If you read my “Digimon Adventure” review, then you know that I consider it an underappreciated gem that managed to make the best out of its premise with both intriguing plot and unforgettable characters. After its success, it was only natural for a sequel to be produced, and it was just as natural for it to fall to the plague of sequelitis and be generally considered not only worse than its predecessor but even one of the worst Digimon seasons period. However, while certainly inferior to the first, Adventure 02 still has its own merits, making it a pretty damn good series.
Three years have passed since the Chosen Children’s battle against the forces of evil, but all is not well in the Digital World. A human, declaring himself the “Digimon Kaiser”, has begun enslaving Digimon through the use of Dark Rings. It will be up to a new team of Chosen Children (Daisuke, Miyako, Iori, and the two “veterans” Takeru and Hikari) to fight for the freedom of the Digital World. But they will soon find out that the Kaiser is but the tip of the iceberg…
Predictably, the anime suffers from what I call “Digimon syndrome”, but it takes much longer to get out of the monster-of-the-week format into “shit just got real” territory, and unlike its predecessor, the crescendo in intensity does let up more than once, with pointless filler episodes and a second round of monsters-of-the-week. Don’t let this make you think it delivers poorly, though: the battles get more and more involving as the series progresses, the emotional moments (death scenes, emotional breakdowns, etc.) hit really hard, the nostalgic moments (with references to the events of the first season, similar situations, etc.) prove once again that the “that one adventure of our lives” feeling is what Digimon does best, and the progression of the plot is more complex and full of well-pulled (if at times a far-fetched) twists. It also shows some very interesting sparks of darker, more adult elements, like the theme of redemption, the sympathetic nature of many villains, demon-like Digimon threatening to destroy a school bus full of children, and even the idea for a plot arc written by Chiaki Konaka (of Lain fame), that unfortunately was later downtoned and mostly scrapped. I can see why, though. Seriously, monsters of darkness implying the intention of gang-raping a middle-school girl to spawn an army for their mysterious lovecraftian deity? When I first watched that episode it crept the SHIT out of me, and I was NINETEEN! (It was AWESOME!).
Despite all of this, though, its biggest flaw lies elsewhere. A textbook Digimon Syndrome case normally leads to an “epic, nostalgic, and ultimately satisfying finale”… and this is where it fails. The final battle is built up in such a perfect way, but then the series ass-pulls a payoff so cheesy that gets facepalms even from children, and then a distant finale with the children pulling dreams and aspirations never mentioned before and having bugger all to do with two seasons’ worth of characterisation from out of bloody nowhere, and even flushing down the toilet the conflict that constituted the centre of one character’s entire development… it is a pretty damn big disappointment. I like to think that finale was but a bad dream, and that Matt and Tai went on to become guitar heroes in a successful heavy metal band. Let me dream, damnit!
The new Chosen Children are much less interesting characters; with the exception of one episode towards the end and some small events concerning Takeru and Hikari, they are mostly underdeveloped, being given just a superficial, if strong, characterisation (Daisuke, in particular, is something of a 20% more annoying clone of the immature Taichi from the first twelve episodes); it is true that they are not in as dire a situation as the first protagonists were, though, and for all the jokes I make about how whiny they are not wanting to kill anyone and how “privileged they are, because back in my days…”, the moment in which they come to terms with having killed a sentient being is pretty well done, which isn’t a small feat considering how forced the whole dilemma felt (come on, would YOU feel sorry for a seven-storey-tall acid-spitting octopus trying to destroy an hospital? AN HOSPITAL?). Still, the result is a bunch of likeable, but mostly bidimensional protagonists (including the main Digimon) who pale in the unavoidable comparison to their predecessors. By the way, the old Chosen Children do make appearances, but mostly as helping hands and mentor figures; still, just seeing them being close friends, having grown out of their previous conflicts and weaknesses, and being generally awesome is very satisfying.
