Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ghost in the Case: Digimon Adventure

"That's home, planet Earth...but I'm not sure that's where I am right now."

 Long before I donned my first brown coat
Before I mastered the four elements
And before I traveled through time and space
I....was a Digi Destined!!

Hello, this is Ghost and I welcome you to another Ghost in the Case.
It's been since 2013 that I've done a TV or Movie review of any sort because my passion and interest come and go quite often.  There's no better way to get back into the swing of things than to talk about something I'll always be passionate about.  Silly as it may seem, one of those passions is the first season of Digimon a.k.a. Digimon Adventure.
Digmon Adventure, or as it is known in America, Digmion: Digital Monsters Season 1 was created by Akiyoshi Hongo and produced by Toei Animation.  The English version was produced by Saban Entertainment, the same people who brought you the Power Rangers.  The most interesting thing about Digimon Adventure is that it was originally supposed to only be a short movie to tie in the sale of  tamogachi/giga pet style toys to children as a sort of marketing ploy to get them excited about the product.  
You know, these things!

They were given a paper thin budget since this was nothing more than gloried commercial.  However what they came up with surpassed everyone's wildest dream.  The creative team behind the movie project poured so much time, skill, and passion into this product that could have easily been a half-done throw away project that they were requested to make a fifty episode television series about these children and their digital monsters.  Again, with very little budget and a lot of creativity they invented one of the most popular and most interesting children's fantasy programs to date.  In fact, they are currently working on their seventh series of the show.

The Story
Digimon Adventure is broken into four different story arcs and I will cover each.  It's 50 episodes long so there's a fair amount to cover.

Story Arc 1 - File Island and Devimon
Seven children, Tai, Matt, Sora, Izzy, Mimi, Joe, and TK, were at summer camp when the world experienced freakish weather and weird technological bugs.   After a sudden snowstorm  lands on the group, small electronic devices called Digivices fall like meteors at their feet.  Before they can process these, a tidal wave appears out of nowhere and sucks them in to another world, the Digital World.  When the children wake up they find that these small talking creatures are now with them and claim that not only have they been waiting for their return but that each of them were designed specifically for that person.  These creatures are known as digimon.  The children travel around the island trying to make heads or tails of the place and learn that when they are in danger they can share their energy through the Digivice with their digimon to make them grow to the next stage of development; to "digivolve" as they call it (are you seeing a pattern yet?).   Digivolving makes them more powerful and able to defeat stronger enemies.  One by one each of the children's digimon gain the ability to grow to the next level except for the younget child, TK's digimon Patamon.  We'll get to him later.  Meanwhile the evil mastermind of File Island, Devimon has been producing black gears which control digimon and make them evil.  As the children defeat the black gears freeing more digimon, Devimon decides to split them apart and break up the island.  Each group of children find out how to work as a team and meet up back on the remaining section of the island, Infinity Mountain.  A Digimon named Leomon reveals to the children that they are the "Digi Destined" who were prophesied to save the Digital World from all evil.  The children all appear for the final fight with Devimon and right when it seems that he has won Patamon digivolves to Angemon, a powerful angel of light.  Using every bit of his power he defeats Devimon but dies in the process.  Some of Angemon's wings float down and create an egg for Patamon to eventually be reborn as Digimon do not actually die their data just gets restructured sometimes with their memory intact and sometimes not.  Suddenly a man named Gennai appears before them.

Story Arc 2 - The Crests and Etemon
Gennai informs the children that they are needed on the continent of Server to defeat their villains as well but in order to defeat them their digimon will need to digivolve one step further to ultimate level with the help of some tags and crests that are hidden across Server.  Thinking they will get to go home once their destiny is fulfilled the children travel to Server, picking up the tags along the way, and meet their next opponent, Etemon; an orange Elvis impersonating monkey who plays guitar and can suck the energy out of digimon.  He's evil for... umm...reasons I guess and slowly each of the children find their crests.  These crests represent the positive character trait that they most embody: Courage, Friendship, Love, Knowledge, Sincerity, Reliability, and Hope.  Along the way Tai, the leader attempts to force his partner digimon Agumon to digivolve to ultimate level but it backfires temporarily creating the purely evil beast SkullGreymon.  Izzy, the computer whiz also figures out that the world they are in is purely digital and hacks into the world causing warp points for them to get to Etemon faster.  Eventually Etemon is consumed by his dark network of cables and faces the digi destined for one last time.  Tai shows true courage once again and his crest glows allowing Agumon to digivolve into his ultimate form of Metal Greymon destroying the evil monkey.  Unfortunately this created a wormhole sucking Tai and his partner into it where they awaken on Earth.

