Digimon. A franchise that makes everyone go ‘Isn’t that just a Pokémon ripoff?’ Well, kinda but not really. My earliest memory of Digimon is when a friend and I finished playing N64, and turned on the TV, and a commercial for Digimon comes on. We turned to each other and exclaimed ‘Digimon?!’ in confusion. By that time, Pokémon Red and Blue and the anime we deep in our brains. I thought exactly what most people thought, and it was just a clone show. I wasn’t going to give it the time of day. One Saturday morning however, you know when cartoons were actually on Saturday mornings, I caught an episode of Digimon Digital Monsters, and the rest was history.
The first season of Digimon, titled Digimon Adventure in Japan, revolves around seven kids who while at summer camp get transported to the Digital World. This world is inhabited by Digital Monsters, or Digimon for short. The kids who are known as the DigiDestined (there’s a lot of digi things here) befriend their own Digimon, who are partners, and must figure out a way to get back home. It’s a very simple fish out of water story, and that is the main difference between Pokémon and Digimon. There is a story, an arc with all of these characters. We watch characters who start off complaining, and whining all the time to realizing that they need to step up and fight to save their friends. We see these kids go through near death experiences and watch as they overcome every obstacle thrown at them. The story is what always drew me to the show. Pokémon’s story is never its strong suit. The story there is catch cute monsters, win gym badges, enter a league, lose and start over and repeat for the next twenty seasons. I never feel like the characters learn anything new about themselves or grow to be better people. Of course that’s not the point of Pokémon either.
Digimon is a show about growth and responsibilities. It also touches upon very real things. Two characters (who I will call by their English names sorry) Matt and T.K. are brothers, but their parents are divorced and so Matt feels like he need to overprotect T.K. as he is usually not there for him. When T.K. starts to be able to handle himself without Matt, it drives Matt to a dark place because he feels he is no longer needed. Another character Izzy learns he is adopted from his parents one night when they think he isn’t listening, and he deals with trying to make them proud to have him as their son. Each of the kids struggle with something and in that struggle is where the show excels. You feel as if these are real kids who happen to be in a fantasy digital world. That’s not to say that there aren’t any fun aspects to it. We still have the Digimon.
The creatures themselves are fantastic. Unlike Pokémon, these monsters can speak full sentences. Not knowing what the real world is, it leads to fun conversations between the kids and the Digimon. In a very early episode, the kids are talking about wanting to contact their parents, and one of the Digimon ask “What’s a parents?” Yes with an ‘s’ because they don’t know what that is. They’ve never heard the word or the context of it used. Moments like these are scattered throughout with the kids learning about the digital world and the Digimon learning about the real world. When they aren’t learning and talking with the kids, they are mostly protecting them from evil Digimon. Again to compare them to Pokémon, while Pokémon are creatures none of them are considered evil. Now a bad person asking a Pokémon to do something bad doesn’t make the Pokémon evil, it’s just doing what the trainer commanded. Digimon however can be evil. There are three types of Digimon and as they are based on computers and digital code they are categorized by Data, Virus, and Vaccine. Three guesses on which Digimon is classified as evil. The first season of Digimon can be broken down into four arcs each with an evil Digimon or group of Digimon to defeat. The way the kids fight is with their Digimon partners. They start off small, but by way of evolution or digivolution they grow into stronger monsters. ￼
They don’t stay in their evolved forms all the time. After using up their energy they go back to their normal state. What I always found interesting about their evolution was that the kids and Digimon needed to work together to achieve it. The kids have a device called, for a lack of a better term, a Digivice which allows them to help the Digimon reach their next evolution. Later on in the show the kids need to get a new item, a crest that is specific to an attribute they possess to help the Digimon evolve even further. However they cannot do so until the kids activate their crest. For example, Tai the leader has the Crest of Courage. While looking for one of the kids who have been kidnapped, Tai believes he is invincible only to discover that he is in fact very vulnerable. There is a moment when he needs to go through an obstacle that if done incorrectly can kill him. However he gathers enough courage to go through and his crest activates allowing his partner Digimon to evolve to the next stage. Another character Sora, is given the Crest of Love. She is a caring person however she feels as if she can never let people in and allow love, she also has a rocky relationship with her mother because she does not believe her mother understands her. Once she sees her partner Digimon get hurt she realizes she loves her partner and her crest activates and allows her to evolve to the next stage. This is what I enjoy about the interactions with these characters. They are not just partners in the sense they fight side by side, but they quite literally need each other to get stronger.
The music is another thing I love about the series. While the English dub has some great melodies, even the intro theme, I have come to love the Japanese versions even more. Above I embedded the English Opening. Here I will put the Japanese opening.
The music is incredible. Between ButterFly and Braveheart I think Digimon has some of the best music in anime period. So much can be said for the score by Takanori Arisawa, and the two songs written by the late Kouji Wada. I listen to these songs on my commute a lot because they just give me so much energy.
I have watched this series on several occasions, and the reason I keep going back is because of the characters, because of the story. There are a lot of twists and turns, and new revelations at every corner. Even as a child, I understood what these kids were going through. When I learned the story was coming to its conclusion, and the final battle was taking place, I became sad, I thought that was it for these characters. Wouldn’t you know it, a second season came out the week after.
