Digimon: The Movie Review

Digimon

Digimon: The Movie is a baffling anomaly. Back in 1999, Digimon debuted on television in both Japan and the US. Though it was quite different from the white hot Pokemon franchise and TV show, comparisons between the two were inescapable, due to their similar titles and their placements in the “pet monster” genre of children’s anime. Apparently, Digimon’s distributors at Fox must have also drawn comparisons between the two, and tried to play a game of one-upmanship with the Pokemon brand by releasing a Digimon movie in 2000, after the success Pokemon saw with the releases of its first two theatrical features in the US.

There was just one problem… No Digimon movie existed at the time! But the studio was impatient, and didn’t want to wait for the release of a Digimon feature in Japan. So what did they do? They took three largely unrelated Digimon short films from Japan, spliced them together, and called it a movie. The results were…interesting, to say the least.

I was eleven at the time Digimon: The Movie was released, and Digimon was still the coolest thing ever to me at the time. So my naive younger self tolerated it. And while I still find it to be something of a guilty pleasure (Digimon was my childhood show), watching it now is a strange, almost surreal experience. It’s one of those rare instances where you may be left scratching your head wondering how such a movie even exists.

DigimonTo be fair, Digimon: The Movie has at least one highlight in its animation. While the Digimon TV series had less-than stellar production values, they made up for it with surprisingly strong (if sometimes convoluted) storytelling and genuine character development. But the exact opposite seems to be the case with Digimon: The Movie, as the drastic editing and splicing of things together makes the plot an incoherent mess, while the animation is captivating.

It should be noted that each of the short segments that comprised Digimon: The Movie were all directed by Mamoru Hosada, who has since become one of Japan’s top animation directors. Even here, Hosada’s finesse with animation was apparent. The character’s designs from the TV show (which could admittedly be a little garish) have been toned down and simplified. Not only does this make the animation look more charming, but more of its recourses were able to go into how fluidly the characters move, as opposed to presenting a bunch of stiff, overly-designed characters.

As previously stated, each of the film’s three segments are largely unrelated, due to their original nature of being separate films. This English release tries to weave an overarching narrative across all three, but that only makes it all feel disjointed and confusing.

DigimonThe first segment details the first encounter the “Digidestined” (primarily original protagonist Tai and his sister Kari) had with the Digimon when they were wee tykes. The second segment takes place shortly after the events of the first season/series, and sees Tai and Izzy (the two most important characters in the series), as well as Matt trying to stop a virus-infected Digimon from destroying the internet and causing a nuclear war. Finally, the third segment takes place during the events of the second season, with that particular installment’s own characters Davis, Yolei and Cody taking center stage, as they meet up with an American Digidestined named Willis, who is being haunted by a Digimon from his past.

Again, these segments were all originally unrelated (which you could probably tell by the above summaries), but Digimon: The Movie attempts to string them together with a storyline that Willis created the Digimon that was infected in the second segment, and that said virus eventually corrupted the Digimon from his past.

It…doesn’t really work, and it all just ends up feeling sloppy and incoherent. If the studio needed to release a theatrical Digimon feature, they would have been better off simply dubbing the shorts and releasing them in their entirety as a package film, instead of splicing them together as a singular entity.

The whole thing lacks any sense of cohesiveness. Because the already short films have been cut even shorter, they don’t have time to properly develop their stories, and the drastic and sudden switching of characters becomes jarring.

To make matters worse, popular songs of the time were inserted into the film, and seemingly at the most random moments. Not only do the pop tunes not mesh into the film at all, but they even detract from the moments in which they’re present. And like any film released in 2000, the movie even ends with Smash Mouth’s All-Star, which just feels comically dated.

DigimonOverall, Digimon: The Movie remains an interesting viewing, if maybe not for the right reasons. It’s wonderfully fluid animation is great to look at, and any Digimon fan should find at least a little enjoyment out of it – whether for the nostalgia or the irony – and there’s even some fun quips of dialogue here and there (some seems like faithful translations, others seem like they were added in the dub). But the incoherent plot that’s been added, and the butchering that’s been done in editing each short makes it all feel incredibly muddled. The stories are never allowed to flow properly, and audiences have no time to know the characters before the focus shifts on a different cast. And the obnoxiously implemented, dated pop songs only detract from the experience all the more.

Digimon is a franchise that can be a whole lot of fun at times. But Digimon: The Movie feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of the franchise that’s run amuck.

 

5

Digimon Adventure Tri. Chapter 1: Reunion Review

*Review based on the English dubbed version.*

Digimon Adventure Tri

When I was nine and ten-years old, nothing was cooler than Digimon. Sure, Pokemon had the great games, and was overall the better franchise. But when it came to TV shows, Digimon was untouchable. Despite its often-lacking production values, it had surprisingly strong storytelling, relatable characters (Izzy was one of my childhood heroes), and awesome monsters that ranged from dinosaurs to robots to vampires. Sure, as I’ve grown older it’s easier to see the cheesy moments and how ridiculous it often could be, but its stories and characters still hold up pretty well.

