Review: Digimon Digital Monsters (Blu-Ray)

It’s Saturday Morning. Some people are looking for their five hours of summer over on Disney’s “One Saturday Morning”, others are trying to catch ‘em all over on Kids WB. As for me, a young Josh who always went against the grain, I was over at Fox Kids watching a show that, for all intents and purposes, shaped my personality, my outlook on the world, and made me the person I am today, for better or worse. This show did what Mon Collie Knights, Monster Rancher Gargoyles, Flint the Time Detective, and Shaman King couldn’t come CLOSE to doing. No, dear reader, the show that made my young heart leap for joy was Digimon: Digital Monsters. Years later, while that young Josh is now much older and a little more rounder around the middle, the love of the inaugural season of Digimon still remains. So imagine my sheer delight when it was announced that this series would be released for the first time in the US on Blu-Ray! While I already owned the series on DVD, and most sensible people would be content with that, I’m not exactly sensible when it comes to this franchise…or finances for that matter, so I plunked down my hard-earned coins for an upscaled version of this timeless classic. What did I get for my coins? Let’s find out. 

Tai and Agumon checking out Tai and Agumon.

Now, once again, just for full disclosure—this is my own copy of Digimon: Digital Monsters on Blu-Ray, not a promotional copy. I’m approaching this review as someone who put down his own coinage and bought it himself, so there’s absolutely no bias here except for that of a rabid 30-something fanboy. 

So for those who are left out of the loop and don’t want to listen to the song “Hey Digimon”, Digimon: Digital Monsters is a show from 1999 and the one that kicked off the entire franchise which still exists and thrives to this day. The original story features seven kids who have been whisked away to a digital world where they encounter Digimon—digital creatures with special powers. Seven of these creatures partner up with the kids and work together to find their way home and fight off the evil that threatens the real and digital worlds. In today’s parlance, this could be classified as an isekai, proving once again that we just can’t escape the trope, even in the past.

Tai goes through a lot in this first season…

While the monster-of-the-week formula is strong with this show, as it was for many of the other shows of the day both live-action and animated (Power Rangers, anyone?), what sets Digimon apart from many other “mon” shows is how it is not afraid to let its characters go through trials and tribulations, and through that, grow and develop…unlike a certain long-running show that I’m not going to name which features a protagonist that has existed in a time-bubble for 20+ years. Ahem. Unlike THAT show, Digimon makes it okay for our characters to have non-digital world-related issues and, through their digital world circumstances, grow as individuals, all while fighting off the forces of evil. The characters we are introduced to in “And So It All Begins” are much different than the ones in the season finale “The Fate of Two Worlds”.

A prime example of this is our floppy-socked, goggle-clad leader Taichi “Tai” Kamiya. At first, Tai is the de-facto leader of the group, navigating his group through the Digital World and leading them through their various battles and quests. However, throughout the series, he experiences quite a few setbacks and breakdowns along the way, including one particularly painful moment in his past, all of which trains and molds him into the leader he needs to be. He EARNS his leader stripes. Of course, all this is presented in a way that is age appropriate to the demographic this show is appealing to, and for old fogeys like myself and others, it’s great to rewatch the series and pick up on those little nuances we no doubt missed in our youth because “Oooh, big explosions with cool monsters!”

You ain’t finding stuff like this on “Pokémon”!

Another plus for this series is that each character gets time to shine. Unlike the reboot series from 2020, which, at some point, goes from being an ensemble piece to “The Taichi and Yamato Show”, all our characters get an episode or two devoted to them and their development while sticking, more or less, to the Monster-of-the-Week theme. The “Who is the 8th Child” story arc is rife with episodes that feature some great battles, but also offers some character development, most notably for Koushiro “Izzy” Izumi, the resident computer geek. While we are given some hints about his past during his time in the digital world, it’s only when our group gets back to the real world that we gain a complete understanding of the issue and see how it gets resolved…even if it is in the middle of a battle to save the world. I’m sorry, but Mr. and Mrs. Izumi, I gotta take you guys to task…you guys had ALL THIS TIME to have this heart-to-heart conversation with your kid, and you pick the time when you are in the middle of a battle to have this important chat?! You could have and SHOULD have picked a more non-world-threatening time to have a heart-to-heart, but hey, that’s just me. I digress.

One thing that I really admire about Digimon is the fact that the creators said “You know what? We’re gonna have our characters be REAL kids and deal with things that a lot of real kids deal with. While a certain young protagonist was running around willy-nilly in a magical world unsupervised and free to capture creatures to his heart’s delight with little to no worries, the Digi-Destined were coping with issues like guilt, death, divorce, and adoption, all while having to deal with random monsters seeking to destroy them and the world they lived in. Digimon is a show that you can enjoy in many ways; you can think of it as an isekai series, an action series, and even, on some level, a slice-of-life series; one sweet piece of candy with multiple flavors! 

