Sunday, April 12, 2020

REVIEW: Digimon Adventure: Ep. 2

The most important episode of any TV series is its second. It's easy to pump a lot of flair and hype into a premiere. It's harder to keep that going throughout the series. The second episode of the original Adventure series centralizes its focus and answers a few questions while raising others. Most importantly, it slightly raised the stakes from the first episode. How does the new series compare in its second week? My full review after the jump.

I'm going to have to open with a spoiler-free section before getting into the things. Surprisingly, this is only the second episode and yet so much has hit the fan it's hard to discuss without getting into some really spoilery stuff. 

This was the "Matt" episode. Everyone's favorite lone wolf briefly appeared at the end of the last episode and is fully introduced here. With the help of Garurumon he saves Tai and Greymon from a few Argomon - that's what these villains are called regardless of evolutionary stage.

Following that is a cute moment where Garurumon tells Greymon that he owes him one and Greymon is just glad to see that Garurumon is alive. This seems to be setting up the concept first alluded to their character bios last month - the main Digimon all seem to be veterans of some great war that predates the series.

This is easily the most interesting aspect of the story so far. What exactly - if not a war in the traditional sense - did the Digimon go through together? How long ago was it? Where have they all been and what have they all been doing since then?

Tai and Matt, on the other had, don't exactly have any cute moments. Remember how last week Tai and Agumon shared very few lines of actual dialogue before Agumon digivolved? Similarly, Tai and Matt - a duo famous for their complex relationship that starts off rocky and grows over time - don't really interact much in this episode.

Tai introduces Matt to Izzy and Matt seems more interested in Izzy as someone to use for information while he almost completely ignores Tai. Now, maybe he values Izzy as bringing something to the situation while Tai is just mindlessly flailing about. But unless Matt was watching Tai through the entire last episode, he doesn't really have a reason for treating him like this. Other than.. y'know... he's Matt.

The whole thing just felt a bit clunky. They eventually find out where the Argomon are attacking next and Matt tells Tai to stand back while he takes on a swarm himself. Then Tai realizes the leader is wide open so he figures Matt left him and Greymon behind to figure out on their own that it'd be a good time to make a tactical strike. I was waiting for Matt to chastise them for being reckless but he didn't. So was that actually Matt's plan?

If anything, it seems as if Matt is less rejecting Tai as he is resisting befriending him. He listens to Izzy  only after confirming that he's safely in the real world and because he can help him in the current situation. At the same time, he may want to keep Tai out of it as much as possible. In the end Matt is hesitant to use a risky tactic not because he doesn't want to work with Tai specifically, but because it could hurt the Digimon. There's definitely some untold backstory here, like Matt saw someone else get hurt and doesn't want to repeat a past mistake.

But here's the thing: I don't watch Digimon to watch characters disagree about battle tactics. I don't even watch Digimon for the battles. I want to see the characters actually get to know each other and fight among themselves for more complex reasons than how to attack a bad guy.

This episode is almost entirely action with little to no character development or even interactions. I'm not expecting it to be exactly like the original, but  I at least expected a compelling, character driven story. This feels more like watching a kid play with action figures.

I know it's unfair to compare this to the original series but I'm going to do it every week and if Toei didn't want me to they shouldn't have rebooted the show in the first place. But let's look back at the first few episodes of Adventure. Tai and Matt have disagreements, sure. But it's about things like whether or not they should stay at the beach versus moving on to somewhere else. Or who should keep watch at night.

Here the two basically introduce each other and then just go fight. It's only the second episode but halfway through this one I was already getting bored. And I never got bored watching these same characters figure out how to ration food or find a place to sleep by a lake.

Okay I'm going to move on to spoilers next. Oridinarily I wouldn't even bother but this episode was pretty wild and discussing the way they introduced Matt and handled the interactions between literally anyone is only half of the discussion this week. So stop reading now unless you've already seen the episode.

So this episode was kind of like a mini-remake of Our War Game, the second Digimon movie that the original director, Mamoru Hosoda, later remade into a Louis Vuitton commercial and then again into the best anime movie of all time. Here is the fourth version of that story, this time without anything to do with Hosoda and without any of the stuff that makes it good.

