Digimon: Analyzing the Impact of the Monster Franchise
Most anime fans know what Digimon is, but not many are aware of how it started. The best selling electronic device Tamagotchi was released in 1996 (Street, 2015). A year later Bandai released a Digimon Virtual Pet, a couple of years before the release of Adventure in 1999. Like other children’s series in Japan, chances are high that Digimon was created to help sell these Digimon Tamagotchi (Rodriguez, 2014). By the time Digimon came out, Toei Animation had already started and in some cases completed, other hit shows like Sailor Moon, Marmalade Boy, Yu Gi Oh and One Piece. Since Adventure in 1999, six seasons have been created in total. Xros Wars ended in 2012 and the third part is still in the process of being dubbed in the US.
Anyone who keeps up to date with Anime News Network would have heard of the film sequels to the first Digimon series: Digimon Tri. The first film premiered on Crunchyroll on 21st November, so this is a good time to reflect on the franchise monster. If you were born in the early ’00’s, there’s a chance you may have missed the Pokemon and Digimon craze of the late 90s. Like Dragon Ball, Naruto, Inuyasha and Bleach, it is one of those big shows that you will inevitably stumble on at some point in your lifetime.
This article’s aim is to compare and contrast each Digimon series, delve into anime with similar themes, and ultimately try to determine whether Digimon is a hidden gem or something to be shunned and forgotten. I was a fan of this series growing up and have revisited them. To ensure impartiality, this article references Digimon reviews that are written by authors who either did not grow up with Digimon or have not mentioned that they have seen it before. The terminology from the English dubbed version will be referred to the most and the seasons will be labelled as follows: Adventure, 02, Tamers, Frontier, Data Squad and Xros Wars.
Like any franchise with multiple seasons, such as Gundam or Pokemon, the debate of which season is superior is impossible to get away from. If we are examining the opinions of the fanbase, we are no closer to figuring out which series is the superior one even a decade after they aired (Naruto Forums, 2011), but by looking at statistics some patterns can offer a clue. On IMDB the votes for Adventure outnumber later seasons by two thousand and has an average score of 7.7/10. The two later series have high scores but have been seen by a much smaller number of people, sometimes as small as one hundred. A similar trend is on the Anime News Network pages.
One can’t help but wonder if they are less popular because they are terrible, or if Digimon fans simply moved onto better things or something else entirely. These numbers tell us that Adventure is the most popular and remembered season, but not necessarily the best one. If those other two thousand viewers got to vote on the other series, what would they choose? Interest in Digimon has faded over time, but its fanbase still exists on Facebook, the fanart, fanfiction and cosplay community.
There are no major spoilers, but some minor spoilers, in this article.
Being a children’s television series Digimon never tried to have great animation and it will likely never be perceived as one that will impress viewers, but there are a number of differences between each series and the movies.
It will come as no surprise to veteran Digimon fans that the first four series in the franchise (Adventure, 02, Tamers and Frontier) had the same character designers: Akiyoshi Hongo and Katsuyoshi Nakatsuru. Hongo is also the original creator of Digimon Tri, so it is nice to see a familiar name in the staff for the movie series. He also came up with the original concepts for a lot of the Digimon series and movies, although his resume does not deviate from much else. There is a conspiracy theory that Akiyoshi Hongo helped create the Tamagotchi under a different name, but no evidence exists to support this (Did You Know Anime, 2014). Nakatsuru’s resume is far more impressive than Hongo’s, as he has also worked as an animator and animation director for a number of other series and movies. Some of these include Dragon Ball Z, From the New World, The Girl who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and Toriko. According to Wikipedia, he is well known for being able to mimic the art style of Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball.
