Monday, June 13, 2016

History of Digimon - The Franchise of many Faces

With the recent announcement of the newest entry in the Digimon franchise, "Digimon Universe: Appli Monsters", comes the same complaints many fans of the Digimon series make each time a new entry in the franchise is announced. "This isn't Digimon!". "Why must they hit the reboot button every series?". "Why do they keep reinventing the wheel! Digimon was perfectly good as it was" - Of course, these are just a couple examples, and naturally, there are many valid complaints to make about much of the franchise and there are obviously many factors influenced by opinion and personal taste.
Digimon Universe: Appli Monsters, the newest entry in the Digimon Franchise.
There are some complaints however that always strike me as peculiar. Specifically, the complaints that fall in line with the examples I gave above. Digimon is a franchise that is at it's core, about Evolution and Growth, changing, if you will. Even just a brief look at the history of Digimon will make this clear and I hope to give you that look in this article. Here, I hope to show you why claiming something "isn't Digimon" because of your own personal notions of what Digimon is may not be a valid criticism of the franchise, by showing you just how vast and different the Digimon franchise is.

Before I go on I'd like to make something clear. If parts of the Digimon franchise does not appeal to you, that is obviously fine. If it's not to your tastes and doesn't pique you're interest, there's nothing wrong with that; that's completely normal. It's only when you start to claim "This isn't Digimon!" because it doesn't appeal to you the same way other parts of the franchise does it becomes a problem. But enough of that, let's go ahead and get started looking at just some of the many faces of what "Digimon" is, starting with the beginning of the franchise itself.

Digital Monster Ver. 1, released June 26, 1997 .
Funnily enough this is actually a rather common question I've noticed in the general Digimon fandom. "Where did Digimon start?" The answer seems obvious to many - The Digimon Adventure TV anime. But this is not the case. Digimon started as a line of Virtual Pet toys, abbreviated as "V-Pets". At the time "Tamagotchi" wasn't doing great with the male audience, so "Digital Monster" was created to be a boys version of that, instead of the cute, small pets that were Tamagotchi you would be raising small, cute monsters.

The original series of V-Pets, Digital Monsters, were released throughout 1997-1998 in Japan, predating what is known to most as the "Original" Digimon, the anime. The V-Pets had you raising Digital Monsters, later known as "Digimon" for short, by feeding them, training them and battling with them. The V-Pet simulated life for that Digimon - It would start as an egg, called a "DigiEgg", then proceed through it's stages of life - Baby, Baby II, Child, Adult and Perfect. Unlike in the English dub of Digimon, the stages of Digimon Evolution instead refer to a stage of life up until Adult, to show that the Digimon is indeed growing up. "Perfect" is a form not many Digimon would live to achieve - Considered at the time to be the highest possible form of Evolution.

What relevance does this have to what I'm saying, you might ask. Many people consider "Digimon Adventure" to be the definitive standard of what "Digimon" is, but as you can see here, it in itself is a very different take on the Virtual Pets, it is not a series about monster raising, but is instead about a group of Chosen Childern who go on an adventure to save the world. It also changes the concept of "Evolution" being a Digimon naturally progressing through life, instead turning it into a temporary power up that the Chosen Children's Partner Digimon could use to fight other Digimon. Quite different, wouldn't you say? But I can hear you now. "Well Adventure was the first series, so it's okay to be different!" - Well it was the first anime series, that's true. It wasn't however the first "series" in general.

"C'mon Digimon" - A one shot Digimon manga
Still during the Summer of 1997, "C'mon Digimon: The Capering Monster BUN" was ran as a oneshot in Akamaru Jump. This entry into the franchise is very different from what most would come to know as "Digimon" but at the same time is the most similar to what Digimon originally was as V-Pets.
C'mon Digimon was a manga about the V-Pet's themselves, with the characters pitting their Digimon against each other in battles. The main monster of the series, "BUN", was unlike any Digimon before and since. The story, however short, focused on raising your Monster to fight it against others. There are no grand Adventures, no temporary Evolution power ups (Although there is something similar, with the main antagonists being able to change shape based on the Data it uses), no saving the world. It's a short story about a kid and his Monster partner, overcoming his issues and rivals and growing (Or say, "Evolving") as a person himself in the process. In Monster design, story and setting this is a completely different take on Digimon to what most are used too, yet it was the very first "take" on Digimon.

