The moe-est season of Digimon.
And also the darkest, incidentally! Paging Shinbo!
Today an announcement came out that Toei is putting up Digimon Tamers on Hulu – subbed! Digimon is one of those shows I lusted for a subtitled version of as a young anime fan, although there honestly was very little reason for it in retrospect. The edits are fairly minor and don’t have any affect on the primary storyline. I know this is probably borderline blasphemy, but unlike with shows such as Sailor Moon or CardCaptor Sakura, the Digimon dub was pretty faithful to the original script. This was particularly true for the first season, which was where my desire for a sub all began.
Anyway, the Digimon Tamers dub was definitely the season that had the least changes from Japan to America, as Saban (do they even exist any more?) listened for some reason to the small slice of the fandom who screamed and hollered for a ‘purer’ dub. For one, the season’s goggle boy retained his first name, although they changed his surname for some unfathomable reason. The female character from the original power trio got a new name… but it was Japanese, again a change I found boggling. Like in the Japanese version of Tamers, when Digimon died they died for real. One of the only pieces of censorship occurred when a building was supposed to collapse; this show aired in America during 2001, and the scene was cut since it was set to air after September 11th. Perfectly understandable.
Actually, I’m not really interested in talking about the dub, though. I just got sort of side-tracked. Oops.
So I’m not here to talk about dubs! I’m here to convince you to watch Digimon Tamers, even though its a ten year old children’s show centered around little monsters that were blatant Pokemon rip-offs. Because if you are going to watch any Pokemon rip-offs, then this should be it.
Now, I sound flippant when I say that, so let me start off by saying only this: Chiaki J. Konaka handled the writing duties for the show. Yes, that Chiaki J. Konaka. The one who worked on The Big O, Serial Experiments Lain, Shadow Star Narutaru, Mononoke, and Ghost Hound, amongst others. So, right off the bat you know that what you’re getting yourself into isn’t quite run-of-the-mill monster-of-the-week stuff. Konaka has also referenced Evangelion when discussing his work on Digimon Tamers, which in turn has lead to the description of the show as “Evangelion… for kids!”.
What ended up resulting from this combo of Konaka + children’s franchise is a show that is, bizarrely enough, the most explicitly toy commercial-ish of all the seasons while simultaneously being the most mature of all the seasons. This maturity, too, despite featuring the youngest set of protagonists of the franchise (the main kids are all ten years old; the American dub changed this to thirteen).
If I had to pick a show to compare Digimon Tamers to out of Konaka’s canon, it’d be Shadow Star Narutaru. Both start off deceptively, with cute kids meeting cute creatures. Shadow Star Narutaru becomes a lot darker a lot faster than Tamers does, but the evolution in tone is similar. The kids in Tamers fight the bad guys and then go off to the Digital World to rescue the ridiculously adorable Culumon. And then things go a bit haywire. It turns out that the only thing necessary to destroy the world is to be able to exploit the neuroses of a child. And the destruction of the world bit itself? Well, even worse, it turns out to be an act in good faith. Humans are their very own monsters under the bed.
But I really can’t say too much, since that would be giving away the ending. Suffice to say that while Tamers gets a somewhat happy ending, there’s a lot of stuff that has to happen before they can get there, and it isn’t quite the shiny, happy people conclusion that Digimon 02 got.
The second half of the show has a much deeper storyline at work than the first half, but this isn’t to say that the first half is merely something to be gotten through. Whereas I now find the first season of Digimon unwatchable due to the incessant repetitiveness of each arc’s episodes (although I will note that it does improve and that the episodes involving Puppetmon/Pinnochimon are incredibly unsettling), the Tamers episodes manage to mix it up enough that it is wearying. It helps that an overarching plot gels fairly early on, and that it connects with the larger narrative more effectively than early material generally tends to do. Its also more involved than the same early episode territory that was covered in Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02.
I think it helps, too, that the core cast is smaller. We get to know these kids much more than we did with the six and eight sets from the prior iterations of the show. And two of the character types are quite a break from those sets, as well – there’s ice queen Ruki, a thrilling breath of fresh air in a universe of nice girls who are pleasant, and the incredibly sympathetic Takato, who deviates markedly from previous google-boys Taichi and Daisuke and is atypical from young shounen heroes in general.
Ok, I’ve gotten off-track again. I don’t think talking about how Tamers improves on things from the first two seasons is going to convince many to watch this, as most who are going to be skeptical of the thing are skeptical because it is a show about kids with monsters, not because of anything to do with the particulars of one series of the franchise to the next. But for the five of you out there who liked Digimon but didn’t watch Tamers for some reason… yeah, guess those paragraphs were for you.
I should, of course, remind you that this is nevertheless a children’s show. So, no, don’t expect it to be Lain or Narutaru. At the same time, it also avoids being condescending – someone dies, and there is no warm fuzziness about them immediately reincarnating (although reincarnation obviously does not necessarily equate with warm, fuzziness) or resurrecting. They stay dead, and it has tangible effects on both the characters and the story. Someone has serious family problems that aren’t waved away in a cloud of sparkles and lessons learned over cake.
So, here it all is. It’s streaming, it’s legal, it’s free, and it’s subtitled. You have no excuse to not at least give it a chance when someone is practically handing it to you on a silver platter.
And for those of you outside of Hulu’s purview… just email me. I can hook you up. *winkwinknudgenudgedarksunglassesatnightonastreetcorner*
As an aside to all of this, I feel like mentioning how in the re-watch Yamaki comes across as much, much, much creepier than he did when I originally watched this as a twelve and thirteen year old. As an adult, his behavior to me screams pedophile. I don’t mean he leers at kids or something. But he picks on them and threatens them, and his interactions with Jenrya in particular make me squirm.