Digimon has had a few movies released in Japan, though up until now, only one Digimon movie has made it to the western world, and it wasn’t actually a movie. 2000’s Digimon: The Movie was in actuality three Digimon short films spliced together. Though it was well-animated (each short was directed my Mamoru Hosoda, who has since created some of the better anime films in recent years), the fact that it consisted of three largely unrelated shorts sewn together with a shaky attempt at connecting their narratives meant the whole thing was a bit incoherent. Not to mention the additions of popular-at-the-time songs felt out of place and have made it feel dated (nothing says “this movie was released between 1999 and 2002” like Smash Mouth’s All Star).

Though the Digimon franchise has seen a few different television series since then (each with their own continuities and casts of characters), it’s the first two that are still seen as its heyday (the third “season” even bored me away). The first two Digimon series, known as Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02 in Japan, were the only iterations that shared characters and continuity with each other, and hold the most nostalgic value for longtime fans.

It’s something of a no-brainer then, that Digimon’s most recent iteration is a series of six planned feature films that bring back the cast from the very first Digimon Adventure. The first of which, Digimon Adventure Tri. Chapter 1: Reunion has been released stateside in an episodic streaming format in its original Japanese version for a few months now. But an English dubbed version – which brings back much of the voice cast of the original dubbed series – is seeing its way into special screenings in the feature film form it was always meant to be.

With all that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the movie itself. Suffice to say, I fit squarely into the film’s target audience. Not only does Digimon Tri bring back the original cast of characters, but it also fast forwards six years after the original series, when they’re all in high school (what is it with anime and high schools?), so the characters have aged along with their audience (albeit not as much). This is a movie very much for the old school Digimon fans, which means just about any other audience would probably feel alienated (aside from perhaps children who would appreciate the animation and monsters on their own merits).

Digimon Adventure TriThe film ignores the epilogue from Digimon Adventure 02, which set a pretty definitive end to the classic Digimon continuity (I at first thought it completely ignored the events of the second series, until a trailer for a subsequent film after the movie revealed otherwise). The story here being that Tai, Matt, Sora, Izzy, T.K., Kari, Joe, and Mimi – the “DigiDestined” who saved both the human world and Digital World from evil on numerous occasions – are still adjusting to normal lives in high school. But a connection to the Digital World is once again opening in the real world, unleashing powerful “infected” Digimon, who begin wreaking havoc.

It may not sound like too much of a plot, but again, this is the first in a six-part series, so much of the bigger story and finer details are yet to be revealed. On the plus side, the fact that there’s only so much of a Digimon-centered plot means that the movie actually gets a good deal of development in for the main characters.

The DigiDestined have all gone their separate ways, but keep in touch from time to time. Tai has a big soccer game coming up, and sees it as an opportunity to get all of his old friends together again. The entire first act of the film more or less just deals with each character’s everyday life, with Tai in constant disappointment at his failure to get them all together.

It seems kind of silly, but it works for nostalgic purposes for its target audience. And each character is given a fair bit of attention, which is twice as commendable given how many of them there are (we even get a new character named Meiko, though she admittedly gets less screen time than the rest). Plus, I kind of enjoyed the rather low-key pace that much of the film had. It gives audiences a chance to be reintroduced to the characters and let them know where they’ve been since we last saw them in an effective way.

Digimon Adventure TriAs you might expect, the DigiDestined do eventually band together when evil Digimon start invading, and their faithful Digimon partners all return to help them battle the evildoers. The film even toys with the heroes’ new outlook on the battles they wage now that they’re a little more mature (as kids they see their dinosaur friend fighting a giant insect and just wants their buddy to be victorious, but now that they’re older they worry about the collateral damage they may cause, and the people they might hurt). Though I admit I could have done without the bromantic rivalry between Tai and Matt being reignited, and a sub-plot involving the good Digimon being vilified by the media feels a bit underdeveloped.

Perhaps the film’s best aspect is how successfully it hits all the right nostalgic notes. Even with the slower pace early on, it feels like a Digimon movie. As stated, Digimon Adventure Tri does a really good job at re-establishing the characters, and the battles between Digimon are quite satisfying. Having much (though sadly not all) of the original English voice cast is the cherry on top, with the audience that accompanied my screening erupting with applause every time one of the returning voices was heard. The film even features the iconic photograph the characters took at the end of the first series (though it is obscured by lighting, giving us a good tease).

The film is also pretty well animated. It’s certainly a good number of huge steps up from the quality of the original TV shows, with the animation here being appropriately fluid for a theatrical feature (though some background characters unfortunately seem to be suffering from Hannah-Barbara-ism, as they appear to be frozen in space and time). The backgrounds are often quite detailed and even beautiful to look at. The musical score also had some highlights, especially a magnificently cheesy new theme song that rivals what the original TV shows had to offer.

Digimon Adventure TriWhen all is said and done, one’s opinion of Digimon Adventure Tri. Chapter 1: Reunion will largely depend on your history with the show itself. It has good characters, and good development for them, but the plot – which mostly serves as an introduction to the five films to come – and the emphasis on nostalgia probably won’t resonate with anyone who isn’t familiar with the original shows. So as a standalone movie it may not be too effective. But as an introduction to a new series featuring classic characters, and for those who grew up watching Digimon, it certainly does what it set out to do.

All I know is, even with its flaws, my nine-year old self was doing backflips through the whole thing.

 

7