"Greymon" as it appears in "C'mon Digimon"
"Greymon" as it appears in the Virtual Pets

So 1997 came to a close. Aside from V-Pet releases, Digimon remained rather quiet throughout 1998. Or so it seemed at least as come November, the first full length Digimon "series" would finally begin. No, it's not time for the "Digimon Adventure" anime just yet. Before that was the manga series "Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01".

You might see a familiar face in the image above. That's right, Yagami Taichi did not debut in the "Digimon Adventure" anime, but in the manga series, "Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01". Much like you'd expect from the title, V-Tamer shifted the series into a more "Adventure" oriented series, with Taichi being sent to the Digital World to go on an Adventure with his partner, Zeromaru the V-Dramon, to save the world from the evil "Demon". Unlike the later entries into the series however, this entry did not utilize the temporary form of Evolution that becomes prominent, with Zeromaru growing and getting stronger through battling and permanently evolving. It also keeps some of the V-Pet's elements, incorporating them into the "Digivice" of the series, such as feeding your Digimon and cleaning their poops. It's a step away from what Digimon started as, but still manages to keep it's identity.
Jogress Evolution's first appearance in a Digimon series proper
It's also notable as the first series to use "Jogress" Evolution, which is portrayed in this series as a temporary form of Evolution achieved by fusing two Digimon together. However, Jogress itself first appeared in the Pendulum V-Pet series, released in October 1998, with Jogress first debuting in V-Tamer on January 21, 2000. Jogress first onscreen appearance was in the film "Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!" it goes unnamed in this movie and is not prominently used in the Digimon anime proper until Digimon Adventure 02's 26th episode, airing on October 1, 2000. One of the reasons I bring this up is because I see many complaints about "Fusion" in modern Digimon, citing as a "Gimmick", despite the fact the concept of two Digimon combining together predates the anime series itself and to an extent, the V-Pets, if one considers Deathmon's different "forms" (Powering itslef up by taking on the form of another Digimon's Data it has absorbed, i.e Deathmon + MetalGreymon = Death MetalGreymon).

Up to this point, Digimon had already in a sense reinvented itself and we're only 2 years into Digimon's lifespan. Next up we move on to what most people consider to be the "first" entry in Digimon, "Digimon Adv"- Wait, my bad. Moving onto January of 1999, the third year into Digimon's lifespan, we would see the game most people consider "The original Digimon game" released, Digimon World for the Sony Playstation.
Digimon World is a Digimon game that was similar to the V-Pets. It was a monster raising game that had you, a young boy transported to the File Island area of the Digital World, in order to raise a Digimon to save the Digital World. It's gameplay very closely mimics the V-Pet's, having you raise your Digimon up, it eventually dying, and then you starting again, all while you help to populate a village and progress through the games story. Digimon games would continue to reinvent themeslves after this, with the next entries in the "World" series differing greatly, much to people's chagrin. However, World itself wasn't the first Digimon game to be released on home consoles.
"Digital Monster Ver. S" was released on September 23rd of 1998 for the Sega Saturn. It was a much more true experience to the V-Pet - Literally. This gameplay of this game is just that, a simulation of the V-Pets on your console. You would do the same things and interact with your Digimon as you always would with the V-Pet's. "Ver. S" almost seems like an additional release in the original Digital Monster Virtual Pet lineup. It's also noticeable for being the first entry in the franchise to feature File Island, a prominent location in many Digimon stories, predating it's appearance in even V-Tamer. There was something of a story and plot to this game, but it is very bare bones and not told as dynamically as in "Digimon World". 