The character designs for these first four seasons are rather unique as far as anime goes. Fans can recognize them in an instant and effort was made for the cast to stand out. For example, each lead in the series tends to have a variation of messy hair and a pair of goggles. Other characters tend to have a standard, memorable outfit (Sora and Mimi’s hat, Rika’s shirt…etc). The proportions are fairly cartoon-like, with big heads, small eyes (as far as anime goes) and tiny limbs, even for prepubescent to pubescent characters. The adults also share big heads and smaller eyes, although they appear endearing in a similar way to Studio Ghibli. The Digimon themselves, similar to monster orientated shows like Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, Beyblade and Duel Monsters, differ in their designs. Everyone will have their likes and dislikes. Generally the baby to rookie level Digimon are cute and tiny, perhaps trying to take Pikachu from the spotlight. Compared to other series of a similar vein Digimon designs are memorable and varied.
The later series come off as generic and plain, not differentiating themselves from other children’s anime. The character designer for series five was Sayo Aoi. Data Squad may be some of his weakest work, as he has done Key Animation on well received series like Chiyahayafuru, Deadman Wonderland, Eureka Seven, Flowers of Evil and Terror in Resonance. Data Squad designs look closer to a standard anime style, with large, longer limbs, smaller heads and slightly bigger eyes. This was a bold move and had the potential to push Data Squad above previous seasons in terms of visuals. The artwork in Data Squad look unimaginative in comparison to anime for teenage shounen audiences, which is the audience it was competing with.
Even if the designs of the Digimon did not change, they were drawn larger in relation to the humans. Agumon in Data Squad is nearly larger than the main character. Even if it is a different Agumon, this artistic decision makes little sense in continuity terms. Ultimately, there was no obvious benefit to the decision to draw the characters more ‘realistically’ as the material had not evolved in maturity with the artwork. Coloring and background problems make Data Squad Digimon’s worst visual effort.
Xros Wars had designs by Akihiro Asanuma. While the hair bordered the line of Super Seyan eccentricity and the eyes are increased in size, the designs in Xros Wars are a small improvement on Data Squad for a return to smaller body proportions and the other artistic choices that go with it. However, the eyes and foreheads are strangely elongated and the characters won’t look impressive if viewed standalone. There is an exception to this. In Part 3 of Xros Wars: The Young Hunters who Leapt Through Time there was a major character design change, even though it is work by the same artist. This fixed a lot of the problems with the character designs in the first two parts, allowing more similarities with the first four seasons in the eye and face shapes. For this reason, Part 3 of Xros Wars is on par artistically with Hongo and Nakatsuru’s work, the only installment to have done this in eight years.
The last design change in season five and six is made fans sour (Alex, 2011). In every series the Digivice has changed shape, for better or worse, Data Squad and Xros Wars remove any ability to identify the machines as Digivices. Perhaps this is inevitable given our current technological advances, but the Digivices in season five and six look like iPods. A more problematic change is that these Digivices function are like Poké-balls. The Digimon is stored in the Digivice, only to be used when needed. Not only is this unoriginal, it limits a lot writing opportunities as the Digimon can add a lot of entertainment to scenes. Overall, the first four seasons are the strongest as far as character designs are concerned.
The Digimon movies, especially the ones for the Adventure timeline and Tri, have some of the best artistic efforts to date by further refining the characters to mature, more proportionate versions that retain the spirit of the original. Generally speaking the films are better animated than any series although it is more the case for the first generation.
Other aspects of animation include background art, coloring, movement quality and quantity. As far as background art goes, Digimon is fairly consistent. Highlights include a variety of environments – especially when it comes to the Digital World. Adventure and 02 tend to be on the simple side. Yasue Itsaka and Yukiko Ijima did coloring and background work respectively during the first two seasons which may explain the art similarities. Even though Tamers and Frontier had slightly more depth and shading to the backgrounds, they are only impressive in rare instances. As animating programs have changed over the years, there are different staff for 3D CGI across seasons, and a whole lot of extra hands for Digital Photography in Xros Wars. This could explain the lighting and blending effects for the backgrounds in season six, which look similar to Bakemonogatari. In Xros Wars: The Young Hunters that Leapt through Time the backgrounds often exceed the quality of the character models. The combination of the re-worked character designs, color choices and background art make the series have more visually in common with Concrete Revolutio than Digimon. At times the variety of places in the Digital World coupled with the range in coloring makes the images off putting, which makes color composition one of the most important aspects when considering the visuals of Digimon.