Probably some of the best-done Blu-Ray Disk Art in my entire collection.

Speaking of flavors, Digimon has been released and re-released in many different flavors from VHS to DVD. This show is pretty much the Fanta of the anime world; one show with so many different flavors in different bottles and containers. This time, we get icy blue(ray) flavor courtesy of Discotek Media. The Discotek crew put countless months of work and effort into the project, and it shows. This is, hands down, the best-looking Digimon set we’ve ever gotten in the US. It does not feel like the stale, corporate, cookie-cutter production that some other companies have put out. I absolutely love the artwork used on the covers; it’s not just a photoshopped flat looking copy/paste job we’re used to; this art POPS. The actual disks themselves look AMAZING too. The use of the Digimon’s eye as the disk with the accompanying Digi-Destined is just great to look at. This collection was made by fans for fans with genuine love and attention to detail for the franchise. Everything about it feels polished; heck you can even reverse the slip cover to change the cover art! I don’t think I’ve seen that on a box set since the old ADV and Funimation “S.A.V.E Complete Collection” days. Heck, as I write this, I just noticed that when you’re selecting the episodes on the main menu, the indicator is the shape of the crest for the character on the disk!  We even get a few extras, believe it or not; art galleries and television promos. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, truth be told, it’s a heck of a lot more than what we got on the DVDs. 

Visually, this iteration of Digimon brings this show to a whole new level. While it’s in 4:3 aspect format with black bars on the left and right, this new adaptation just POPS on screen. This is not a show that has simply been copied over from original VHS tapes and burned to a disk. Instead, according to Marc, a good friend of mine, a fellow Digimon fan, and one of the people in charge of the Blu-Ray upscaling, this project took months of work and involved using a combination of the original dub masters and the original Japanese masters. That hard work shows as Digimon has never looked better. The colors look brighter, the lines look sharper, and the details come through better than ever before. When viewed side by side with the DVDs, there’s simply no comparison…visually and audibly, this Blu-Ray release shines. Check out the screenshot comparisons below. On the far left is a VHS recording I made from TV of the season finale, the picture in the middle is from the DVD’s and on the right is the Blu-Ray Version.

Also, can I please give a shout-out to whoever made the decision to put actual subtitles on every episode? Not only is it helpful for those who need the captions, but it’s also helpful for reviewers such as myself who would like context with screen captures. These also must be some of the nicest-looking subtitles I’ve ever seen. Yellow text with black shadows…perfection.

It must take a lot of wind to move that big mound of hair on Tai’s head.

Speaking of subtitles, it should be noted that this Blu-Ray release is Dub-Only, which means, like it or not, you’re going to get the show as aired on Fox Kids (Minus that dawg-gone “Fox Kids” logo on the corner of the screen), including the original Digimon English Theme Song as composed by the late, great Paul Gordon, and the original Fox Kids dub. For loads of fans across the US, Digimon is Tom Fahn’s Agumon yelling “PEPPER BREATH”, Michael Reisz cool declaration “No Autographs, Please” in his introduction, the Daikanransha Ferris Wheel being called a satellite dish, Mimi mentioning a little brother when she’s clearly an only child, and of course, the repetitive theme song that acted as a thinly veiled earworm to get parents to buy merch. If none of what I said appeals to you, and you want your Digmon in the original Japanese, then you might do better to wait for the Blu-Ray release of the classic Japanese version which should be coming later this year…if all goes well. 

Izzy practicing Kung-Fu back in the real world.

So where does that leave us? Simple. This iteration of Digimon: Digital Monsters is the definitive release of the show for fans of the original English dub…at least until they release the show again in Ultra-Max 10K Deluxe Ultrasonic Holographic Resolution. If you’re cool with the idea of paying a few extra coins for a series that you no doubt already own in some way, shape, or form, then this is the set for you. Heck, even if this is your first time buying Digimon, I would consider this a reasonable pickup. Digimon: Digital Monsters on Blu-Ray is a love letter to the fans of the original series as it presents Digimon the way it should be seen and the way it exists in the hearts and minds of fans in the US both young and old. 

And that, to quote a famous green-socked computer-loving bro of mine, is Prodigious*. 

* Shoutout to Mona Marshall for introducing that word into my online and offline vocabulary


2 thoughts on “Review: Digimon Digital Monsters (Blu-Ray)

  1. Digimon! That brings back some memories. And the Fox Kids version, as flawed as it is, is so nostalgic! I might just be remembering things through rose colored glasses, but I remember the voice acting in this series to be pretty good.

    1. Yeah, this show is one of those that you have to forgive certain things because it’s a product of the times, but this is a solid group of actors and actresses, many of whom are still in the industry today and some even came back for the “Tri” movies.

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