Remembering Love: Adult Themes In Digimon Adventure 02
Surprise surprise! After two entries of relatively adult oriented series we move on to a somewhat unusual children show called Digimon Adventure 02. In this third part of the Remembering Love project I recall why I was moved by such a series despite already being in high school when it aired. Confused? Get ready to discover the dark side of the Digital World.
We begin with a little anecdote. This weeks’ Remembering Love was a great excuse for me to bring out my old (home-recorded) Digimon tapes. I happily reconnected my VCR to the TV, replaced the old RGB cables it had (they were already unusable due to corrosion) and popped the first tape into the VCR. What followed was an ominously screeching noise and a VCR that refused to play the tape. Upon dismantling the VCR I found that it had vandalized the tape. I opened up the VCR, dismantled the tape and fixed it. These days being the master of the digital world is no big deal. But fixing such a low tech item made me feel like I’m the master of both the digital and analog worlds. Sadly I soon discovered that the insert/eject mechanism in the VCR was broken (it only took the tape half way, thus cutting its tape strip). It was time for the only VCR I had left in the house to hit the scrapyard. With no other VCR available I was unable to watch my old dubbed Digimon tapes and had to resort to downloading subbed episodes.
Digimon Adventure 02 was different
There comes a point in the life of an anime fan when they begin to understand that anime isn’t just for kids; That anime can have adult themes in it, either on its surface or hidden in its layers. A lot of people credit a Studio Ghibli movie for discovering this truth. But in my case it was different. A year or so before I watched my first Ghibli movie I discovered the hidden adult layers of anime while watching Digimon Adventure 02.
Why did I, at the age of 16, not only watch Digimon Adventure 02 but was also moved by it? The answer is simple: because of the depth it had. The second season of Digimon aired at a time when anime was all over television. Alongside it aired giants like Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon. In fact, Digimon was at times denounced as a Pokemon clone. But there is no denying that Digimon Adventure 02 was different. It was only 50 episodes long – a very short series when compared to its rivals – and had a very focus and well thought of plot. More importantly it revolved around the main characters’ lives and not the other way around. Whereas Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh! conveniently removed the characters away from things chaining them to the real world and took the easy path Digimon Adventure 02 grounded itself firmly in reality. The digidestined (the kids who had digimon) had to fight scary digimon in the Digital World. But they also had to go to school every morning and hide their activities from their families. Even more surprising is the fact that their parents had significant roles in their lives and were seen often.
But there was one important twist that really marked Digimon Adventure 02 as the black sheep of the genre: in Digimon Adventure 02 the digidestined didn’t just fight the enemy; they also fought their own inner demons.
To check if Digimon Adventure 02 is indeed as deep as I remembered I watched 13 carefully selected episodes from the series. The result of this little experiment surprised me. Even though I’m way passed my teen years I found the series to be tight and effective. The music (of the Japanese version) is very good, the characters are still likable and the plot unfolds so flawlessly you know it was thought of ahead of time. The only thing that holds this series back is its plain drawing style. Rest assured I have little hope that once you finish reading this post you will decide to watch Digimon Adventure 02. Nonetheless, or maybe exactly because of that sad truth, I wanted to share with you three mature themes in this series that made me understand that sometimes an animated series isn’t meant just for kids.
Ichijouji Ken – When life is just too hard to bear
When the series begins the Digital World is under the terror of a boy calling himself the Digimon Emperor (or Digimon Kaizer in the Japanese version). These first episodes show us a grim picture of digimon being enslaved and locked up in concentration camps, and of an emperor who isn’t afraid to hurt or kill the digimon around him. This emperor’s actual name was Ichijouji Ken, and he was in fact a regular middle school boy. Fast-forward to episode 21, the digidestined defeat Ken and he is forced to go back to his home and confront reality. This is where things start to get really dark. Episode 23 shows Ken’s childhood. As it turns out he lived in his brother’s shadow. His parents didn’t pay any attention to him and his brother terrorized him at home. He was made to believe that he is too inferior to have any physical property or any worthwhile traits. Eventually this caused Ken to despise his brother so much he hoped he will die. His wish came true. After Ken’s brother dies in a car accident Ken gets a disturbing e-mail. The e-mail message tells him: “Your brother is physically gone, but released in the true sense, because he gained freedom of the mind. You’ll have to keep living that boring everyday life. In other words, it means the end of your freedom of mind.” It continues by claiming that this world is not suited for Ken and that he should move to live in the Digital World, where his mind will be completely free. In a way Ken ran into the Digital World because he was fed up with living, because the real world was too just too much to bear.
