Reviews

Sep 25, 2021
SoldierDream (All reviews)
“This is Taichi and Agumon’s last adventure” – Toei Animation, 2019.

With that categorical catchphrase, Toei Animation lied to all of us Digimon Adventure fans two years ago. As a way to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the series that kicked off the franchise, it announced with great fanfare that it would be making one last movie -eventually called “Last Evolution Kizuna”- and that it would truly be the last adventure. The last one. This was it. No more. To say goodbye to the series and characters we’ve loved for more than two decades now. Despite the bitter taste in our mouths with the disappointing result of Tri, we were looking forward to it anyway. I, the same as many others, had a feeling that in this occasion Toei finally would get it right with an Adventure project ever since “Our War Game”. And so it was. It was a great farewell, wasn’t it? Except that, well…it never really was. In February 2020, the same month of Kizuna’s premiere, Toei announced that it would be soon releasing “Digimon Adventure:” (yes, being the “:” the only title-difference) a reboot of the initial series of the franchise that settled down to be the more iconic, financially successful and socially remembered of all. A new beginning, from scratch, that would this time take into account the technological and social changes (which include of course, the fact that unlike the 90s, when the idea didn’t even cross the minds of anyone, now kids own cellphones and that’s totally fine) of the last 20 years. Taichi and Agumon’s adventures were far from saying goodbye.

Naturally, many of us were surprised and some felt betrayed: Kizuna wasn’t ever going to be really the last adventure. Or technically… it was… but in a deceptive way; it was going to be the last but only the last of the first run, so that this new one “didn't count”. But to us, lifelong fans, it very well did count. These are our characters and our creatures we’ve always loved. It wasn’t going to leave us indifferent. And as such, no matter what, we were going to be part of it anyway. Personally, being the original (ahg, sucks having to refer to it now as “the original”) one of my all-time favorite anime series, just moving on and ignoring it was simply not an option. We were going to watch it anyway. Which leads us to the question: but can it be said that this was for us? To “milk on nostalgia” like many suggest? What exactly was Toei trying to do here, to achieve here? What was the intention? Who was trying to appeal? The historical fanbase, the current children generation to introduce the series to them in hopes of building up a new fanbase, or both?

Well, after finishing the series now 1.5 years later, I can say with high degree of confidence that to us, the old fans, it definitely wasn’t.

Or to be more precise…it couldn’t be. Because it’s impossible to believe something like that. Digimon Adventure (2020) (from now on: 2020), is so deeply inferior to its 1999 counterpart both in quality and emotional resonance that there is just no way. Despite the presence of numerous narrative similarities, references and tributes it pays to its inspiring series (even some shots were pretty much identical to the ones seen in the original and some similar events took place in exactly the same episode number) that any Adventure fan would identify immediately, it’s quite hard to think that they did this with us in mind with the intention to easily cash-in nostalgia-based bucks (I find it funny to still see people around believing this). Because no way, this reboot -that dares to bear the same name of the series we love-, wasn’t the Digimon Adventure we always knew and wasn’t ever even close to it. Basically, it has or shows little to nothing of the strengths that made the original great and catapulted it to be regarded as one of the best anime series for kids that could furthermore be also enjoyed by the more grown-ups (in fact, it’s among the few anime series I can think of that can be enjoyed by pretty much all ages: from a 5-year-old toddler to a 95-year-old elder), if not the best. With the exception of animation quality and action sequences (because credit due where credit is due: this time the budget was much higher and you could notice it, with consistent great visual quality and with the digimon battles being far more dynamic, kinetic and exciting than those of 1999, consisting in much more than just one-hit and that’s all, and I’d even dare to say it’s the best looking Toei Animation modern work, so nothing to complain about here), absolutely everything else was shockingly worse, for a lack of a better expression. But how worse exactly? What exactly happened here?