Story Arc 3 - The Real World and Myotismon
Tai returns home with his partner when he realizes there's something funky with time. He arrived on Earth literally minutes after he left for the Digital World despite having spent months in there.  He finds his way back to the Digital World and begins to search for his friends who dispersed throughout Server to try to find Tai.  One by one each child is found and their crests begin to glow once they fully show the positive trait their crest is aligned with.  Many of these reaching ultimate level except for Mimi, Joe, and TK.  We'll get to them eventually.  Once they all join back up they gain the knowledge from Gennai that there was supposed to be an 8th digi destined who for one reason or another didn't make it to the Digital World.  The new villain, Myotismon knows this as well and plans to open a gate to the Real World in search of this child with the help of her tag and crest and destroy him.  Myotismon and his group make it to the real world and the digi destined follow.  As each group searches for the 8th child, Gatomon, one of Myotismon's group discovers that the 8th child is Tai's sister Kari, and that she is her digimon.  Gatomon and her friend Wizardmon attempt to steal  Kari's crest and tag but end up captured.  Tired of this charade, Myotismon covers Tokyo in fog (he is a vampire after all) and send out his legion to gather every child to be placed before him to see if they are the 8th child.  The digi destined and their parents/families begin a rebellion against Myotismon which resulted in Mimi and Joe finally getting their ultimate level digimon to show up.  All of this eventually resulted in a final showdown on the roof of a TV station.  Thanks to Wizardmon sacrificing his life (Digimon who die in the real world don't get reborn) Kari was able to get her crest and digivolve Gatomon to Angewomon who struck Myotismon down with her arrows.   However the fog never lifted.  The next day at the hour of the beast 6:06:06, Myotismon rose from the shadows as VenomMyotismon,a Mega Digimon which was one step beyond the others.  Once this happens, Gennai sends Izzy a prophecy that he uncovered in hopes that Izzy could translate it's meaning.  With a little thinking the prophecy was deciphered which resulted in both the angel digimon lending their power to Tai and Matt causing their digimon to digivolve to Mega level and destroy the vampire.  As the fog lifted, suddenly the sky began to rip apart as random pieces of the Digital World were showing through the sky(which we find out is a big deal for Season 2).  The Digidestined with Kari as their 8th member return to save the Digital World once more.

Story Arc 4 - The Dark Masters
Due to the time difference, several years had passed in the Digital World and during the children's absence, four mega digimon took over the world and reprocessed it's data into one giant Spiral Mountain.  These four digimon controlled different parts of the world; one controlled the seas, one controlled the forests, one controlled the cities, and the other controlled the rest and them all.  After defeating their first Dark Master the children realized that the Digital World was so messed up that digimon were not being reborn and couldn't till everything was fixed.  Due to this Mimi decides to leave the group because she doesn't want to see anymore fighting.  Joe decides to stay with her and keep her safe.  As the remaining children prepare to fight the second Dark Master, a devious tree digimon, Cherrymon, causes Matt to doubt his friend Tai resulting in the two battling each other.  Matt realizes that he might be better off on his own and leaves the group.  The remaining five take on the second Dark Master but when things got difficult, Matt appeared with his partner MetalGarurumon and defeated their enemy, running back into the woods afterwards.  Having defeated the third dark master the five children prepare to take on Piedmon, the leader of the Dark Masters but know they need everyone in order to defeat them.  Eventually they find Matt and Gabumon bringing them back for the fight.  At the same time, Mimi and Joe return with entourage of digimon they had helped in the past who were ready to fight for their world.  Unfortunately Piedmon was far more powerful than the rest and defeats everyone except for TK, Patamon, and Kari.  As it seems they are about to be finished as well, Patamon finally reaches his ultimate level, MagnaAngemon and with one move destroys the last Dark Master restoring the other heroes in the process.  Right when they think everything is over, it all turns black as the real Dark Master appears, Apocalymon.  Apocalymon was created from all the discarded data of digmon and reduces the children and their partners to the lowest basic code of 0's and 1's.  Through the power of hope they re-align their data and destroy Apocalymon saving the Digital World and the Real World in the process.  Having fulfilled their destiny the children return home hoping to see their digimon once again.

