Believe it or not, Digimon was the first anime I ever got deeply into. Yeah, yeah, I can hear you snickering from here. It was 1999, and I didn't have cable, so it was like the first exposure to anime that I ever had. I was in my early teens by then, but Saturday afternoon TV always sucked, so I was still watching cartoons on Saturdays. I mostly just idly watched them out of boredom, but something about Digimon drew me in. Maybe it was the character designs, maybe it was the mildly cheesy "heartwarming moments," or maybe it was the Pokemon-style battles that pitted bizarre animal-things against each other. Somehow, some way, I wound up falling in love with it. Now, around fifteen years (and six seasons/series) later, I still feel a lot of fondness for it. I will be the first to admit that Digimon is pretty silly at times, and it's not exactly a shining example of the potential of anime as a medium, but it's still worth a look (particularly if we're talking about the Japanese version, which tends to be better). In fact, if you're paying attention, you can actually learn some things from watching Digimon. Here's some stuff that Digimon has taught me.
Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize
Regardless of whether you're wandering the digital world fighting monsters or just hanging out after school, you've got to have the right equipment. In the world of Digimon, that means all the goggles, gloves, wristbands, hats and assorted fashion accoutrements you can find. Look at the leading image again. Those are the main characters of the first six Digimon series. Five out of six of them is wearing goggles. What the hell are they for? Will they fly a digi-plane at some point? Are they digi-scientists? (Yes, Digimon loved to add the prefix "digi" to everything.) I think I saw one of those characters use those goggles ONE TIME during a sand storm. Other than that, it's apparently just really necessary to look ready for goggle-related action.
The Mickey Mouse gloves are also in high demand, I guess. So many of the characters sport those...and never take them off. They sleep in them, they eat with them on—they're like a second skin. The characters could be in the desert, sweating and complaining about the oppressive heat, and yet they are still wearing those gloves; they are most likely in dire need of a Hoarders type intervention.
The icing on the cake? This second season character, Yolei, who wears an orange tee ball helmet every time the team goes to the Digital World:
Japanese Parents Are Really Irresponsible
Let's imagine for a minute that there is a totally different realm of existence, away from our own, where only digital "monsters" exist. Then let's imagine that the ONLY people who can travel to this world (and in most cases, save this world) are a handful of pre-teens who barely know where their junk is located. Would you let your kids go, unsupervised, with a bunch of other kids to a dangerous realm where everything wants to either kill them or eat them? I'm pretty sure the answer to that is a resounding, "You've lost your fucking mind."
But that is what often happens on Digimon. Sometimes the parents aren't really mentioned, but most of the time, the characters wind up crossing paths with their family members. And in those times, you'd think that someone would be like, "This is crazy. I'm not letting you stand around and watch giant monsters fight other giant monsters. I would win "Shitty Parent of the Year" and my trophy case is full enough." However, the parents on Digimon seem content to let their kids run off and go apeshit, with a bunch of genetic crossbreed failures as their only protection. Oh, you have the power of love and friendship? Cool. Call me when you get back from Murder Island. I've got a big presentation on Monday anyway, so at least you'll be out of my hair for a while. Some of the really apprehensive parents will raise a fuss at first, but eventually they all cave and just accept things as they are. A particularly egregious example is in Digimon Savers: the main character, Masaru (who is 14), is part of an elite government agency that works with Digimon to fight and contain other dangerous Digimon. His mom knows this. She seems 100% unconcerned. That is "Gendo Ikari" levels of parental negligence.
Sometimes the Censors Were Asleep at the Wheel
Here's the honest truth: Digimon is a kid's show. It's meant to get kids to play a video game (or card game). Most kids' shows are ultra G-rated and never have need for the censors to give them a second look. On the other hand, standards for kids' shows are way different in Japan than they are for America. So when you're prepping an anime for air in America, there are sometimes issues that the networks want to address. For instance, you might have gun violence that they don't want seen. That was an issue in the Yu-Gi-Oh! series...that they artfully corrected by photoshopping out the guns, but keeping the aggressors in a firing stance. Super effective.
With that kind of adept vigilance, you would think they'd have nipped a few other troublesome buds that appear in Digimon. You'd be wrong. In the first three seasons alone (which were carried by Fox), they showed smoking on television, monsters threatening to kill little kids (as opposed to "destroying" them), and a character called Beelzemon (yes, like the devil) sticking his hand through someone's chest and slaying them. I don't personally have an issue with that stuff, obviously, but it was pretty surprising to see those kinds of images on Saturday cartoons, when most licensing companies at the time would have totally Bowdlerized it.
(Bonus Points: The "Beast Within")
"Dark and Gritty" Can Work for Anything
This one is sort of related to the one above. People who have nostalgia for Digimon usually recall their favorite moments as the ones where shit got real. (Real talk: if it can work for Power Rangers, I think Digimon can get away with dark moments too.) It probably seems rather antithetical that a show created as a tie-in to a handheld digital game could have a deep or interesting plot (as opposed to Pokemon, where they pretty much just wandered around collecting creatures to fight other creatures), but some of the seasons of Digimon veered into territory that would make you raise your eyebrows. Digimon would sometimes evolve into uncontrollable rage monsters, kids would be running from psycho clowns and killer cyborgs—it was some grade-A nightmare fuel. Probably the best examples of the truly dark stuff come from season three: Digimon wielding guns, nihilistic themes, and the horrifying scene where one girl has a complete mind break because her Digimon is murdered in front of her. I'm not kidding. She stops talking for like ten episodes. I can't imagine seeing that shit as a kid. I'd never turn my TV on again.
When All Else Fails, End on Group Laughter
Many people thought this trope died with Scooby-Doo, but they were sadly mistaken. If inane laughter as a substitute for an ending were a dead, rotting horse, the Digimon series would be senselessly pummeling it with an ACME mallet.
For real, this show abused the Everybody Laughs trope all the damn time. The endings for the first two seasons were basically nothing but everyone laughing on cue together at some of the worst jokes you've ever heard. Sometimes there wouldn't even be a joke. Sometimes a character would just remark that they were tired or hungry and everyone would laugh. Wow. Quality humor.
The most obvious and infuriating examples of this trite mess was the American ADR. ADR has a couple of different meanings in the context of production, but in this case, it means "additional dialogue recording." Basically, the American directors would be watching the last scene and decide, "This walking-off-into-the-sunset wrap-up isn't nearly wacky enough. Let's have someone make a joke while the characters are facing away from the audience, and we can record all the actors laughing. Entertainment ACCOMPLISHED." Sigh.
So if you're feeling nostalgic about Digimon or were successfully swayed by this dumbass article, crank up Netflix, grab a tub of popcorn, and get ready to flex your snark muscles. DIGIMON ARE THE CHAMPIONS!
Leading image pulled from cardfight.wikia.com. Others are Google images or screenshots.