To sum it up, the entire heart and soul of the original series are just gone now, leaving us only with an empty, lifeless body. While on surface it was about a group of kids and their creatures defeating evil guys with standard world-domination goals (for the most part though), at its core in reality was a story about them growing up, learning and becoming better people in the way in order to succeed with the task entrusted to them. It emphasized in relationships, bonding, life lessons, and the idea of overcoming impossible odds thanks to values and personal growth. It gave us and made us want to follow in their journey a large set of eight highly charismatic, immature kids as main characters (16 (!) if counting their pet-partners) all with distinctive personalities, backstories and interesting struggles and/or weaknesses they had to overcome, interacting with each other and receiving each a fair share of attention at some point. They felt real, relatable and we could grow to love, and all this channeled through a generally well-thought, ever-engaging narrative that knew how to build lots of well-earned powerful, unforgettable moments and was shrouded in a particular charm thanks to a careful artistic and musical direction, which in the end provided a very rewarding experience and turned it into a solid kids’ series that could also be enjoyed by adults and be appreciated forever.

2020, has nothing of that. Our beloved characters went from kids that felt real, who were insecure, flawed, had their own struggles to overcome and lessons to learn in the way and with whom we could become fond of and be interested in their journey, to these lifeless, robotic superheroes who for worse saw themselves as the superheroes of the show with the duty to save the world always making sure to show their badassery fearlessly riding on top of their creatures while they were in fighting-mode and performed risky attacks even if that implied exposing themselves to unnecessary physical danger, and in the worst way possible. On this occasion, they don’t have flaws to overcome, they are perfect, very cool, they don’t suffer, they don’t have motivations, insecurities or anxieties and you can barely feel a soul inside them. They don’t live through a maturing or learning process where they have to learn how to get along and strengthen bonds. They don’t at least feel surprise or confusion to know about the existence of another world. This time they don’t miss home, don’t feel fear, they never argue, they don’t have internal conflicts to solve and they almost never commit mistakes to take lessons from. There’s barely anything of real interest humanly speaking going on for them. 1999 had normal, ordinary kids made of flesh and bones who behaved and spoke according to their age, felt human and had to learn to be strong, overcome their fears, learn to get along, solve conflicts and grow up. 2020 has soulless, indestructible superheroes apparently made of iron, because now they can even be thrown to the ground at full speed from the skies, be crashed against giant logs at high speed, be engulfed in flames, even receive impacts of hyperbeams or other extreme situations, and survive like nothing. They just didn’t feel like real kids, and as a result it was impossible for us to connect with them and be interested in them, make us feel part of the group and making us care for anything they did or had to do or happened to them and feel empathy towards them at all. Thanks to this the series suffers from a chronic emotional weight deficiency which is shocking to notice for anyone who has seen the original and that wonderful ability it had of enabling us to project our inner kid souls into them, making us feel like kids again (one of the main adult appeals of the original) is gone now. Whatever great moments it tried to pull off were ineffective. And while this may not be a problem for a current kid, this evidently makes it significantly less valuable from the perspective of the now historical adult fan. So no, it couldn’t be for us. Because the cast we love wasn’t here, only their soulless bodies and in different clothes.

While all main characters are an inferior version of their 1999 counterparts, in relation to character-wise mistakes, there are two of them that deserve a special mention for being the definite worst particular offenders. The first one is the absolutely obscene share of attention the main of the eight kids received from the writers. One thing we all loved from the original was how, despite acknowledging that the natural-born leader and the natural-born rival would need a bit more screentime due to their more relevant positions in the group and narrative, it still always made sure to give the rest a fair share of spotlight, participation and credit. They also mattered. This helped providing a sense of variety. On multiple occasions it even let another kid different than the main one finish an important enemy. But 2020 also forgot that. The attention gap is disproportionate. Here Taichi does everything important. Here he gets all the final glory. He gets a second mega before any of the rest even gets his first, in an episode where it looked like another character would get it. He gets to do the final hit even when it looked like the story was pushing for another powerful digimon of another kid to get the honor. He is the star of the opening and he’s always the eyecatch. And they didn’t even bother to hide it, through shamelessly contrived events to separate him from the rest and make sure they won’t interfere in his demonstration of badassery with his partner digimon. Even though I like the character, this just was excessive and unfair. The situation became increasingly worse to even reaching the point in the last part where he literally teleported through the Digitalworld to guarantee his presence in every single episode; even in those where he didn’t have absolutely anything to do there, he always managed to magically pop up. “Oh, I was just passing by and thought it was a good idea to be here right where you got to be too, what a coincidence!”. Yeah right. It essentially became trolling. There was even an episode with hundreds of Taichi’s clones!

