Note: This is a review of the English language version of the series. As such, any discrepancies between it and the original Japanese script will not be taken into account unless I feel it is necessary.
Normally, when I review an anime series or movie, I judge each series by the same general merits, as any story should be able to provide an excellent level of entertainment regardless of length, genre, or intended audience. However, there is one demographic that this rule changes for, and that would be for shows aimed at a child audience. Of course it would be ridiculous to rate the quality of a kids' show the same way I would rate Cowboy Bebop or The Wind Rises, so, rather than rate it solely on its storytelling and animation, I've instead approached it from a different angle: if I were to have a kid in the future, is this something that I would want him or her to grow up watching?
As I brainstormed what I thought were the most important elements of a preferred TV show for my possible future child, the first thing that came to my mind was some sort of lesson or message that he or she can take away from the series, and in that regard, Digimon Adventure is almost always on the ball. The show is practically built upon lessons regarding friendship, hard work, kindness, and learning to see the perspectives of others, all of which are invaluable lessons for a growing child to learn. That being said, there were certain times where it felt like it was laying it on too thick, such as a line early in the series where an evil Digimon says "I can't believe they've already learned the power of teamwork," though this may just be the fact that I'm viewing this as an adult and I'm fully aware of the lessons that it's teaching. In the end, the lesson itself is still powerful despite its extremely direct method of conveying it.
While Digimon could have simply stopped there, it also goes on to tackle a lot of problems that children might have in their daily lives, some of which end up going a lot deeper than you would expect. Topics like divorce, parent-child relationships, and much more are explored just enough to be able to relate to children in similar circumstances, but not so much that it beats you over the head with it and burdens the actual story; in fact, it often becomes an integral part of the story and pulls it off rather well, and for a series whose primary purpose was to serve as a marketing platform for merchandise, that's an astounding feat.
Apart from the lessons it teaches, I feel that it's also important to understand what my future child would want from this series, and the answer for that is quite clear: a vast, open world to explore and discover that's filled with a variety of colorful characters and creatures to interact with, and Digimon has that in droves. From the expansive Digital World to the hundreds of different Digimon to meet, this series is a child's proverbial dreamland. Additionally, another, more subtle element that adds to a child's viewing experience is the sense of independence. Alongside other kids' anime like Pokémon, Digimon places its characters in a position where they are living and fighting independently of their parents, and this sense of freedom is highly valued by its target audience. However, that isn't to say that the parents are shunned altogether. In fact, the main children's parents seem to serve as an emotional core and drive for them; they want to grow strong enough to be able to protect the ones they love, which also ends up serving as yet another underlying message to be taught. Finally, of course, when designing a show for kids, you can't forget the action as well, and there's a heavy load of the stuff throughout the series to keep the kids entertained when the story elements die down a bit.
All of that aside, I do need to address the writing quality of this series. Yes, I am aware that the target audience for this show probably wouldn't notice it, but there are a ton of facepalm-worthy moments throughout the English script. This series has a tendency to make a lot of really bad jokes, some that even a kid probably wouldn't laugh at, and it also has moments where the writing doesn't make any sense at all. However, there were also some moments that actually had me laughing a bit, so the writing level does tend to fluctuate by a huge margin. As for the ending, I honestly felt like the last two episodes weren't necessary at all, and it was a bit obvious that they had been told to pad the series out a bit more, but the final scenes of the series still had an acceptable resolution to them.
The characters in this series comprise a gathering of several different stereotypes: Tai is the bold and brash leader, Matt is the exact opposite and gets into fights with Tai a lot and also has a little brother to look after, Sora is the tomboy who still cares a lot for everyone, Izzy is the computer whiz, Joe is the klutzy one, Mimi is the pampered one, and TK is the "little kid" type and is Matt's younger brother; additionally, we later get introduced to the "perfect little sister" character in the form of Tai's sister, Kari. While most of these characters were inoffensive and likable, some to the point of me getting excited just by them being on-screen, there were a few that I had problems with. Matt was probably the source of the most irritation throughout the series (though perhaps that's because I grew up inspired by Tai's personality the most), and he often ended up lashing out at others for no reason other than being upset by something, though they do usually show him owning up to his mistakes later and finding new resolve inside himself. In fact, practically every time a character makes a big mistake and hurts one of their friends, we get to see them go through the process of understanding what they did wrong, and this is something that I love seeing in children's shows, as it gives them a chance to fully understand concepts of right and wrong and why certain things help or hurt other people.
As for antagonists, the majority of them are your standard Saturday morning cartoon villains with no redeeming qualities to them, though there was one character towards the end of the series called Cherrymon that ended up being surprisingly devious and psychological, though it's a shame that he was only in the series for about two episodes.
The animation was produced by Toei Animation, and, as I've said before, Toei isn't exactly known for its stellar animation quality. Toei's always been much more about style over quality, and the fact that this is a kids' show with a limited budget makes this even more apparent. While the designs for both the Digimon and the main children characters are both memorable and appealing, especially to a younger audience, the actual quality of animation is extremely low. This is especially apparent any time a character or object moves across a frame, as it has a tendency to drift in a straight line like the object has been lazily layered onto the background. There's also the matter of the "Digivolving" sequences, where Digimon grow more powerful and change form, and while most of the latter stage Digivolutions looked fine, those for Greymon and Garurumon were done completely in CG, and I think most of us would like to forget what low-budget CG in 1999 looked like. All of that aside, the show does look "cool," and I'm sure that a kid would have no problem getting into its design.
Normally I would take this moment to talk about the dub, but since that's the only feasible option for a young child to view it in, then there's not much point. I will say though that some of the voice acting in this series was surprisingly good, while other parts were not-so surprisingly bad.
The soundtrack was composed by Takanori Arisawa, also known for his work on the Sailor Moon soundtrack, and the music in this series is perfect for a young audience: exciting and thrilling enough for them to get pumped up, but not too extreme and complicated so they can hum along to it. And, of course, we have the iconic Digimon theme song, which is more than catchy enough to get the kids running towards the TV.
Overall, I feel that Digimon Adventures is an excellent source of entertainment for children, and even adults who grew up with the show. Heck, I actually found myself on the edge of my seat at times for episodes I didn't remember seeing while I was growing up with the show, and I think that speaks volumes about how even a show created for marketing toys can still be transformed into an exciting viewing experience that can capture the heart of young children from all backgrounds.