Right now, I have another post on linguistics and one on Aristotle in progress, but every time I open up my drafts to edit, I find something else I want to change. So then I thought of this, and I thought, “That sounds easy to write. Sure, why not?” I’m beginning to think maybe I should just post my drafts despite all the stuff I want to change. Maybe the problem is that I’m feeling too self-conscious because this is my first time posting my writing on the internet, in which case hopefully putting this up will make it easier to make other posts. So, sooner or later, I’m going to have a post on more linguistic stuff, as well as some stuff about Aristotle, along with whatever other stuff I feel like writing about. My next scholarly subject after Aristotle will probably be calculus.
But for now: The reason I thought of this is that recently, my brother told me that he’d tried re-watching the first episode of Digimon (I think he was referring to the first season), causing him to have one of those “How on earth did I like this as a kid?” moments. So that got me thinking about Digimon.
For a long time now, I’ve thought that Digimon was much better than Pokemon. Don’t get me wrong; I do like Pokemon. Pokemon is a great franchise, but its strength isn’t in the show, it’s in the games. There’s a good reason why Pokemon is one of Nintendo’s biggest series. It’s a deep, interesting, and very strategic game. It very elegantly solves what I think are the two biggest problems of traditional turn-based RPG’s: 1. You don’t have to take your opponent’s actions into account when deciding your move; no matter what your opponent does, you always tell your fighter to use melee attacks, your wizard to use magic attacks, your cleric to heal, and your thief to steal. (Hey, that rhymed.) Sure, you might take an extra turn or two to use antidotes or something―if your cleric doesn’t already have a status-healing move―or you might have your fighter use potions if you need more than one heal in a turn, but generally you just stick with one pattern. With Pokemon, the fact that your opponent has the chance to swap out his active Pokemon before you can attack, effectively controlling which enemy you target, forces you to try to figure out what your opponent is going to do before you decide your move. 2. Fights are very static. If one side has an advantage, that’s generally going to consist of a higher level, better equipment, or stronger moves―something that can’t really change throughout a fight. So once a fight starts, the winner is already pretty much determined; the advantage never really switches between sides. But with Pokemon, if a player makes one bad prediction, he might lose a strategically important Pokemon, which might allow his opponent to use a previously unavailable tactic, which might lose him the game. Fights have much more potential to change, which makes them much more interesting. (If you don’t get what I mean by these two points, check out this guy’s channel. He does a really good job of showing the strategic element of Pokemon.)
Granted, these advantages arise largely from the fact that Pokemon is primarily a multiplayer game, not a single player game, so even though Pokemon has the same basic turn-based RPG format, you could argue that this is a case of apples and oranges. But then, if you can’t make an interesting single player game, why bother making it?
So, yeah. Pokemon is a great game. The show, on the other hand, is not so great. At least, I think Digimon is better. Which is why it annoys me when people say that Digimon is just a Pokemon rip-off. Even in this blog post editor, “Digimon” is marked as a misspelled word, while “Pokemon” is left unmarked. How outrageous is that?! Digimon was my childhood, man! You can’t mark my childhood as a misspelled word! But, first of all, Digimon originated as a masculine counterpart to the Tamagotchi virtual pet toys. So it had nothing to do with Pokemon. And second, far from being a rip-off, I think Digimon is better than Pokemon. Well, to be fair, I never watched Pokemon very closely. I just had a few episodes on a cassette tape (remember those things?) that I used to watch over and over when I was little. So maybe I can’t make a good comparison. But here’s what I thought Digimon did right:
1. Digimon actually has an ending
Multiple endings, in fact. Like the games in the Final Fantasy series, each season in Digimon is a self-contained story that shares certain common elements, but doesn’t continue off of any previous season. The only exception is season 2 (Digimon Adventure 02), which is also the worst season that I’ve seen. Even in grade school I could barely force myself to sit through the ending, it was so sappy. Although I’ve never watched season 6 (Digimon Fusion), which, from what I’ve seen, looks like the series’s rock bottom. But the point is, each season is a self-contained story, and therefore each one works towards its own conclusion. So by taking this route, Digimon gets the best of both worlds: it can go on forever, but each individual sub-story has a coherent plot with an ending specially designed for it.