The villains, however, are something else. With one exception, they are all given exploration, a path of redemption or at least a redeeming quality, with Ichijōji Ken being one of the deepest and most moving characters I’ve ever seen in this kind of show (you know the child genius à la Yagami Light with a delusion of grandeur who thinks he's infallible?). No kidding, I think the whole series is worth watching because of his character alone; there’s even one whole episode dedicated to the psychological exploration of his backstory and guilt-ridden acceptance of his sins that I swear is the closest thing to a Neon Genesis Evangelion mind trip I’ve ever seen and Angemon all-powerful was it intense (of course it was cut out of the American and European broadcast, being watchdogs the bloody wankers they are). Of the other villains, one is an abomination gaining consciousness and searching for the reason of his existence, two have great dynamics and a surprisingly emotional payoff, one has one hell of a moving backstory (Oikawa, truly one of the most tragic characters of the franchise), and the final one’s a surprise.
The art in this anime follows the same style as its predecessor, so I’ll repeat myself and call it "average", nothing exceptional but by no means bad. It keeps the style of the backgrounds as in the first season and thus it keeps its pros (it’s a particular, distinguishing characteristic I still haven’t seen anywhere else) and cons (the fact that at times the characters may not blend in well). The character design of both the humans and the Digimon is still fairly strong, although it lacks the unquestionable awesomeness of a WarGreymon. The DNA Evolutions are pretty sweet, though. As a side note, I’ll add that I’m ready to bet my balls that the direction in episode 23 was meant to be a reference to the last episodes of Evangelion.
The soundtrack is again composed by Arisawa Takanori (already composer for Sailor Moon), who once again crafts a varied collection of beautiful pieces of music, ranging from jazz to rock to electronic to some really intense orchestral tracks including another set of effective character themes, always very effective in their use. The OP (the forgettable Target) is again provided by Wada Kōji, as the two EDs (Ashita wa atashi no kaze ga fuku and Itsumo itsudemo, both catchy upbeat pop numbers) are again sung by Maeda Ai. Besides Brave heart, occasionally making a return from the first series, Miyazaki Ayumi sings two more pumping insert songs for the evolution and battle scenes, Break up! and Beat it.
The seiyū from the first series reprise their roles (with the exception of Takeru, now older and voiced by Yamamoto Taisuke), and they all do their usual great job (Fujita Toshiko as Taichi also fittingly makes her performance a bit more “masculine” to reflect the character’s age), with Araki Kae as Hikari deserving special mention. The new Chosen Children also work pretty well, with Urawa Megumi deserving special mention for voicing both Iori and his Digimon Armadimon, although I can’t say I really like Noda Junko’s Veemon. All the villains do a great job in making their characters sympathetic, especially Hiyama Noboyuki as Black WarGreymon and Morikawa Toshiyuki as both Oikawa and Mummymon. And lastly, there’s Ken, voiced by Romi Park, who pulls off an unbelievably deep, memorable performance that manages to convey perfectly all the various nuances of her character’s development, from the most insane and evil to the most Ikari Shinji-esque.
In conclusion, I can understand what such a big part of the fandom hates about this sequel: filler episodes, lame main characters, aborted story arcs, and its infamously stupid finale, and certainly the fact that many western countries never broadcasted or heavily censored some of its best episodes didn’t help. However, while not as good as the first season, there's something that it hadn’t: three-dimensional villains, the theme of redemption, and sparkles of darker cues that Konaka will then bring to full development in Digimon Tamers. In the end, if you enjoyed the first one don’t be afraid to try this, it still accomplished much, much more than many of its “timeslot brothers” did. If you watched it back in the days, whether you liked it or not, I’d suggest you to give a try to the original Japanese (there’s both a fansub and an official Hulu sub, though of questionable quality, available), it’s much better without the censoring and childish adaptation it suffered. I think it’s a worthy, if flawed, successor to the previous masterpiece.