The last time that I watched this season of Digimon, I was a little kid.
The earliest memory of it was that even as I loved the artistic design, I remember being outraged, alongside my brother, that the producers dared to change the lead Digidestined; how could they causelessly abandon the entire original crew, I raged. It is amusing to look back on it now since that anger dissipated once Small Me figured out that the original Digidestined were there in full throughout the season. So, though the show started with some ambiguity, a sort of “wrong foot” affair, it quickly blossomed into one of my favorite seasons of the series.
It has now been over a decade since that period of my life. Much has happened in that time– love, loss, puberty– but what has not changed is Digimon’s place in my heart, as sentimental as it sounds. Recently, due to a night after a bit too much of ‘the shine’, I bought a second season set online in a fit of reminisce. I have just finished watching it and have a few words to say; did I like it, love it, hate it? Is the show as good as I remember? What has aged well and not? Well, read below to find out!
Prefatory words aside, I loved re-watching this season.
Other than re-living a classic from my younger years, the second season of Digimon remains a great show. It being a kid’s show, it is, of course, far from perfect; but, that is the thing, considering it for what it is, I was impressed. Much about the show is to be commended and though in this viewing I was some grips, these issues do not distract me from remembering what I loved about the franchise. If anything, this viewing solidified my childhood appreciation and makes a potent reminder about why Digimon will always be the better “–mon” children’s show. But, since this is quickly running the risk of becoming abstract, let me break it down for you.
The story of Digimon is simple… on the surface. But, this is the short version: in each season, a group of children are “chosen” by the Digital World to save it from evil powers. This time around, the kids chosen are associates to the original Digidestined and they are called upon to confront an evil tyrant known as The Digimon Emperor, a kid much like themselves who has been putting up control spires and enslaving digimon.
Because much happens over the course of the season and I could go on for pages and pages explaining, and the fact that wikis for this season undoubtedly exist and would do a much better job at explaining it than I, I will not go into detail. I will simply say that this season of Digimon takes a lot of twists and turns and it is extremely well-done for a Saturday morning children’s program. There is a reason why this season is my favorite and it has to do with how well all the piece work together. Since I will talk about the story a bit more in the upcoming segments, then I will leave it be for now.
One of the reasons why the second season is my favorite is because of the writing. I am not saying that it is masterfully done. It isn’t. There is a lot of clichés, puns, lame jokes and so forth; it is a kid’s show and will have that facet to its writing. But, if you consider what the show is trying to explain to young viewers, the kind of story being told– one about friendship, loneliness, and loss– then the fact that some stilted dialog and weird translation issues pop up from time to time, can be forgiven. Besides, on occasion, the writing gives you something genuinely funny or clever that you would forget that it is in fact a kid’s show.
In a sense, the show follows a minimalist framework with dialog. When characters speak and their mouths must be animated, the point is quick– this is the minimalist aspect. But, in another sense, whenever there is blank space to give the characters voice without animation, one can expect a lot of quick language and this is where we see the eye-rolling jokes and quick sassy dialog. But, it all works out well, I feel. Though the writing is not inspired in the same way Miltonic poetry might be, it still retains a kind of charm which is unique to Digimon. I would give it a firm seven and a half stars out of ten. If the writing wasn’t working toward such a complex end, then the rating would be lower, but remembering the sophisticated themes which it is aiming for, I can’t help but give it a higher score for ambition.
The new characters is where this season shines.
We see a handful of new characters but the main attraction is Davis and Ken. This is not to say that the other new characters don’t have their strengths, because they do, but just not in the same way that Davis and Ken do. Why is this? Well, to put it bluntly, we can thank Bromance. Bromance and friendship.
Ken is a deep character. So much so, in fact, that the voice actor who plays him, an experienced actor who has played literally hundreds of anime characters, has said that Ken is the deepest and most complex character he has voiced.
This says something and anyone who watches this season from beginning to end will know that it is true.
Ken starts out as the cold and cruel Digimon Emperor. He is selfish, lonely, and isolated due to his high intelligence. Reeling in sadness, self-hate, and confusion after his older brother dies, Ken retreats to the Digital world where he slowly forgets himself and becomes despotic, eventually re-naming himself the Digimon Emperor.
Davis, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to have much to him. At first, he seems nothing more than the generic spiky-haired lead. Though that is true, it also doesn’t mean he doesn’t have deeper layers. Being one of the only Digidestined who cares not a lick about what others think of him and manages to pull up his friends, Davis has that welcoming personality which though it casual in anime, somehow here appears realistic. Because of this realism, his outgoing, extroverted, courageous personality appears all the more remarkable, even if it is pretty standard in actual reality.
So, fast forward a bit and Ken is dethroned. He slowly self-criticizes and comes to an epiphany. He starts to forgive himself and become at peace with himself. Though Davis and the other Digidestined ask him to join them at several points, he always says that he needs some more time to think things over.
