We here at Toy-TMA talk up a Pokemon storm (or at least Chris does). While I will always have a soft spot for the series myself, I couldn’t help but feel there was another anime from my childhood that took the kids-befriending-and-battling-with-monsters motif and gave it some actual depth. I hate beating around the bush so I’ll just say it. No, Digimon: Digital Monsters was never and never will be as popular as the show with the Nintendo license and a tie-in to a long line of successful video games. But from an anime standpoint alone, it was by far the more superior of the series. One portion of the series in particular stands the test of time and is of quality enough to stand among the pantheon that is Triple A. This is Digimon Tamers.
Digimon Tamers was the third series of the Digimon life cycle. As a kid, I remember not being as fond of this series because it rebooted the whole continuity that played out in the previous seasons, Adventures and 02. I also felt that since there weren’t as many characters (Tamers starts with only three central characters, whereas Adventures had seven), it took away from the fun. I also didn’t like how we barely got to go into the digital world in this, and when we did, it felt so different from the Adventures version I’d come to be so fond of.
And yet, as an adult, all the things I had a problem with became reasons that I now love it. First of all, I love the idea of how they rebooted the show into a world where Digimon actually exist as a TV show and a card game (not much different from our own world), and how our three soon-to-be heroes start off as avid fans of the cards and video games (not much different from the actual fans watching the series). Then when real Digimon start crossing over into our world by process of synthesizing their data into protein (a process the show calls “bio-emerging”), there is a greater sense of discovery and developing the real world and how real people would actually react toward these events. As for our trio, they are given the chance to be the Digi-destined they once could only dream of, and each of them reacts to this in their own unique way.
So while this show really only begins with three central characters, they still manage to bring a lot of variety and hold up the show very well.
Takato (left) carries the tradition of being this seasons “Goggle Head,” as every leading man from all five current season of Digimon wears the trademark goggles. Yet it’s kind of misleading because personality wise, Takato is a very unique change of pace from the others before and after him. He’s not a natural born leader like Tai from Adventures, he’s not obnoxiously hot-headed like Davis from 02 or Takuya from Frontier (thank god), and no comment on the fifth guy from Data Squad, as I did not watch that. Takato is just a carefree and imaginative young boy who wears goggles because he’s an uber-fan of Tai from the show. He’s the first, and still only kid in the whole series, to custom create his own partner Digimon by drawing a picture of it and processing it through his digivice.
The result of which is Guilmon, who in-and-of-himself is an anomaly. He takes the archetypal anime personality of “Big dumb hungry brute” and actually develops just as much as Takato. Maybe even more than Takato.
Rika (center), or Ruki as she is called in the original Japanese, is our Tom-boy archetype. Only unlike Sora from Adventures who balanced her tough-girl attitude with a caring protective nature that bordered on maternal, Rika is hard to the core. Known throughout Tokyo as the “Digimon Queen,” the runner-up raining champion of the Digimon Card Game in the entire world, Rika represents the kind of fan whose fascination with Digimon has been long clouded by her power-hungry quest to the top and to crush any challenger in her way, and once she got to the top, there was nothing left for her.
When presented her own partner Digimon, she sees it merely as a new challenge to feed her desire for battle and supremacy. She takes it so seriously that she’s just flat out unlikable, especially considering how she’s given basically the most badass partner Digimon in the entire universe, yet proceeds to treat her like dirt. Seriously, Renamon is awesome. She is soft spoken, cold minded, and moves like a ninja (despite being bright yellow), making her a suitable match for Rika, yet it still hurts to see her get shut down just for wanting to protect her Tamer.
FTR, yes, Rika does become a better person over time. But this is a kids show and it still surprised me how cold the writers made her to begin with.
Henry (right) or Li Jianliang, is left being our intellectual, mild-mannered, voice of reason. So basically, he’s the boring character. His one big personality hurdle is that he’s a pacifist that refuses to let his Digimon fight because he once let his partner in a video game get hurt (of course, this show wouldn’t be called Digimon if that didn’t get reprimanded rather quickly). Besides that, Henry acts more as a pivotal plot devise. He’s the tamer that Takato looks to for advice, his father turns out to be one of the original programmers that worked on the Digimon project, and his ethnicity is a cross between Japanese and Chinese, which I guess is meant to be symbolic of the show’s theme regarding tolerance among races. Besides that, there is not a ton interesting to say about him.
Though I will say that his partner Terriermon more than makes up for Henry’s blandness. With Guilmon being too juvenile, and Renamon too soft spoken, it is up to Terriermon to be the witty banter dispenser, and whoever handled the dubbing of his dialogue in America worked wonders. I also can’t help but mention how awesome his evolve form Gargomon is: a giant green trigger-happy bunny with turrets for arms. Serial!
I find it quite interesting how of these three Tamers, there is the one I love, another I love to hate, and another that I could care less for either way. (If you think about it, they’re like the Triforce. Takato is Courage, Rika is Power, and Henry is Wisdom.) Yet at the same time, I can still love all three of their partner Digimon whom, let’s be honest with ourselves, are the real stars of the show. It’s kind of like when I was a really little kid and I could never make up my mind who was my favorite Ninja Turtle (I had a new favorite like every week). I feel the same way about the three main Digimon. They’re all badasses.