Another nice thing about Digimon’s approach to new seasons is that each season introduces a whole new Digital World. So, the world of season 1 (Adventure) is completely different from the world of season 3 (Tamers), which in turn is completely different from the world of season 4 (Frontier), which is completely different from the world of season 5 (Savers). Each season has a whole new geography, history, and mood, on top of the new characters. Not to mention, Digimon isn’t bothered by those awkward questions like, “Why doesn’t the main character get any older?” Actually, there’s no reason why Pokemon couldn’t have benefited from this approach as well. Each generation of Pokemon games introduces a newly designed main character and a new region with new Pokemon. The show has been introducing the new regions and Pokemon by having the same old character they’ve used from the start travel all around the world. But they could easily have used new protagonists, new art styles, new moods, and so on if they had wanted to. Even if they thought it would have been too much trouble to make a new main character from scratch, they could easily have borrowed new protagonists from the games. It’s beyond me why they decided to stick with Ash with his annoying voice and his at worst shallow, at best not particularly interesting motive of becoming the Pokemon master. Well, I guess I can’t relate to that because I’m not particularly competitive; maybe people who are into sports can relate to Ash. But I sure as heck can’t.
Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of comparing seasons, Tamers is the best season of Digimon. It has the darkest story and mood. The second to last scene is actually really frikkin’ melancholic. But I guess they couldn’t bear to end the story on that note, because the last scene is more hopeful.
2. Most importantly: Digimon doesn’t take itself seriously
As I once told my classmates in high school, the difference between Digimon and Pokemon is that if you watch Pokemon again after growing up, you’ll say “This is stupid” and turn it off, but if you watch Digimon again after growing up, you’ll at least get a few little laughs out of it before you say “This is stupid” and turn it off. See, Digimon has a constant atmosphere of flippancy about it. The generic, unimportant characters―you know, man-on-the-street 1 and 2 and all that―are always caricatures with comical voices and lines. The heroes make corny puns at climactic moments. The dialogue generally has the rhythm and feel of witty banter, not the slow, earnest cadence characteristic of most children’s shows. As an example of Digimon humor: In season 1, the following Digimon, Apocalymon, is revealed to be the final villain in the season.
At his big climactic entrance, the camera focuses closely on his face and pans down to reveal the rest of his body. Meanwhile, as the red and blue wires connecting the upper and lower halves of his body come into view, he declares, “I am the ultimate evil… complete with hot and cold running water!”
Later on in the final battle, Apocalymon explains that he originated as the amalgamation of the data of all the Digimon who failed to Digivolve and so were destroyed, their data then being scattered across the Digital World. Therefore, throughout all his existence, he has felt nothing but envy and sadness. And he questions the main characters and their Digimon: “Do you think it’s fair that I have to live in all this agony?! Why should you laugh when I am forced to cry?! Why do you taste the best life has to offer when all I do is choke on its leftovers?! Answer me this!!! Why do you all get the pizza… when I get the crust???!!!!!”
And the dialogue proceeds in this way. The climax ends up being both the tensest and the funniest part of the show. Well, of course, it is a children’s show, so it’s not like Shakespeare or the Marx Brothers or Monty Python or anything, but still.
At another climactic moment, this time in season 2, a villain, Oikawa, is about to scan some data from one of the main characters, Ken. To be exact, he’s going to “harvest” the “dark spore” that’s been implanted in him, whatever that means. The point is, he’s scanning data from Ken using a handheld device, and this is what’s going to allow him to complete his villainous plans. And he tells Ken, “Don’t worry, I promise you won’t feel a thing. It’s just a little data that will be transferred electronically. Just pretend you’re a cereal box… [camera shows Oikawa holding up his scanning device with a menacing look on his face] …and I’m scanning your barcode.”
This is the kind of atmosphere that pervades Digimon.
So I think Digimon is a great show in its own right. Not that I’m recommending that you go out and watch it now, of course; it is a children’s show. But I definitely don’t think it deserves to be written off as a copycat of Pokemon.