Anime Review #76: Digimon Tamers

Five years ago, I was a student web developer at a large law firm in Toronto, where I would meet my current best friend and my worries were limited to getting to work early, finding stuff to get involved with, fiddling with my knowledge of HTML, CSS and Javascript in the spare hours as well as making time to play basketball on Friday evenings with the squad. After having completed Digimon Adventure during a tumultuous second year where I managed to barely scrape through three courses, I for some reason decided to take Digimon Tamers on as my second anime of my lifetime. Every lunch break, I would go down to either the office’s lunch hall or, more commonly, the food court at the lower level to snack on either some Thai food, Subway’s, ramen, or the classic Burger King Whopper while watching this series, and on some occasions had to pause what I was watching when two other former high school classmates ran into me.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster up enough motivation to finish this series the first time around. Well, the truth is, around three-fifths into the series I lost interest in the subject matter; it ended up that I just completely dropped the series and switched to the direct sequel of the first one I watched, Digimon Adventure 02. Finally, on 24 July 2021, I picked it back up and what do you know, it took me only a mere 11 days to finally finish what I had started all those years ago. Basically, this post will be a collection of five years’ worth of my thoughts regarding Digimon Tamers.

DIGIMON TAMERS

Aww, they look so cute. It would be a shame if someone were to drug it with Lovecraftian horror tropes

In recent years, this show caught wind due to an unprovoked controversy featuring the show’s writer, Chiaki J. Nonaka who worked on Serial Experiments Lain and RahXephon previously, penned a script featuring the main characters fighting the woke and progressive (read: broke and opressive) weapons of “political correctness” and “cancel culture” which led to certain members of that sheepfold to accuse the show of having far-right tendencies. As someone who’s seen all 51 episodes of this show, I can assure you that there is absolutely nothing political about this show at all – more proof to expose the calumny of a few small-minded dolts out there wanting to make a fuss about everything from the weather to religion. Enough with that short diatribe; let me get back to the true origins of this story.

Digimon Tamers‘ conception began at the turn of the millenium. While Digimon Adventure was still airing on televisions across Japan, the team at Toei Animation’s studios were hard at work filing up how to continue the Digimon story. Ideas such as mortal Digimon, revamped Digivolutions and power-up abilities, and emphasis on the animalistic nature of the Digimon, rather than the gentle and tender dispositions successfully made it into the final script, keeping things at a more mature-oriented flavour for their target audience. On 1 April 2001 (Passion Sunday) Digimon Tamers debuted on Fuji TV, and would air every week for almost a year, with its final episode on 31 March 2002 (Easter Sunday). One of the things that reviewers commented on was how serious it was in tone compared to the Digimon Adventure lineage – a note that Chiaki stated he felt necessary because he wanted this medium to get children to own up to their responsibilities, and accustom themselves to what modern society expected from them. One might have thought he was writing an episode of a kid-friendly version of South Park from this statement alone.

Despite all this, six months after it first aired, it got green-lighted in North America on the children’s programming block Fox Kids, and what’s more in the shadow of the infamous September 11 attacks of that same year. God help the poor saps that thought this was a good idea, and the nightmares many kids got from it. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing morally offensive in terms of modesty, language, or the battle scenes itself; but I’d be concerned about showing this show to anyone but adolescents, and once you learn about the frightening images out here, you’ll understand why.

STORY

A young Tokyo boy, Takato Matsuda, is a hardcore fan of the Digimon card game, spending time after school with his friends Hirokazu Shiota and Kenta Kitagawa competing with each other in their playground hideout, when he’s not flustering around his crush, Juri Katou. One day, he receives a special Blue Card which gives him a Digivice known as the D-Power of unknown purpose, until later that night when while drawing the design of his custom character, a red dinosaur named Guilmon, the drawing, by an act of God, comes to life after being scanned by said D-Power; hijinks ensue as Takato tries to balance his daily activities with caring for his newfound partner. It turns out he isn’t the only one that was blessed with this outcome: another boy named Jianliang Lee lives with a Terriermon that he rescued one night during a gaming session, and Ruki Makino, the city’s Digimon card game champion and gender-swapped Seto Kaiba knockoff openly flouts with Renamon.

Eventually, the three run into each other, overcome initial misunderstandings and personality clashes to form a trio whose adventures span four arcs. The first (episodes 1-13) sees them playing the Digimon monitoring role, fighting against numerous Digimon mysteriously manifesting in mists across Tokyo, which include but are not limited to Gorillamon, Dokugumon, and IceDevimon. Assisting them is a small, white flying Digimon named Calumon, whose true purpose is shrouded in mystery; rattling them is Impmon, an anarchist who hates humans and seeks to grow stronger on his own terms. Despite their enthusiasm, things change when Mitsuo Yamaki, the head of a government group named Hypnos, interferes with them and informs them to cease their operations – saying bluntly that they know not what they’re getting into. He activates a program that attempts to wipe out all Digimon from the city, with disastrous results when an army of twelve divine beasts known as the Devas begin their assault, marking the start of the second arc (episodes 14-24). As the weight of their destruction becomes more apparent, the trio spur into action, learning more advanced Digivolutions and chasing after the Devas to stop further mayhem.

