At the fall of the 20th century, the anime world was hit by two huge phenomena, each of which had a franchise consisting of not only the cartoon itself, but also (and maybe most importantly, since both of them were born to be "extended commercials" for their respective franchise, not unlike stuff like "Transformers" or "Gundam") videogames, trading cards, toys, anything you can name. I'm talking about "Pokemon" and "Digimon". And while kids everywhere started falling for the trap, and a predictable fandom war broke out (and by God was that one hell of a bloody war...the ongoing conflict between the One Piece fandom and the Naruto fandom, if you ignore the deeper fact that it echoes the legendary and never-dying Ninja-VS-Pirates conflict, can be considered a similarly hot war), both the adults and the older anime fans looked upon them both with similar disgust.
Well, let's correct that: in the eyes of one who never saw any of it, Digimon was "Pokemon's rip-off" and, as such, even worse, a piece of shit. An understandable misunderstanding, since the series came in right after the Pikachu frenzy (even though the little Tamagochi thing Digimon was based upon was actually created before anything Pokemon related), and since the two did have three letters and a premise in common. Though it would be enough to take a slightly deeper look to notice how wrong they were.
As a kid, I followed both for some time. I live in a small town, so the war and hate never touched us as much as others. I liked Pokemon, that world of strange animals really fascinated me, and I remember the AGES I spent on those Game Boy games (which, I might add, I still consider some of the best RPGs ever. Except for Knights of the old Republic, no RPG ever drew me in as much as those ones!), but after all these years (it's 2010 at the time of writing) I have no memory of the anime. I watched it, but the format never really did it for me, there was no big plot going on, the characters weren't really likeable or profound, so I followed it without really getting drawn into it. Now, Digimon Adventure, the first season, was a different story: even if I hadn't rewatched it last year, I could still have said "I remember perfectly every bit of it" without any fear of being proven wrong. Because that's just how POWERFULLY it struck me: I wouldn't lose an episode for any reason in the world, I would play and re-enact the scenes WITHOUT having any videogame or toy to do it with, and the characters...well, let's just say I would imagine stories with myself AND them, that I somehow considered them friends, that THEY, and not the monsters themselves, were what kept me into the show, and that even years after that series they were always in my imagination.
Let me put it bluntly: if a kids' show made to sell trading cards, which your sister and brother-in-law keep throwing shit at, left such a deep impression on ANYONE who grew up with it that its plot and characters are printed forever in your heart, that years later you still remember it fondly, that any scene, any music from its soundtrack, any reminescence of it can turn you instantly in a sobbing bucket of helpless goo down a well of nostalgia...there must be SOMETHING they've done right, isn't there? Pokemon to me is an old shame, Digimon more like a guilty pleasure. Why's that?
Let's face it: the flat characters of the pocket guys had nothing to share with these eight children. Of course they DID start with a general character type and not much of a depth, but as the series moved along we gazed deeply into their souls, their weaknesses, their backstory, their doubts, their family problems, their desires, their motives, we saw their relationships and conflicts change and develop, we saw them growing up, we saw them reacting differently to their role as the Chosen Children (yeah, not "Digidestined": "選ばれし子供達"), to the harshness of their fightings, to their adventure in that Wonderland-like place, before taking the fate of the worlds in their hands and getting many a level up in Badass. These characters and their relationships are just MEMORABLE; they would be for any anime fan, but for a 8/9/10 years old kid who grew up with them, saw their adventures more than once, and sympathised with them from the bottom of his heart, they will be simply UNFORGETTABLE.
To be fair, Hikari (that's "Kari" if you're American and want to lose the symbolism of her name meaning "light") gets less development (due to much less screen time), but starts out stronger and more interesting than the others, and besides she gets a lot more space in the sequel. Sequel in which, by the way, an even stronger character, someone who, in my opinion, alone makes the whole series worth watching, appears: Ken Ichijouji. The Evangelion-like episode in which we see his introspection is a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the series and for the voice actress, Romi Park, who manages to play in the role of two brothers, at various ages, with different voices, and who manages to shape her interpretation of Ichijouji to an unbelievably Shinji/Megumi Ogata-like form!
And, I will also point out, even the Digimon had more to them than the simple cute critters of the story. The main eight all had a distinct personality and some of them, like Tailmon (that's "Gatomon" if you're American. And fat.) and Patamon, also had their development and pathos, while characters like Wizarmon or the villains Vamdemon (that's "Myotismon" if you're American. And vote Sarah Palin.), Pinocchimon (that's "Puppetmon" if you're American. And homophobic.) and Apocalymon really had enough charm and strenght in themselves.
2) The story
OK, it might be because I am a left-winger, even a marxist at times, but a story about someone who just wants to become the "greater pokimunz trainah of all time!!!!!111eleven!" can't really draw me in as much as a story about saving two worlds from evil power-hungry tyrants through courage and self-sacrifice and overcoming your own weakness and fighting for the sake of others. And even if the core of the story, which I thus summarised, is nothing particularly original or anything, it sure as hell is well told. As the plot and the backstory unveil, the anime is in a continuous emotional crescendo, it just keeps getting better and better arc after arc. What starts as a "monster-of-the-week" series in a mysterious world, escalates to a fight to save the Digital World, and then to protect your city and loved ones, and then to save TWO worlds. And still manages to end with the plot/backstory revelation that is Apocalymon...yes, that revelation about the origin of evil Digimon was probably made up at the last minute, but they managed to make it powerful and intense. I even pitied the guy...I really did. Oh, and let's not forget the ultra-nostalgic finale!
3) The music
OK, I promised myself I wouldn't have touched technical sides, but as a music lover I can't forget how utterly awesome the soundtrack was. This doesn't apply if you're American (andI ran out of stereotypes to fuel this joke), since the dub completely remade it and the director managed to completely fuck up the choice of music, while luckily in Italy they kept it almost intact, but stuff like the unforgettable evolution theme "Brave heart", the rocking and progressive "Shuugeki! Soshite...", the ethereal and moving "Shouri - zen no theme", the various character themes, and so on, have done a great deal of the job, for me, to keep the series steadily in my heart.
So, to wrap up this overly long and incoherent waste of time, I'll add, just for trivia, a list of some of the great seiyuus who worked in this beautiful anime:
#Akira Ishida (as Wizarmon; he's Gaara in Naruto and Kaworu in Evangelion)
#Romi Park (as Ken Ichijouji in the second season; she's Temari in Naruto, and...a character whose name I can't remember in Bleach)
#Yuuto Kazama (as Yamato Ishida)
#Junko Takeuchi (as Gomamon; you probably know her as the title character in Naruto)
#Takahiro Sakurai (as the Kansai-ben speaking Tentomon; yeah, THAT Sakurai, Cloud Strife in the Final Fantasy series and Suzaku Kururugi in Code Geass)
And that is all for this entry. I just wanted to...share my nostalgic feelings about a piece of my childhood.
I apologise for wasting your time. And mine.