Digimon Adventure tri. Review: my reunion with the franchise

Written by Jonny Lobo

As audiences across much of the globe are continuously smothered by an overbearing atmosphere of nostalgia-bait and reboots galore, it’s comforting to know that at least one classic franchise out there is being resurrected for all the right reasons: upon viewing the English dub of Digimon Adventure tri. – Chapter 1: Reunion (2015), it immediately became evident to me that the American end of production is just as concerned with fidelity to fans as its Japanese counterpart.

In cooperation with vendors all across the country, U.S. production company Eleven Arts oversaw distribution of the film to hundreds of cinemas in cities throughout the United States for a special screening on September 15, 2016 to commemorate the return of the beloved series.

In a similarly doting manner, the recording end of production (handled by STUDIOPOLIS, Inc.) brought with it the return of many key cast members, including Jeff Nimoy—whose involvement with localization efforts of the franchise goes all the way back to the beginning—as Tentomon, Mona Marshall as the tech-savvy Koushiro “Izzy” Izumi, and Joshua Seth as the goggle-sporting go-getter Taichi “Tai” Kamiya (Taichi Yagami to Japanese viewers). Yes, you heard right: even the goggles make a comeback, meaning Tai (along with the rest of the audience) almost literally gets to don proverbial nostalgia goggles as he is reunited with Agumon and the rest of the gang.

…instead of rehashing old plots with one-dimensional characters, they’re giving audiences young and old alike a fresh take on some familiar framework via protagonists who seem to have grown up right alongside us.

Many members of the original English cast were able to return—including Philece Sampler as Mimi, Colleen O’Shaughnessey as Sora, R. Martin Klein as Gomamon, Laura Summer as Patamon, and Anna Garduno as Palmon—while those who were tasked with taking on the roles of certain fondly remembered characters—such as Vic Mignogna as Yamato “Matt” Ishida, Tara Sands as Hikari “Kari” Kamiya, and Robbie Daymond as Joe Kido—performed admirably, as they undoubtedly had some very large shoes to fill.

Though director Keitaro Motonaga himself is fairly new to the realm of Digimon, he and the rest of the staff behind these latest iterations (as Digimon Adventure tri. is destined to be a six-part release of films) have demonstrably proved their dedication to the project by skillfully striking all the right chords for effectively playing off consumer nostalgia while tactfully preserving the integrity of their predecessors. Instead of rebooting the franchise entirely, they’re continuing it; and instead of rehashing old plots with one-dimensional characters, they’re giving audiences young and old alike a fresh take on some familiar framework via protagonists who seem to have grown up right alongside us.

Like visiting an old friend (and unlike any given Hollywood flavor-of-the-month remake), vestiges of the familiar are always noticeable: a person’s core personality is not likely to have changed fundamentally, and old quips help reestablish and reinforce camaraderie. At the same time, however, human beings are not static; as living organisms, we are always growing and in a constant state of change. In short, we evolve—as individuals, as members of our respective societies, et cetera—and, in a sense, become different people along the way.

Nowhere within the film is this more apparent than scenes focusing on main character Tai Kamiya: remembered by his friends and us spectators as the brave, indomitable leader of the DigiDestined, the older and more world-wise Tai of Digimon Adventure tri. displays much more reserve when it comes to fighting infected Digimon and, similarly, a greater degree of reticence when verbally confronted by Matt over yet another disagreement in tactics. As it inevitably comes to pass for us all, Tai’s soul has accumulated some wear and tear over the years—wide-eyed innocence and unbridled optimism have had to make room for the prudence and wisdom endemic to advancing years.

…the highly digitized gloss typical of modern-day animated works in Japan and elsewhere actually contributed to the aesthetic charm of this particular production.

The initial seeds of fear for the well-being of others, as well as his own safety, were planted long ago in Tai’s elementary days when his ambitions for digivolving brought harm to Agumon; after lying dormant for so many years, we see these latent emotions arise yet again albeit in a more mature way. In conjunction with these newer developments demonstrative of personal growth, we are given the opportunity to bear witness to yet another instance of self-betterment during which our cravings for reminiscence are also satiated: once again, Matt and Tai—the bearers of the Crests of Friendship and Courage, respectively—overcome the abstract obstacles of doubt, pride, and self-defeatism to band together with their comrades in order to protect their homes and save the Digital World. It is this interesting mixture of action and introspection, of fantastic monsters and platonic love (which, as the film teased, may evolve into something more now that the DigiDestined are teenagers) that made Digimon as a series so memorable to kids all over the world in the first place.

Speaking of inevitable changes, in addition to my subjective pleasure with the updated art style—which, as far as reboots and such ilk go, is incredibly faithful to the characters—I also couldn’t help but notice that the highly digitized gloss typical of modern-day animated works in Japan and elsewhere actually contributed to the aesthetic charm of this particular production (as opposed to possibly detracting from it). In most cases of an older series being revived, any semblance of alteration from the original is often perceived as an affront, an unforgiveable sin. However, in this unique case of the multimedia Digimon brand, the most cutting-edge technological trends can easily work in tandem with both the latest product being advertised (from a marketing standpoint) and the narrative being presented to viewers in the form of an anime, manga, movie, or video game.

Rather than being an encumbrance or a thinly veiled veneer to be ignored, these traits can be reveled in by everyday moviegoers and film critics alike guilt-free, as Digimon has, and always will be, inextricably intertwined with computers and the ever-increasing possibilities afforded through cyberspace. In lieu of fretting over whether to showcase contemporary gadgets or attempt to remain doggedly fixated on the past, the filmmakers brilliantly incorporated traces of modernity into the atmosphere of the film: the mainstay Digivices retain their classic look and venerated status of importance in a world populated by advanced cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi.

As a longtime fan, I assure you I could go on raving all day. But why spoil the fun? As prodigious as it was to partially relive my younger days, Digimon Adventure tri. offers an equal amount of novelty to complement its nostalgia: Who is this shy girl Meiko? And what about the enigmatic school teacher Mr. Nishijima? Does the appearance of a mysterious Digimon called Alphamon portend doom for the Digital World? You’ll have to watch and find out for yourself!

In hindsight, I can’t think of a better way to personally celebrate Toei Animation’s 50th anniversary than by being able to jump back into the Digital World and be reunited with familiar personalities—many of whom, if I’m being completely open and honest, at times felt like friends as I ventured through elementary school—from Digimon Adventure as an adult in 2016.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this reunion possible, and for making it so special. If my grownup friends get to play Pokémon Go, then you better believe I won’t feel the least bit guilty for indulging in future installments of Digimon Adventure tri. as soon as they hit U.S. theaters—hopefully in English-dubbed versions.

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