Digimon: Digital Monsters (1999)
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Critic Reviews for Digimon: Digital Monsters
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Audience Reviews for Digimon: Digital Monsters
The later years of the 1990's were a strong time for children's programming, as was the first half of the 2000's. Many of the more prominent networks provided a diverse and accessible array of television shows, notably bolstered by comic book adaptations and Japanese imports, both of which have seen continuous momentum. The latter was dominated by the likes of "Pokemon" and "Power Rangers", both of which amounted to fun, colorful ventures. Amongst this trend of commercial powerhouses, "Digimon Adventure" was an unusual competitor, a superficial "Pokemon" imitation that managed to set itself apart. Though the franchise that followed it has arguably passed its day, this humble commencement, in spite of its imperfections, remains a fond experience. Looking at it now, the quality of this anime's plot seems to be a topic that fans are split on, or at least should be split on. Some deem it effective as a simple, straightforward story (one that owes somewhat of a debt to C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia), while others do not care much for it due to their being accustomed to far more sophisticated viewing experiences, such as Death Note and Monster; I fall somewhere in between. The whole idea of a bunch of kids being given the responsibility of saving a parallel world from evil, travelling around and facing one villain at a time is rather standard stuff and lacks the innovation seen in the greatest of animated programs. Most of the story arcs follow the same basic premise: the kids are lost in a strange land, are divided and eventually have to face a new enemy that chases them simply because the plot requires it. Thus, the objective usually is little more than to defeat the bad guy, which is all the more of a problem because the villains have no apparent connection, not even after the series ends. You never hear Etemon talk about Devimon, or Myotismon ever even hint at the existence of the Dark Masters, preventing the different acts from naturally building upon each other. Because of these characteristics, there is a sense of predictability that pervades much of the narrative. The only true surprises are the first appearances of Genai, Kari and Venommyotismon, though I suppose I cannot be too critical of this because suspense is apparently not a primary aim here. I believe that a trap that many fans of this series fall into (and I cannot entirely blame them) is forgetting just what genre this series is a part of. This is not some commentary on human behavior or a historical allegory. It is a fantasy kids' show, albeit a notably good one with enough invention and sheer sense of fun that helps make up for the repetitive structure, and from that perspective the story works just fine (despite having the sophistication of a video-game). What really works, and serves as a distinct strength in its own line, is the sense of discovery and wonderment that Adventure captures that is not entirely seen in any of the other seasons (though the second comes close). This was the first time the audience was introduced to this unique world and for about half of the running length there was always some interesting new element or principle to be discovered: the enigmatic black gears, the tags and crests, a sphinx with programming code and a colorful village that might as well be the world's greatest nursery. I know it sounds a little harsh, this verdict on the plot, but even all those years ago the story of this series did not impress me that much, but the characters did. Originally, I claimed that the first season group was the best and most memorable, and today...I still believe that. What makes this particular group so endearing is that they are diverse and relatable, all brought life by some very impressive voice work that never receives enough acknowledgement. Any one of them could be imagined as the kid that sat next to you in middle school. I like how they gradually open up to the audience, and to a lesser extent each other, and we learn troubling parts of their histories that present a personal struggle that they work to overcome, which makes it easy to root for them and elevates this beyond a simple survival story; for a series that obviously had limited planning the writers did a good job of building upon the things that we only glimpse in the first story segment. Truly, this all infuses the kids with a complexity that remains uncommon in this genre, an asset that the franchise sadly lost sight of down the road. If these guys actually did exist, they are the ones you would want to spend time with; how many of the casts of future seasons can make that same claim? Nevertheless...there are still some problems here. It is apparent after watching the series that only three of the eight characters really carried it on their shoulders: Tai, Matt and Izzy. These three are the most developed, the ones we learn the most about, the most important and most of those that have histories that carry any emotional depth. In fact, the only character whose personal struggle was handled in a near perfect manner was Izzy. There is comparatively little focus on the other five, which is a problem that may have been avoided had there been better efforts to have the kids try to understand each other, which for the record is not necessarily the same as character interaction. Too often, many of these guys seem to live in their own little world, which regardless of what anyone says was indisputably amended in the second season. The only true dynamics exist between Tai, Matt and Sora, but only the rivalry of the first two carries any resonance. Joe is still one of the most memorable, but after the Devimon arc there is little to no focus on him, with the