As I mentioned earlier, the Digimon games that followed these two were very different; World 2 was a Dungeon Crawler and World 3 was a JRPG. These are entirely different styles of gameplay featured in the same series; as if it were, let's say, "reinventing" itself, something many Digimon fans complain about Digimon doing now. 

Finally, let's move on to what many often consider to be the "Original" Digimon, Digimon Adventure. 
"Digimon Adventure" - March 6, 1999
"I don't recall Taichi and Hikari being THAT young in Adventure. Was Agumon always that big?" - Let me go ahead and answer that for you. Before the anime series many know and love, came a short film titled "Digimon Adventure". This film took place before the events of the anime series and chronicled Taichi and Hikari's first encounter with a Digital Monster. This film had a very different look and atmosphere to it then the series that would follow it, likely due to the influence of Mamoru Hosoda unique directing style. Despite being a direct prequel to the series that would air the very next day, aside from it's characters it has very little similarity to the series itself. 
"Digimon Adventure" - March 7th, 1999.
The very next day would mark the beginning of an era - The first full Digimon anime series began, Digimon Adventure. Digimon Adventure, despite being seen as the "first" to many, changes things qutie a bit, introducing a bright, vibrant world and art style- A style not seen in Digimon before, with all of the human characters, the Chosen Children, having their own partner Digimon that would generally stay in it's Child form, only to temporary Evolve into a higher level when needed for battle. Despite the lead up to "Digimon Adventure" in this article, there isn't a lot to say about this many don't already know that I haven't already said in this article. It's very different from "C'mon Digimon", the first entry in the series. Despite sharing some similarities, there are glaring differences between it and "Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01" and is even different in tone, atmosphere and art style to it's direct prequel, "Digimon Adventure (Movie)". As you can see, up to this point, Digimon has already gone through a number of changes.

From here onwards, Digimon would continue to change - The Wonderswan games that follow the journey's of Ryo that bridge the gap between "Digimon Adventure" and it's sequel anime, "Digimon Adventure 02" play as Tactical RPG's and the World series games introduced after this are completely different styles of games. "Digimon Adventure 02" itself changed up the format, introducing an entirely new cast, along with a new style of Evolution, "Armor Evolution". However, as a direct sequel to the anime, it remains mostly the same. Digimon wouldn't have another big change until...

April 1st, 2001, bought with it the third entry in the Digimon anime series, "Digimon Tamers". Only three series in and things began to drastically change; while Adventure and Adventure 02 were quite similar, Tamers is an entirely new beast. Tamers was and still is considered by some to be something of a "reboot". It takes place in an entirely different world to the first, featuring an entirely new cast (Aside from one, "special" case). In this series the Digimon Card game, Hyper Colosseum, exists and those who have a Digimon partner are known as a "Tamer" rather then a "Chosen Child". It's also the first entry to show a Human becoming a Digimon themselves, using "Matrix Evolution", causing the Tamer to Evolve together with their Digimon, along with featuring the use of using the Hyper Colosseum cards to "Card Slash" and augment their Digimon's strength. Tamers is often known as a more "mature" take on Digimon, as it covers themes that were unheard of previously. It is set in a rather sullen world, atmospherically for the Human World and visibly so for it's very barren, dying Digital World. It also shows a very different origin story to both the Digimon and Digital World itself.

A short prequel story, "Digimon Tamers 1984" details the creation of "Digimon" in the Tamers universe. It in itself is however, again, something entirely different to Tamers. It reads much more like a short thriller story then anything else. Although it chronicles the creation of "Digimon", it is very different to any other piece in the Digimon franchise. 

