Hear Us Out

Hear Us Out: Digimon Is the Superior Franchise about Small, Fighting Monsters

On the 20th anniversary of Digimon: The Movie, we break down why it deserves just as much recognition as -- if not more than -- its pocket monster cousin.

by | October 6, 2020 | Comments

Poster for Digimon: The Movie

(Photo by ©20th Century Fox Films Corp. courtesy Everett Collection)

If you grew up in the ’90s, chances are your first exposure to anime was either Pokémon or Digimon, and your parents would regularly mix one up with the other. Honestly, it’s not that hard to see why. Both shows originated as video games – Digimon started out as Tamagotchi-like virtual pets and Pokémon was a series of role-playing games – before expanding to trading cards, TV shows, and movies.

While Pokémon grew to become a multimedia juggernaut that has churned out TV seasons non-stop since 1997 and produced over 20 feature films, Digimon has quietly but steadily remained in its shadow since it premiered in 1999. But with the recent release of Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, and with the franchise’s first film, Digimon: The Movie, celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, it’s about time we take out our Digivice, become champions of the Digital World, and explore why Digimon is the superior ’90s franchise about young kids who befriend small fighting monsters.


It Was Appointment TV

Digimon Adventure

(Photo by FOX)

By the late ’90s, we were already entering the era of prestige TV, as the arrival of shows like The Sopranos and The West Wing, with a stronger focus on serialized narratives, forced people to tune in every week or risk missing important plot points. Though children’s television at the time was mostly episodic, Digimon marked a groundbreaking development for many kids of the era who discovered that they too had to watch every episode if they wanted to follow along with the story.

Many episodes ended on cliffhangers, characters experienced genuine story arcs, and smaller events and characters were frequently referenced later. Sometimes, major characters would be separated from each other for weeks at a time, and side characters would suddenly become important. This made for a more challenging but rewarding experience that treated children like a serious TV-viewing audience. More than anything, the show trusted its young viewers to keep up with its narrative week by week, so that by the time the epic finale came each season, the anticipation for it had been building for months.


It Tackled Mature Subjects

Digimon Adventure 02

(Photo by FOX)

Digimon is very much a Saturday morning cartoon-style show aimed at kids, but it got away with a surprising amount of depth. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Digimon featured character development that would unfold over the course of each season. The second season spent a lot of time telling the story of the self-proclaimed Digimon Emperor, who is consumed by darkness and begins to take over the Digital World before atoning for his sins in a redemption arc that spans several episodes.

The show also explored themes that were relatable to kids but seldom seen in kids’ cartoons, like exploring the effects of a divorce on a family, the pressure of living up to one’s family’s expectations, or the grief of losing a loved one. In the third season, a character named Jeri is even thrown into a weeks-long depression after the death of a Digimon friend. Indeed, Digimon fully acknowledged that its titular creatures are dangerous beings, and danger lurks behind every corner, sometimes with devastating results. The show was upbeat and action-packed for the most part, but it was never afraid to pull at your heartstrings, either.


Its Stakes Were Incredibly High

Digimon Adventure

(Photo by FOX)

Digimon isn’t about collecting all the monsters, or about fighting a new villain each week; it’s about kids on a mission to literally save the world. No offense to Jessie and James of Pokémon‘s Team Rocket, but they aren’t the most competent villains out there. Meanwhile, the Digital World of Digimon is home to some seriously monstrous villains capable of ruthless evil. Each season hinges on world-ending stakes that require the kids to work against all odds with the help of a friend or two to win the day. In most of the seasons (as well as the recent movie and new reboot), the Digital World even leaks into the real world, threatening to destroy everything.

Such high stakes have meant that the series has lost more than a few of its characters. This may be a children’s show, but Digimon has never been afraid to kill off beloved heroes in heartbreaking ways — we still haven’t healed from the devastating loss of Wizardmon in the original series. Plenty of friends and allies have met their demise over the course of the show, so much so that one character held a funeral for lost friends during the first season. But sure, remind me how sad it was when Ash said goodbye to Butterfree — which wasn’t even permanent.


