A new Digimon animated series is set to begin airing next month in Japan, and it’s a retelling of the original Digimon Adventure show that aired from 1999-2000.
The first trailer isn’t a ton to go on, but it mostly focuses on main protagonist Tai and his partner Agumon, with a few shots of some other fan favorites like Izzy and uh, wait, no, that’s just it. I suppose I’ll patiently wait to see Matt, Gabumon, Kari, and Gatomon in a future trailer.
This series is largely the most well-known, as it aired during the height of the franchise’s popularity. While Digimon still has a pretty fervent fanbase and is regularly releasing new, interesting games that lean into more mature characters and themes, it hasn’t had quite the same staying power in the mainstream consciousness as its direct competitor Pokemon.
But that’s okay, because it’s meant that Digimon as a franchise has been able to grow up alongside its fans. Games like Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (a kind of B-tier Persona game focusing on a group of edgy teens with real problems who also happen to enter the digital world to battle with Digimon) haven’t been beholden to a formula the same way Pokemon RPGs have been. As much as I loved Pokemon Sword & Shield, in general, Cyber Sleuth has stuck with me more thanks to it feeling like it’s more squarely focused on the people who have gotten older since Digimon began, rather than kind of being frozen in time for a new generation to pick up on every few years.
These are two very different but both valid ways for Digimon and Pokemon to be relevant, even if they’re not actively targeting the same audiences anymore. But over the years, Digimon has started leaning into nostalgia in a way that feels very evocative of some of the worst of Pokemon fandom: the “Genwunner.”
For those lucky enough to be uninitiated into this, Genwunner is a term used to refer to people who hold the original generation of Pokemon higher than anything that came after on principle. Sure, it’s definitely possible to just prefer the older Pokemon, but Genwunner refers to the type of person who actively mocks new Pokemon designs, refuses to engage in discussions that involve monsters beyond the original 151, and just generally holds on to “the good ol’ days” of the franchise.
For a long time, Digimon managed to keep soldiering on despite similar sentiments probably existing within its own fandom. Whether you enjoyed them or not, it’s pretty hard to dispute that future seasons of Digimon and the games that followed were taking risks with the formula and universe. But over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable lean back into that comfortable first season that everyone knows.
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The first, probably most notable instance of this, was in Digimon Adventure Tri, a six-part movie series that began in 2015 as a celebration of the franchise’s 15-year anniversary. The films were a direct sequel to the Digimon Adventure series, and followed its original cast of kids as high school students trying to figure out young adult problems. While deeply, deeply flawed, these movies were probably the best encapsulation of how Digimon as a franchise was able to address its audience as it grew up, rather than being specifically for an age group that would grow in and out of it eventually.
But while it was promoted as a sequel to the Digimon Adventure seasons (which included the second season, which focused on a new cast of characters with the original group making regular cameo appearances), the characters of the second season were actively sidelined, and never actually appear on-screen despite their role in the story being a background force throughout all six movies.
While the movies are, again, deeply flawed and compelling arguments could be made that they are actively terrible, the intent was nice as a presumed one-off throwback, but that turned out to not be the case. After Tri came Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, set five years later and billed as the final story starring the original cast. The entire premise of the movie is that these people’s connection with the Digimon is fading, so there’s gotta be finality in that, right? The movie is receiving a limited release in American theaters later this month, so we’ll see what all that entails then, but knowing that this movie was going to be the last chapter before Digimon could let those characters rest had a certain appeal to it. Tri might have not been great, but at least they could leave these characters on a decisive note.
But now, they’re starting the entire thing over again with this reboot, and it just feels like Digimon can’t let go. Whether that’s fan demand or creatively that’s where the creators want to go, I can’t say. But it does feel reminiscent of the series’ old ways: attempting to compete with Pokemon on a level it really doesn’t have to. Pokemon may be moving forward with new generations, but it still has a tendency to fall back on the original 151 Pokemon, even as recently as Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, which was a full remake of the original games for the Switch, doubling down on the monsters and stories of over 20 years ago.
The Digimon Adventure remake might not be holding up the franchise as a whole, as there are some interesting ideas still coming from it this year, like Digimon Survive, a strategy and survival RPG coming to PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch, I just hope that this trend of revisiting its past isn’t indicative of a shift in values.
…or you know, you could at least make a Digimon Tamers sequel instead?