It’s a typical day in Japan. Overworked salary men and women are coming and going about their business, school kids are goofing off on their phones, a giant Digi-Egg is floating over Tokyo Tower blasting messages around the world…same old, same old. Japan has seen weirder, truth be told, especially THIS iteration of Japan. Even so, the whole “Giant egg floating over Tokyo Tower” thing catches the attention of our second generation of Digi-Destined, who are now older and doing their own thing around the world. Gotta love those Digi-Ports. And then the news reports that there’s someone climbing up Tokyo Tower towards the Digi-Egg. No, surprisingly enough, it’s not King Kong, nor is it Godzilla. It’s a young man. After being rescued from taking a tumble on the sidewalk, our bitter, lavender-haired bro Lui explains that he is the very first Digi-Destined and all the shenanigans involving the large egg are because of him. He must get close to the Digi-Egg to defeat it. Of course, our ramen-loving goggle boy Davis befriends this aloof doof and offers a hand.
With the help of Ken and Davis astride Paildramon—because being subtle and discreet is NEVER in this group’s playbook—the three Digi-Destined fly up to the Digi-Egg and as soon as contact is made, they are pulled back to Hikarigaoka in the year 1996. It’s there where they encounter 4-year-old Lui, and he does not look good. Our little bro has been abused and neglected by his mother, who is at her wit’s end with caring for her comatose husband and her young child in a small apartment and who takes her frustrations out on young Lui. After a particularly brutal incident where she literally throws him out on the cold snowy balcony on his birthday, a Digi-egg appears in front of him and starts hatching, revealing a Digimon known as Ukkomon. This clearly affects modern-day Lui who attempts to stop Ukkomon from making a wish, but he is flung out before he gets the chance. After running from the cops and hiding in the local school computer lab like the fine upstanding citizens they are, Lui tells his story…
Ukkomon is a special Digimon that can grant wishes. Hey, we’ve heard weirder. Young Lui only had one wish at the time; he wished for lots of friends from around the world who would be kind to him and protect him. Ukkomon is only too happy to oblige. Immediately, things start changing for the better: Lui starts making friends and his parents are healthy, happy, kind, and loving. It seems as though everything is going great…until one day on his birthday, Lui sees a Digimon battle in Japan, and realizes, much to his horror, that all those attacks are Ukkomon’s misguided yet well-meaning attempts to grant his wish, and that his parents’ newfound kindness is only due to Ukkomon’s intervention. Infuriated by this, Lui tries to destroy his Digi-vice, causing his parents to die and Ukkomon to disappear…until years later on Lui’s birthday when the large Digi-Egg appeared over Tokyo Tower with one goal in mind: give EVERYONE a Digi-monster—a Digimon companion…a Digimon friend—if you will, whether they want one or not. You can imagine all the havoc that could cause. Heck, what if we get another Digimon Emperor situation?! I mean, who really wants another Ken running around? (Put your hand down, Yolei). So the goal is simple, right? Beat Ukkomon and prevent this catastrophe from happening. But TK points out that if they do beat Ukkomon, EVERY Digi-Destined, totaling over 60,000 around the world (including them!), could lose the bond with their Digimon partners. Faced with this knowledge, how in the world will our team figure out this conundrum?
After the inconsistency of the Digimon Adventure: Tri movies and the emotional gut punch that was Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, this movie finally does what those movies could not: it gives the 02 Digi-Destined their moment to shine. And shine they did. No longer are these poor kids pushed to one side and overlooked in favor of a lukewarm story for the original crew. With none of the classic Digi-Destined hovering over them and finding a way to get in on the plot, this team is finally free to tell its own story in its own way. And this truly feels like a season 02 story, right down to how the problem at hand is handled. Unlike the Adventure crew who tend to rush in for the kill, relying on Tai and Matt to save the day with the giant Omega-Mega Cannon Blaster attack powered by dreams, crests, Kōji Wada and floppy socks, the Adventure 02 crew are more apt to say “Hold up, let’s TALK this out and see if there’s a way we can win without having to kill off a Digimon.” It’s very much a World Savers by Committee. Davis is the leader, but everyone gets to have a say in how things are done. What’s more, this crew is always hesitant about dealing mortal blows to Digimon unless absolutely necessary. Truth be told, I think the Season 02 crew are more apt to hit EACH OTHER than a Digimon, bless their hearts.
All that being said, while the 02 Digi-Destined are more apt to pull punches (with the obvious exception of TK…just ask Ken), Digimon Adventure 02 does no such thing. It’s as though the creators said “This might be the one and only chance we get to make a movie about these characters as they are now, so we’re going to go all the way with it.” From the physical and mental abuse Lui suffers at the hands of his mother, to the downright terrifying moment of realization about what Ukkomon has done to make the boy’s wish come true, I don’t recall Digimon EVER providing this much nightmare fuel or making me feel this uncomfortable, with the exception of Jeri’s mental breakdown at the tail end of Digimon Tamers. Thankfully it doesn’t last long and is used effectively.