When I say mini-remake I mean mini. Bad Digimon have gotten themselves some internet and are trying to use man-made technology to end the world so the good Digimon fight it and win but then it turns out they didn't win and now the world is going to end unless everyone in the world with internet access bands together to cause actual magic to stop the bad Digimon.

So in Our War Game the magically induced climax is the birth of Omnimon. It was pretty cool to see the culmination of an entire series worth of character growth finally collide in the form of an unprecedented Digimon fusion - and on the big screen. But here the same thing randomly happens at the end of the second episode.

After last week's premiere the only real comments on the show that I read were from my friends. I wanted to try and review this series totally on my own and have as little influence from the fandom at large as possible. But I just had to poke my head into discussions about this episode. Needless to say, the fandom is totally split and already we're seeing a tri. level divide between those who love the series and those who don't. And it's been two episodes.

I'm actually totally okay with bringing Omnimon in during the second episode. If you get all of the big, expected stuff out of the way as soon as possible that leaves more room for new and unusual stuff. A lot of people seem to have a problem with getting Omnimon this early because it throws the "power balance" off or whatever. I guess the idea is that if they "unlocked" their strongest ever Digimon than they won't face any real challenge after this.

This exact conversation happened before tri. because people thought having all of the Ultimates and Megas would mean they'd be able beat any bad Digimon no problem. Guys, c'mon. This is Toyetic TV 101. If the protagonists get a new, stronger thingy then the enemies they face immediately become stronger to compensate. When WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon showed up they didn't suddenly breeze through every battle they faced. They got their asses handed to them by the Dark Masters. In the very next episode.

Now I'm not saying Omnimon is the norm now and we're going to start getting more "Ultra" Digimon and then "Giga" and then "Magnum" or whatever. Because again: Digimon is not about the battles. Remember three of the Dark Masters were defeated in one hit by the new Megas - but they each had a whole arc where Tai and Matt had to go through character growth before they could actually pull that off.

My problem with Omnimon showing up in the second episode isn't that the main characters are now "too OP." It's because they didn't deserve it. Digimon don't evolve when they've gained a certain amount of experience points in battle. Evolution is a metaphor for character growth.

At the beginning of the original series seven young kids went to camp for the summer. And they were all idiots. But they learned how to not be idiots over the course of the series. They grew as characters. And as they grew, their Digimon evolved. These moments were shown by the characters performing  acts of bravery, love, friendship, and other crests. 

So here we have two characters who have barely spoken to each other with partner Digimon they've barely interacted about an hour into their own stories. And they've just achieved a the greatest symbol of their personal growth.

Again, this didn't need to be a remake. We don't need to see the exact same beats again. Shellmon, Seadramon, Etemon, etc. And Matt and Tai definitely don't need to fight over things like where to set up camp. But you don't get your high school diploma halfway through your first day of fifrth grade.

Okay I could think of a dozen more metaphors but you get the point. Omnimon in episode 2 isn't wrong because he's too "powerful." It's wrong because he represents the apex of Tai and Matt's growth from children into adolescence and everything they've learned on their adventure together. At this point, the only thing these characters have learned so far is each other's names.

I'm all for this new series, but the writers seem to have a significant misunderstanding about what made Digimon work in the first place. Because of its low animation budget, Digimon was forced to tell interesting stories about its characters. Throw some money at the animators and all of a sudden characters don't even need to talk to their Digimon to Digivolve as long as they have enough XP.

A few quick things you may have missed:
  1. When Tai tells Matt where Izzy is, Matt seems unfamiliar with the specific train station. Is he not from Tokyo this time around?
  2. A website resembling 4chan appears among the sites Izzy uses to gather information on the current situation.

Digimon Adventure: is available on Crunchyroll. You can find the first episode here. Crunchyroll Premium subscribers have access to new episodes ad-free and in HD the same day they air in Japan for. Without a subscription you'll only have to wait a week for new episodes and watch them with ads and in SD. Premium subscriptions are about $8 a month.