In anticipation of playing Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth (PS4/Vita), I recently re-watched Digimon’s first season. Digimon Adventure follows 7 kids who went to summer camp and get transported into another world full of monsters. Some of those monsters immediately befriend them, while others by chance or intent are trying to kill them. Gradually the deeper mysteries unfold: why are they here? What do they have to accomplish to get home again?
Digimon Adventure is an unusual story in a number of ways. It’s hard to call the setting fantasy or sci-fi—it’s closer to surrealism. Modern kids get yanked into a wilderness that has forests, deserts, and . . . telephone booths and vending machines? The setting is part of the appeal, because although the world has its own set of rules, they’re so wacky you can never quite know what will show up next, whether it’s the convenience store at the bottom of the ocean or the modern city borrowing buildings from New York and Paris.
Plot-wise, it’s a bit more predictable, but the ongoing story allows for long plot arcs with a good amount of character development. Each of the kids has a backstory, and each of them has a role to play. And the backstory can get relatively deep: Matt’s insecurity over his parent’s divorce affecting his relationship with his brother and his rivalry with Tai, Izzy’s adoption distancing him from connecting with the parents who love him but feel the need to keep that secret, etc. The boldest arc (and my favorite) has everyone, monsters included, going back to the human world to deal with the digital monsters who have migrated there to cause chaos for ordinary humans. And suddenly it’s no longer just about the kids as their parents and siblings are caught up in everything as well.
It’s also worth noting that the digimon are characters in their own right. Unlike other monster shows where the goal is to collect a lot, each child only has a single companion, who can evolve to multiple forms. The digimon can complement their partner’s personality, like Agumon being as bold as Tai, or be completely at odds, like the carefree Gomamon for over-responsible Joe.
There are certainly rough points. I watched enough of the Japanese to vastly prefer the English (Matt sounds WAY too old in Japanese), despite the sometimes odd humor in the dub. The show has its share of recycled plot points—how many times do they really need to split up and come back together? And without the nostalgia appeal, this isn’t going to hold up as well for older kids or adults (with perhaps the exception of the arc in the real world).
Overall this held up better than I thought it would, but it never quite breaks free of the kids show feel. For kids, Recommended. For adults, maybe watch a sample first. It’s available for streaming for free on Crunchyroll currently.
And I’ll note here, because I have no intention of watching the entire season of Adventure 02, that the sequel’s main draw is watching the original cast move from heros to mentors, and seeing how TK and Kari grew up. But its main turn off is that Davis, the leader, is completely insufferable, and the other new characters, Yolei and Cody, feel less like their own characters and more like shadows of the original cast. Season 03, Tamers, breaks completely with the Adventures storyline, and the writing is better in the few eps I watched. I wouldn’t mind finishing that eventually.