Tamers succeeded on looking quite pleasant throughout its run because it was set in Shinjuku for a large portion of the show. Many cool colors such as blue and green are utilized to great effect, especially in the darker scenes involving the organization Hypnos. In Adventure and 02 the success of color composition depended largely on the location of the characters, so it is overall average. As mentioned in the art section, Data Squad‘s animation efforts are strongly undermined by the poor use of color composition. It cancels any emotional impact of scenes and impedes the series ability to create mood, especially when it comes to DATs. This organization is colored in bright yellow and fluorescent green, among other bizarre combinations. Hypnos in Tamers is far more believable in concept and intimidating in its presentation.
In Xros Wars the saturation of colors appears even brighter than Data Squad, although the hues match more often than not. While this is greatly improved upon in Xros Wars: The Young Hunters who Leapt through Time it still doesn’t match the tone in Tamers, although it comes close. In the first film of Tri, the color saturation is distractedly bright for outdoor backgrounds, but oddly enough indoor locations and the characters don’t have this problem. Using color composition to affect tone isn’t a concern if viewers just want light entertainment, although older viewers may find the experience lacking.
Quality of animation throughout Digimon is on the whole average, with some scenes better than others. The fight scenes are what attract most audiences to Digimon and these vary between being smoothly animated with lots of movement, to unimpressive stills, pans or black screens with slash lines. If one is after consistency in animation quality, the best places to turn are the Digimon movies where fight scenes are smoother. This is the strongest in the films, although Tri confusingly suffers from choppy fight scenes. It is unclear at this point if this will be fixed for DVD release. The well blended 3D and 2D animation in Xros Wars made the fight scenes succeed in being rather fluid in comparison to earlier seasons, although they are still littered with stills. On the whole if one is looking for a well animated fight scene the Digimon television franchise only slightly improves over series for the same target audience, like Monsuno.
Like Card Captor Sakura, Gurren Laggaan or Sailor Moon, Digimon is notorious for having transformation and attack sequences. These are called Digivolution sequences where a Digimon changes or improves its form. Since these sequences can happen up to multiple times an episode, examining the quality and use of them is important. Adventure had a fairly repetitive form of evolution. The Digimon change in a flash to its new form, even if this was made more interesting and varied at higher stages. Other series used Digimentals and cards to promote evolutions and these have varied visual effectiveness. Tamers has the most detailed evolution sequences as each change to a limb or body part is animated from start to finish. The evolution to Mega involved the main characters merging with their Digimon. While a very strange idea, these sequences are beautifully animated with vibrant use of lighting effects and fluid movement.
Data Squad, Xros Wars and Tri returned to the humble origins of Adventure, although improve on the aesthetics a little by more effectively combining the 3D and 2D animation. They don’t do anything new, but are by no means terrible. Frontier is the most unique compared to the other series as the main characters become the Digimon. This has been met with a great deal of criticism (Carter, 2013), and the series as a whole abuses transformation sequences the most (Clerk, 2015). Generally speaking the 2D evolution sequences are more impressive and aesthetically pleasing since the 3D (sorry fans of WarGreymon and MetalGururmon). The exception is in Xros Wars and Tri where the programs had improved enough to make the blend nicer.
The first three series boast some of the strongest animation in the franchise, with Tamers coming out on top for balanced use of coloring and lighting effects, especially in the use of evolution sequences. The Digimon movies have more detailed background art, extravagant fight scenes and fluid animation, although watching them by themselves limits character information, so is not recommended for a first time viewer. Despite choppy fight scenes and simplistic, overly saturated outdoor backgrounds in Tri, it still improves on the television series aesthetic. Xros Wars: The Young Hunters that Leapt Through Time is the first Digimon series in nearly a decade to present a distinct and pleasing visual style, exceeding past works in background art and blending 2D and 3D animation. The staff for Tri appears promising and could improve on a lot of the animation problems the series have. The next important aspect when deciding on the best series is the degree of US censorship and edits.
