Digimon: Digital Monsters Season 1
Digimon debuted back in 1997 as an answer to the Tamagotchi craze, and it wasn’t long before the virtual pets spawned a video game and the venerated anime series from Toei Animation in 1999. Today, it’s a vast media franchise, whose name is enough to get millennials a little misty-eyed. Looking back at the series some 16 years later is an almost wistful experience, but it’s amazing just how American it looks. Watching it side-by-side with the original Japanese (not available with this collection) reveals the extent of the localisation’s effort to make it more ‘kid-friendly’ at a time when anime was still amorphous in the west.
At first, Tai and co are focused on finding a way home, an aim quickly superseded by seeking out food and shelter for themselves and their digital companions. Each of the critters are like an avatar of their owner and challenge their anxieties and shortcomings, giving a critical dose of character development across the sprawling 54-episode first season.
The monster-of-the-week formula makes the first 15 or so episodes a hard slog, as the wider arc reveals itself at what feels like a glacial pace. The aptly titled Devimon and his black gears are corrupting otherwise benign Digimon. With a character design drawing heavily from the devil, he’s a quintessential baddy, but the allusions to hacking make him seem strangely contemporary. It falls on the kids to assist the afflicted monsters, as they uncover their roles as the DigiDestined. But Devimon is only the beginning.
After leaving the DigiWorld, the gang discover that only a few minutes have passed, like a digital equivalent of Narnia. After finding the eighth DigiDestined in Tokyo, they return to a world that has radically changed in their absence, the rise of the Dark Masters coming to fruition.
Though Pokémon and Digimon can be easily compared, it’s in their differences that the latter reveals its real strengths. It felt so much more contemporary, its fascination with technology and virtual reality capturing the zeitgeist and effectively predicting the trapped-in-videogame trope that followed with .hack// and later Sword Art Online. The Digital World was, after all, a place where raw data is alive and conscious.