The movie also does a great job of adding a bit of folklore to the franchise without shoehorning a new character in with little to no explanation just to be a potential love interest for a certain goggle boy. Looking at you, Meiko. Lui is a character that probably has had the worst run of luck out of all the Digi-Destined (spoilers ahead!) and seeing him go through his character arc in the movie was, by far, more enjoyable than any of the new characters introduced in Tri. He’s a character that has seen a lot and gone through so much pain and torture. Digimon has physically and mentally changed his outlook on life. You become invested in just how he plans on making this whole thing right. Seeing him smile at the end of the movie feels like such a well-deserved sweet moment as we see the darkness, doom, and gloom leave him and he becomes the happy, cheerful child with friends from all over the world that Ukkomon always wanted him to be. The ending of the movie, while a touch melancholy, hits a much more hopeful tone than its predecessor, Kizuna, and is more upbeat and optimistic than the end of Season 02. With no tears except for joy, and laughter all around, this ending truly represents the opening quote that was broadcast around the world: “May everyone in the world have friends. May everyone have a Digimon”
That being said, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out what I think is a sizeable flaw in this movie. This is a great film, don’t get me wrong, and it’s great that we see this Digi-Destined team in action after being literally put in stasis for all of the Tri series, but part of me wishes we had MORE time with them, time that wasn’t focused on the Lui story. I would’ve loved a few more scenes where we establish what this team is doing OUTSIDE of having Digimon…adventures. One thing that Tri and Kizuna did a great job of is showing how our team deals with real-life, non-Digimon-related stuff. We saw Tai and Matt come to grips with their rivalry, Izzy trying to get into fashion and come to grips with his feelings for Mimi, and Sora…doing Sora things. We even had our crew go to a hot spring for some shenanigans. Did that add anything to the story of Tri? No, but it was fun and it was interesting seeing our crew just act like dorks. It made these characters more than just Digi-Destined who are fighting to save the world, it made them teenagers with real problems. As I’ve said many times before, this is one of the things that sets Digimon apart from its cousin Pokémon: our characters have to save the world, yes, but they still have to deal with a life outside of those battles. While we do get glimpses of what the 02 team is up to outside of their World-Saving Duties (Including our resident hat bro TK driving what is clearly a Jeep Grand Cherokee. As a fellow Grand Cherokee owner—NICE PICK BRO), I would’ve liked to have seen more, especially when you realize that this is the series finale. It just feels like the 02 crew is there to facilitate the Lui story, as though, once again, the 02 team is pushed to one side while their predecessor’s predecessor gets the story to himself.
On the production side, I have to say, this movie looks pretty freaking good animation-wise. Granted, I didn’t watch this in a full theatre with a giant screen in front of me and a tub of popcorn in my lap, but from what I was able to gather with my rudimentary setup, this movie looks like it will pop on the big screen. I love the fact that the Digivolution graphics were slightly updated but still kept the same basic looks. I also love the fact that Davis has his own iteration of the leader goggles with his Beatnik glasses. It’s a quirky touch for the character and to me it shows that he is his own leader with his own style. From the music standpoint, it’s all here and it’s all the original Japanese music, even in the dub. Thankfully it’s not “Digi-Time Again”.
Speaking of, the English dub of Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning, gives us a mix of classic actors/actresses and some new voices to provide us with auditory enjoyment. For the most part, the dub is well-written and the acting is very well done. This ADR script is good: the levity and jokes that were the hallmarks of the series in the US are there, but used much more appropriately and in line with the original Japanese. No more “Highton View Terrace” here, boys and girls–it’s Hikarigaoka all the way. If there was one thing I could find fault with regarding this dub it would be the voice of Armadillomon. Veteran Digimon fans will remember that the late, great Robert Axelrod, the original actor, gave the character a country accent. It was silly because “LOL, Armadillos are from Texas so let’s give him a country bumpkin accent,” but in a weird way, it was endearing and cute. The voice that is used in this version is…well…bad. It sounds as though he took a hit of helium in the booth and then pitched his voice HIGHER, and it’s beyond annoying. I don’t blame the actor, Robbie Daymond, for this, of course, he was just playing the role as directed. However, I have to wonder what the heck they were thinking making Armadillomon sound so drastically different and NOTHING like the original. That aside, the rest of the dub sounds great. Shoutout to Brian Donovan returning to the role as an older Davis; he plays the adult version of our goggle boy with the same energy and childlike innocence as he did way back during the original series run, and I’m so glad he gets to go out with this as potentially his last time playing the character.
So where does that leave us with Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning? Simple. If you are a Digimon fan and you are lucky enough to be near a theater showing this movie during its run, you should TOTALLY go out and see it. This movie did what it set out to do and did it very well. It gave the Season 02 Digi-Destined the opportunity to step outside the shadow of the original 8 and to shine in their own way. With its simple yet compelling story, the same dorks we know and love, a new character that fits into the series narrative, sweet animation, and a voice cast of veterans and newcomers in the English version, Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning is, without a doubt, the best of the reboot movies we’ve gotten thus far. It’s a well-done, much-deserved send-off to this Digi-Destined team, and that, to quote a green-socked computer geek we all know and love, is prodigious.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning was released in Japan on October 27th. It screens in the U.S. on November 8th and 9th only (Visit Fathom Events for more details). Key art and stills courtesy of Toei Animation.