The second one was the Koushirou/Izzy case, turned this time into the god of information. Look, it’s one thing to be the smart, genius kid of the group, but another completely different one to be an almost omniscient god. He always knew and discovered everything immediately and effortlessly, had access to classified information a kid his age should never have, hacked international systems and organizations, controlled ships from his laptop, came up with solutions adults with way more experience than him for some reason couldn’t come up with before, and nothing was ever an obstacle to him. Even Yamato once asked “how he knew all that?” with Taichi literally answering “because he’s so cool and knows everything”. Yes, in the original he was also the boy genius, he also had his laptop and he also eventually knew what was going on, however there it was more grounded, not only because he was an actual character that felt real, but also because you could see he obtained information through actual time and effort, with more naturalism. Here instead, he was more like a robotic know-it-all problem-solver with this constant “oh yeah since I’m the smartest one here I’ll give you all the info you need immediately because I’m here to do that” attitude. Heck, even that solve-everything robot from the movie Interstellar had more soul than him. It was sad to see how the writers overexploited his skills and made him go from a character to a hyper-convenient tool.

The digimon partners didn’t save themselves from the character-reduction either. They went from creatures who had a voice to creatures who are just there to battle whenever they were required at zero cost. They always evolve whenever they want or need or have to, never get tired and never go back to their in-training forms. This time they barely had any role or significance for the children’s growth and barely had anything of interest regarding relation-development, natural bonding or conflicts with their kid partners as it happened in 1999. You could almost listen to them internally screaming: “please, don’t treat us just like weapons!”, since they at least retained their personalities for the most part. In relation to them, the nice key concept of evolving-thanks-to-evolving (tying the creature’s power to growth as individuals of the kids) is also gone now. The digimon achieves the next stage quite cheaply, not triggered by an important event or spiritual evolution of the kid or a highly special occurrence, but instead out of random uninteresting, irrelevant circumstances which were not even framed within the true plot or character-story or just because they eventually had to appear with little to no proper buildup, so the heart and main idea of the series are lost. This was especially disappointing to see in the mega digievolutions since for them, being the final evolutionary stage, it should have been better; it’s supposed to be due to something more compelling and special, lacking the desired emotional impact and ending up being just dull show-ups. It should be noted that there are moments when it tries or remembers having to do that, but it arrives late (not even the crests were introduced when they should and didn’t play major roles here) and they don’t work because they feel highly forced and can’t feel earned or inspiring enough if the kid himself doesn’t feel relatable to begin with.

Moving to speak about narrative elements, it doesn’t do any better. The original may have had some issues you could criticize it for, but in general it had a well-thought or structured storyline, with every episode being relevant and contributing for plot progression, with moments correctly timed, without ever losing focus (and I need to be emphatic on this) and virtually zero uninteresting, skippable-like moments in a 54 episodes run, never letting you go. Little of this can be said about 2020. Badly structured with wrongly, awkwardly timed events, with parts that should have come beforehand coming afterward and vice-versa, episodes that would have worked better as introductory coming during the end, others that would have worked better in the end coming in the beginning or in the middle (like Millenniummon: which should have been the last enemy given the size and scale of the conflict, with even god-digimons appearing to participate in a Magnus, heavenly-like fight, something more appropriate and effective for endings), with endgame stages even in the first episodes (it was nice if they wanted to pay homage to Our War Game, but that was not the moment). Many light, silly episodes in both the second and third arcs when they can only work and should only be placed at the beginning to establish characters, provide background and so on. There is a noticeable lack of true tension for several episodes even when there’s a risky threat just around the corner. In the second, instead of being worried by the imminent resurrection of a legendary monster, they have time for irrelevant, random trivialities like rescuing enslaved digimon in a theme park, episodes about digimons angry because couldn’t eat french fries, water disputes among digimon we can’t care less for and even time to relax playing soccer like nothing, and for about 10 episodes in a row it forgets to actually move the plot wasting time with useless content that altogether never amounted to anything of true value for the viewer. In the third, they say they are going on a mission to investigate the mystery of the crests, yet barely end up doing things that have to do with that or that could give them clues. Instead, we have random adventuring episodes where Joe helps digimons recovering their onsen, Hikari protecting digieggs, Mimi training in a digimon school or Yamato helping random digimon villagers with a ghost samurai, and all this in the final stretch when the great calamity great, even worse than Millenniummon, would be soon happening and shit was supposed to be real. No tension, no thrill, no drama, no fun. Most of these types of episodes were entirely worthless with our kids dealing with disconnected situations that contributed nothing of real value in terms of plot progression, character growth or bringing in a new digievolution, serving little to no purpose and leaving no impact on future events.