What's Good About It?
The imagination and creativity of this season of Digimon is astounding.  The different kinds of situations that are thrown at you and the character designs can be pretty spectacular.  This is fairly amazing simply because of the extremely limited budget these people had to work with.  If this was created today with the same amount of budget it would be something that would be forgotten or only half done and hated.  Instead these people poured so much passion and love into this project that it shines brightly among children's TV shows.
The children in the show are stereotypes of children.  I realize that some people would think this might be a negative point, but this show used this fact for a particular effect and made an excellent choice.  Well rounded characters who act like real children all the time can often come across as boring due to their realism, but if you have a sampling of characters with pre-defined roles it easily allows for children and adults to latch on to one character you like more than the others.  Tai is the courageous leader, Matt is the cool guy, Izzy is the tech guy, Joe is the mature one, Sora is the tomboy, Mimi is the girly girl, TK is the excited little kid and Kari is...well she's Kari.  Each character matures in one way or another within their role and are completely different people by the end of the series... mostly anyway.  We'll get to Kari in a few.

Sometimes this show can deal with some fairly rough topics and deals some pretty good lessons.  Obviously it's a kid's show so death is touched on but very lightly.  That being said the one time this show decided to go full guns blazing into permanent death territory with Wizardmon's death on the TV tower it hits home very hard prompting Wizardmon to be one of the more popular characters because of how they dealt with his death.  If you pay close attention to the series, it teaches things like standing up for your beliefs, always being yourself, not letting fear overcome you, choosing your own path, and understanding that parent's sometimes do things children don't understand out of love etc.    Speaking of parents...
The families in this show are absolutely awesome.  Most children's shows I know of either have the parents not in the picture at all or they are bumbling idiots that are too old and stupid for the children who are the stars of the show... or they go the Disney route and flat have them be deceased.  Digimon handles them completely differently and realistically.  When the children are in the real world their parents are involved.  Matt and TK's father becomes almost the 9th person of their group because he does so much with them.  The parents are supportive, involved, and doing everything they can to help their children succeed even with all this craziness going on around them and that's EXACTLY how parents should be.

Story Arc 3 is AMAZING!  It's widely considered the best part of the whole show and it so happens that the Myotismon arc is the portion of the show I was first able to watch.  Seeing how these children interact in the real world with their digimon and trying to save actual people instead of digital animals and weirdos made for a really dynamic set of wonderful episodes.  The action and suspense were high and it's so far the best series of episodes Ive seen out of the three seasons I've been able to watch.  Seriously, if you only watch one segment of this show make it the Myotismon Saga... sure you may not fully understand everything if you've bypassed Devimon and Etemon but these are some solid episodes.

What's Bad About It?
Well first off this IS a kid's show and the writing definitely suffers some because of it.  The Japanese is a little more "mature" sounding because the English dub took a fair amount of liberties and added painful puns and awful jokes abounding.  The actual voice actors do a wonderful job with the dub it's just some of the jokes the writers have given them to say even hurt me as a child.  Why exactly is the embodiment of pure evil and despair in the Digital World, Apocalymon, making pizza jokes?  Why is Joe not using a Buddhist chant anymore and is instead just repeating "Bakemon lose your power?"  If you can't handle cheesiness and bad jokes then this might be a hard time for you because the cheesiness and bad jokes are a digi-plague in this series.
As I previously said, the budget was incredibly tiny and they had to adjust the episodes to fit that budget.  Animations are used over and over, the backgrounds aren't anything to praise and are more often just sort of fuzzy nature looking scenes, and the music is used entirely too often.  This is understandable because why pay thousands of dollars to have brand new animations and songs for each episode when you can keep within your meager budget and re-use animations and songs while still keeping up the energy of the episode?   I never found this a real problem because I always was sucked into the action and loved seeing each digimon's digivolution scene while getting to hear that great song... that being said I can totally see how it can be annoying to hear and see the same thing over and over.  It's something you just have to live with.

