If you grew up in the nineties, you were often either a Pokemon kid or a Digimon kid. I was a Digimon kid, and recently felt the urge to revisit a pivotal part of my childhood, the Digimon Movie. Much to my surprise as an adult, I recently found out that the film has a really complex and interesting backstory and actually is three Japanese Digimon OVAs blended into one to create the American dub film known as Digimon the Movie.
The first of the three arcs, this story was directed by the one and only Mamoru Hosoda, now renowned for his work on brilliant anime such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. Originally intended to be a pilot episode for the first Digimon series, this story begins with a 7 year old Tai and his 4 year old sister Kari, who meet their first Digimon when an egg emerges from their father’s computer and hatches. At first it’s small, friendly, and other than a large appetite and a tendency to poop a lot, totally harmless.
When it evolves into a huge Digimon and begins tearing up the neighbourhood, the siblings try to stop it, but are powerless and witness it fight another Digimon in an epic, Godzilla style smackdown that feels iconically Japanese. I can definitely see why the decision was made to have this as the opening for the Digimon Movie – it’s a dramatic introduction to the nature of Digimon and features a touching climactic moment that sets up the nature of the mutual trust and respect that humans and Digimon can forge for each other. It’s also really nice to see a younger Tai and Kari and how expressive their personalities already are at such a young age.
Digimon Adventure: Our War Game
The second arc, also directed by Mamoru Hosoda, is my favourite of the three. We see the original Digidestined kids in the middle of enjoying a lazy summer. When a Digimon appears on the internet and starts causing trouble, Izzy rushes over to Tai’s house. Unable to reach of any of the others (except Sora, who is free but angry with Tai and won’t speak to him), the two are forced to deal with the problem alone.
This storyline is the funniest for me, full of great quips and a lot of visual humour with many over the top facial expressions from the boys, Tai in particular, as the two try to puzzle their way around how to stop a Digimon that’s evolving faster than anything they’ve ever seen before and causing a huge ripple effect on technology in the real world.
As a Digimon fan, I was disappointed that we don’t see much of the other Digidestined and this segment is primarily just Tai and Izzy (and later some Matt and TK), but I love this quote from Mamoru Hosoda which explains why this is the case (Note: Taichi and Koutaro are the original Japanese names of Tai and Izzy respectively) –
“That kind of danger doesn’t necessarily occur when everyone is standing by. Danger is more likely to come during an “I’m a little busy right now” moment, and that’s part of the everyday life feel in the film. Taichi and Koutaro were just vacant at the right moment, and everyone else is either passing exams, in the countryside or in Hawaii, or pissed off because of Taichi. The fact that everyone cannot assemble in a dangerous situation is part of daily life, and also a part of the danger.”
Rewatching this as an adult I realised that this arc stands up really strongly in its own right, even if you haven’t seen Digimon before and don’t know anything about it, and the reason is that it blends the real with the fantastical in a really clever way, which is what always makes for a solid sci fi/fantasy drama story. We see Izzy and Tai grapple with technology on multiple levels throughout the narrative – Tai tries to write an apology email to Sora and angsts over whether it should be ‘From Tai’ or ‘Love Tai’ and then his email doesn’t even send. Izzy has to contend with the blue screen of death when the computer they’re using unexpectedly crashes, and later has to deal with the outpouring of love and support via email from those watching the virtual battle actually slowing their Digimon down.
This theme of technology primarily as a force for communication and human connection that unites people from around the globe is one Mamoru Hosoda later went on to recreate in Summer Wars in an incredibly similar way, right down to the virtual monster battle scenario. It was equally effective and proves if you’ve got a winning formula, why not reuse it? What’s more, the pacing of the battle scene works brilliantly, and the ten minute timer that amps up the tension almost perfectly matches the remaining ten minutes of the story unfolding in real time. When the final minute ticks down it’s paralleled against the mundane events of the real world, such as cramming for a test or waiting for a microwave to finish, again, keeping that comedic slant to take the edge off the tension.
Digimon Adventure 02: Digimon Hurricane Touchdown!! / Transcendent Evolution!! The Golden Digimentals
Yes, that really is the title of the last part of this film! The final arc of the movie introduces an American kid called Willis who had been referred to in the previous two arcs of the film, although this was all American dub editing, as Willis did not feature at all in the original Japanese films directed by Hosoda.
In the final arc, Kari and TK who are now older, are visiting New York to see Mimi. There, they encounter Willis in the middle of a showdown with a Digimon. Determined to get the bottom of it, they follow him. Willis, on his own journey, meets the new Digidestined kids – Davis, Yolei and Cody. The kids eventually learn that Willis accidentally unleashed the ‘Diaboromon’ virus that Tai and the others defeated in the previous story, which again is an American editing choice as this story was originally entirely unconnected to the previous two storylines.
As a kid I really enjoyed this part of the movie. As an adult, I still like all the characters, but the storyline is all over the place and just doesn’t really make sense. Part of the problem may be the way the original film was shortened and edited to match the overall storyline of the American film, but it’s a shame because it’s clear that whatever this was taken from was probably more coherent and interesting than what it ended up becoming.
Critics really panned this movie, complaining about its poor animation, nonsensical plot and lack of character focus. While I definitely see where they’re coming from, a lot of this is due to the fact that the film assumes you are going into it already knowing Digimon. If you do, you already know the characters and can keep up with the hyperactive plotlines. As someone who does I will admit that even this isn’t always enough to save the movie, stitched together from three different stories, from confusing choices. Trying to tack Willis’s story into the previous two really doesn’t work, and doesn’t help the final arc make sense. If the movie time had been extended, the final arc could have been given the time it deserved. In spite of this, the film has some funny moments and some epic battle scenes, no doubt thanks to Hosoda.
If you love Digimon and haven’t seen this movie yet, it’s definitely got plenty to make it worth your time! Even if it’s not your kind of thing normally, if you’re a Mamoru Hosoda fan it’s worth watching Our War Game at the very least. As Izzy would say, prodigious!