Digimon Tamers: Battle of Adventurers (Dejimon TeimÔzu - B˘kensha-tachi no tatakai) Reviews
Digimon Tamers is the first reboot in the Digimon franchise, which came with the obvious intention of taking things in an entirely new direction. Some liked it and others were resistant, a rather typical reaction for a project of this nature. However, time has proven favorable towards this series, currently hailed as at least one of the franchise's finest products. Admittedly, I too have experienced an increased appreciation for it. While I would not go so far as to call it the best that Digimon has to offer, there is much about it that is exemplary.
To start off, I must say that after gathering all the details the story of Tamers is actually rather impressive for its genre, boasting a distinct structure from the seasons that preceded it. This is, to my knowledge, the last season that would achieve this, since the 4th and 5th clearly imitate the structure of earlier ones to one degree or another. I won't summarize it, but will say that it's exploration of such things as government agencies and artificial intelligence bring an entirely different perspective. A very apparent strength here is that important details are introduced at an appropriate pace, gradually, a stark contrast to other seasons where all the lead characters are introduced in a rushed, crammed fashion. I also like how there is a lessened focus on evolution and more of an emphasis on the characters just trying to make sense of the whole situation; the first evolution does not even happen until the end of the 3rd episode. There are some opponents to fight, but that is not the main objective until about 2/3 of the way through the series. In other words, the primary question is not, "how do we beat these guys", but rather "why are these guys attacking us". It is a good change of pace and, when coupled with an involving backstory for some adult characters, an effective means of making the plot more engaging, at least past a certain point. Similar to its predecessor, Tamers takes unexpected turns that in this case yield the most complete exposition on the history of the Digital World, all culminating in a knock-out final act that rarely loses its momentum. Indeed, the final story segment represents some of the finest work that has been seen in Digimon, with plenty of apocalyptic scenery and tense moments that befit the building resolution, even if all sense of mystery is lost after the 37th episode. The main downside is that the story takes quite a while to gain the momentum necessary to really engage the audience. Sure, the first few episodes show great promise, but the rest of the initial arc meanders with some needlessly drawn out drama and inconsequential little details, ironic considering the good pacing of these episodes; it is not unusual for more to happen in 3 minutes of Tamers than 8 minutes of Adventure. It bears more than a passing resemblance to "Neon Genesis Evangelion", often crossing the line between inspiration and copying. Weak introductions for some Ultimates within the oft clumsily made Deva arc do not help. The final act is stronger partially because it is more original. Overall, it is a better story than that of the first season, but not as good as that of the second because, ultimately, it is not a story driven by its characters; it is a tale of technology on the loose.
I suppose I was initially somewhat harsh towards the characters, but I had my reasons. One can definitely see the realism that the writers were aiming for; the characters here watch the digimon series, play the card game and are treated like misfits for it...not unlike real fans, and the exploration of their home lives definitely should help us to better understand their personalities, but despite this approach the Tamers themselves are strangely distant. They lack the charisma of the original cast and are plagued by unsubstantial minors. Consider Kazu, Kenta, Suzie and Ryo, all of which could have been erased from the series with no real consequence, whether it be for the narrative or for the other key players. One would think the central trio would fare better, but I cannot say I was terribly enthusiastic because, despite their considerable screen time, the development is quite deliberate or murky. Henry is the big downfall here. He doesn't really do anything important until the end of the series, or at least nothing that could not have been done by somebody else, something not helped by his lack of originality. His one, truly original characteristic is his averse attitude towards fighting. Would it not have been interesting to get a proper exploration of this before the final act? Takato, the result of a drastic departure in style from the previous "goggle-boys", undergoes no major changes until about two thirds through the series, and even then it is quite a thematic leap. Because of a scarcity of truly pivotal character moments for him, much of his gradual maturation feels more perfunctory than earned, which is a sharp contrast from the previous season. However, the scene where he chooses his friend over the erasing of his mistakes with a fresh start is quite poignant. Rika is the only fascinating lead to watch because proper follow-through is brought to many of her experiences. Unlike her friends, she's more of a dynamic, proactive individual. The deficiencies of the other two would not seem so prominent if they retained the energy of earlier characters or actively facilitated each other's growth (simply sharing screen time does not equate with what I am referring to). Unfortunately, the lack of focus on strong character relationships hinders the group dynamic. The only other characters that I found fascinating, and the most fascinating at that, were Impmon and Yamaki because, again, you get a good idea of the driving forces behind their actions, which are rooted in their histories and psyches, made even more poignant by the fact that they are two of only three characters in the whole series that made real effort to make up for their errors. Concerning Jeri, I find myself a bit conflicted, unable to regard her as sympathetic or endearing due to her strange behavior. However, she IS a sad character, as illustrated by her younger years, and I must say that decision to spare Beelzemon's life took some great personal strength. Unfortunately, instead of following up on this and allowing her to properly grow from the experience, we witness a nonsensical down spiral into despair that completely disregards her positive attributes and culminates in a preachy moment that feels more obligatory than earned. A far more conducive route to take with Jeri, for her growth, would be to have been rescued earlier so she could receive appropriate support from her friends, developing the resolve to undo the damage she had caused by perhaps utilizing her good memories against the D-Reaper, rather than having that pep talk from Calumon.
