Digimon Adventure (2020) Reboot | Where Did It Go Wrong?
21 years ago, in the 1999 spring season when anime was not as popular as today, a kid anime took our childhood by storm. Namely Digimon Adventure, or simply Digimon, which was originated from the Tamagotchi toy (a type of 8-bit program aimed for kids, mostly at young boys that you can nurture your own virtual pet and fight against other kids when they grow).
This will most likely remind you of a certain similar franchise that ends with -Mon in its name. Yes, of course, the-ever-popular Pokemon. When Digimon debuted, it certainly had accusations that it tried to imitate Pokemon (basically a ripoff) and it deserved it, but unexpectedly, Digimon proved to be a far different experience than Pokemon, especially Digimon Adventure, the very first Digimon anime. It has a mature style of storytelling for a kid show, realistic writing, relatable characters, and outstanding character developments.
Every fan of both Pokemon and Digimon knows that the two franchises are nothing similar except Mon in their names and based on imaginary animal-like monsters that grow and fight. So this 54-episode anime series got the attention and recognition it deserves to the point it spans a multitude of sequels, spinoffs, and games even up to this day, and became a worthy rival of Pokemon in its own right.
And now, 21 years later, Toei Animation tries to call back the nostalgia and childhood experience we had in watching Digimon Adventure by making it a modern reboot, namely Digimon Adventure: (stylized “:” read as “Psi”) or simply Digimon Adventure 2020 or Digimon Reboot. But… things aren’t going expected as us fans want. This article will be about how the reboot pales in comparison to our childhood masterpiece by comparing various elements from storytelling perspectives.
Lack of “adventure” feel, or realistic writing
The plot of Digimon Adventure was always about some kids unknowingly ending up in a different world where Digital Monsters inhabit. The world they know nothing about is a mystery itself, they don’t know what their purpose for coming to this world, they don’t know where to go or how to go back to their own world. The only things they can rely on are their monster partners who can fight and protect them from wild Digimon and strange pocket-size devices that can make their partners evolve into building-size dinosaurs.
The kids struggle for their own survival, find food and shelters to sleep themselves, console each other for their homesickness and loneliness while contemplating and solving the foreign world’s mysteries. (The mysteries are solved one-by-one later leading to better world-building.) This aspect leads the viewer to feel for them that they’re just honest-to-goodness children inside out, making them relatable and realistic. Well, I mean in 1999’s original adventure.
Now in the reboot, the show throws information at you about what Digimon are and in just 2 seconds you dive into the show and are revealed about the kids’ purpose of why they’re invited into the Digital World in just the first episode. This is a mild case of info-dumping and prevents you from wanting to know what will come later. After an audacious fight that took place in the network which was an obvious attempt to call back 2000’s Digimon movie “Our War Game”, the kids are teleported ‘knowingly’ into the Digimon World to go into an adventure they know it’s coming. There they fight continuous battles against enemy Digimon without eating, sleeping, or taking a rest. They already know their purpose is to save the world from ambitious evil Digimon. This kind of high stake building and making 10 years old kids into world saviors with a hero complex from the start make the storytelling jump over the roof and leave no room for development later.
The kids are cardboard cutouts with no personality
In the original adventure, the kids show various emotions while struggling against the foreign world’s nature. They’re scared when they see a giant bug monster, they cry when they’re lonely, or they’re happy when their partner Digimon save their life or achieve a new evolution. Each kid also has their own personality like one being a natural leader, one being aloof, one being kind and caring, one being a tech-geek, one being a crybaby, one being a studious honor student, etc. These colorful personalities made a very impactful role in storytelling, in the form of achieving new evolutions for their Digimon partners, which again tied into each kid’s character development.
Now in the reboot, the kids are basically scarecrows that barely show emotions on their faces. It might work if they’re adults or even high school students for being cool and emotionless but an elementary schooler being indifferent in a world full of giant monsters and accepting it at face value like everyday thing make you doubt the writer’s sanity.
Unlocking new evolutions are easier than peeling a banana
Digimon evolves. Yes, why not? Pokemon too. The evolution, a form of power-up is a mandatory aspect for these -Mon shows. In the original adventure, for kids to obtain new evolutions for their partner Digimon, many conditions must be met and it almost always costs an arm and a leg, sometimes risks that are even fatal. For example, as for the leader kid whose trait is “courage”, he must show some form of bravery in order to get his partner Digimon to achieve its 2nd stage evolution. There was an episode where he was eager to get this evolution so he force-fed his partner and tried to make himself in danger on purpose. This is the wrong type of courage, the “recklessness” so his partner evolved into an abominable and mindless killing machine. This is how hard to achieve new (and true) evolutions in the original. It never felt cheap even though we kinda saw it coming from the flow of the show. Every kid has this similar trademark personality/trait and they all achieved new evolutions for their partner Digimon that are well-earned in their own way. Along with the electric guitar rip from the evolution theme insert song “Brave Heart”, these moments were the most hyped up moments for 10 years old me.
Now in the reboot, the kids just literally stare down the fight between their partner and enemy Digimon (sometimes it’s not even a losing fight), then voila, they evolve for god knows why. No tension, no buildup whatsoever so there’s no hyped-up moment either. The viewer will be like “Oh, it evolved” along with the kids in their poker faces.