The Japanese versus American Edit
The version of Digimon aired to Western audiences was very different compared to the Japanese counterpart. In some instances this has reached Card Captor Sakura and Sailor Moon levels of injustice, but the adaptions are not nearly as bad as they could have been. For one, even though the names of characters and Digimon have been changed, there are remains of the original Japanese names. For example, in Adventure Takeru Takaishi was changed to Takeru “T.K.” Takaishi. Some of them kept their Japanese names, like Joe, Sora and Mimi. These alternations make sense, as it allows children to be educated and understand the structure of Japanese names and makes pronunciation to be slightly easier. It is clear that a decent effort was made to be faithful to the original material. According to the Digimon Wiki, the name “Henry” used in Tamers is a transliteration of his Japanese name. The reasons are not obvious as to why a few of the Japanese names were changed to a different Japanese one, like Ruki to Rika, or Makino to Nonaka.
In contrast, many changes of the Digimon names are completely unnecessary, such as Tailmon to Gatomon. Terminology makes even less sense, such as Chosen Children to Digidestined, or even attack or episode names (Gear, 2015). In the case of 02, Digimentals is the proper (and much better name) for Digieggs, and in Tamers each card used had a different name, but was simplified in the dub to status improvements you might see in Pokemon. It would have just been quicker and easier on the part of the translators to keep a lot of the Japanese names. This aside, there are a lot more dialogue changes than violence censorship.
Dialogue changes are quite obvious when you look at the scene featured below. The language is more colloquial and there are internal monologues added in. These changes are very common in Digimon US versions (Gear, 2015), although adapting the Japanese language to be more Westernized has often been considered an appropriate writing choice, so long as it isn’t over the top. These have been met with a lot of criticism on Digimon Uncensored, and rightly so when jokes fall flat or the characters dialogue is uncharacteristic.
Carlos Ross from THEM Anime Reviews said that the Frontier dub version in particular “is painful”. However, there are a number of jokes in 02 and Tamers that work well, and some of the internal monologues help add meaning to scenes, so perhaps it is not a complete loss. Melissa Sternenberg from THEM mentioned that Adventure is “much better than most people give it credit for” and Carlos Ross adds for 02 “Some parents may like it enough to watch it for themselves”. In episode seven of Adventure, there is a half a second shot of Joe using a knife to cut a rope which is removed (MachoDuck, 2013). There are other small changes like these throughout. These sorts of changes seem ridiculous now, but it is likely censorship practices were more strict at the time, similar to Sailor Moon. Conforming to the censorship board may have been the only way Digimon was able to be brought over to the West (ANNCast, 2014).
By the scene above it is very difficult to tell if the American edit changed the color levels of the scenes, or if that is just a result of using two videos of varying quality. If the colors and lighting were changed that would be complete unnecessary, considering the Japanese colors are far softer and distinct. As far as Tamers goes, the series has had a lot less censorship than the other series. The only notable ones are in episode three and twenty six where there was ambiguous imagery that could be interpreted as sexual, and some blood. All things considered, as far as actual sections of the episodes being cut out, Digimon fared much better than Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura, even if most of the changes are still largely unhelpful.
The largest change between the US and Japanese versions of Digimon is the soundtrack. Voice acting aside, this is an area which seems to have the most consensus among fans, even those who grew up watching the US version. Every single opening sequence and song was changed, and nearly every single insert song was omitted. This would have been acceptable if the opening songs had some resemblance to the original, like the US Sailor Moon theme song. This is not the case here. Instead we got a simplistic, catchy, yet repetitive theme of “Digimon, Digital Monsters, Digimon are the Champions!” put against a montage of clips from the series and original Openings.
This song has been translated into a multitude of other language versions, including French and Spanish. Frontier, Data Squad and Xros Wars came up with entirely new songs with an attempt at lyrics although they are generic, forgettable and dripping with cheese. The brilliant Wada Kouji did the original opening songs for the first four seasons of Digimon, while the ending songs tended to have a different artist. These are generally adored by fans everywhere for the catchy, fun j-rock tunes with wonderful vocals.