It turns out that the Devas’ impetus all along was to capture Calumon, apparently the source of Digivolution, and use his power to further empower themselves and impose their rule over all. Takato and the others resolve to rescue him from their clutches and end the Devas’ threat once and for all. Joined by Juri, who recently teamed up with Leomon, as well as Hirokazu, Kenta, Jianliang’s sister Siaochun, and a reformed Yamaki supervising their efforts after Hypnos’ blunder, they travel through a portal that was found in Guilmon’s secret hideout, and land in the Digital World: a vast enclave of nothingness where data specks run amok, lasers teleport you to God-knows-where and the rules don’t matter. Throughout this arc (episodes 25-41), they engage in various missions to help various inhabitants out of their troubles, learn about the Digimon’s computer program origins, and run into both Ryo Akiyama, Ruki’s rival and a longtime resident of the Digital World and his partner Cyberdramon. Soon they run into, and fight Beelzemon, the evolved version of Impmon working with the Devas to eliminate the Digidestined. He and his masters are defeated, thanks to a new skill named Biomerge Evolution, allowing the two partners to symbiotically form a powerful Digimon entity. This comes at the cost of Leomon’s life, which throws Juri into a critical depression and plunges Beelzemon into an identity crisis upon his defeat at the hands of Takato and Guilmon’s combined form, Dukemon.

After rescuing Calumon and subduing another threat in the form of the D-Reaper, a goo-like life-form that insta-kills everything it touches, the team returns home and reunites with their concerned parents, physically intact and all: in the case of Kenta, Hirokazu, and Siaochun, they gained their own Digimon partners in MarineAngemon, Guardromon, and Lopmon respectively. However, their journey is not over, as this final arc (episodes 43-51) sees things go from being Digimon as you knew it, to The Exorcist lite! The D-Reaper breaks out of the Digital World, infesting everything along its way in Tokyo, and threatens everything that the protagonists stand for. It is here that the child protagonists team up with both the adult members of the original Digimon project, led by Yamaki again, and Impmon, recently repentant for his past associations and having had faith restored in humanity, successfully engage in a final battle to protect their world from this destructive anomaly, and in the process save Juri from its clutches – thereby completing their last adventure before their worlds are forever separated.

WHAT I LIKED

  • Juri Katou’s fourth arc saga. My God, was it psychologically strenuous. She, a normally ditzy, cheerful girl who loves making friends and entertaining people with her dog hand puppet, falls so far-off the rails after Leomon’s death that she gets major PTSD from the incident and questions her will to live, daily watching over her now lifeless D-Power – even to the point of having suicidal tendencies. Things get so bad she literally succumbs to what’s essentially demonic possession by letting the D-Reaper assumer her body to investigate human society, and play God with them – and the worse her state becomes, the more powerful and fearsome the D-Reaper evolves. As you learn more about who she really is beneath that early-on mask, it only makes you want to hug her and say, “Everything’s going to be all right”. God forbid someone tells this girl about Calvinism, she’ll get nightmares over their coked-up, erroneous explanation of Divine Providence.
  • On the bright side, the reality throw-in was a new add-on I welcomed in regard to the tamer/Digimon bond, one that was different to the instant “Hey, let’s be friends!” demeanor from before. While that main facet is still preserved, this time it’s manifested in various ways: such as Takato’s steady progression of friendship with Guilmon, shown with him trying to find the latter a home and caring for him, Jianliang doing all in its power to teach Terriermon moral values and hide it from unsuspecting eyes like Siaochun or his father, and Ruki’s acquaintance-like treatment of Renamon. Yet, I still must ask: how does the appearance of a giant red dinosaur in Tokyo GETS NO MEDIA COVERAGE WHATSOEVER? Since the general public doesn’t seem to be phased by Takato/Guilmon walking in town, that’s quite a radical reaction from them.
  • The battle scenes were well-animated, loaded with various bits of emotional drama and tactical maneuvering at a level that distinguished it from other Digimon battles. Whether it’s in the crowded streets of Tokyo, in a secluded location, or the barren desert of the Digital World, every move counts and the stakes are always high which add to the momentous impact of their presence in each episode.
  • Having the Digimon be powered-up through use of power-up cards was a pretty nice way to slide in that component of the story and make it a useful gadget. Some of the cards were featured nice throwbacks like Wargreymon’s shield or Ladydevimon’s wings. On top of keeping more or less the same level structure we’re familiar with, I consider this an interesting add-on to the Digivolution cycle. There’s also the revamped Digivolution sequences whose color scheme and animation greatly reflected their computer-based origins.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