Episode 23 was shown uncensored in the dubbed English version. To be honest I have no idea how a child in kindergarten or school interpreted an episode that spoke of things like accepting your insignificance as an individual or escaping from reality. When I watched this episode I was fascinated by the fact that this show chose not to ignore the harsh realities of life. It wasn’t afraid to show us how a kid breaks down mentally.
Yagami Hikari – Being swallowed by one’s darkness
Yagami Hikari (known in the English dub as Kari Kamia) is one of the digidestined. Despite being strong-willed she has a tendency to fall into short bursts of depression. In episode 13 Hikari is spirited away and finds herself standing on the shores of a dark ocean. It soon transpires that this place isn’t part of the Digital World nor the real world. And yet she was called there and could not resist this call. Watching this dark/black ocean causes her to feel helpless, almost to the point where she cannot go on living. Later on in episode 23 it is shown that as a young child Ken also arrived at this dark ocean and was swallowed by the darkness. In episode 32 Hikari again arrives at this strange place and desperately tries to repel the darkness that threatens to overcome her. In the end, with the help of her friends, she manages to leave this place and vows never to return there again.
But what is this strange place that seemingly has nothing to do with the series? It is a source of great darkness, one that resides in the children’s own hearts. Again we find ourselves looking at middle school children who find it hard to deal with their own individual realities, with their personal fears. The dark ocean symbolizes the hopelessness of children who fear the way their lives are advancing. They are being drowned by their own despair and sadness, and this is manifested as a dark ocean. The point behind this is clear – these are children with real problems and a real sense of individuality. They desperately fight to understand their place in the world. Just like me and you.
DarkWarGreymon and the meaning of life
This next “occurrence” was perhaps the weirdest and most inventive thing that happened in Digimon Adventure 02. In episode 30 a villain called Arukenimon uses 100 strands of her hair and 100 dark towers (or control spires in the English dub) to create the ultimate servant for her. The end result was DarkWarGreymon – a duplicate of one of the strongest digimon from the first season. However, instead of following Arukenimon’s orders DarkWarGreymon is bewildered by his own existance. After realizing that fighting alone is not fulfilling enough for him he goes around asking other digimon “Why am I here? What is my purpose? Do I have a soul?”
How are the kids watching this show supposed to deal with these questions? Do they know what their purpose in life is? Do they understand why DarkWarGreymon, who is aware of the fact he was not naturally born, tries to justify his reason for existence?
DarkWarGreymon was a cruel joke. Watching him search for the meaning of his life felt like someone is constantly spinning a knife straight through the middle of my heart. This digimon, this digital monster who is supposed to be no more than computer data, asks questions more mature and more elusive than those the human children in the series do. If you were an adult when you watched this part of the series there’s no doubt you knew in your heart that creating DarkWarGreymon was that one deed that instantly pushed Digimon Adventures 02 into that fuzzy boundary that separates between children and adult oriented science fiction series.
In the end rewatching Digimon Adventure 02 was a rewarding experience. I was skeptic at first, but found that most of what I liked about this series more than ten years ago still remains intact. It is still a solid series with deep characters and some layers specifically meant for adults to enjoy. Watching this series was simply worth it and I thank it for teaching me an important lesson about the adult context found in anime.
Other participants in the Remember Love Series (week 3):
Deluscar: Gintama and the Art of Retorts
Foomafoo: Kare Kano – Role of Family Backgrounds to Character Relationships
Justin: Reliving Daikichi and Rin Once More (Part 3)
Trzr23: Gotta Love Naruto