Must be said that yes, the original did have light moments and our kids did occasionally deviate from the mission and took some time to rest (like when they went to eat burgers after coming back to the real world), however, this was minimal, always right-timed and never came at the expense of plot-progression, because these moments where framed within it and always brought in something of value, so they worked and provided tonal variety. Must be also mentioned that eventually (but lamely) it does attempt to develop a character (somehow), however, it didn’t matter much because similarly, that development wasn’t framed within a plot, limiting its potential. The original, to the contrary, cleverly made sure that the development always came hand-in-hand with progression, tying character with plot almost perfectly. Here, however, it’s like an attempt of one or the other. It comes as separated (if any development happens first of course). The idea is to bring it naturally while the story is also moving, however here it came during episodes with situations that had no relation to the stake of the arc. Another type of narrative sin was this absurd series of cyber world threats we could never care for because everything felt like a total joke with all of them coming right after the previous one, with no real sense of weight and which also felt like only secondary job assigned to Koushiro while Taichi and Yamato dealt with all the important stuff, in an attempt to create drama and tension which completely failed. That the missiles, the ships, the satellites, the NASA, whatever. Finally, the execution wasn’t as engaging; you won’t see this time the sense of mystery and feeling lost in another strange world of the Devimon arc, the sense of thrill of the Myotismon arc or the sense of drama and darkness of the Dark Masters arc of the original series, which largely helped to explain its entertainment value.

So, as it should be clear by now, all this leads us to the inevitable conclusion that this reboot was definitely not intended for us (because it’s impossible to believe they could have wanted to give us such an inferior show), but in reality for a younger new audience; the current generation of new children, in hopes to capture their fresh interest and devotion, which makes things tricky when it comes to the general judgment of this series since, despite being a shameful near-worthless work for the historical fan, this automatically means in reality it should be judged according to how well it could have satisfied these desired new ones. And while -evidently- I don’t have kid-eyes anymore to know this exactly, reasonably my own experience as a kid watching the original series would serve as a fair approximation. Given that, I would say the series, even with all its notorious issues already explained, could admittedly have passed as fine entertainment for kids who mainly just wanted to see the cool creatures in action and know what their following new cool evolutions, designs and special attacks were going to be (who do we want to fool here), if not because i) the narrative is a mess and ii) the show also fails to properly build hype for said new evolutions.

The first point was already described before. While kids may not pay much attention or care too much about the characters and their struggles, they can still notice or perceive some questionable plot developments or structures coming off as odd or get the feeling some things are not right. As for the second point, what I mean is that it fails to give value to evolutions, in terms of buildup and payoff; to make them memorable, you must first create the expectation and then after enough time has passed, deliver them in the right time. The original made sure to follow this by creating the expectations for them and once they arrived, use them for the right amount of time before the following did. However, in 2020 the ultimates just arrive too early in the story to be able to even create the hype (in the 10s, as opposed to the 20s-30s of original), one right after the other, under-using the adult forms, rendering them as only means or obstacles that the story should have to get rid of quickly and leaving little room for ultimate form-expectation. This also makes their appearances not living up to the potential emotional impact they could have enjoyed thanks to having made us wait for them for a significant amount of time. And while they did wait enough before introducing the mega forms (at least, for everyone who wasn’t Agumon), unfortunately, the way they did it wasn’t great or special anymore. They were just given too easily. They didn’t come due to situations of high emotional catharsis, high expectation or that were even at least framed into the plot, or thanks to special/unique occurrences (to not say “miracle”) that give more meaning and weight, but instead due to completely random, trivial circumstances we could never really care for, sadly devaluing their “final, special and rare stage” status. I appreciate they have decided this time to include the mega forms for everyone (though I argue the original still worked well without doing this), since that feels fairer to the rest of the cast, but now that you do, at least do it well, which unfortunately wasn’t the case. It almost felt like they brought them up just because “we have to” not caring too much (if any) about the “why”, the “when” and the “how” of their introductions. Given this, I have to even doubt it could have been an actually satisfying and effective experience to the real intended new audience. I doubt I could have been as intrigued with all these cool creatures and their hype-digievolutions watching this reboot as a kid as much as I did back then in 2000 when I was watching the original series.