The background music for the Japanese version of the first four series were composed by Takanori Arisawa. They have some beautiful melodies, especially in serious scenes where a single violin is used. There is no doubt that Arisawa’s work on Digimon is brilliant and easily surpasses a lot of children’s or even serious anime today. Sadly he passed away in 2005 which is why the music has been handled by someone different in Data Squad and Xros Wars. In contrast the US soundtrack was composed by five individuals for Adventure and 02. In Tamers the staff were changed slightly, while retaining two of the original composers. The use of sound is substantially different in each version. The Japanese builds atmosphere dominantly by the use of sound effects, while the US version relies on its score and extra dialogue to carry scenes. This gives the Japanese a more eerie feel where the US can come across as trying to fill up as much silence as possible.
Unless one has a preference for use of sound effects over music, there is no reason why the US version of the score is any less than the Japanese. The US edit could be seen as more appropriate at intensifying the mood for some fight scenes, however at other times the music quality is so similar there was no reason to change the original, especially with insert songs. The only exception to this rule was the dub of the insert song “Promise” from the movie Runaway Digimon Express. The tune for the song and translation of the lyrics were, although not identical, fairly similar.
Of course there’s also the english dub. The cast is generally reused throughout each series. For a handful of the voice cast Digimon was used as a springboard for greater work. For example, Michael Reisz who voiced Matt in the English version had only worked on Vampire Princess Miyu and Godzilla previously. Brian Beacock, who voiced Takato in Tamers, still looks back on the experience fondly and considers Digimon his first major voice role (Edwards, 2015). While the voices for the characters definitely did not sound authentic to the character’s ages, the performances come across as quite natural and believable most of the time. This assists with the humor and adds meaning to emotional scenes. That being said, some of the Digimon’s voices can sound grating although it depends greatly on the Digimon speaking.
In Data Squad, there is an uncharacteristic but very pleasant surprise to hear Crispin Freeman as one of the main characters. The combination of puns and flat writing make the US version for Xros Wars especially frustrating, like the overuse of the word ‘awesomeness’ by the character Jeremy. If you thought the other US adaptions were bad, just let it be a testament to how much worse season six is.
Even though there are positive aspects of the US adaptions like the different background music, some parts of the writing and voice acting, the variations between the two are still so great that it is recommended that new viewers start with the Japanese version, and then go back and look at the US version afterwards if they are interested. The only exception to this rule is the english version of Tamers which has minimal censorship. Sadly, the Japanese may be difficult to come by in a legal format as many of the original masters have been damaged over time. For the Australian DVD release multiple masters were used in order to release a quality video product. Tri is unique because it is the first ever legal, non censored version of the Digimon Adventure timeline, so it has a lot of value on this aspect alone. The Japanese version of Xros Wars and Tri are available for free on Crunchyroll for curious viewers.
Story, Characters & Themes
The key good versus evil conflict of Digimon is present across all six seasons, but its the execution, details, characters and themes that make each installment different. The popular travelling to another world device has been used in many anime like The Vision of Escaflowne, The Twelve Kingdoms, Inuyasha, Sword Art Online and Now and There, Here and There. Digimon differentiates itself from the previous titles by examining humanities use of technology. The Digital World is basically the internet, although there is cross over with video games and computer networks. The amount of time spent in the Digital World versus the real one varies, but the ultimate purpose of the series is to tell a good versus evil story with themes about the importance of friends and family. The idea is to cram as many cool fight scenes into the series as possible while making you care about the characters and their journeys at the same time.
Episodes tends to be structured around the Digimon evolutions. Usually, but not always, character detail or development will coincide with these, usually later on in the season. There will be an episode per Digimon concerning each level of evolution, usually in a Monster-of-The-Week format. These can be humorous or dramatic. Depending on the number of characters this can take up to seven episodes per arc. Generally it will end with the destruction of an evil Digimon and the cycle starts again, building up the strength of the enemies for a “Save the world!” finale. These are usually built up to quite effectively thanks to use of music and character conflicts, at least more so than This Ugly Yet Beautiful World.