exception of some brief and badly placed exposition, as he is relegated to the guy in the background merely reacting to what everyone else does for far too long. Kari suffers a similar fate, which is a shame because it would have been very interesting to explore exactly why she seems connected to all kinds of strange phenomena. Generally, she is not a character who acts, but rather one who causes those around her to act (much like Jeri). She is certainly endearing, but never really becomes part of the overall dynamic of the group. As for the villains, I again find myself having conflicted opinions. On one hand, these are some of the most memorable villains of the franchise, based on several horror archetypes that in turn provide for a fair number of entertaining moments. Similar to the heroes, they are diverse and possess a varied array of interesting abilities that help maintain the sense of challenge. On the other hand, it is undeniable that they are a triumph of style over substance; it is difficult to regard them beyond the superficial level of action figures. Most of them do not have particularly interesting motives, nor do we learn much regarding their histories. They are just...evil, which is fine for this genre, but definitely not as ambitious as what would be seen in future installments. Unlike their season 2 counterparts, the inclusion of these guys feels more out of obligation than sincere effort, meaning that they appear only because the series needs a villain to stay interesting, made evident by their poor integration into the story. Frankly, out of all 7 antagonists, the only ones that have anything interesting behind them are Puppetmon and Apocalymon because they are not simply evil for the heck of it; their motives go beyond that. Puppetmon in particular stands out as one of the more fleshed out and sad bad guys, quite an accomplishment considering his terrible tendencies. The one with the most style, though, is definitely Machinedramon. The writing is probably the weak point, as countless people have pointed out with the cheesy dialogue and puns. As far as I understand, micromanagement for the dub drove the writers to go too far in making this anime appealing to children; had they taken a tidbit from the Studio Ghibli films they would understand the strength that comes from a balance in tone. Rest assured there are still some well-written sequences, like the campfire dinner in the seventh episode and Matt's conversation with Cherrimon, as well as some genuinely funny lines, but gems such as these are far and few in between. I thoroughly enjoyed the themes of self-discovery and personal growth, which are essentially the only thing elevating this series above the usual, but for the most part what we get are cheesy pop-culture references, non-sequitors and toilet humor, much of which does not come from the dub. As for the animation, it is probably the greatest indicator as to the limited budget this franchise had before its popularity skyrocketed. I liked the art style, but the movement of the characters has a certain stiffness to it, such that even the battle sequences are often nowhere near as kinetic as they should be, coming across as more of an animated role playing game. As the series progressed one would think this problem would be remedied, but no; it gets worse, especially during the Dark Masters arc, the final battle with Piedmon being a prime example of an expectedly climactic sequence ruined by sub-par, silly animation and campiness. It is a shame because there are standout scenes and even episodes, the most notable being "Home Away from Home", which I believe is possibly the best episode of the franchise, because not only is it the most well animated product therein but it could also stand on its own as a short story or an episode of The Twilight Zone. Yet, for all its missteps, I cannot deny that I like looking at the images and scenes of this series, for it has a very nostalgic and familiar feel to it that can't help but draw you in, though whether this effect would carry on to audiences who have never seen the series before is another matter. Plus, despite the eventual sloppiness of the animation, I confess a fondness for the monster designs, which find an unusual inspiration in their simplicity. Given that this season remains a sentimental favorite amongst many, it was difficult to accept that it has not entirely withstood the test of time. I really wanted to love it like before, but I cannot deny that it has some glaring warts that keep it from achieving its full potential. It is still better than a lot of the kids programming that were supposed to replace it and I think it is a great introductory anime, even though I am not a particular fan of anime. Most importantly, it still deserves its place in its own line. The majority of the future seasons owe something to it (especially the fourth), and I think Daniel of youtube put it best: "it may not be the most complex or deep, but it set the groundwork for the rest". Simply put, not the best entry, but the most classic.
This has always been one of my fav shows. My fav DigiDestined is Kari and my fav Digimon is Gatomon.
Whenever I hear the word "Digimon", a glimpse of my childhood is thrown at me; the show was based on a group of kids on their summer vacation who are sent to a digital world, were digital monsters reside. In this monstrous world each child is given their own guardian who can evolve into bigger and more powerful creatures. The show had a great storyline and had a great cast of characters who were all different and quirky in their own way, the digi-monsters themselves were interesting and the digiworld itself was a character, the villains however were the normal diabolic baddie that you would expect to find in children's shows i.e. Devimon, Myotismon. I liked each characters own little problem and how they dealt with it.
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