It expects the old show’s information and knowledge even though it’s supposed to be a reboot
I said above that each kid has their trademark personality or trait in the form of “courage”, “friendship”, “love” etc. They are dubbed “Crests” in-show and played a very important part in the kids’ character development and getting 2nd stage evolutions for their partner Digimon. Each crest has a stylized symbol that shows on kids’ Digivice (a device that allows their Digimon to evolve). The original properly explained the meanings of these symbols. The reboot never did, or at least not yet. It has reached episode 23 as I currently writing this article but they never bothered with the Crests’ true meanings even though it’s showing us the symbols left and right whenever they evolve. For old viewers of the original adventure, we already know these symbols but a curious newcomer will always wonder what are they, only to never get his answer unless he watches the original. And for worse, the symbols’ meanings have barely anything to do with the evolutions. It has reached episode 23 out of 66, and there’s still a chance that they’ll change their meanings or explain very later in the show, but judging from the show’s pacing, I highly doubt it. Speaking of which:
Long story short, the pacing is way too fast. At the moment, they’re trying to cut out getting the old show’s evolutions at 2x pace. For example, the leader kid got his 2nd stage evolution in episode 20 in the original but got in just episode 10 in the reboot. Unless they plan to introduce newer evolutions that weren’t there in the original (at least it’s heavily hinted), this pacing is a bit too jarring. Not to mention the kids and their Digimon are fighting non-stop since they’ve arrived in the Digimon world without slowing down the pace for some explanation and world-building, which the original took several episodes to build to understand the theme more.
All enemies are mindless zombies for some reason, and the kids kill them outright, resulting in no allies on their side
In the original, some enemies are good Digimon who can speak and have their own mind but brainwashed by a big bad boss into attacking the kids. When such Digimon are defeated, they returned good and became allies of the kids, and helped them when the screentime allowed them to. (And dying at critical moments to create emotional waterworks.) This leaves for more bonding moments with kids and other Digimon, not only their partner ones.
Meanwhile in the reboot, whether it’s brainwashed or not, most enemies are mindless and don’t even talk, just plain old killing machines for whatever reason. And the kids kill them with no hesitation whenever it’s getting in their way while not even bothering to doubt their background or something. Badass, right? But it clearly seems like a huge step down in the writing aspect to me.
There are a total of 8 main character kids in Digimon Adventure, both in the original and reboot. In the original, among 8, only 2 kids achieved 3rd stage evolution, the leader kid and one other who’s basically his rival. Since the 3rd stage is their strongest evolution, these 2 kids basically carried the late episodes in the original. You can say this is also a minor version of character favoring.
But instead of fixing this small fault, the reboot takes it up a notch. The other kids barely do anything unless it’s their own episode and the rest of the show is pretty much carried by the above two kids, since from the very beginning. The creators seem to have gotten the wrong idea that these 2 kids are “protagonists” and the rest are “side characters” when it’s actually all kids are supposed to be equally main characters and supposed to share nearly equal screentime. Even though the show hinted that all kids will get 3rd stage evolution this time, the way how it treats other kids makes you heavily doubt this intention. This point is far more highlighted when only the two “protagonists” get high-budget detailed evolution sequence animations while the rest just plainly and boringly “transformed”.
Omegamon the Deus ex machina
There is a very powerful Digimon called Omegamon on the kids’ side. But to evolve to this Digimon, there are many essential stages and criteria to fall into. It’s basically the kids’ rarely-used trump card. This Omegamon never appeared in 54 episodes of the original and only introduced in 2000’s Digimon Movie “Our War Game” I mentioned above. The very first fundamental requirement to evolve to Omegamon is that the two “protagonists” must have already evolved their partners to 3rd stage evolution. The rest of the requirements like the two kids must understand each other’s emotions very well and their hearts being in sync follow suit. In terms of games, Omegamon is supposed to be some kind of cheat ability you only unlock in New Game+.
Now in the reboot, Omegamon is introduced in just episode 3, while skipping all of the required stages and criteria. In the time when the two kids literally just met and never even heard of what 3rd stage evolution is. In the original, it’s very plausible because the two kids have achieved 3rd evolution and nurtured their bond already in their long adventure. In the reboot, they haven’t done any of this, and yet, they can still somehow summon Omegamon while breaking all of the rules the original established. As if this is not enough and like putting salt in the wound, they did this jarring controversy in episode 18 again, without giving any explanation whatsoever. Throwing Omegamon like this whenever the kids face hurdles they cannot overcome in normal methods makes you question other remaining kids’ purpose, not to mention this reeks of cheap use of plot device in writing perspective so this point left many loyal fans of the original dumbfounded and lose hope in the reboot.
So, what’s left to watch in the reboot then?
Ehh, animation maybe? Like action-focused fight scenes that use a variety of types of attacks and combos unlike in the original where they used the same cuts of signature attack over and over. (Although it’s to be expected considering 21 years gap of technology difference.) Plus some references here and there to old seasons like Digimon Tamers (Season 3) and Digimon Frontiers (Season 4), and some popular in-universe lore from other games and alike that were never mentioned in previous seasons. But from the story, characters, world development, and other writing aspects, you don’t need an expert to know the reboot is severely lacking compared to the original. The original is a very well-thought-out show for kids poured with love and care while the reboot is just a pathetic excuse of a nostalgia-bait cash grab.
Like I said above, as I’m writing this article, the reboot has only 23 episodes available out of 66 episodes. Many things can still happen in later episodes that can save the show. There are also rumors and speculations that this is not actually a reboot but a soft sequel to the original thanks to its questionable storytelling. If the rumors are true (and if they can somehow confirm it in-show), most of the problems above will be solved, such as kids being indifferent to Digimon and evolutions, and unlocking Omegamon easily (because they’ve already experienced them in the old adventure) so let’s finger-cross such speculations are true for the sake of the show itself, or the reboot will definitely leave a stain not only to the beloved original Adventure but also to the Digimon franchise as a whole.