Digimon is not supposed to be a masterpiece or deep. It has always been a means for B level entertainment and it achieves this in its higher quality installments. In 02 the Digimon Emperor is an interesting villain, but the mystery as to his identity is not made secret and the epilogue had a very negative response (Russell, 2015). In Tamers the pattern is changed substantially. There is more of a Monster-of-the-Week theme until episode 23 when a program created in the organization Hypnos is destroyed.
The series is still structured around Digimon evolutions although the beginning and end of story arcs are not as clear, especially since only a small portion takes place in the Digital World. The physics of the Digital World are explained in the most detail in Adventure although Tamers adds an origin story. Even though additional information was given in 02, a lot of viewers disliked these changes for being contradictory and self-defeatist. In later seasons a lot of the knowledge is assumed. The most interesting villains are seen in the first part of 02 (Russell, 2015), Tamers and the later part of Frontier. Sadly, Frontier received criticism for the large number of fillers and executing fillers poorly (Carter, 2013).
Data Squad involved an organization called DATs that keeps a close watch on Digimon. Since similar ideas are explored in Tamers but more effectively, the story of Data Squad is completely negligible. Xros Wars uses similar Evolution gimmicks at the second half of 02, although it is split into three parts. The Digital World is split into zones, something which deviates it from previous seasons, and the dynamics are solely on fighting tactics and strategy. Similar to many video games, like Super Mario 64, there are stars that can be collected in each zone with power granted to the child that collects them all. Xros Wars is the only series that is longer than 50 episodes. Its third part has a year gap in the timeline and involves some aspects of time travel and dimension jumping, including a cameo of all the main characters in one of the final episodes.
While the style of Xros Wars: The Young Hunters that Leapt through Time are nothing like the first two parts of the show, it still does not do anything original or new. Here, the Digital World takes place in sections of Quartz – a plot device awfully similar to Eureka Seven AO, a comparison no one should have to make. There is so much of a focus on ‘hunting’ Digimon and storing them in the Digivice that the series is an example of what Pokemon should be doing with its story, rather than something that belongs in the Digimon franchise. If readers are wondering if one can skip straight to episode 55 of Xros Wars and start watching from part three onward, this is a solid idea and one I recommend. Since the main character of this series is Tagiru, all of the concepts, characters and story points from the first two parts are explained over again, as well as the new story changes to this season. One can slip into this part of the story relatively easy. For all intents and purposes, this final section of Xros Wars should have been labelled as series seven to draw in a wider audience, even if it is only 25 episodes.
The story of Digimon is so straight forward a big part that make each series stand out are the characters and the execution of the themes. As far as unique, memorable characters go Adventure, Tamers and Frontier seasons are particularly strong. In Adventure there is a lot of focus on Tai and Matt’s rivalry, especially in the different ways they treat their younger siblings. Additionally, the relationships between Tai and his little sister, and Matt and his little brother are explored. These are some of the most dramatic and realistic aspects of the series.
There is often more than one motivator for behavior and this is made very clear in the series, as Matt and Tai find themselves in awkward internal conflicts. In 02 the characters are briefly touched upon, although they can been seen as pointless and reworkings of traits seen in the first series run (Sanders, 2015). Tamers only has three to five main characters so it allows more time for the relationship between their Digimon to be explored. While there are no reoccurring fights or rivalry, Rika and Jeri’s family situations become significant at varying points throughout the series. The show has been praised for the darker aspects, interesting characters and bittersweet ending (Russel, 2015). In Frontier, like in Adventure, there is an importance in knowing who your family is and feeling like you belong to a group. It has been praised for its character development but criticized for its filler (Carter, 2013).
Data Squad has a lot of problems with its characterization. The main character Masaru is very impulsive and uses violence at every opportunity. Not only does this make him a hideous role model, but even when the show tries to rationalize this by a revelation near the end of the series, it doesn’t encourage Masaru to change his approach or reflect upon his actions. There are very minor details for the other two main characters littered throughout the series but the result is ultimately a bunch of archetypes with little to no memorable qualities. The focus in Data Squad is dominantly on the action and story aspects, which are average to begin with and do not make for compelling viewing.