But to bring this back to my favorite pairing, I truly feel the real selling point of this series is how endearing the relationship between Takato and Guilmon turns out to be. As stated before, Takato is very different from the hot heads that have worn the goggles before and after him. He takes the responsibility of being Guilmon’s tamer very seriously, and there are many scenes where we actually see him thinking before he acts. While he occasionally lets his excitement cloud his judgment, as any respectful ten-year-old would in that situation, he is quick to admit when he makes a mistake and always promises Guilmon to do better. He’s not even really considered the leader until 20-30 episodes in, and when he is, it’s not like someone ever comes out and says “Takato’s the leader now.” He just slowly and naturally moves into that position over time, despite the fact that Rika has far more fighting experience and Henry is far more knowledgeable.
Guilmon is as pure-hearted as they come. While he comes off as a bit dimwitted, it’s not like a Monkey D. Luffy kind of stupid where he’s just an idiot for the sake of humor. Guilmon is just very young and doesn’t know things (he’s literally born in the first episode). That’s not to say he can’t be taught either. Just listening to Guilmon’s dialogue from episode 2 back to back with what he says in episode 13, I wouldn’t say he’s made a full 180, but it’s at least 90 degrees, and that’s just the first quarter of the series.
I also find the concept hilarious that Guilmon is just about the luckiest Digimon ever. His tamer’s parents run a bakery, so he gets fed every day with day-old bread rolls, and then when we get to the part of the show where the Tamers are backed in a corner and have to tell their parents about their Digimon, and Takato’s Dad is totally cool with it and feeds Guilmon freshly baked bread rolls that are custom made to look like him. That’s right: Guilmon Bread.
Oh wait! There’s a plot I’m suppose to be discussing, isn’t there? So there’s this underground Agency called Hypnos that is tracking rogue Digimon wandering into the real world. They are run by this mysterious looking guy name Yamaki who believes Digimon to be nothing more than meaningless piles of computer data meddling in human affairs, so he has no qualms with eradicating them all together. Of course, Hypnos’ meddling with the network does not sit well for one of the four Deities of the Digital world (renamed “Sovereigns” in the dub) so he dispatches his twelve guardians The Davas, each based on one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, to wreak havoc on humanity and claim Digimon as the new master race. Three guesses who gets to clean that mess up.
In addition to a surprisingly touching C Plot involving Tamers‘ local mischief-maker Impmon, we have Calamon (or Culumon), a diminutive carefree nomad-ish Digimon who regularly appears as a magical catalyst to the energy that allows our heroes to digivolve to the next level.
Through the course of the show, roughly five more kids will become tamers alongside our main three. Some of them will be compelling and welcome additions (Henry’s little sister Suzy, and Rika’s one and only superior, Ryo the “Digimon King”), others not so much (Takato’s posse of stooges, Kazu and Kenta).
Digimon battles have digivolved themselves to implement the cards from the Digimon card game as actual modification tools. They can be used by tamers to upgrade their Digimon by increasing their stats (speed, strength, defense), provide weapons and body mods (wings, shields, drill arms for digging), and can even temporarily grant whole new attacks from completely unrelated Digimon. It’s great, because it gets the kids involved in the fight in a very tactical and strategic way, whereas the last two seasons whenever a fight broke out, the Digi-destined basically stood on the sidelines.
There is plenty going on in this show, so much of which went right over my head ten years ago. Yamaki, the Davas, and all the other antagonists are given motives that make sense. They actually believe what they’re doing is right. As a kid, you don’t really care about motives. You just want to watch good Digimon fight bad Digimon, which is basically what the first season was. I appreciated how this story took its time in its earlier portions exploring just the three characters, then slowly sprouted into several avenues that got surprisingly dark. For example, when Digimon die, they don’t just get reborn like they did in the past. Secondly, because Digimon and their tamers are so in tune with their emotions, tamers who loose it can unintentionally cause their partners to turn into exactly what they’re called: monsters.
While this may not be too related, it’s interesting to note that Digimon Tamers first debuted in the U.S. September of 2001, right around the corner of the 9/11 attacks. Some people like to believe that this show shares similar parallels to those current events: a misunderstanding between races, a war against an unknown enemy that can strike quickly and without warning, the value of human lives, and so-on. I honestly find it to be a bit of a stretch, though it is true that Tamers delved into the deeper intricacies of what it meant to be “real,” and whether Digimon, whose body makeup is constructed by computer data rather than cells, are in fact by definition, living creatures.
At its core, Digimon Tamers remains a harmless kids show with fun action, endearing characters, and just enough dark and mature undertones to cater to older audiences. All 51 episodes are currently available on Hulu in the original Japanese format with subtitles. So if you watched the dub when it first aired on Fox Kids like me, it’s neat to get a new take on the series (even if I did think the way they translated it back then wasn’t all that bad). If you’ve never headed off on a digital trip before, there is no better place to start than here.