I was a huge fan of Digimon back in the day. When its popularity was at its height (to my mind, that was 1999 to 2003) I tried to watch as many episodes as I could. I bought the Digivice toys (they were essentially RPG tamagotchi, where you leveled up your digimon and fought other digimon) and I played the heck out of Digimon World and Digimon World 2 on the Playstation One. Good times.
Basically, I leapt at the chance to watch the entirety of the first Digimon series for the first time. I’m not even sure if I’d seen the end of the series before now. But I digress.
To enjoy the series, you have to remember who it’s aimed at – it is a series for children, so it helps you forgive a lot of the show’s flaws if you go in with that in mind. It helped that I watched the series with my daughter, who’s too young to understand anything that was going on, but the colourful imagery kept her amused for quite a while.
The fifty-four episode series (a ridiculous number of episodes, even if they do generally clock in at 20 minutes each) centers on seven kids (later eight), the ‘digidestined’. They’re enjoying summer camp and they suddenly find themselves in the ‘Digital world’ when strange phenomena start occuring (it suddenly starts snowing, for example). They quickly meet up with the ‘Digimon’ (digital monsters) and the main crux of their journey is to find a way home whilst battling against the many evil digimon in the world that wish to do them harm for reasons that become clear as the series progresses. It’s all quite standard really; there’s a monster of the week threat (until much later into the series) and a moral lesson to be learned in every episode (until much later in the series).
It all sounds a bit daft but where the series actually really excelles is with its characters. The main characters are Tai, Matt, Izzy, Joe, T.K, Sora and Mimi. Later on, Tai’s younger sister, Kari, joins them. On the surface, they’re archtypes, each and every one. But as you spend more time getting to know each of the characters, you come to see that they’re actually incredibly well rounded, considering that this is a children’s show.
They’re all given really decent back stories as well that help to develop the characters futher. It was very interesting to me that Matt and TK were children of divorce, each boy living with one parent. Izzy is adopted, Tai once almost got his younger sister killed, etc. The characters are put in some interesting situations later in the series that help to create some incredibly interesting dynamics amongst them. Matt and Tai get into more than one fist fight during the series due to their strong personalities. It’s never anything major and of course they work it out in the end, but you don’t really expect a bunch of friends to be getting into fist-fights in children’s TV. It was interesting and it certainly worked for the story and characters. The characters are really the strongest point of the series, the rest is just fluff.
The main story is dragged out beyond all reason, again fifty-four episodes is ridiculous. But for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it. The villains of the series are a bit daft but memorable – the two that stick out in my mind are Etamon (a monkey sort of digimon who talks with a ridiculously bad Elvis impression) and the main overall villain of the series Apocalymon. He’s the big bad main villain of the entire fifty-four episode saga and his main gimmick is cracking wise. He has weirdly funny, self-aware dialogue that’s a bit jarring. I suppose they didn’t want to go too dark for the character or something? It was actually sort of refreshing.
Stand out episodes are probably from episode thirty-five to thirty-nine due to the stakes being much higher once the ‘digiworld’ starts having direct consequences for the real world. Some of the best story telling of the series is done in this run of episodes.
The dialogue is… a mixed bag. It appears to be the style of english dubbed anime (actually, now that I think of it, anime in general – and not just anime aimed at children) for the majority of dialogue to be expositionary. It’s silly. But then, in this case, it is a children’s show. I feel like I should let it slide because things do really need to be explained, step by step, to younger children.
Shockingly, there are actually some really decent scene and sequences with strong dialogue and there are even some incredibly witty and quite funny lines. I can’t actually recall any, but I can recall that there are actually some very funny lines within the show. The first few episodes also have a ridiculous amount of tech puns. Again, I can excuse that. It’s mildly amusing.
“How did we get here? Did we squeeze in through the floppy drive?”
Holy god damn, remember floppy disks? This show is very much of its time.
Something else that I’ve never really appreciated before is that the animation is incredibly good. The ‘digivolution’ sequences most of all.
If there’s one BIG downside to the series it’s that it has, and I cannot emphasise this enough, such a limited soundtrack that it gets a bit annoying. It’s like barely any effort was put into getting music done for the series, honestly it kinda takes the mick. There are… maybe four pieces of music/songs in the series? There are the two that play when the characters save the day/defeat the enemy of the week, there’s the main theme (catchiest theme tune of my childhood), and there’s another that plays, an orchestral version of the main theme. I think that’s literally it. There’s an extra song added in during the last seven episodes of the series. They were lazy with their soundtrack within the series itself, they really were.
All in all, Digimon is one of the best children’s shows out there. Still. Seventeen years later. Children’s TV today (mostly, there are a few exceptions) pales in comparison to this. It was good fun and I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching (or rewatching) it, despite a few flaws.
Cast & Crew (English Dub)
Voice Dir: Wendee Lee, Michael Sorich, and David Walsh
Cast: Joshua Seth, Michael Reisz, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Mona Marshall, Philece Sampler, Michael Lindsay, Wendee Lee, Lara Jill Miller
Music: Paul Gordon, Udi Harpaz and Shuki Levy
Year: 2016 (DVD) 1999 (Show)
Runtime: 1080 minutes
Digimon is out now on DVD via Manga UK