Going Digital: Digimon Tri Movie 1: Sakai (Reunion)

Note: Due to the fact it’s what I’ve been seeing in the subtitles and I can’t be arsed reprogramming my brain, I will be using the Japanese names here. I justify this by the fact the U.S. dub is its own unique entity of gloriousness and I don’t have to interbreed them and shut up!
Also, spoilers a plenty!

The 90s were a period where our childhood viewing was slowly inundated with anime. It has been a part of the whole for a number of years but it was the advent of shows such as Pokemon that really led to a minor domination of the market that has since dissipated but never REALLY gone away. My school was Pokemon crazy. Cards, games, TV…colourful hats. You couldn’t go a day without someone talking about trades and evolution. Which was great…not for me, but great for others. See I didn’t have a Gameboy and I didn’t play card games. My exposure was the anime and I liked it well enough. I will still say Charizard is one of the coolest dragons to grace childrens TV. But despite a brief revival during my uni years where I actually played a few of the games, Pokemon has just never been my thing. Even when I was small, I wanted plot and goals and character development. Plus, because I was just a deeply troubled would be murderer, I wanted to see stuff die and people care that stuff had died.

So while literally everyone I knew was running around throwing golfballs praying that a Pikachu would pop out of one, I wanted a different kind of kid and his monster show. I found that show in 1999 with Digimon Adventure. Based off of the Japanese equivalent to Tamagotchi, Digimon was produced on a lower budget than Pokemon and looking back on it now it sure shows. Heavy use of stock footage and lots of computer animation tricks. But Digimon grabbed my soul and never really let go. Even with the intentionally overly goofy American dub, the show was concerned with developing its cast, gave us world threatening stakes, giant monster fights between beings that could tank a nuclear missile without blinking and spent some time talking about real issues that real children face. I’ve recently finished a watch of the Japanese version of the show and the really quite serious tone can be a little jarring. Added into the mix were the digimon partners, one per child and full characters in their own right. Plus your cutesy mouse doesn’t turn into a bigger mouse, it turns into an angel or a dragon or a world destroying super knight or that one time it was a bunny of death the size of a skyscraper. I was hooked and followed the show religiously as it aired on Irish TV. While I wasn’t overly impressed with the direct sequel, Digimon Zero Two, I adored the much darker (even the dub was fairly dark) alternate reality series Digimon Tamers and regard it as one of my all-time favourite animes today. Unfortunately Irish TV stopped airing the shows and we didn’t get satellite for years, so I missed the other shows (watching them years later, I’m not sure that was a bad thing). My point is that within my nerdy-ass soul there is the heart of a child who wanted to save the world alongside his cyborg nuclear ordinance launching dinosaur. So when it was announced that a set of movies serving as the direct sequel and focusing entirely on the original team was being released in honour of the shows 15th anniversary, to say I was flipping out was an understatement. When I found out Crunchyroll would be airing the movies the day they launch and in an episodic format with full openings and endings, I swooned. As I write this the second movie/set of episodes is about to air so I thought why not provide a review of the reboot that may punch my nostalgia buttons so hard they get wedged in the slot. Was the first film a blast of glorious past or yet another reboot that makes you afraid to re-watch your old favourites in-case it turns out they were actually a little bit terrible to begin with? Ladies and gents, welcome to Digimon Adventure tri: Sakai (Reunion).

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Oh God. My feels.

tri is set three years after the second series, with our heroes now at that stage of high school where people expect you to be able to tell them what you want to do with the next 60-80 years of breathing. For an unknown reason the connection between the human and digital worlds has been closed for over a year. The original digidestined children are all attempting to get on with their lives, to varying degrees of success. Yamato has a band with an ever changing and terrible name, Koushiro is either an internet mogul or a possible evil despot (all we know is that no teenager should have an office like that), Joe is trying to become a doctor, Sora is trying to decide which boy she likes (because…Japan), Mimi is both away with the fairies and away with the Americans and Hikari is stuck being a grounding rod for all the clearly not very bright men in her life.

Oh and the newbies from the second series MIGHT all have been murdered horribly, it’s still up in the air.

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I’m sure they’re fiiiine.