Digimon Adventure 02 started directly after the ending of the first season. It was a continuation of the story, with the original seven kids (spoilers, eight?) now older and a new group of kids must now be the protectors of the Digital World. While not as well written as the original, at least in terms of the English dub, it’s still a fun ride. There are still some great character moments, and surprises. The series ends with an epilogue that not too many people were happy with. I’m indifferent about it. Digimon Tamers, the third season, is in a completely separate reality. The concept is what if Digimon were in the ‘real world’ as in our own. This season is mostly loved by all Digimon fans as it has a much darker tone than the previous seasons. I was in the camp of not liking it at first. I didn’t like that my favorite characters were not in it, and it didn’t feel fun. As I grew older I realized, it’s not supposed to be fun all the time. I though that the previous seasons had dark undertones, but this takes the cake, and has become my second favorite season. On the bottom of the list we have the fourth season, Digimon Frontier. Now, I’m not going to say I hate this season, because honestly I don’t. It’s a completely different concept than the other three seasons, and I give it credit for trying to be different, and stay fresh with its story. The lore Frontier introduces is actually quite interesting, but it never goes through with it, which is disappointing. A lot of the Digimon fandom love this season, and I understand why, it has moments, but overall, I believe it suffers. However, it quite possibly has the best English opening song, I love it so much. Now there are more Digimon seasons, which I have yet to watch, including Digimon Savers or Data Squad, Digimon Fusion, and Digimon Universe: Appli Monsters. Yes, that last one is because smartphones and Apps (Applications) have taken over. It has a super catchy opening song though.
Digimon has also been very fortunate to have animated films as well. The most known movie titled ‘Digimon The Movie’ premiered in theaters in October of 2000. I don’t remember if I was there opening night, but I was there and I dragged my mother. sorry Mom. This movie, is actually three movies in one. It also has a rap song. That happened. You thought I was using the ‘Digi’ term a lot here? Just listen to this. The movie is enjoyable however, specifically the first half which is based on the second Digimon movie called Our War Game. Side note, the director of this film would go on later to direct another film titled Summer Wars, go check that movie out too, it’s really good and you can see the similarities between the two films. The second half of the movie is based on the third Digimon Movie titled Hurricane Touchdown. This would be the only movies English fans would get for a long time. At one point Disney had the rights to show the series on their Jetix block, and they adapted the rest of the Digimon films up to the fourth season including Revenge of Diaboromon, Battle of Adventurers, Runaway Locomon, and Island of Lost Digimon. Three more movies were made, but never had an English dub.
There are also video games. Now, the games are I feel not as well known, or at least are cast aside. Where I feel the Pokémon Games are the central piece and the anime is just marketing for the game, I feel it’s the other way around for Digimon. That’s not to say Digimon games are bad, again just not as well known. My first Digimon game was Digimon World 2 for PlayStation. I could never find the original, and so just bought the second game. One of my favorite PlayStation games. I had so much fun with it, but again as a child, I never finished it, it was until recently that I did. Same goes for its sequel Digimon World 3. Another game, I never finished as a kid, but I am currently replaying it, hoping to finish. I would then stay away from Digimon games, until the release of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth and Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Hackers Memory. These are really long titles. They are just very fun RPG games, and both have really fun stories. There are a bunch of other games that I haven’t experienced, but would like to go back and try them.
So why talk about Digimon? Well, I want to remind people that Digimon is still a thing. It’s always been a thing, but I feel like it’s always been in the shadow of Pokémon, and in the shadow of other monster anime. I was playing my PlayStation Vita on a trip I went to recently and I was playing Hackers Memory, and someone asked, ‘What are you playing?’ I told them Digimon, their response ‘Why, no one likes Digimon.’ They then proceeded to start playing Pokémon Go on their phone. I call this Pokémon Bias. Digimon is such a great property, and has so much story and lore attached to it. I can honestly say there are lessons I’ve learned from watching this show, from going through a parents divorce myself, to feeling alone and loss. On the outside it may seem like giant monsters fighting, but it is so much more than that. So many fans enjoy it, so much so a new series of movies were released entitled Digimon Adventure Tri, a sequel series to Digimon Adventure 02 that focuses on the original kids now in High School. Next we have a new game Digimon Survive releasing, as well as a new movie Digimon Adventure Last Evolution Kizuna. The hype on Digimon has never been bigger. I keep going in and out of the series, but I always get pulled back in. I can’t wait to see what the series has in store next, and I will continue to follow. I wouldn’t call myself a Digimon expert and I may have gotten things wrong, this is just to get other interested in the franchise. If this article has made you want to check Digimon out in some form, please do so. It’s a fun ride you won’t forget.
Below I have listed some podcasts about Digimon that you should listen to, they helped me get back into Digimon after I had left for a bit. They are very informative as well as entertaining.
Lost In Translationmon – May and Jay go through the Digimon Series and talk about the differences in the English and Japanese Dubs!
With the Will – Much how Kanzenshuu is a Dragon Ball fasite with all the know how, this is the Digimon equivalent. They also have a podcast where they discuss the newest Digimon items including games, anime, and figures.
The MonCast – I did so much comparing to Pokémon and Digimon, but what if there was a whole podcast about it? Oh wait. There is, check out The MonCast that covers both of them at the same time.