Tentacle-Free Anime: "Digimon Tamers" (2001) Review
- by Kazekun, 3 August 2015
There were a lot of shows I used to watch as a kid growing up that helped shape me into the anime fan I am today. And one of those series - that is still beloved by me even to this day - is the continuously wonderful Digimon franchise. There are a lot of detractors that automatically dislike any of the seasons after the first two, but I'm not one of them. I look to a show for its individual merits as a story, not necessarily because it's different than what I once knew. So today I talk about the infamous third season of Digimon, what wonders await?
As I mentioned above, a lot of fans of Digimon automatically dislike this season because it’s so drastically different than what we were originally used to. Some people dislike it because it doesn’t have the same characters, some dislike it because they think it's too slow, and others don't like it because they believe it's too dark.
It was meant as a way for the viewer to immediately relate to Takato, to help with the transition into a new main character and world, but for many I know it was the immediate straw that turned them off. No Tai? No Davis? No way. - But I watched it, and not only do I see this as a giant fun meta reference within itself, it also really does make for a logical way to pull the viewer in and get them interested.
Digimon Tamers also introduced the idea that Digimon are made by humans - they're essentially AI's that grew to become much more than their masters originally intended. They have their own cultures, hierarchies, and Gods. Well, some of this isn't exactly new or exclusive to this season, but the fact that Digimon were created by human hands becomes an incredibly huge part of the story. Larger than it ever was before.
From the get-go Tamers introduces itself as a series that's not planning to pull any punches, with Digimon making their way over to the real world and not only causing devastation with their fighting, but also killing one another and absorbing their data to become stronger – forever destroying them. One of our other main characters, Rika, thrives off of this power and along with her own partner Renamon they routinely hunt down other Digimon in order to essentially kill them and get stronger. This was obviously a big shock to many viewers, but it definitely created an interesting character dynamic for majority of the series.
If I had two big complaints about this season, it's that yes it is a slow start and unfortunately it doesn't do the greatest job at explaining everything surrounding the building mysteries. Unless you can get sucked in by the drama surrounding the mysterious Hypnos organization, or Rika and Renamon running around being antiheroes, then you're probably gonna get bored with Takato and his own Digimon – which he himself created totally by accident – known as Guilmon constantly running around getting into wacky antics. And Takato constantly worrying about Guilmon's safety, as that does begin wearing thin real quick even if it is a more realistic interpretation of what could happen.
On the subject of understandability, there are many questions asserted in Tamers, and while some of the revelations are generally worth the effort, there's an equal amount of revelations that are NOT explained very well. Like the D-Tectors, or the Blue Cards that our heroes use to help them in battle. The show is never contradictory, but it can be wildly frustrating.
Some of you may be wondering why I mentioned that this season was a sort of lovecraftian horror tale. The various Digimon seasons pride themselves on building their stories slowly, and this one is no different. While the first 13 or so episodes can often be rough to wade through, the season really starts to take off when it first introduces the Devas. Evil Digimon who work for the Digimon Sovereign: sort of like an evil Digimon King. And they've come to capture a little creature named Calumon who is hiding an awfully big secret. After the Deva arc ends, at the midpoint of the series, our characters finally get to visit the mysterious, dark and dangerous Digital World.
Which immediately proves to be a cruel place where only the strongest survive. It's at this midpoint that the season begins to slowly show its true colors. Where real choices have to be made, and not all the Digimon we've grown to love come back alive. By the finale, the last 10 or so episodes have our heroes dealing with a villain known as the D-Reaper who is basically the physical embodiment of a computer virus that's running rampant across both worlds.
What ensues is a truly horrific psychological journey for not just all our characters, but one specifically and we're slapped in the face with the reality that not everyone comes back from the brink of depression in one piece. As the D-Reaper feeds upon their emotions. The D-Reaper also embodies the weird and wild horrors that we've come to know from the man that created Cthulu of all things.
If you're wondering why this season ended up being as dark as it was, at least for Digimon that is, it's because the man in the lead writer's chair was none of than Chiaki J. Konaka, which some of you probably know best as the head writer of Serial Experiments Lain. Another incredibly heavy psychological drama that we'll cover at some point in the future.
While some of the background characters don't get a whole lot of development past their initial personalities, our main three get a lot. You have Takato, who must learn to work with Guilmon as one and realize that whatever happens to both of them, they chose to fight equally. He can't keep treating Guilmon like a baby. There's Henry, who thinks he can do everything himself and refuses to rely on others. He's not a bad guy, but like his father he's is full of hubris. Rika is sort of like Henry in that she believes she can do everything herself and doesn't need anyone, but she also doesn't feel loved by anyone else so she hides away from others and refuses care about the safety of herself or Renamon. To her, getting stronger is the only way to survive.
All three of these characters get a whole helluva lot of character growth, but it's Rika's that gets the most attention. Probably because out of the three, she had the most growing to do. As for the Digimon themselves, there's actually one that stands out among the crowd as “most improved” by series end. Impmon, who for majority of the series is touted up as an annoying little troublemaker, makes a whole helluva lot of mistakes before finally realizing the errors of his ways.
There's so much I could continue to talk about when it comes to this season, but I'm already drawing it out longer than I thought I would at this point. While the first act of this season is slow and difficult to wade through, the latter half revolving around the Digital World is worth the story's weight in salt. When it comes to Digimon it's easy to see this series – in all its seasons – as kiddy fodder that's not worth your time in watching, especially if you're older. But if you're not opposed to seeing any of this series, but you're afraid it may not live up to any expectations you might have, I suggest starting here.
Season 3 is actually one of the strongest seasons this show has and is an exemplary showcase in how to make a complex show for kids that doesn't treat them like they're stupid, while also making a show that adults can enjoy all the same. As they'll get all the complex stuff and inside jokes, and also get the full story that a kid will merely see as entertainment.
It's not perfect, but it's solid.
There are also two “movies” for this season, I say movies but they're really just two episode-length specials that tie-in to this season in various ways. Battle of Adventurers and Runaway Locomon. I could talk about them now, but I'll be covering them at a later date so just sit tight for now. And if you find yourself interested, go start this season up right away. I promise, it is worth it.
Final Score: 4 Digivolutions out of 5
Have you seen "Digimon Tamers"? What did you think of it?