Back when I was still a kid, there was this show called Pokemon. It was the story of a boy named Ash and his yellow mouse friend(aka Pokemon) Pikachu. Ash dreams of becoming a Pokemon master, a dream which he hasn't achieved till now as the Pokemon franchise keeps on churning out new Pokemon with each generation. It was a fun anime with all the nice things you would love to see as a kid: great battles, hundreds of creatures with bizarre designs (some of them cute, some not), the bad guys getting defeated in each episode, Ash making new friends and meeting new people, etc. For quite some time, most kids around the world including me were so deeply engrossed with Pokemon. Not just kids, almost the whole world was full of Pokemania at the peak of Pokemon's popularity.
Then the inevitable happened. A new show on the block...it seemed similar to Pokemon in name and aim. There were children here as well, creatures (some of them cute, some not), huge battles, villains and almost all the things that came with Pokemon. The show was called Dejimon, dubbed as Digimon Digital Monsters. It was immediately branded as a Pokemon-clone hoping to get some chunk of the hugely popular Pokemon franchise as it's own. The show became popular anyway, though not as much as Pokemon but it did get it's share of fan-following. At that time, I think the only reason I believe this show was better than the Pokemon show was because of it's cooler monster designs, the awesome and catchy intro(not the American version), names ending in -mon, the Digimon more powerful than Pokemon stuff and the villians. I didn't think there was much difference between them then but it's only after revisiting the series in the original Japanese I've come to realize that this show was better than the Pokemon show in every conceivable way! No, that's not quite right. Digimon Adventure is one of the greatest(if not the best) monster anime of all time. It surpasses all its later seasons, Pokemon, Monster Rancher, Yu-Gi-Oh, Duel Masters and all the anime consisting of strange-monsters-from-other-worlds which I've watched.
If you're going to watch this, watch this in the original Japanese with subs. I assure you it's a hundred times superior to the English dub, Arabic dub, French dub, German dub and all the dubs I've watched. The English dub has this bad habit of converting some nice dialogue into jokes and it has a very lame intro which easily annoys anybody living in the 21st century.
Now for the actual part of the review:
Seven kids on a summer camp are mysteriously transported through a wormhole into the Digital world, a parallel world that exists separately from the Real world(the term used to refer to our world in the series). There, each of the seven kids meet with their respective Digimon partners and also get their own Digivices, which help their digimon to evolve and grow stronger to battle enemies or protect their friends from danger. (The kids are called Digidestined in Eng dub/ Chosen Children in Jap dub.)
In the beginning, the anime starts a little slow because Toei initially planned this as a 13-episode series which eventually extended to 54 as the popularity of Digimon grew. It is the same stuff you would normally expect from a show of this genre like the kids partnering with their Digimon to help defeat the evil in the world. This plot has been repeated to death but it doesn't mean that it can't be done in such a way that it feels damn fresh and good in the process.
The first arc deals with the kids trying to escape from File Island and figuring out a way to go back to the Real World. During this, each of the digimon gain an evolution and they deal with Devimon(Devil), an evil digimon who controls digimon using black gears for his own purposes and plans to rule the digital world. Fairly episodic but done nicely.
The second and third arcs of the show deal with the kids finally discovering the route to the Real World and facing the vampire Myotismon. The show acquires a much darker tone here and this is actually the part where we see most of the character development taking place. This is where the show actually breaks the norm and tries things it's own way and does so successfully. Also, a new kid also joins the children on their quest. Quite possibly, the best arc in the series.
The last arc is quite possible the darkest in the series. The scales of power rise and new villians appear who threaten both the Digital and Real World. These villains are the real masterminds behind everything the chosen children faced thus far. There's quite a bit of death, infighting amongst characters and stuff about troubled pasts. Each of the kids disband due to personal differences and opinions, losing allies and realizing that they cannot save the worlds on their own and they must unite together if they want to save their friends, families and both the worlds.
The show gives you such a nice ending that you will be begging for more...And that's what the second season is for!
The art for this show is pretty impressive considering the age of the show. Backgrounds blend in nicely and overall scenery looks lush, colorful and full of life. The character designs of the kids are alright, each kid with a unique design and their own repertoire of accessories but the main focus of the designs are the monsters which are to say, very well done.
The monsters are actually the main focus of the show. From the dinosaur-like Greymon to the bird-like Birdramon, each monster has a semi-realistic art style that blends in pretty well with the rest of the elements and characters. There are all sorts of monsters here and not just the beastly looking ones. You've got mechas, androids, cute-beasts, bugs, aliens, demons, angels and what not. Most of them are cool but some are just lame.
Also, each partner monster evolves into a much bigger, more cooler-looking monsters and starting from Ultimate level, all monster evolution clips have a CG sequence that is used for evolution. Most of them look good even today when considering the tech at that time while some look outdated.
Overall, the art's really nice and sucks you in.
Normally, after watching Pokemon and some other shows of it's genre, one wouldn't expect to find character development at all and that too in a show about seven kids wandering with their monster partners but that's one place where you will be surprised at. This show's got loads of character development and that too in depth. And no, I'm not talking about the digimon here but rather the kids.
Each of the chosen children has their own set of issues and problems, their own past that's slowly explored as the series progresses and how they try to overcome them. At the end of the series, they develop into fully grown characters, each one of them understanding their responsibilities, motivating and helping each other. They become reasonably smart enough to question themselves, their surroundings and face their challenges without flinching but none of it feels excessive and as the kids are still elementary school students, they still maintain that charm and innocence of childhood with them.
The digimon themselves have their own personalities, mostly separate from the kids. They maintain their personalities as they evolve but each digimon also gets it's own share of development, though not as much as the kids themselves. However, they do contribute to the drama and humor elements in the show and because of them the show maintains a sense of humor as well.
If there's one thing that differentiates the original JAP version from the dubbed versions of this show, its SOUND!
I have watched many dubs of this as back in its heyday, it was practically shown on every channel that aired cartoons/anime along with Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and the likes. What I've noticed is that almost all of them dub the intro in their own language except the American dub. It chose to go with a very offbeat Digimon theme that made me mute the TV everytime that song appeared. I don't know why they butchered the intro but the sound's a big highpoint in Digimon Adventure, especially the intro. The intro theme is unbelievably catchy and still today I have it on of my devices that I use to listen music with. The other songs are OK but they're not that great either. The evolution insert song though, is something remarkable.
Coming down to voice-acting, I'd really recommend the JAP subbed version over dubbed any day. This is one of the cases where the original>>>modified version and it really shows. The voices hit the sweet-spot and all the characters are very well-voiced, especially the kids.
A very nice series that is sadly very underrated that I'd definitely recommend to you if you want to jump into the genre of monster-anime or if you're already enchanted by shows like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Monster Rancher, Duel Masters or any other show using monsters as it's selling point. The show is long at 54 episodes but I assure you that once you get into watching it, you'd be asking for more really soon!
It might be hard to find this series since it's a little old and the original Japanese version with subs is really hard to come by but if by any chance you get to find one, I'd definitely recommend you to buy it. Dubbed versions are a no-go in my opinion, especially the English version. Rent if possible and only buy if you can persevere that bad intro song.
You'd be hoping you were a Digidestined soon!