The other day I was reading something about Pokemon Go, and though I enjoyed the article, I was struck by a throw away reference they made to Digimon and how uncool it was. It seemed ironic to me that in this stirring defense of Pokemon they felt free to bash Digimon, but then I remembered that this has been the status quo since the late 90s. I'm pretty sure that my friends and I were the only children of our generation to genuinely love both franchises. In celebration of that love, I decided I had better write a post about Pokemon's less popular contemporary.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s Pokemon ruled children's programing, games, and pass times. No self respecting child couldn't list every Pokemon by sight and millions of allowance dollars went to the trading cards and video games. But there was another Japanese franchise that had worked its way into American pop culture, one with a very similar name, Digimon. Contrary to popular belief, Digimon is not a knockoff of Pokemon, they just happen to both be named after monsters, (Digital Monsters and Pocket Monsters). Digimon was born from the tamagotchi craze of the mid 90s. If you aren't familiar, tamagotchi were small, egg shaped devices that held a digital pet, which you had to care for. Though they were popular with both boys and girls, tamagotchi were seen as being inherently feminine (for unknown reasons). Therefore, the company that made them, Bandai, created a masculine counterpart called Digital Monsters.
The basic design was the same as tamagotchi (raising the monsters, feeding them, cleaning up after them etc.) but there was also the added fun of being able to connect to your friends devises and battle. Because the monsters would be rendered in a highly pixelated form the first monsters were designed to be simple and cute, many of them were inspired by dinosaurs. But as the franchise gained popularity and Digimon expanded into a trading card game, the art was handed to Kenji Watanabe, an artist who was a fan of American comic book art. This gave Digimon their characteristic cool and tough appearance. They broadened from their dinosaur roots and ranged from animal like forms to human like forms, with a lot in between.
In 1999 the franchise was brought to theaters with its first movie, which was expanded into a television show. This was how I was introduced to the franchise and is my main interest to this day. So, here is a crash course in Digimon, as they are presented in the original two series and the first two movies. Digimon are creatures who live in the "DigiWorld", an alternate universe that was created from the real world's use of digital communications. These monsters come into being from Digi-eggs, and grow by way of Digivolution, wherein they take on new and more powerful forms. Unlike Pokemon's evolution, this is not a permanent step, as the Digimon will devolve into a lower level when they run out of energy or are hurt. In the television show (the english dub) these levels are baby, training, rookie, champion, ultimate, and mega.
The plot of the anime was centered around a group of kids who find themselves transported into the DigiWorld. There they are each paired with a Digimon partner and are informed that they are the DigiDestined, who, with the aid of their Digivices, allow their Digimon to be able to Digivolve. Basically it was a whole lot of Digi. Digimon are very intelligent, most of them being able to talk and more or less showing the same emotions and intellect of their human counterparts. This gave much more scope to the series for emotional development. Unlike Pokemon, Digimon were not pitted against each other for sport, but only fought if there was an evil Digimon trying to do harm. Often these "evil" Digimon were simply victims of a virus or had their data otherwise corrupted.
The first Digimon series, known as Digimon Adventures, was followed by a second series that took place in the same fictional universe, three years after the end of the first series. It introduced four new DigiDestined and their Digimon partners, and also a new form of Digivolution. This new type was known as Armor, and came in many different forms. Mostly this was a clever way of including the first generation as advisers, but since their Digivices could not use the Armor technique, they could not participate in the new adventures. This was my personal favorite series, and when me and my friends pretended to be DigiDestined, these were the Digimon we used.
After Digimon Adventures 2 there were four more series, but none of them dealt with the same exact universe and had none of the same characters. That is until this year, when the series was rebooted, for the 15th anniversary, as Digimon Adventures Tri. The whole series isn't out yet, but I have watched the first two parts and am pleased to say that it delivers on every aspect that made the original show great. We join the first generation of DigiDestined (the second generation having mysteriously disappeared) three years into the future. The once children are now high school students, complete with new teenager troubles. Along with a somewhat more sophisticated anime style, Tri introduces a slightly more adult look on life.
One of the best parts of Digimon is the more in depth characters and plots. The Pokemon anime might have been more popular, but Digimon was edgier and certainly had a superior plot. You really cared about each and every character and quite a few times you were brought to tears by their sacrifices and bonds. However, this was a kid's show and had plenty of humor and fun to go around. Of course, I'm not knocking Pokemon, which I also love. I can't for the life of me see why these two franchises can't live in harmony. They both have a lot to bring to the table and are different enough and similar enough to co-exist. With the resurgence of Pokemon Go I have seen quite a few negative remarks about Digimon and I can only hope that Tri will bring my fellow Digi-fans out of the shadows.
If you're interested in trying Digimon, the first two series are available to stream on Netflix. Digimon Adventures Tri is available to stream on Hulu and Crunchyroll. If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy this one about Pokemon.
Until next time, live on Digimon!