Mimi and Kari may be difficult for some people to like.  Now I love all the characters in this show but I can certainly see the complaints.  Mimi's problem comes from the translation into English.  Yes she was a girly girl in the Japanese but she was a more rounded character.  In the Japanese she would complain a little bit but she was always someone who spoke her mind.  She had an opinion of how things should be done and how people should be treated and she wasn't afraid to let you know about it either.  She embodied being happy with who you are and wore the Crest of Sincerity well.   When the English translators got hold of her however, they added all these Valley Girl-isms to her and made her very whiny at times which was not the original intent whatsoever.  English Mimi should have been wearing the Crest of being a spoiled princess.  She's a fun character anyway but I wish they had kept her more like her Japanese counterpart.  Kari however is a little bit more of a problem... something that never really bothered me when I was younger till I re-watched it and sort of realized a big issue with her.  The problem with Kari is that we already had a very young energetic type with TK and here we get another.  In order to not make her a female clone of TK, what resulted was a character who went through no real character development whatsoever and just sort of always was the Digimon equivalent of Jesus. 
I'm not actually kidding here.  She glows white, she frees digimon from bondage, she's always nice, she thinks of others before herself in all situations.  There's a flash back to her as a four or five year old coming home from the hospital and apologizing to her brother for not playing soccer as well because she was sick.   In Season 2 her "greatest dream" is perfect peace in the world where everyone has a partner digimon and everyone gets along... but we'll probably get to Season 2 another time.  It's kind of hard to connect with her because the only "problem" she had to overcome was getting sick for one episode... nothing of character development was achieved through this it was all helping her brother Tai develop as a stronger leader.  I enjoyed her character anyway but I do see the issues .

Story Arc 2 is nonsensical and stupid.  Who thought an Elvis Impersonating monkey was a good villain?  There's no real reason for him to be evil other than the plot needed a villain.  He's always talking about going on tour and making music and that's all he should have been; a one episode quirky character they met along the way of fighting a REAL villain.  But instead we get stuck with this guy and a series of episodes where the kids just find their crests randomly in rocks and so on.  It's a set of rinse and repeat but in the dullest fashion possible.  There is absolutely nothing spectacular out of this entire set of episodes other than the accident that was SkullGreymon.  It's almost bad enough for me to tell you to skip this entire segment but there are some secondary characters that add a little bit of fun to what's going on so it's still got some value...but not much.

I won't lie that a large portion of my enjoyment for this series came as a direct result of good old fashioned nostalgia.  I happened to be watching this as a 13 year old where I was the target demographic.  I also joined during the greatest segment of Digimon that I've yet to see, the Myotismon Saga.  It's impossible to separate myself from watching this show with the same smile and joy I had as a child, but does it still hold up now?

I'd say yes it does.  I've tried to watch this as an objective adult.  Yes the animations are repetitive but that was a necessary evil.  Yes I heard the theme song and the other two to three songs so many times they get old.  Yes  the cheese level and bad jokes can be irksome, but it still connects with me on an emotional level.  I know what's going to happen but I'm still invested in what's going on with these wonderful characters.  So if you can handle watching something that's supposed to be a kid's show and not feel dumb then give this one a shot.  It may not be one of the greatest animated experience of your life but it's definitely going to be a memorable one.

This is one show that I'm sure I'll still pick back up when I'm in my 60's and binge watch till I fall asleep and am currently eagerly awaiting the 3rd installment of these eight character's adventures in the Digital World, with Digimon Tri coming out soon!

Digimon Season 1 is currently available on DVD and is (as of the writing of this entry) available on Netflix.

This is Ghost fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Movie and Television reviews/recommendations then simply click here!

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