It isn’t just the duplication of Hypnos which is a major flaw in the writing, but the execution of other story elements (Ledura, 2012). The writing and dialogue at the beginning of the series, especially episode two of Data Squad, are so similar to Tamers it is almost copied word for word. When Masaru meets Agumon he tries to sneak it into his house…. with the cardboard box trick. Again. A few minutes later the dialogue between Masaru and his Mum is also so outrageously similar to Tamers that it is embarrassing. Not only that, but Agumon’s character is a replica of Guilmon with the obsessive focus on food. Xros Wars is incredibly plot driven as well, disregarding the qualities about Digimon that made us care in the first place. Even in Xros Wars: The Young Hunters that Leapt through Time it is sadly not much better. Only the most superficial details of characters are made known the viewer, like the fact Taiki likes basketball. The third part of season six may be entertaining to those who just want mindless fighting, but this narrows the target audience to children.
Lawrence Van Gelder (2000) criticized the US Digimon Movie that the meaningful aspects of teamwork and friendship have been displayed more effectively in other media. Considering this was just based off the movie this argument is quite weak. Pokemon focuses on these same themes, but the characters are explored more frequently in Digimon. The negative aspects of Digimon interacting with humans is made very clear in many moments throughout the franchise. For example, evolutions going wrong and Digimon being mistreated. In Pokemon any character development is a rare occurrence. Digimon’s character exploration is on par with most shounen series and it does a decent amount in its 50 episode time frame. Voice actor Brian Beacock, who has worked on multiple Digimon seasons, says he prefers Tamers because it displays a wider emotional spectrum and is more than just yelling (Edwards, 2015). The animation and sound aspects are stronger in Digimon than other anime created to sell toys. The episode length is also shorter, the plot more concise and the characters meaningful, even if the evolution and story are especially silly when overused.
Series like Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost in the Shell and Chobits show a mature and serious look at humans relationship with the internet and technology, but they deal with material which is probably too dark for a children’s series. As far as the scary aspects of the internet go, Tamers displays this the best thanks to the writer Chiaki J. Konaka who also worked on Serial Experiments Lain.
Many artistic and story choices are drawn from Lain. The use of Hypnos versus the Men in Black is the most obvious one, with facial expression, use of color, imagery and villains being more subtle. Tri appears to be using a similar Hypnos-esque plot element like in Tamers, but it remains to be seen if it will become as dark as the third season. So far it has succeeded in making Data Squad look even less relevant by executing similar ideas in a more believable and interesting way. The most similar anime to Digimon is the movie Summer Wars, not only because The Digimon Movie was used as a starting point for Hosoda’s film, but for the themes of family, friends and thrilling fight scenes. It is a quick way to show a newcomer what Digimon fans love about the series. It certainly does better than other children’s series at constructing a reasonably believable world – in the first number of seasons, anyway.
If you managed to make it this far, with varying animation quality, story, villains, characters and stylistic choices it can make the decision of picking the ‘Best’ Digimon series difficult. Overall the most consistent in displaying the high points of Digimon would be Adventure and Tamers. If possible, Adventure is recommended to be seen first in Japanese in order to appreciate the original music, names and sound effects of the series, although given limited availability the English version for Tamers has far less censorship and an effective musical score. Drake (2013) considers the third season to be “not just for Digimon fans”. Data Squad and the first two parts of Xros Wars are not recommended because of its artistry and writing problems. Xros Wars: The Young Hunters that Leapt through Time is a well animated example of how Digimon has changed over the years, but it is a different beast to previous installments.
Digimon Adventure, Tri and Tamers are still relevant today as a high quality anime for children and solid action/adventure series that stands above other anime made to sell toys. They are certainly not worth dismissing at first glance, and if nothing else it can fill in some anime history gaps as Digimon is a franchise that influenced many anime fans today. Apart from those two, if Digimon is not one’s cup of tea, viewers may be interested in Selector Infected Wixoss (2014), a 12 episode character-driven anime based on females playing a card game.
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