Previously considered cult classics tucked away in the back of VHS stores in the “Foreign” section, anime reached broader range in the mid-90s, with the gateway drug for many being the money-making monstrosity that is the Pokémon franchise. Its pop cultural impact cannot be understated, so it should not be a surprise that FOX Kids and Saban eventually launched its closest competitor Digimon unto American TV. While it never reached the heights of the other -Mon show, Digimon was a phenomenal success that is still fondly remembered a decade and a half later. Though the action and gimmicky monsters were the main draw, it was the surprisingly complex character developments from the main cast that won our hearts. Aware of the collective consciousness of the average nostalgic twenty-to-thirty-something year olds, Bandai and Toei Animation celebrates its fifteenth year with an ambitious six-movie series that will continue the story six years after that fateful summer day. The first of these movies, Digimon Adventure tri: Reunion is now available on DVD from Shout! Factory.
Years have passed since the original eight Digidestined children were sent to the Digital World to meet their Digimon partners and save the world. The gate to the other world has been closed for a year and the chosen children have been trying to move on, but strange interference with assorted forms of technology lay the foundation for Infected Digimons to arrive in Japan and wreak havoc. On top of that are mysterious agents with unknown goals, the sudden disappearances of the second generation Digidestined, and the arrival of newcomer Meiko and her Digimon partner Meicoomon. The original Digidestined, comprised of courageous leader Tai, aloof Matt, motherly Sora, computer genius Izzy, spoiled sweet Mimi, nerdy Joe, kindhearted TK, and empathic Kari must reunite and and unravel the many questions left in their wake.
As a celebratory film, Reunion is a smörgåsbord of nostalgic winks and nods to fans who have grown up with the show. The English dub especially goes out of its way to call back to the original American adaptation, sticking with their specific names and – admittedly cringeworthy – terminology like “Digidestined” and ‘Digivolve.” Even the theme song gets an overhaul, replacing the Japanese theme song for the same kind of cheesy-yet-infectious opener used for the original English Digimon‘s lyrically repetitive ballad (which we all loved singing anyway.) It’s still goofy, but the moment I heard Izzy utter his infamous “Prodigious” catchphrase, all sense of logic went out the window for pure fan glee. The translation is subdued compared to the older TV show, but that’s because the movie doesn’t give many opportunities to force in a dumb joke this time around. Reunion is a quieter creation compared to its prequel, a clear decision to target their now-adult audiences who have grown up with the anime. Restrained or not, seeing the little in-jokes and the incredible attention to past references makes it feel like it’s old times again.
Nothing sparks the memories better than the return of several of the original English voice actors. The duo team up of Joshua Seth’s Tai and Tom Fahn’s Agumon is enough to bring a tear to one’s eyes. Anna Garduno’s gravely adorable Palmon cannot be beat, Mona Marshall’s distinct boy voices are in full set with Izzy, and Jeff Nimoy couldn’t make Tentamon sound any less silly, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Fifteen years later and none of the actors have lost their touch. The new actors who’ve replaced the ones that didn’t return aren’t slouches either, able to mimic the original dubbers, but still standing apart just enough to own their performances (the only exception seems to be Joe’s voice actor who sounds nowhere close to the original’s nasally tones.)
With it admirably recaptures the familiar, Reunion is really about change. The movie exclusively focuses on main protagonist Tai and his “rival” Matt as it wisely develops their characters further. Previously a standard shonen hero, Reunion opens with an older, wiser Tai, significantly calmed down since his preteen days. With age comes perspective and Tai has only just begun to see the terrible consequences left in the wake of numerous Digimon battles. Gone are the black and white days of childlike morality where fighting for good will fix the problem no matter what, leaving Tai wondering if it’s worth it if people will end up hurt. It is interesting that Matt, formerly the lone wolf, has gained some Tai-like qualities of diving in when it matters the most. While their tiff might be a bit contrived, even it feels like an extension of their growth with Matt no longer walking away in a huff with intent to break ties and resolve the issues himself. Instead he chides Tai for not pitching in and struggles to get him back in the game. Truly, these two chuckleheads have rubbed off on each other.
Reunion also explores the challenges of growing up. The first twenty minutes is a soft, meditative look at the eight kids, each with goals and lives of their own. The tight bond they once had seem to be drifting off in favor of looking forward to their inevitable future. Tai spends half the movie pondering on his career choices. We can see the cogs grinding in his head as he wonders just what happened to drive his friends away, even though growing up means sacrificing time to pursue your personal interests and life decisions. Digimon Adventure maintains loyalty from the fanbase because it goes above and beyond with the characters. Juggling eight children with their own personal issues is no easy task, but each of the Digidestined came off distinct, memorable, and sympathetic. Reunion continues what they’ve mastered and Tai’s complex feelings is an important step to adulthood. This is even reflected in the art direction, stylizing the characters with a more realistic look without sacrificing their key features.
If I had any complaints, they would center on the disappearance of the aformentioned second generation Digidestined whom appeared in the sequel anime, Digimon Zero Two. They appear as mere cameos during Reunion’s beginning, obstinately harmed during battle with barely a footnote. Despite obvious passage of time, not one of the main characters question the whereabouts of their friends. The other is how ignorant the citizens of Japan are over the existence of Digimon, sometimes acting like they’re seeing them for the first time despite the numerous invasions of these creatures over the years. It’s also slow-paced, taking its time before the big action kicks in. While this leads to needed introspective moments for Tai and Matt, it’s clear Reunion’s bigger narrative is a setup for a story it never bothers to explain.
Digimon Adventure tri: Reunion is available in a Blu-ray/DVD pack or standard edition DVD. Extras include a twenty-two minute interview with some of the English voice actors. A Look at the Reunion Premiere is a short two-minute clip highlighting the limited theatrical run of the movie in Los Angeles. A subtitled Japanese language option is also available.
Digimon Adventure tri: Reunion is a wonderful return to the series we loved as children. It doesn’t just bank on nostalgia, but balances it out by continuing the Digidestined’s journey. Reunion’s pacing is a bit clumsy, but it’s character-driven focus is as crystal clear as it’s ever been. Truly, this revival has aged beautifully.