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Ah, Digimon. The franchise has been going for nearly sixteen years now, with the sixth and most recent series still running on Nicktoons. But most older fans are probably only familiar with the original Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02, as well as maybe Digimon Tamers. While Tamers is my favourite version today, largely because of how well it plays to an older audience, there’s no denying the significance and nostalgia of those original story arcs. Heck, for me, Digimon Adventure helped shape my understanding of narrative, and not just because it was in the right place at the right time.

The honestly complex for a kids’ show plot was presented in easy to follow terms. Each character, even the minor villains, was memorable. And the character work was incredible from start to finish. The way members of the 7 (later 8) Digidestined played off of each other showed parallels and dichotomies that were easy to understand for a kid, but grew the characters in emotionally complex ways. It helped that, as a kid, you never could take a side when two of the heroes got in a fight; neither Matt nor Tai was ever right or wrong, they just had different values and concerns.

If you’ve never watched Digimon Adventure and have no clue what I’m saying, you may as well just leave now, because Digimon Adventure Tri isn’t made for you. And and this first film isn’t made for anyone that isn’t going to watch at least a few more of the six movies planned. But if you are into Digimon Adventure, it’s a promising opening to a hopefully great series.

 character lineup

Digimon Adventure Tri Reunion (hereafter referred to as Reunion) is the first of what’s supposed to be six films, set after Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02, featuring the original Digidestined. The movie opens on Kari waking Tai up for school, with shots of the 02 Digidestined each getting defeated spliced in. And that’s literally all we see of 02, except of course Kari and T.K.’s Digivices.

Okay, I’ll cool it on the Digiterminology now. The bulk of the first episode (yes, episode, we’ll get to that later) is just the two of them going to school, having lunch with Matt, getting jealous of T.K.’s girlfriend, and dealing with the things going on in their normal high school lives. Yeah, high school. I guess middle school for Kari and T.K., because despite this being a fifteen year anniversary thing, it’s actually set in 2005. The characters are only three years older than the last time we saw them. Considering this is aimed at the people who watched Digimon as kids, is seems like a big mistake not to have it age with them.

Anyway, it’s a slow opening, which is mostly good because it does actually do a lot to show us how the characters have changed, but the only thing resembling conflict we have at this point is Sora trying to decide between going to Matt’s concert or Tai’s soccer game. Lucky for her, both get canceled on account of a rampaging Kuwagamon suddenly appearing in the city. The Digidestined reunite with their Digimon to take it down, but that’s not the end of the threat. For some reason, the barrier between the Digiworld and the Real World has weakened, and more dangerous Digimon could show up at any time, so the old gang has to prepare for whatever comes from the other side.

Tai

Okay, that “episodes” thing I mentioned earlier. Currently, as far as I can tell, Crunchyroll is the only Western company with a license for this, which is a little concerning for people who prefer dubs and DVD releases, like myself. As it is now, the movie can only legally be watched subbed, on Crunchyroll.com. On Crunchyroll, for some unSeraphimonly reason, the movie has been split up into four standard length episodes, completely with OP and ED.

On the one hand, the episode split points are sometimes very awkward, especially considering the slow pacing of the whole thing. It’s obvious the film wasn’t made with this in mind, and cutting it to fit in arbitrary twenty-four minute sections was obviously some kind of business choice, not an artistic one. Maybe they’re hoping to fit it into a TV slot, but aren’t convinced they can lock in a consecutive hour and a half. I dunno.

On the other hand, it just so happens that you can divide the movie into four sections. The slow beginning with the reintroduction of the character, the fight against Kawagumon, the reuniting of the characters, and the climax. The episode cuts don’t quite hit the mark with these, but they aren’t terribly far off either, so the episodes do help in focussing on the individual sections. I’d say it works, so long as you watch all four back-to-back.

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It is a nice throwback that Kuwagamon is the first bad guy again. It’s the kind of fan service that’s easily noticeable, but not in your face or distracting. They needed a first monster, so why not go with the old first monster? It helps that Kuwagamon was practically made for this role. He’s an overall not too powerful champion level, but looks intimating as hell, and naturally leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.

Another reference is the Digimon’s disguises when they go out in public. I can’t remember for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if these are actually the exact same get-ups they used back in the original show. They’re at least just as stupid, and yet somehow nobody bats an eyelash at a freakin’ bird with sunglasses and a bandana! Why do I still love this dumb gag?

Terrible costumes

Beyond the fanservice, how well does the movie stand on its own? Well, it doesn’t. And it doesn’t try to. Like I said, this is made for older fans, and is only part of whatever the creators are planning. The movie never explains what Digimon are, or the Digital World or Digivices, or even who the characters are. You don’t have to have watched 02, but going in without at least some knowledge of the franchise will only confuse you. And I think that’s fine.

Too many films from prior work try to walk the line between fan friendly, and approachable to new audiences. The result is usually something that spends too much time repeating the series, which annoys fans, while still being too confusing for anyone else. As it is, Reunion is slow enough in just catching the fans up, that trying to explain the Digidestined, Digital World, and Gennai to a new audience would take up the whole movie.

But even as is, nearly the entire first episode is just “here’s what’s going on now”. It takes a long time to get into the action, which is a major departure from how efficiently the original handled this, with short narrated bios to get the basic character traits down, strait to the action, and then all the complex development as we go. Though that’s an unfair comparison, considering we actually start off with developed characters here rather than basic clichés (eg: lone wolf, computer whiz, spoiled princess). But it is annoying when we find out in the third and fourth episodes that the writers are actually able to handle the character work in a much better paced and more interesting way.