I also feel obligated to mention the characterization of the digimon themselves. I certainly appreciated that there was a greater effort to develop them and give them distinct personalities, frankly to such a degree that often they are more interesting than their human counterparts. In fact, a good case can be made (particularly in the finale) that any investment in the human characters is due to the series' commendable job of making the digimon so endearing. Impmon, being one of the few key players able to elicit an emotional response from the audience, has a story that is the best and most poignant element of the series and continues the precedent established by Ken's story in 02, even if the former falls a little short due to its lack of completeness and less riveting preceding events.
The principle asset of Tamers lies in its visuals. To date, nothing else in its own line has found the correct synergy between a traditional style and the distinct style of this franchise. The grim atmosphere that pervades many of the episodes is exceedingly appropriate and bolstered well by the shades of color, while the drastic reduction of recycled footage increases the excitement of the monster battles significantly. To be honest, I don't believe any of the fights in the first series, except maybe the final one with Devimon, even approach half of what is seen in Tamers and, to top it all off, the evolution scenes are FAR better here than in any other Digimon season. By and large, this is the most well-animated of the seasons. Just behind this is the writing, which is substantially more mature, does not make the majority of the adults sound like incompetent morons and contains some good monologues, though I did not particularly like the pseudo-philosophical babble spouted out by Shibumi, nor did I think much of anything comparable to it. At heart, this is still a "kids saving the world" story, just with a coating of science fiction elements and enough pseudo-philosophy to make some older audiences shiver, but despite all of the new complexity and innovation the themes and ideas of Tamers are either too out of place or not capitalized on enough to be effective. Nothing against Konakas, he is a good writer, but he demonstrates a bad habit of shoehorning any random classic sci-fi theme, content to simply include them. There may be quite a few of them here, but most have no significant follow-through, some feel unnecessary and none are central to the story. In a series where the inherent sense of children's appeal clashes with the required degree of thought, it all comes across as watered down: too heavy for kids to care about and not intelligent enough for adults to take seriously. For example, during the final act, considering the motives of the D-Reaper, there were some notable things that could have been brought up about peoples' propensity for destruction, but as it is the writers seemed content to barely touch upon; obviously you can't expand upon this in a kids' show. Frankly, I find the stuff about artificial intelligence and the evolution thereof to be inapplicable and useless, but it can help create dilemmas and bring dimension to the characters. All of the kids are concerned by it to one degree or another, but Rika is the only one motivated to act upon that, and when Takato worries about the nature of Digimon themselves it feels tacked on, unnecessary. The only other people who are personally affected by the ramifications of the creation and nature of the monsters are the "Monster Makers" and Yamaki, but the former never receive sufficient focus that you can care about who they are, so much as what they do, beyond a superficial level. Really, this anime would have been stronger if it was solely about the "Monster Makers". Now, what did I like? Making two of the parents seem more like real people made for a few fittingly emotional moments that are amongst the series' finest, while the stuff that related to Jeri's refusal to forgive Impmon had certain poignancy to it, even if the conclusion to this falls completely flat. These things stand out because they bolster the human element of the story. I guess the problem ultimately is that there was never a true balance between the two sides: the effort was always either for the science fiction or human elements, mostly the former. Bottom line, the ideas of Tamers do the bare minimum by bolstering the premise; if regarded as a means of making the mechanics of the Digital World more intriguing it works, but as a set of applicable and relevant ideas it mostly fails.
Digimon Tamers, to me, was the twilight of the franchise, the last worthy outing before things simply lost direction. Maybe it was a bold move giving it this style, and all seasons since have not exhibited the guts to attempt anything comparable, the reason for it being beyond me. All in all, Digimon Tamers is an entertaining and versatile series that demands a bit of patience, but ultimately delivers and has its place as the second best of the franchise.