  • This has by far the worst depiction of the Digital World that I’ve ever seen. World-building wise, the Digital World now exists as a previously-existing entity that lived alongside the Internet, which complemented it as it grew in the 1980s, with Jianliang’s father being part of that project before it was scrapped – and eventually evolved independently. Fine and all, but remember back when it was full of life, civilizations, a comprehensible time/space system and had a lore that was easy to understand? THROW ALL THAT OUT THE WINDOW FOLKS, BECAUSE HERE YOU’VE GOT AN EMPTY, QUASI-PURGATORIAL, UNCIVILIZED WASTELAND THAT THIS SERIES DARES TO CALL THE DIGITAL WORLD. It’s dreary, depressing, unpredictable, and so incomprehensibly out-of-whack that seeing it was the major reason why I dumped this series five years ago. In addition, the arc was pretty slow and boring too until ten episodes after it started.
  • Not a big fan of the Biomerge Evolution at all. The idea of a human/Digimon fusion always seemed quite off, and too close to garner it Power Rangers overtones, and would wind up inspiring the abomination that was Digimon Frontier. Even if one said that the whole purpose of that was to emphasize the strong bond between the tamer and his partner, I get the feeling that was already covered through the numerous interactions they had, so this was a bit of a step too much to make an entire evolution sequence based on that.
  • Similarly, the last scene where the humans lose their Digimon partners mere seconds after defeating the D-Reaper’s final form, without any warning whatsoever, begged so many questions regarding it and was such an unsatisfying conclusion to bear with. Say what you want about it, but this ending sucked more than Digimon Adventure 02‘s: at least that one, the main cast had families and kept their partners forever. The music and narration of things were harmonious too.

CHARACTERS

In true Digimon fashion, the characters and their partnerships were abundant in number – Takato/Guilmon, Jianliang/Terriermon, Ruki/Renamon, Hirokazu/MarineAngemon, Kenta/Guardromon, and Juri/Leomon, with Ryo/Cyberdramon (surprisingly, a Digimon Adventure holdover from the Wonderswan games), Ai and Maki/Impmon, and Siaochun/Lopmon joining in midway. Fans familiar with the previous two franchises can easily spot the similarities between the former characters and this group: everything from the goggle-heads, the main female trios, sibling relationships, and the computer-savvy character. As a fun fact, originally the creators wanted to put the Adventure cast members as mentors to them (thus presuming this being a timeline years after the end of 02), but that got scrapped.

You can definitely expect plenty of growth from them as well – something I can always appreciate from this franchise’s installments. Ruki softens up her relationship with others; rather than seeing them as tools, sympathizes with them and finds she can count on them to help her out, and vice versa. Jianliang and Takato begin to develop a sense of civil responsibility and a change in their view of Digimon, the former realizing that some things are worth fighting for as opposed to full-on pacifism or the responsibilities that go along with being a Digimon partner, and a leader. Yamaki, one of the rare few adult protagonists in the franchise, though starting off as apparently malevolent, also turned out as a cool dude who is eager to help the protagonists reclaim the Digital World, and a smart dude also. Most notably, there’s Juri whose post-Digital World arc, depression and her victory over it leave much to be discussed in a future post.

As for the Digimon themselves, they’re an adorable and entertaining bunch to watch. Special regards goes to Guilmon, whose Japanese VA makes this character sound relaxed beneath his primal nature; Terriermon, whose gallant cry of “Momantai” fits his optimism and a great alternative to “Yo, chill dawg”; Impmon has the best character development out of these, and Culumon, the show’s de facto mascot character, is so cute, whenever it shows up and says “Culu culu” or plays with the main Digimon cast, I want to grab a plushie version of it and hug it. The relationship they have with their partners goes an extra step as they become a single unit paired with each other, able to feel each others’ pain and mind-share with one another, thereby putting them on an even more equal footing than “just separate friends”.

Much as I liked the spin on the usual Digimon tropes and the lessons each character acquires, one thing that I’ve felt, even as a kid growing up watching portions of this series on DVD, was that they lacked the charisma or likability of say, Taichi Yagami or Daisuke Motomiya. Most of each character’s best moments turned out either pale in comparison to what happened in the previous stories, or simply rushed over with a brief explanation that lessened its depth. The romantic tension wasn’t as well-handled either, even though here it was more explicit, and Ryo Akiyama’s character felt just underwhelming considering what his Wonderswan version went through – let alone how he ended up in this universe is another mystery. The major villains also felt shorthanded, with the Devas from the second arc being confusingly duplicitous beings owing to their massive egotism and power-hungry dilemmas, while the D-Reaper’s only saving grace to its androgynous, amoebic design is its high value as a plot device.

