenty years (apart from the presumably easier merging of our world and the story's given the ubiquity of the Internet today when compared with then), as an introduction to the sprawling franchise, this does a good job. Taichi comes across as an everykid whose life is plunged into uncertainty when the lives of his mother and sister are threatened by a cyberattack on Tokyo's traffic/transportation systems, and if things happen awfully quickly in his attempts to get it back on track, well, at least he's clearly as surprised as anyone at what's going on, which really adds to his appeal as a protagonist.
The episode does feel somewhat unevenly paced. The whole introduction of all of the things the Internet does is probably good for kids who don't realize how much is controlled via online information (traffic lights and commuter rail, specifically), but Taichi meeting Koshiro drags a bit. In part this is because Koshiro feels like the sour note in the story thus far – him being an awkward kid is fine, but his slightly-fictitious technology and intense interest in the news Taichi has on his phone feels out of place for a fourth grader. He's clearly meant to be Taichi's link to understanding the technology involved on a more scientific level, but in that case it might have made more sense to make him a bit older, especially since part of his character appears to be feeling uncomfortable around Taichi, who looks to be a sixth grader or thereabouts. That his character design features dead black eyes with no light in them certainly doesn't help things.
The use of the old character designs is a nice piece of nostalgia for old fans of the original show, and fortunately doesn't feel too terribly out of place now, although they definitely don't look particularly like what we see today. Most striking (apart from Koshiro's eyes; those really bug me) is the fact that no effort has been made to make the Digimon themselves cuter in the modern sense – Agumon is still slightly scary with his huge head and big claws and teeth and his Greymon form is much more dinosaur-like than even the dinosaur in Gal & Dino. The bunny ball with jagged teeth is also kind of creepy in its appearance, and all of that combines to make the digital world and its denizens look not only very different from our own, but like a place where dangerous things happen. This works well for the story (and may function as a metaphor for the dangers of being online for kids if the series decides to go that route), and it certainly feels like it gives Digimon Adventures an edge over other shows for the same age group.
Less preachy than Future's Folktales and decently exciting, Digimon Adventure:'s new series seems like it could be the kind of solid family show that adults can enjoy as well as kids. I'm not sure how much of your nostalgia itch it will scratch, but I certainly won't mind it if my nieces and nephews get into it and want to share.
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