This is the point, this is what is most endearing about Ken’s arc: that for all the history and negativity that Ken has, his acclimation to the other Digidestined is so realistic that it is charming. Whether it is him never formally joining the group but simply “showing up” and spending time with them, or Ken super-nervous about handing out invitations to a Christmas celebration, his journey from digital overlord to normal pre-pubescent kid, is that lovely combination of sentimental and worldly; it is great and looking at it in full makes me appreciate the writing all the more.
What makes this transition all the better is Ken’s relation to Davis.
Davis’s belief in Ken’s goodness, outgoing energy to make Ken his friend, his predisposition to give him attention, and the general closeness which they can be found to each other (seriously, go back and watch the show, Ken and Davis are physically close more time than you would think…), is charming and only made better by Ken’s reciprocity; Ken sleeps over at Davis’s house, gives Davis the first Christmas invitation, and when Ken is kidnapped, openly shouts for Davis to rescue him, while, during the final battle, fights against his fear to stand beside Davis and support him despite his shaking arm.
It is cute. Really cute.
As I said, it is a bromance and a sweet one at that. It is memorable because we know where Ken came from and we know Davis’s personality; seeing both support and help one another, to understand and struggle with one another, is simply a feat of writing, animation, and story telling in a medium (Children’s Anime), which often falls short of such sophistication.
Although other characters have depth, including Cody and the antagonist, it is the chemistry between Ken and Davis that seal it for me and make this season one of the most touching.
I won’t say much about the animation because, well, there is not a whole lot to say. Is it great? No, obviously not. But, honestly, for a children’s show made close to two decades ago, I think it holds up pretty well, so when it originally aired, I think the animation, including the CGI animation from the Digivovling, was great for the period. Today, it may be outdated, but back then, it was great.
Because there is over fifty episodes and was designed to air every Saturday, animation is, of course, skimped out on every once in a while, but it is done so in non-obtrusive ways. The camera, then, floats in interesting locations to ensure that the animators don’t need to draw mouths or whatever. Along with a variety of perspective techniques, though there are moments which feature little movement, together with the voice over, make it feel more active than it actually is. I appreciate these slights of hand and since I feel they are done a lot better here than in many such kid’s shows, I am willing to be more forgiving than some people and give it a seven out of ten (six and a half if I was feeling bitter). The point is, these are techniques which all kid’s shows do, or, at least did back then in regards to anime, so judging Digimon on its own merits, I think it could have been much worse.
Watching this season again, I was struck by all the content I had completely forgotten about but, once I was reminded of, was completely enamored with during my formative years.
For example, I had forgotten about most of the season! I remembered the control spires in the real world and vaguely Mummymon and spider-freak, but as for Blackwargreymon and the Destiny Stones, the kids in the real world infected by Dark Spores… all of that I had banished from my mind.
Seeing it again, it holds up well. This time around, I adored Blackwargreymon’s existential Angst and moody persona, I was struck by how the “Digimon World Tour” episodes took place within the span of a single day, and now I actually understood why the kids were infected with the spores, because they wanted to emulate Ken; most of all, I was able to sympathize with the so-called antagonist since I actually understood his desire and struggle. In all, it was a delight to re-live these events.
Of course, there were hiccups.
These mostly had to do with what I supposed were localization issues. For example, during numerous episodes, there were weird continuity problems: characters in one episode seemed to resolve their conflicts and become friends, only to revert to bitter foes in the next episode (an example is the odd conflict between Cody and Ken); then, in other episodes, I found how characters related to one another simply weird (here, I am thinking of how TJ ‘grandfather’ not only looks far too young to be a grandfather, but why he was having wine with this pre-pubescent Digidestined girl…).
These were not issues which got in the way of me enjoying the show. After all, I could tell it was just side-effect of the translation and localization process. One cannot expect everything to go down smoothly when changing around so much cultural and linguistic matters. So, it was fine; all’s I am saying is that these were noticeable defects in an otherwise well-blended anime smoothie.
Not much to write home about, to be honest. Most of the sound effects and background music were carried over from the first season. Which is to say that it is charming but only in the sense that sounds in the digital world sound as you expect them. What was original to this season, though, was the rocking track which usually plays at the end of each episode as the evil digimon is defeated; coupled with that sad track which is sometimes played during the tender moments of loss and hardship, and you have a poignant soundtrack that sets the mood well. Nothing super spectacular, to be honest, but far from forgettable as well. I would, again, give it a solid seven out of ten.
My favorite season of Digimon is the fourth, my least favorite is the third (at least until I am able to watch them again and make a final decision now that I am older!). Re-watching this classic season and re-living all of Ken’s drama, the showdown with that classic villain, and just the adventure in general, was superb. Once in a while, it is cute to put on trial your childhood classics and for me, this was a positive experience as this time around, unlike when I put the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie on trial (expect a “Let’s Watch” to this later…), it was a fun and enlightening experience. Rest assured, I will, someday soon, buy the other seasons and put them up to scrutiny, but, until then, I will sound off with this: Digimon remains an amazing show and I am happy I gave it a second chance.