This article is starting to get a tad too long; so let's start bringing it to a close. The last anime I want to go into some detail for is 2002's "Digimon Frontier". It is perhaps seen as the most controversial entry into the series for two major reasons. It is again a "reboot" and the Human characters, again "Chosen Children" do not have partner Digimon of their own, instead evolving into Digimon themselves.
"Digimon Frontier" and "Digital Monster X Evolution" - The entries without "Partners"
As someone who recently came off rewatching "Digimon Frontier", I won't go into it's problems here - But it strikes me strange that, despite the many glaring issues the series has, these issues themselves are bought up. Humans evolving into Digimon was briefly touched upon in Digimon Tamers with Matrix Evolution. Many consider there not being a "Partner dynamic" to be one of the main reasons why this series "Isn't Digimon", but following after it, the film titled "Digital Monster X-Evolution" is often praised, despite it not only being a very different take on Digimon to what we've had before it, but also featuring no human characters, thus no "Partner dynamic". I personally think these complaints towards Frontier are worded wrong, as we've seen entries in the series that work well despite a lack of Partners. Instead, the issues lie with how Frontier handles it's characters and their characterization, making the lack of partners SEEM like a big issue, whereas in a film such as X-Evolution, it is not.
Left: "Digimon Savers" Right: "Digimon Xros Wars"

From here the series would go on to change even more - "Digimon Savers" bought on the first anime series without a "Goggle head", a main character who wears goggles along with a new art style and "Digimon Xros Wars" would bring on an entirely new take on Digimon yet again, featuring very little human Partners, but many Digimon, giving the Digimon characterization and growth the humans would usually have, along with introducing a mecanic known as "DigiXros", the act of Digimon fusing together to create a more powerful Digimon; a mechanic that was criticized for taking away from traditional Digimon "Evolution", despite Digimon fusing long since predated what most consider to be "traditional" Evolution and what is often considered "traditional" Evolution not in fact being, traditional Digimon Evolution.

Moving away form the anime for a few moments, I'd like to briefly touch on the games again. A new series of Digimon games, "Digimon Story" would launch in Japan around the time of Digimon Savers (In the west, these games would be a part of the World series, with Digimon Story" being known as "Digimon World DS".) and were traditional JRPG monster collecting games. There was not much noticeable about the first few entries into this franchise, but the newest entry, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, is worth touching upon.

Screenshot from "Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth"
Despite being an entry in the generally kids friendly series of games, "Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth" was a step in a completely different direction. It drastically lowered the amount of available Digimon, taking away the focus of Monster Collecting for it's story and characters. It's art style is similar to that of "Digimon World Re:Digitize", which is a far cry from what the standard art style is in Digimon. The story focuses on more mature themes and the game itself is aimed towards an older audience. Yet strangely enough, this is not considered to be "Not Digimon", despite how very different it is from what came before it.

 To close things off with, lets return to the anime for a moment. A sequel to Digimon Adventure, "Digimon Adventure tri" launched as a series of movies recently. From this poster alone, it should be apparent just how different it is to the original "Digimon Adventure" despite following it as a sequel. Although this might not be a drastic "Reinvention" of the series like "Xros Wars" or "Universe: Appli Monsters" are toted to be, I think it's still a different enough product to warrant special mention, as it's another entry in the franchise aimed at a more mature audience and deals more with the problems the Chosen Children are facing while growing up, rather then anything the original "Digimon Adventure" tried to tackle.

The conclusion I hope you to come to with this post is rather simple. Digimon is different. It's a franchise that is always changing and evolving, it never stays in one place for too long. One minute it's about kids battling with Monsters they've raised, the next it's about an Adventure in an foreign world. It can be a story about people who turn into Digimon, or Digimon trying to survive on their own. It can be for children or it can be for adults. There is no one single definition to what Digimon "is", as I hope this article has pointed out to you. The new series "Digimon Universe: Appli Monsters" is a very different take on Digimon, yet Digimon has survived on reinventing itself, and will likely continue to do so even after "Digimon Universe: Appli Monsters".

If you've read this article to the end, thank you very much. It is a long, boring read, I'm sure. But I hope this very brief summary has helped you to understand a little about just how much Digimon has constantly changed and reinvented itself. 

One thing I can say for sure is that Digimon is a franchise that I personally love, in all of it's forms and will always continue to love, no matter what it tries to do in the future. Even if it's drastically different, even if I don't particularly like it, at it's core, I will always love Digimon for everything it is...

..Even when it went through that weird oversexed phase. Until next time, See you guys later.

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