The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
Digimon Ghost Game
How would you rate episode 1 of
Digimon Ghost Game ?
What is this?
Not far in the future, technology has advanced. On social media, dubious rumors are spreading about the mysterious "hologram ghost" phenomenon. First year middle school student Hiro Amanokawa activates a strange object left behind by his father, a Digivice. Suddenly he can see mysterious creatures that no one else can, called Digimon. That's how Hiro meets the mischievous Digimon, Gammamon, and his whole world changes. Now he's confronted scary monsters like the "mouth-sewn man" and a mummy that kidnaps humans.
How was the first episode?
Were you a Pokémon kid or a Digimon kid? Although my little brother preferred Digimon, I was a Pokémon fan through and through, mostly because I thought Digimon's art style and monster designs were ugly. Over the last few years, the deluge of nostalgia for the original series has had me wondering if I missed out. Now, the first original entry in the Digimon franchise in five years, Ghost Game, has me seriously considering giving the whole shebang another shot.
The story is kind of like the central premise of Digimon crossed with the excellent Den-noh Coil: the digital world and the analog world are becoming mixed up in some way, fueling the development of new urban legends or vice versa. The middle schooler Hiro lives in a dorm because his mother is usually in other countries for work, and his eccentric inventor father mysteriously disappeared from his desk one day, leaving behind a steaming crater and a strange device. Recently, there's been strange rumors of a ghost with its lips sewn together killing people in his school auditorium.
You can probably guess where this is going: his father is in the digital world, and the device he left Hiro is a digivice, granting him a partner Digimon named Gammamon. The ghost with its lips sewn shut? Also a Digimon. But despite the formulaic nature of the fundamental elements, Ghost Game comes in with a remarkably strong first episode. Even though I knew exactly how things would conclude, with Hiro and Gammamon prevailing and the evil Digimon safely defeated, there were some real moments of tension and a sense of creeping dread that got through to me.
The staff list includes some real power players: Kou Ohtani on the score, character designs by Mariko Ito, best known for Log Horizon, and directors with series like Dragon Ball Super and Pretty Cure entries under their belt. The principal voice cast is the stuff of legends: Miyuki Sawashiro, Akira Ishida, Yu Kobayashi… the list goes on. With a group like that behind it, how could Ghost Game fail? Well, pretty easily, because the quality of an anime is determined by more than a list of names, but it seems like everyone has brought their A-game here. Today has been full of children's anime, and Digimon Ghost Game stands heads and shoulders above the others.
Do you know about the Sewn-lip Man? First your phone will start ringing, then the clock will start spinning, and then he'll appear. If you can't answer his question about what time it is, he'll steal your time, leaving you a broken husk of an elderly person. He's one of many so-called hologram ghosts that have been spotted all over Japan lately, and no one knows where they come from or how to stop them. Well, one man might, but he vanished with barely a trace, leaving only a melted hole in the wood floor of his office and a strange digital device for his middle school-age son Hiro to find.
Welcome, then, to Digimon Ghost Game, a show that attempts to combine the Digimon franchise with the feel of GeGeGe no Kitarō. It comes relatively close in this first episode, but doesn't quite have the guts of Kitaro to really pull out all the stops. In my opinion, children's horror lives and dies on how well it's able to bring itself to not coddle its audience, and while this may get there, right now it feels just a little too safe.
Not that it doesn't come very, very close to getting it right. Hiro's flashback to the day his dad vanished (he appears to have spontaneously combusted, but later on it turns out that maybe he just found a doorway to the Otherside) is effective, with Hiro going from annoyed that the man can't get to breakfast on time to in utter shock at what's happened. The police detective very gently and quietly talking to him is pitch-perfect as well, capturing that tone adults use when they think kids need to be treated carefully. And Hiro definitely does in that moment – the implication that his mother can't be bothered to come home just because her husband did something weird is pretty bad, and Hiro's very shaken by the whole thing. That he then has to move into the school dorms says a lot about his family situation, more than if the show had harped on it. His skill at picking locks, and the fact that he carries around a set of lockpicks, also says a lot without having to explain anything at all.
The Sewn-lip Man isn't quite scary enough to make for excellent follow-through, but he is still pretty darn creepy, and the way that Hiro comes up with a method to defeat him is clever. Gammamon and the other Digimon are going to have to work hard to matter in the story; although it seems clear that Sewn-lip Man, or rather, Clockmon, can't hurt them and presumably other rogue Digimon won't be able to either, so their function may be as distractions so that Hiro, Ruli, and as-yet-unnamed Senpai can take them out. I do love the urban legend feel that this episode creates, and it certainly feels unique among this style of series, so there's a very good chance that it will learn to lean into its horror elements more. Not that I'm advocating for giving children nightmares, but if Mary Downing Hahn and Shigeru Mizuki have taught me anything, it's that wimping out on the scare factors makes the audience feel talked down to, and this has enough potential that I'd hate to see that happen.
I think it's fair to call myself a Digimon fan—even though my interest begins and ends with the various Digimon Adventure series and the Cyber Sleuth games. I know more than a few Digimon and have their evolutionary trees memorized. But all that said, I had little interest in Digimon Ghost Game going in. From the trailers, it was clear this wasn't the Digimon I was used to—which turned out to be a good thing.
Digimon Ghost Game basically combines urban legends with Digimon to create horror stories for the digital age. Recently, there have been hologram ghosts causing strange, supernatural trouble. These are, of course, malicious Digimon, though how they are able to affect our world is a mystery.
The first episode centers around a ghost Clockmon who hits people over the head with a hammer and literally steals their time—leaving them elderly and on the verge of death. The show does a good job is establishing a creepy vibe. Watching Clockmon play with his victims, terrifying them before aging them is certainly unsettling—not to mention the aging effect which makes them look like they “chose poorly” and took a drink out of the wrong holy grail.
Following along the urban legend theme, our hero (aptly named Hiro) is the victim of another Digimon-related supernatural event: his father disappeared, leaving nothing but an ominous hole in his study and a watch-shaped Digivice at the center of it. It clear that what happened to his father will be one of the big mysteries of the series, even if he does show up in hologram form when Hiro gets his Digimon partner.
As is usual for the franchise, the main Digimon partner—in this case Gamamon—has a vaguely dinosaur-esque shape (a triceratops in his case). It's a cool design and I can't wait to see the further evolutions up the tree. Clockmon, on the other hand, looks genuinely scary at points with his sewn-together lips.
While not exactly the Digimon I'm familiar with, Digimon Ghost Game looks to be a fun reinvention of the series. If you're a kid, a hardcore Digimon fan, or a fan of Japanese-style urban legends, this one might just be worth checking out.
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