(voice) Fukujurou Katayama, Megumi Ogata, Naozumi Takahashi
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… an alarming misfire …
Out of the larger canon of nostalgic late ‘90s-early 2000s gateway anime, Digimon has emerged as the one that is the most uncomfortable with being a nostalgic artifact.
What began as the boys’ answer to Tamagotchis, and was at one point a genuine Pokémon competitor, has now gotten to the point of continually trying to recapture the buzz of their original Adventure series with … mixed results.
The 2020 reboot was quite unnecessary, as was the bloated disappointment of Tri., and even its biggest recent success with Last Evolution Kizuna worked mainly because it was a direct answer against nostalgia chasing and clinging onto childhood obsessions. It’s like the series has a love-hate relationship with itself, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in this latest addition.
Following up Kizuna, Digimon Adventure 02 – The Beginning serves as something of an epilogue, featuring the regularly-sidelined Adventure 02 cast. However, they aren’t really the main characters here. Instead, they mainly exist as exposition prompters for new character Rui, the first human to ever have a Digimon partner. The backstory we get for him enters into the darkest territory that this franchise has seen yet, even outstepping the Lovecraftian cyberpunk of Tamers or the general horror aesthetic of Ghost Game. Not only that, but because this profound tonal shift is directly tied to key parts of series lore, it retroactively makes a lot of the Adventure continuity rather depressing to reflect on.
Of course, the problem isn’t that it’s dark; it’s that it’s done badly. The tone of the writing can’t escape the general aura of angsty fanfiction, making the leaning into what is essentially trauma porn look that much more misguided, and because the 02 cast are still as kiddified as they were back in the day (Davis especially), it can’t reconcile just how dark the story gets. It even resorts to actual abuse apologia (both for relationships between Digimon and humans, and even between parents and children (?!)) in order to make everything fit properly.
To say that it doesn’t work is as much of an understatement as saying that the DigiDestined fighting a monster literally called Political Correctness is only slightly embarrassing, and that actually happened just a couple years ago. At least that wasn’t fully animated.
To make matters worse, because so much time is devoted to uncomfortable and frankly disgustingly mishandled grimdark material, it means that there is substantially less room for the fight scenes and the returning characters. There is all of one proper battle in this entire film, and well-animated and scored it may be, but it is far too short to make up for what it took to get to it. To say nothing of the presence of former despot Ken and his former slave Wormmon in the main cast, which shows that there is a precedent for this series to go this morbid, and yet that is never brought into play in the actual narrative itself. Even when they have an excuse to be this grim, they miss the mark.
Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning is an alarming misfire that tries to split the difference between an audience who grew up on the original show, and new viewers that are the same age now that they were then, and ends up with the kind of weapons-grade repellent that might stop both of them from ever going near this property again; so dire is its attempt to bring ‘maturity’ into the story. Where Kizuna or Scott Pilgrim Takes Off or even the new Hunger Games went darker as a natural extension of what was already in the pre-existing material, this cuts the brakes and crashes into it out of seeming desperation. Just… no thanks.