Plot “Seven kids at summer camp are mysteriously transported to another reality, where they are befriended by a group of strange creatures who call themselves “Digimon”, Digital Monsters. The seven children are now dubbed as the DigiDestined, tasked with protecting the Digital World from evil Digimon like Devimon. Can they save the Digital World and find a way back home?”
Finally after so many years Digimon is available on DVD in the UK. You don’t realise how happy I am to say that! I’ve been an avid follower of Digimon since the show first debuted here in 2000, and now thanks to Toei Animation and Manga UK it’s possible to own the complete first (and best) series of Digimon whereas before it’s only been possible to buy the first 8 episodes on discs. So for a series based on the virtual pet craze of the 90’s how does the series hold up 16 years later?
So it begins with our goggle headed protagonist Tai and his friends enjoying the sun and relaxing at their schools annual summer camp. That is until a freak snowstorm spoils their fun and an oddly placed aurora borealis shoots miniature digital devices at them. Their situation only gets worse as they’re sent hurtling into a new world filled with monsters. They’re quickly introduced to a group of friendly critters claiming to be their friends and calling themselves Digital Monsters, creatures who can evolve to higher forms in order to fight. This, along with its art style, lead people at the time to draw a lot of comparisons between this series and another popular kids anime that had released a little earlier, Pokemon. Comparing the two though would be a massive disservice, one focused on raising and competing monsters while the other had a fascination with technology and virtual reality. This was one of the reasons I feel in love with Digimon as well the fact the series had a slightly darker tone.
Initially the group’s main concern is finding a way home but they quickly become aware that they’ll need to find food and shelter to survive long enough to do that. As we come to learn each characters digital companion can only Digivolve with the help of their human counterpart which means overcoming some challenge or facing their own shortcomings. For example one of Mimi’s challenges is how she overcomes a guilty choice, having never really done anything wrong before as she’s always been quite friendly and quick to forgive. It’s not just the kids that develop over the course of the series either as their Digimon companions are also very well rounded characters. They’re more human always pushing their partners on, teaching and advising them on their journey and loyal to the end even in the darkest of times. To add to it, it was completely possible for Digimon to die which created some tear jerking moments and the series wasn’t afraid to delve into more adult subject matter such as the effects of divorce and adoption on children.
Initially the children are left to forage and explore File Island while looking for a way home, but they are consistently set upon by Digimon who have been infected by mysterious black gears. The culprit is the aptly named Devimon who knows why the children have been brought to this world and wants to put an end to them before they spoil his plans to rule the Digital World. These initial 15 episodes are very slow to get going as episodes progress with each child facing their first obstacle and watching their Digimon Digivolve into their Champion level form to overcome it. Because of this slow build up the Devimon story arc is easily the weakest section in the series but that shouldn’t put you off as after that, the story truly opens up. Digivolving to Ultimate through crests, returning home to find the Eighth Child, how the Digital World affects Real World and many more interesting villians to thwart.
I know the English Dub of Digimon gets a mixed reception because of the many localisation changes to make it more kid friendly in the west and the mixed performances in voice acting but to me I can’t imagine watching it any other way. Yes there are a couple of corny and over the top line deliveries at times but it’s still fun and enjoyable to listen to. Also revisiting the series I’ve been appreciating the way the dialogue has been written much more and jokes that I perhaps didn’t quite get when I was younger. Among the jokes and tech based puns one line that really stood out and made me giggle a bit too much because it set how old the series was, was“How did we get here? Did we squeeze in through the floppy drive?”
The boxset contains all 54 episodes of series one spread out on 8 discs, and unlike the recent Japanese re-release, you can only get it on DVD not Blu-ray. There’s also no option for Japanese with subtitles which is fine for fans that grew up with the cheesy but nostalgic English Dub but newcomers might be a little disappointed not to have the choice. It’s actually comes off as an even odder decision when you consider the boxsets only extra. Hidden away on the last disc are the opening and closing scenes with the original Japanese theme tune. Hop over to the DVD menu and you’ll find a very lacklustre setup as you get a great big shot of a Digivice and the Digimon logo with play and Episode Selection button. I wasn’t expecting too much for the menu presentation but I was a little disappointed. Even just using some of the promo art from the series (like the piece featured at the top of this article) would have been more interesting instead of something that feels rushed. A point that’s supported by discrepancies in the Episode Selection screen, where thumbnails and episode titles are incorrect on a number of discs.
16 years later and I’m not disappointed the Digimon: Digital Monsters boxset that I’ve been dreaming of for so long. The DVD menu has a couple of niggles true and it would have been nice to have the original Japanese dialogue but they’re very minor flaws in the long run to own a series that has held up surprisingly well. A perfect nostalgic trip for those that grew up in the 90’s with Digimon and it’s still easily accessible for newcomers. I cannot recommend this first iconic series highly enough and it’s a great time to get it as season 2 has just released also and the brilliant anniversary Tri films continue to come out.