Taichi, former leader and biological badass, is feeling the disconnect from the digimon more than the others and just kinda wishes he was having some adventures with his friends again. He gets his wishes in spades when an unusually powerful digimon, made stronger by an unknown infection, suddenly appears and attempts to reduce him to a bloody smear on the pavement. Saved by the timely intervention by his old partner Agumon, Taichi and the others realise that things are going crazy in the digital world and it’s starting to bleed over. Teaming up with an unknown government organisation, the digidestined have to track down the anomalies and prevent digimon from coming through. Unfortunately Taichi feels trapped by an unexpected sense of indecision and there’s a brand new digidestined with a mysterious partner someone REALLY wants dead.

tri is in a way an unforgiving experience. If you are not the kid who grew up on Digimon, who knows your WarGreymons from you Kuwagamons, who has at least a working knowledge of how this world works, you are going to miss HEAPS. It’s not welcoming to newcomers in a way that could be detrimental. If you are at least passingly familiar to the original series, in my opinion this movie is bloody golden.

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You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Each film is structured to focus on two characters above the others. In this case that is the established leader Taichi and his belligerent friend/bash brother Yamato. After dreaming of the day he’d get to fight alongside his partner digimon Agumon, Taichi is confronted with the havoc and destruction a 2 storey dinosaur fighting a giant stag beetle can deal out upon an unsuspecting populace. While that damage was always there, when he was 12 he was too in the moment to see it all. As a child bordering on being a man he can stop and count the bodies, so to speak. This serves as Taichi’s drive in this, is it right to fight when so many people could get hurt on the sidelines. Yamato on the other hand sees fighting as the only option to help people and is frustrated by the fact Taichi is, in his eyes, less than he was in the old days. Setting Taichi up as a self-doubter might seem a little force but it’s actually a stroke of brilliance. He is both familiar and unfamiliar to the viewer, as he is to his friends. Not only that but it’s a character trait that made brief appearances in the previous series and as such was the perfect foil for throwing in a spanner in the works for the team. Best of all, the conflict is not resolved. Taichi steps up to the plate but in a highly doubtful way. He’s not fixed and we can expect Yamato to continue to draw Taichi into who he used to be. Best of all, it gives a wonderfully poignant moment between Taichi and Agumon, as Taichi bears his soul and Agumon does the only thing he can in listening.

The fact I don’t have an orange dinosaur to make me feel it’ll all be okay is a CRIME!

Unfortunately the heavy focus on these two protagonists sidelines the others. Each gets a little bit to work with but it is very much a two man show at this stage. One character though is actually deeply compelling by the lack of attention. Joe, the oldest of the group, is desperately trying to become a doctor and failing miserably at cram school. While he is as happy to see his digimon Gomamon as the rest, he is also the least involved. While Taichi may be doubting his cause, he’s still making an appearance. Joe is actively avoiding things. With confirmation that our focal characters for the second movie will be Joe and Mimi, expect this to be dealt with in short order.

One thing Digimon always did well was enjoyable villains. tri’s villains are silent but serve as a solid base from which to work from. First and most significantly are the infected digimon. These are digimon infected with some unknown virus that drives them insane and makes them disturbingly powerful. While they only briefly appear in the second “episode”, their presence appears to be the overarching threat for the series and I hope to see further development. The second major villain I think we can guarantee will be developed and to say his inclusion was a jaw dropper is an understatement.

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Well that escalated quickly.

For those not in the know, that is Alphamon. Alphamon is one of the most prominent digimon in the wider fiction and has never appeared in the anime before. Alphamon is also so powerful literally the only opponent that could challenge him is one that could take out thousands of the most powerful digimon (for context, Agumon’s strongest form WarGreymon has enough durability to literally ignore the attacks with the destructive capacity of a nuke. And he’s only like…8 feet tall or something) and do it without difficulty. Including him as the final opponent is almost mind boggling.

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Seriously, that escalated unbelievably quickly.

Having Alphamon go up against Omegamon, a digimon who has literally killed thousands of super-powerful opponents in one shot, is bloody inspired. The hook of the character and the hook of the fight people wouldn’t expect until the last movie. The fight ends in a technical draw but the promise of further encounters has me on the edge of my seat.

Digimon Adventure tri: Sakai (Reunion) is not perfect. There are animation issues here and there, and some problems with pacing (to do with the movie being structured like the opening 4 episodes of a 26 episode anime). Nostalgia makes me forgive those things. What nostalgia can’t do is make me not recognise that tri is well crafted, engaging, exciting and filled to the brim with possibility. I’m not sure if I could recommend this to a newbie to the franchise but I wish I could. If anything, spent a day reading a few wiki articles to get the jist and try it out. As an old-time fan, I cannot tell you how glad I am that not only was this made but it was clearly made with a will to produce a quality viewing experience.

Roll on el numero dos!

All images the property of Toei.
This blog was originally posted on The Old Oilhouse. Be sure to check them out.

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