The Movie Is Bonkers and Has a Fantastic, Totally ’90s Soundtrack

Digimon: The Movie

(Photo by Everett Collection)

Speaking of high stakes, the plot of Digimon: The Movie is completely nuts. The main characters (still 10 years old, by the way) literally have to prevent a nuclear warhead from exploding over Tokyo after a virus-infected Digimon takes over the U.S. nuclear arsenal specifically to target a couple of kids. It takes a while for the kids to bring the fight to the bad guy, though, because they also have to battle… slow internet connections and the unreliable email.

Considering the movie was cobbled together from three short films and packaged for release outside of Japan, it’s a wonder the story makes any sense at all. It’s also worth noting that two of those three short films were the early efforts of acclaimed director Mamoru Hosoda, who would go on to make films like The Girl Who Leapt Through TimeSummer Wars, and Mirai.

But the greatest thing about Digimon: The Movie isn’t its ludicrous story, but its bizarre — yet surprisingly solid — soundtrack. Just as Pokémon: The First Movie included songs by Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and NSYNC, the producers of Digimon went all out to make their movie the most ’90s event ever. In addition to the show’s theme song, which reflects a time when every anime show was marketed to American audiences with hip hop, the film’s pop soundtrack includes everything from Fatboy Slim, Barenaked Ladies’ sexually-charged “One Week,” and a fantastic cover of “Kids in America” by Len to a pre-Shrek “All Star” by the one and only Smash Mouth to close out the film. That’s right, pre-Shrek. Meme or not, that’s hard to top.


It Knew How to End

Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna

(Photo by Toei Animation)

Franchises eventually change, whether they’re Star Wars, Marvel, or Toy Story, but Pokémon, despite an occasional change of scenery, has otherwise remained pretty much the same, plot- and character-wise. Digimon, on the other hand, always knew its audience was eventually going to grow up, so it grew up with them. 2015 saw the release of Digimon Tri, a series of movies that picked up 5 years after the end of the original show, with the characters now in high-school. Then, Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna came out earlier this year and, like Toy Story 3 did for a little while, actually dared to say goodbye to the franchise with a story that signals from the get-go that it will be Agumon and Tai’s final adventure.

Digimon‘s audience came of age with the franchise because Digimon is a coming-of-age story. It recognized its place in the audience’s life and has grown to reflect the same changes its audience has experienced. Digimon knows some things from our childhood will inevitably have to be left behind. Though the series was ultimately rebooted earlier this year, Last Evolution Kizuna puts a bittersweet bow on 20 years of adventures that began with Digimon Adventure and Digimon: The Movie, which is an example that more franchises honestly should follow.


