In 1999, the anime Digimon Adventure debuted in Japan and North America, unleashing big-haired Tai, surly Matt, and their digital-monster companions upon the world. The franchise was reportedly more inspired by Tamagotchi than the similar Pokémon series — digimon originated on small devices that let players interact with and care for a single digital pet — but the anime, which debuted two years after Pokémon, positioned it conceptually as a direct rival for the popular pocket-monsters series.
As time passed, Digimon Adventure’s characters grew up, getting into high school (Digimon Adventure tri., which ran from 2015-2018) and moving into adulthood (Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna in February 2020). Now, however, the hands of the clock are moving backward. 2020 also marked the beginning of Digimon Adventure:, a reboot of the 1999 series streaming on Crunchyroll as it’s released in Japan. Tai and company are back, but they’re children again, now living through an all-new set of digital adventures.
The original series, directed by Hiroyuki Kakudō, transported the “DigiDestined” kids from the real world to a verdant island filled with monsters. The reboot, directed by Masato Mitsuka, takes them into the internet, which in the two episodes that have aired so far, is composed of a lot of empty space and line-covered blue blocks. (Think Tron, but less interesting.) Once inside the internet, the kids and their monster companions fight against cyberterrorist monsters who hack the system to crash real-world subway trains or launch nuclear missiles. That makes the stakes much higher than the fate of a fantasy realm totally separate from Earth.
The alarming thing about the new series is just how fast it’s moving. It doesn’t feel like a reboot meant to entice more people to the franchise. Digimon Adventure: is playing the hits as rapidly as possible, to mash its existing fans’ nostalgia buttons. Like their Pokémon counterparts, Digimon grow through Digivolution, turning into bigger, stronger monsters, going from In-Training to Rookies, then Champions, Ultimates, and Megas. The first series spent several episodes Digivolving the monsters one by one. The reboot has Agumon, Tai’s companion, hit his Champion level in the first episode, and when Matt is introduced, his Digimon is already at Champion level as well. The second episode introduces an even stronger Digivolution that the original anime only reached in the second movie, which took place after the series.
In other words, Digimon Adventure: is hitting the fast-forward button. It’s making the stakes the kids are dealing with much higher, and forcing the Digimon to evolve at a faster rate to accommodate that change. That escalation brings up the question of where the series is now supposed to go, as the dramatic engine that powered the original series is being used up at such a rapid pace. The idea of covering new ground rather than rehashing old events is exciting, but Digimon Adventure: hasn’t yet built a base for that kind of growth.
In moving so fast, the series has yet to reveal much about its cast. The three kids who’ve had the most screen time so far — Tai, Matt, and computer whiz Izzy — are defined by broad traits, and whatever investment the audience has in their success stems largely from the things they’re trying to prevent, rather than investment in the characters themselves. The reboot is relying on audiences being familiar with the original series and thereby carrying over their emotional ties to the characters. The rush through Digivolutions, presumably in order to get to new monsters, also suggests that the priority is on showing viewers something new, rather than showing them something fully fleshed-out and truly rebooted.
The way the internet is rendered is the most damning aspect of the show in that respect. Though the bland blue boxes and lines are pulled from the recent Digimon video games, they were the worst parts of the games, too, arguably just meant as a way to try to distinguish Digimon’s digital realm from Pokémon’s fantasy world. The latest Digimon games, which deal with similar themes about hacking and cyberterrorism, are the most fun when they let players travel back to the real world, simply because the amount of detail that goes into, say, recreating Tokyo can’t be fudged. By contrast, while the digital monsters are great, the vast empty spaces in the digital world are just dull. The internet feels empty and uninhabited in comparison to the forests and villages the original series featured, and even in comparison to the imaginative renderings of the internet in films like Ralph Breaks the Internet, or Tron: Legacy.
Though it’s nice to have Tai and company back, there’s no sign as of yet of the focus on friendship that made the original series so compelling, and the speed at which the monsters are going through their Digivolutions makes an overload seem inevitable. How are we meant to get to know these characters, real and digital alike, when they don’t stop moving? Given how quickly the first two episodes of the series have amped things up, finding time to actually slow down and develop these characters will be the key things to look for as the show progresses.
Kakudō made Digimon a gripping anime in its own right, and not just a Pokémon rival, by making the action serve the burgeoning relationships between the kids and their Digimon. Mitsuka, who previously worked on Digimon Fusion, a 2010-2011 series with all-new characters, has action down pat. But his take on Digimon Adventure:, at least in its early stages, lacks a sense of character both in terms of the world it takes place in, and the characters themselves.
[Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Mamoru Hosoda directed all of the Digimon Adventure television series.]
New episodes of Digimon Adventure: are simulcast with subtitles on Crunchyroll every Saturday.
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