By Maria M. Rider
In September 1998, Pokémon premiered on U.S. television and became an instant hit with children and adults alike. Now, at the peak of the Pokémon craze, a new animated show following a similar concept debuted on 14 August 1999. Digimon made its mark, but will it be enough to battle the Pokémon behemoth? Only time will tell.
Digimon, or Digimon Adventure in Japan, is the story of Taichi "Tai" Kamiya and his friends and their digimon. "What are digimon?" you ask. Digimon are digital monsters that are similar to Tamagotchi, but they have many more features and abilities. As with tamagotchi, a digimon's owner must raise and train it, and then the digimon can digivolve into a more powerful form of itself. The owner still has to feed it, clean up those "steamers," and play with it in order for the digimon to evolve and grow. The only difference is that the owner of the digimon can plug into another person's digimon unit, and the two digimon can battle and gain experience. Apparently the digimon virtual monster pet keychains did not really do as well as the previous tamagotchi, and many a digimon were left in large sale bins for a mere $5.00 each ($12.00 less than the original price).
Meanwhile, long after the release of the digimon toy, on 7 March 1999, Digimon Adventure arrived on the regular Japanese anime television lineup. Saban quickly acquired the rights and released the first episode only five months and a week after it aired in Japan. The animation and art are about the same quality of Pokémon, and the music is what people would usually associate with amine, which is rather basic. Still, Digimon looks to have a lot of potential as it involves a mixture of computer generated animation and traditional.
On the planet Earth, sudden weather changes have been plaguing the world lately. Tidal waves made of chocolate sauce and normally hot areas of the world becoming colder? Something is definitely amiss, but Tai Kamiya and his six friends are not aware of it until a blizzard suddenly disrupts their camping trip high in the mountains of Japan. Tai is your usual lead character, wearing red, assuming a leadership role in tough situations; compare to Mark (Ken) in Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman). Sora Takenouchi is a tough tomboyish gal who likes to be very active and athletic. Then, Yamato "Matt" Ishida is the cool guy, who seems very full of himself. Next, Koushiro "Izzy" Izumi is the computer nerd with all the answers since he carries around his laptop everywhere. Mimi Tachikawa is the energetic and gentle girl, who likes to dress in pink often. Takeru "T.K." Takaishi, Matt's little brother (funny, how their last names do not even match) is just a tagalong with his brother, but do not let his size fool you. Finally Joe Kido, the timid, paranoid nerdy kid, is always complaining about something.
After the blizzard dissipates, Tai and the group see odd lights in the sky, "Maybe an Abora?" questions Sora. "You mean Aurora Borealis, the northern lights? That's impossible! You'd see that in Alaska, but we're way too far south," comments Izzy. Then, suddenly an anomaly forms in the sky and seven objects crash in front of the group. When the snow clears, odd objects float from the impact sites and each of the group grabs them, which turn out to be small digital units.
The group is drawn into a vortex and teleported to the DigiWorld where they find little cute creatures, digimon, digital monsters. Koromon, Tai's digimon, which means "Talking Head" and "Brave little fighter" in Japanese, is a small pink blob with two bunny-like ears as appendages and some fangs. Motimon, Izzy's digimon, is a ghost-shaped blob with two little stubby arms. Yocomon, Sora's digimon, is a pretty plant-like monster that "looks like a radish" according to Tai. Tokomon, T.K.'s digimon, is very cute and walks on all fours with two little floppy ears, but a mouthful of sharp fangs. Bukamon, Joe's digimon, resembles an aquatic dinosaur with a silly attitude. Tsunomon, Matt's digimon, has a single sharp horn on its head. Tanemon, Mimi's digimon, is also a plant-like monster that walks on all fours. Unfortunately, Tai, Izzy, and their digimon run into a really mean and large digimon called Kuwagamon, an insectoid monster. Thanks to Motimon's quick thinking, they hide in a "Hiding Tree". Tai and Izzy meet up with the rest of the group to find that each of them has bonded with a digimon.
Kuwagamon, as mean as ever, continues to plague the group and their new digimon who are tough little fighters and want to make a good "first impression" on their new owners. A heated battle ensues and the digimon, having acquired enough fighting experience, digivolve into bigger and more powerful forms of their former selves. Agumon (Koromon), Biyomon (Yocomon), Tentomon (Motimon), Gabumon (Tsunomon), Patamon (Tokomon), Gomamon (Bukamon), and Palmon (Tanemon) fight against Kuwagamon with their new improved attacks. With a lot of teamwork, the group of brave digimon defeat Kuwagamon! Unfortunately, they celebrated too soon as Kuwagamon returns and sends the group falling down a cliff!! What will happen to them? Will they survive? Find out next week!! (Damn those cliffhangers!)
The dub is actually pretty good, but the digimon voices are a bit nerve-wracking. Then again they are supposed to be annoyingly cute. Like Pokémon, the digimon start out real cute, but start to get uglier as they evolve. I enjoyed watching this first episode as it sort of reminded me of Pokémon, but different. Saban has taken great care to preserve the original Japanese show by keeping the Japanese names, but Americanizing it for the U.S. audience (e.g. Taichi to "Tai" or Yamato to "Matt"). Also, a lot of the original Japanese characters are still there which makes it rather apparent this series is from Japan. The show definitely has promise, but just how much story can you get out of a little virtual monster keychain toy? Pokémon had more story in the original game than Digimon has in its little keychain unit, we'll see. If anything, the show will rekindle the waning sales of the digimon as it did with this author, who bought a digimon right away after viewing the show. Fans looking for something different to keep them occupied until the next new Pokémon episode should try Digimon, Digital Monsters!