Digimon: The Movie was released in theaters on October 6, 2000.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Sundance historical drama Family free movies news FX Disney streaming service Extras movies Pirates sports latino VICE psychological thriller YouTube Red disaster true crime YouTube BET Awards biography travel breaking bad Kids & Family Set visit adaptation satire cancelled elevated horror PlayStation composers Country BET jamie lee curtis CW Seed Syfy dceu Avengers transformers E3 TLC game show History Lifetime directors sitcom PaleyFest name the review robots video on demand E! Toys Funimation TIFF Freeform universal monsters Epix obituary Nat Geo Netflix Christmas movies ratings Disney Channel Apple TV Plus Video Games dogs critics Anna Paquin Ovation series fast and furious spain unscripted Character Guide Red Carpet laika SXSW reboot crime drama Netflix thriller canceled TV shows Creative Arts Emmys DC Universe Watching Series AMC Black History Month Countdown Acorn TV cancelled TV shows stoner what to watch Masterpiece YA Warner Bros. 45 ghosts zero dark thirty BAFTA Drama venice adventure Heroines TV renewals Crackle Western Sci-Fi kids Baby Yoda MTV Lifetime Christmas movies tv talk Ellie Kemper strong female leads Academy Awards CBS batman french medical drama Columbia Pictures Arrowverse dark OWN hispanic Christmas based on movie Hear Us Out Fox Searchlight christmas movies Hulu Holiday The Walking Dead Oscars TV Land remakes VOD cooking Chilling Adventures of Sabrina hollywood Marvel Music Rocky TCA Awards 72 Emmy Awards cops Brie Larson Trophy Talk Biopics halloween tv MSNBC ABC Family a nightmare on elm street Nickelodeon Calendar documentary A24 game of thrones Turner Spring TV Stephen King Classic Film Fall TV WarnerMedia Mindy Kaling worst Lionsgate Universal period drama renewed TV shows Box Office foreign halloween NYCC Lucasfilm Schedule teaser Pop TV Dark Horse Comics The Witch Hallmark TCA USA Network casting discovery TNT asian-american versus Peacock Polls and Games Reality Competition 24 frames HBO Max Paramount Network Comedy Black Mirror Premiere Dates festival vampires YouTube Premium green book Binge Guide rotten movies we love slashers Martial Arts The Purge Teen Ghostbusters worst movies Rocketman Women's History Month crime spinoff stop motion dc FX on Hulu LGBTQ Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Showtime animated franchise superhero Food Network Marvel Studios die hard scary movies movie Sneak Peek films space Apple TV+ golden globes IFC Films documentaries comiccon richard e. Grant 2016 Musical sequels blaxploitation LGBT south america Musicals Mystery GoT 20th Century Fox APB Emmys supernatural cars Britbox El Rey TBS Film Hallmark Christmas movies Emmy Nominations zombies comic romantic comedy joker Pixar Mary Tyler Moore Esquire criterion BBC America Grammys Spike Adult Swim Shudder Bravo Pet Sematary CMT DC streaming service The Arrangement revenge Amazon Studios book BBC One HBO Disney Awards Tour emmy awards Winter TV Super Bowl Election nfl DGA Year in Review Opinion Chernobyl CNN Disney+ Disney Plus First Look FOX diversity TCA 2017 science fiction GLAAD Elton John boxoffice DC Comics quibi social media Reality See It Skip It Tarantino Pop concert screenings stand-up comedy GIFs football First Reviews parents Amazon Prime spy thriller X-Men children's TV DirecTV PBS Superheroes best The Academy sag awards nature Crunchyroll Best and Worst Holidays Comic Book 007 werewolf 21st Century Fox twilight Summer TV President scorecard Certified Fresh CBS All Access Sony Pictures comics award winner Horror italian political drama Nominations Trailer toronto mockumentary video Sundance TV cinemax Travel Channel talk show Apple spanish language anthology cancelled television war Star Trek 2015 crime thriller Rock Infographic independent Mary Poppins Returns Spectrum Originals Writers Guild of America TCA Winter 2020 indie Endgame anime mission: impossible Mary poppins chucky TCM finale technology comedies RT21 all-time mutant National Geographic WGN Television Critics Association ITV Comics on TV Discovery Channel Film Festival Awards New York Comic Con Fox News docudrama facebook Song of Ice and Fire Vudu miniseries festivals crossover japanese spanish australia 71st Emmy Awards television justice league harry potter Amazon Paramount Marvel Television Logo Tumblr Cosplay archives nbcuniversal Winners SDCC BBC binge 4/20 Quiz Interview cats aliens Star Wars Comedy Central classics Television Academy serial killer HBO Go Disney Plus VH1 2019 natural history The CW witnail hist Captain marvel A&E cancelled TV series zombie Turner Classic Movies ESPN politics singing competition Valentine's Day cartoon Shondaland screen actors guild streaming Tubi Mudbound Fantasy doctor who Starz Rom-Com Sundance Now Cartoon Network Marathons San Diego Comic-Con dragons Walt Disney Pictures romance American Society of Cinematographers MCU IFC Photos Amazon Prime Video indiana jones SundanceTV NBC theme song 2018 spider-man RT History Pride Month Trivia psycho dramedy Tomatazos Superheroe Podcast Thanksgiving 2020 OneApp child's play reviews FXX TruTV police drama 2017 toy story ABC Animation USA cults Cannes blockbuster Action sequel rotten canceled