All in all, I think at this point it’s needless to say that, being the original series one of my all-time favorites, I’m more than just disappointed with the sole existence of this modern reboot. I won’t lie by claiming I wasn’t initially interested and enthusiastic about it, because as a fan of the original that couldn’t be the case, however, with a final outcome as poor as this one, in the end you cannot help but end up questioning what was even the point. The Toei team clearly wanted to reach the current kids' generation and introduce them to the Adventure universe, but what comes as incomprehensible is how could it be possible that they had come up with something so noticeably inferior when they already counted with a great original work serving as a basis or benchmark. Given its reboot nature, the bare minimum here was taking the original series and crafting a new work on par or at least close to its quality, and even taking advantage of the opportunity to improve on past flaws (because as much as we love the original series, it’s not like it was exactly free of them and for everything there is always room for improvement), but what happened here was the complete opposite; instead of improving or at least keeping the same quality levels, they only worsened them. Did they even notice what they were doing? Were they even truly caring? In the end, if they were going to deliver something this inferior, it would have been better doing so with other characters and another universe, so that the Adventure name and brand didn’t bear the reputational costs. The truth is, personally I don’t really care much about 2020 since the vastly superior original 1999 series will always be there, but what does bother me is that it’s a shame to realize how your beloved title, characters and creatures were used and humiliated in something so lame with none of the charm and strengths that characterized the original series and allowed it to earn its position as one of the best kids’ TV anime ever.

And no, as a reboot, nobody expected an exact 1:1 copy of the first series, but what 2020 did was just unacceptable. Like everything else in life, doing things for the second time and doing them so significantly worse even when in the first time you already succeeded and you had all the tools in your hands (and even more than the first time) to succeed again, should never be accepted, because that can only happen when you deliberately reduce the efforts. 2020 is quite possibly the worst Digimon entry of the franchise and, as it isn’t already long enough, is yet another addition to the list of Toei Animation’s classics revival failures of the past decade. It only served to deteriorate the value of the Adventure name and didn’t work for any type of audience; for the old, historical fans that could have felt an interest in checking out a new version of the show, it pretty much felt like a bad joke, especially right after having experimented an already great conclusion to it with “Last Evolution Kizuna”, and for the new generations of kids this series was intended for, I can’t help but feel sorry for them for having been born in times where current Digimon producers thought they didn’t deserve better and had to grow up watching both uninspired and messy kids-oriented productions like this one. Even with all their huge flaws, at least the previous Adventure installments like 02 and Tri had a soul. 2020, didn’t even have one. 02 and Tri may have failed, but at least they tried. 2020 not only failed, it didn’t even try! And even though I’ve always insisted that you cannot treat and judge a kids-oriented series in the exact same way and with the exact same bars you would do it with a more teen and/or adult-oriented/designed one, and that it pains me having to give a low score to a class of series which on essence just want to bring entertainment (and hopefully, values) to the youngest of all audiences (since it is pretty much the equivalent of grabbing an innocent child who misbehaved and slamming him against the wall), the heart and care put into this series were so unbelievably low that this time I cannot give much of that benefit. Digimon Adventure (2020) is such a terrible involution (no pun intended) of the classic series whose name, success and legacy it miserably tried to capitalize on, that unfortunately, it leaves me with no other option. 3.5/10.