On the other hand, it is good to readjust the viewer to the characters, and catch you up on them. Tai’s playing Soccer, Matt’s in a band, Joe’s studying for entrance exams, etcetera. And there are actually some new subtle personal struggles going on. Like Tai is feeling down that his friends, both in the Digital World and Real World, aren’t around as much anymore, but he’s too proud to say anything about it. That’s a really good starting point that immediately got me invested in where he is now versus where he was when things left off. Everything we learn about how they’ve changed (or not changed in some cases) feels like a natural progression for the character (except for maybe T.K., I honestly just can’t see him as being a babe magnet), and it’s all done with enough subtly that it seems like the creators recognize that we do remember these characters.

MattIzzi clothes shopping

Izzi dress up software

As usual, Tai is the first one on the scene. Izzy is the first to fully assess the situation. Joe is shouldering some burden alone. Matt disagrees with Tai’s leadership and pushes the group to do better, creating a divide that ultimately helps both of them grow. Same skeleton, fresh flesh.

For the most part, the movie avoids going into the same tired clichés we see in a lot of reboots where the characters have grown into teenagers. That’s not to say it doesn’t address issues relevant to their new age, but everything feels in line with the original characters, and where they were going. Sure Matt’s in a dumb teenaged band, but we always knew that’s where he’d end up. Sora has a crush on both Matt and Tai, but that’s really nothing new to her, they’re just at an age where it starts to matter. There’s a great little scene where we find out Izzy’s too shy to buy clothes in person, so he made a computer program that decides what he should wear and orders it online. That’s totally an Izzy thing to do, but his shyness was never enough of an issue to be explored when he was a kid.Izzi clothes shoppingIzzi dress up software

Another great, funny, character building scene, again with Izzy, comes when he’s telling the others what he’s found out about the digital distortions. For the first few lines he has everyone hanging on his every word, then as he starts to drift into the technobabble they start whispering to each other. Eventually everyone’s having a conversation without Izzy, and even the subtitles give up on him. And even when it escalates into a fight, Izzy’s still sitting with his computer, rambling, completely oblivious to the fact that no one’s listening to him anymore. What finally gets his attention is after the fact, when Joe says he has a girlfriend. It’s a great scene for the whole group.

But there’s also the bad. This might just be the way the Japanese dub is (I’ve never watched it before this), but Sora seemed a lot weaker as a character here, and kind of annoying. T.K. has been reduced to just being Matt’s younger brother. Mimi is, well, Mimi; I don’t think anyone expected much there. And Kari is still a Mary Sue. Despite getting a good amount of screen time, she manages to have less character than even the new supporting characters.

TK is dullCharacter work

The animation is nothing ground-breaking. If this were a proper anime series, rather than a film, I’d say it’s really good. But higher standards lead to less impressive results.

The character designs do, for the most part, look like older versions of the same characters. But some take a minute to recognize (Matt). Nothing special gets showcased for a while because of the slow start, but once the action gets started it’s nice to look at. Pretty fluid and crisp- like a more developed version of fight between Greymon and Parrotmon from the old movie- but again, nothing special.

Of all the Digimon, Birdramon really stood out. While I don’t like the way bloom is used in a lot of modern anime, using in Birdramon’s feathers of flame looks amazing.

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Unfortunately, the Digivolution sequence to get there is dull. The transformation happens against a boring white background. You don’t even see the Digimon change; it just goes into an egg of something then comes out different. The process feels more like the Digimon is getting a paint job than powering up or being torn apart and rebuilt.

The ending credits look nice though. It shows the humans and their Digimon growing up side by side in a pixelated art style. It’s a cuet little sequence for those people who like watching the older Digivolution montages, and if you pay attention it foreshadows a new character. A new character who doesn’t show up until around halfway through the film, and doesn’t actually do anything by the end.

Digivolution

Speaking of the ending, it’s way too rushed. The Digidestined suddenly encounter what I guess is our main villain, and we’ll get to him. They find that they’re not strong enough to take him down unless Tai stops having his forced moral conflict. And then, without spoiling anything, some key Digimon forms are practically skipped over in the climax. It’s really weird considering how slow the rest of the film was, and while it works to finish off what this first part was trying to do, it isn’t very satisfying.

The biggest problem in this movie is that so much is never explained. How are Digimon showing up in the Real World? Never explained. What’s going on in Digiworld? Never explained. What’s the villain want? Never explain; hell, I’m not even sure if the big baddie at the end really was a villain. He just sorta showed up and looked evil enough, so the Digidestined decided to rip him a new one.

I get why they did it that way. This movie was about reuniting the characters, not just with each other, but with the audience. Everything was built around that, and for that end, it was pretty damn good. But that’s not a complete movie. It relies on the upcoming sequels to finish telling the story, just as it relies on the original anime to explain the premise.

The film could have given us something, just something, to work with story wise, and I would have had some investment beyond just the characters. Like during the fight between Greymon and Kuwagamon, there was plenty of time to through in a little dialogue, or even just monologue from Greymon, about recent events in the digital world. It still wouldn’t make it a complete movie, but it would be something to hold onto while waiting for the sequels.

Totally lacking info and Izzys pineapple computer

As it is Reunion is a good part of what may ultimately be a great or terrible story. For the early character stuff it’s really good, it looks good, and it’s got some good Digimon charm. But in terms of story, there’s barely anything to evaluate until the sequels actually come out. Still, Toei Animation proved that can still handle this property, and I think any Digimon fan can get into the Tri series now.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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