There are many ways to break down the lasting legacy of Digimon Adventure. One could bring up the show's surprisingly mature themes or ingenious world-building. Additionally, seeing some inventively designed monsters fight each other might just play a small part as well.
Whichever way you look at it, at the heart of the show are the kids and their #digimon partners. That, in turn, raises an interesting question: How did a relatively short kids anime manage to develop and, more importantly, make us care about this huge cast of 16 lead characters, while still being able to tell a fast-paced fantasy tale?
Well, let's find out by exploring three crucial factors that make #DigimonAdventure a masterclass in telling a story with multiple protagonists.
3. A Clever Play On Stereotypes
Starting with the human element of this unique group, one can certainly see the logic behind having so many leads. Simply put, the bigger the group, the wider the show's appeal. However, that did leave a seemingly overwhelming amount of character development to fit into this fast-paced adventure.
So, how have the writers managed to avoid ending up with a bunch of stereotypes? By embracing them. You see, instead of letting stereotypical character traits define the leads, they are cleverly flipped around to serve as starting points for focused character arcs. To illustrate this point, let's take a quick look at the gang from that perspective:
- Tai's defining character traits are obviously his bravery and motivation. However, instead of just highlighting them, the show brilliantly explores how these seemingly positive traits also hide Tai's brashness and over-impulsiveness. This allows Tai to learn how to apply his courage in a more considerate way.
- Matt, being the opposite of Tai in many ways, is the cool, lone-wolf type of the group. Yet, as the show goes on, we learn that this lone wolf persona is largely due to him struggling to define himself and his role in life. This, however, is an efficient way to build up a fascinating character arc of self-discovery.
- Sora can be viewed as a bit of a motherly figure of the group. However, as a nice contrast, while she's good at caring about others, she's not necessarily good at caring about herself and tends to suppress her own insecurities for the good of the group dynamic. She learns that being a good team player does not necessarily mean suppressing one's personal issues.
- Izzy is initially established as the IT-wiz stereotype, who constantly has his head in a computer. Yet, we quickly see that he's really just an extremely bright and curious kid who has gotten a bit too consumed by virtual world to escape personal issues. Needless to say, him overcoming these issues makes for a hugely satisfying character arc.
- Mimi first comes across as a heart-on-her-sleeve spoiled type and is clearly the least mentally prepared to tackle all these tricky situations. However, this does leave a lot of room to develop her character, as we see her coming to grips with being a DigiDestined, toughening up and revealing that underneath this bratty surface is a genuinely sincere person.
- Joe starts off as a neurotic type to rival most of Woody Allen's roles. However, it's made clear very early that it all comes from his strong sense of responsibility. He can't take things as they come and not over-think everything. His character arc explores how living up to one's sense of responsibility and learning how to loosen up are far from mutually exclusive — quite to the opposite actually.
- T.K. is initially the small kid stereotype, who seems a bit too young to handle himself (according to his brother, Matt, at least). Yet, this is brilliantly used as a basis for a character arc of him proving that this is not the case.
- Kari is a little disadvantaged here, as she is properly introduced to the team only halfway through the show and, more crucially, just as the story is about to kick into its frantic and emotional final arc. However, the writers waste no time in establishing her extremely selfless nature, to the point where her own health and life seem to matter little to her.
The bottom line here is that it's a wonderful example on how much compelling character development can be realized by taking a simple approach and applying clever execution.
2. Expertly Handling The Digimon Partners
What truly makes this group dynamic unique is the fact that half of its members are a rather imaginative take on artificial intelligence in form of the Digimon partners. However, as it doubles an already packed group, it's clear that these likable bits of data required a novel approach of their own.
On the one hand, the Digimon have been given these likable, happy-go-lucky personalities that reflect their human partners and create some awesome dynamics, ranging from the perfectly matched Tai/Agumon combo to the awesome odd couple of Joe and Gomamon. That way, instead of giving the writers even more characters to develop, the inclusion of Digimon partners actually ends up making the group more manageable, giving the kids this core dynamic to always fall back on.
Then again, in order for us to care about the entire group (and not just one half of it), the Digimon obviously have to be more than mere extensions of their human partners. This, however, is where that aforementioned artificial intelligence angle comes into play.
You see, the Digimon start their journey as sentient programs given physical form, lacking any real knowledge about life (or their purpose in it). Therefore, each character-changing lesson for the kids also becomes a character-building one for the Digimon. Furthermore, it's that friendship with their human partners that helps these digital life-forms to find purpose in life (especially in Gatomon's case). So, while all of it may be subtle and rather simplistic, the writers have actually managed to give the Digimon their own little arcs and make us care about them as characters.
1. Mixing Up The Group
As clever as the show's approach to individual character development is, it obviously wouldn't mean much if it all didn't come together as this vibrant group. This brings us to what is perhaps the show's greatest strength in terms of storytelling: mixing things up.
There is this wonderful playfulness to the way the group is regularly broken up into various combinations. What makes it so crucial is that it strengthens the bonds between different characters who maybe wouldn't get a lot of interactions when the group is all together. Therefore, when the characters reunite after these frequent — but welcome — narrative detours, the group is a little bit more dynamic.
Furthermore, it also creates a lot of additional breathing space within the story to further develop each of the characters and guarantees that no one comes across as an unnecessary part of the team. Take the final ark, for example, where Tai's and Matt's Digimon (Agumon and Gabumon) have gained an ability to Digivolve further into their mega forms.
In theory, it's a development that really should've ruined this well-balanced group dynamic, as it essentially put two partnerships within the group into somewhat of an elite status. However, this is cleverly avoided by first establishing that the mega evolutions alone are not enough to beat their new foes. Then, through some fascinating inner tensions, splitting the group up once again. That, however, firmly sets the plot's focus on getting the gang back together for the looming final showdown.
The brilliance here is that the group is brought back together through completing each of these individual character arcs (yet another great trick to develop so many different characters in the middle of this fast-paced story). As for the mega evolutions, they become more like these strategic pieces of a puzzle as a result, which gives other group members plenty of opportunities to shine.
The Legacy Of A Memorable Group Dynamic
When rewatching this show a few years ago, I was looking for a bit of nostalgic fun, only to be taken completely off-guard by the amount of attachment I still have for this group. Judging by the fact that this story now has a continuation in form of the excellent #DigimonAdventuretri, I'm clearly not the only one who still feels that way. I suppose it just goes to show how far can some clever storytelling take even the most crowded of casts.
Also, some excellent news for the fans of the English version: The first movie, Digimon Adventure tri: Reunion has finally found it's way onto Blu-ray, with most of the original cast returning!
What are some of your favorite character dynamics from that original adventure? Comment below to reminisce about this great show!