MUSIC

Among the first three anime installments of the franchise, Digimon Tamers‘ music received the weakest treatment. It lacked the awe-inspiring spirit of adventure, the energy to accompany battles, and the depth for scenes that were meant to be emotional. It just seemed like something more fitting for a stealth-based flick rather than for a Digimon story; its vibes and the action just didn’t click together. Occasionally, soundtracks from the older renditions as an attempt to recapture that spirit, and that’s about as nostalgic an attempt at continuation as it can get. Don’t get me wrong though, this is just for the episodes’ OST; the vocal tracks were a lot better and have titles worthy of mention, featuring familiar vocals from veterans Wada Kouji and Ai Maeda.

“Starting Point”, the final insert song from episode 49

I have good things to say for tracks such as ending themes My Tomorrow and Days – Aijou To Nichijou and insert songs such as Slash! during the card-swiping scenes, Kaze (which got a reduxed form shortly before Wada Kouji’s death in 2016) or 3 Primary Colours to name a few; and I’ll say that the opening song, The Biggest Dreamer, is easy to sing along to, though not as endearing as say, Butterfly; and the Digivolution songs (One Vision by Wild Child Bound and EVO by Tanimoto Takayoshi) were really weak, melodically and vocally speaking. All in all though, maybe it’s just my bias towards the Digimon Adventure story since I grew up with that and was more enamoured by everything coming from that sector, but the music from this side of the franchise didn’t capture the same feelings that I experienced from the other.

FAVOURITES

Favourite character: I liked Jianliang and Terriermon, they’re the type of fellows that I could find common ground with given our computer-related interests, and in his balanced behaviour which acts as a middle ground to Ruki’s coldness and Takato’s fiery temperament.

Favourite arc: The D-Reaper arc. Most definitely this one without a question. The only thing missing to complete this arc were two Roman Catholic priests yelling “I cast you out, unclean spirit!” and “The power of Christ compels you!” at it, but then again maybe that would cause the entire arc to end in less than five seconds after episode 42.

Favourite episode: Episode 45-46, especially when fake-Juri reveals her true form to Takato: a purple, demonic entity and scares the living wits out of Takato/Guilmon.

Favourite battle: Ruki and Renamon’s early battle against Dokugumon in episode 6 is the one I remembered most as it was the first real emotional battle produced. It’s nowhere close to what comes later on but it’s just satisfying to see Renamon undergo her first tough battle and gain a comeback victory, and humble the normally arrogant Ruki.

Favourite quote: Juri’s realization of the relationship between fate and free will is best emphasized through this quote from episode 50, after she frees herself from imprisonment thanks to the help of Culumon:

Hey D-Reaper, listen up! You took away my control over my memories because… I took the meaning of fate and twisted it to something far different than what Leomon intended, but now I realize I was in the wrong! I do have the power to change my life, to smile, and be happy starting tomorrow!… That’s nothing that I can’t do, nothing that anyone can’t do!

Juri scores one against the evil tenets of Calvinism: namely, the destruction of humans’ free will

CONCLUSION

So to wrap things up: many people say that out of all the Digimon renditions out there, this one is the greatest of them all. It’s certainly the edgiest in content, holds no bars with its visuals, and the subject matter’s treatment is, all in all, very realistic compared to the light-hearted, fantasy-oriented past renditions; but nevertheless, it’s still identifiable as a Digimon story, one that doesn’t abandon its roots for unjustified novelties. The idea of having the Digimon card game serve as the primary progenitor of the Digimon’s power source, and have the tamer control that to make the powers stronger added a certain gaming feel to it. I see this as the point when the Digimon franchise took a drastic turn from the family-friendly, bright and cheerful atmosphere that won over my kid heart, and jumped into the realm suited for older audiences – a trend which would be preserved for other flicks such as Digimon Savers or Digimon Adventure Tri.

To be fair, this change in emphasis was a brave and intriguing endeavour to take on. In theory, this could have turned out successful – were it not for the downed excitement of the episodes, the energy of the battles being sapped by generically uninspiring music, a physically dead Digital World, lackluster major villains, weird human-Digimon biomerge evolution sequences and just being empty of the same elements that contributed to Digimon Adventure‘s wondrous appeal. It’s not awful, but I wouldn’t consider it the absolute greatest Digimon story ever. Still, it’s an experience that fans should undergo even at least once just to verify the rumours about this show for themselves.

SCORE: 6.9/10

mfw I see a Juri Katou cosplayer

2 thoughts on “Anime Review #76: Digimon Tamers

  1. I think the thing that prevented me from watching this show is the fact that it was not connected to the first two Digimon shows. I think that was very unfair of me therefore, I shall give this anime a chance after skimming some parts of your review since I don’t want to spoil the surprises. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.