Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
To quote from a past review, "Do you ever remember that childhood feeling where you are were a fan of a franchise growing up and came across another franchise that sounds similar to that said franchise?" Under personal preference, two Japanese franchises known as Pokémon and Digimon were commonly popular yet debatable during the late 90s and early 2000s. They both have similar but different concepts. While Pokémon (a.k.a. Pocket Monsters) emphasized on collecting and training creatures for battle, Digimon (a.k.a. Digital Monsters) focused more on virtual pet simulation while training for battle. Nonetheless, both franchises still continue to grow strong to this day with countless merchandising (i.e. video games, trading cards) and different forms of media, particularly anime and film.
During that decade, Warner Bros. distributed three Pokémon films while FOX desperately jumped into the bandwagon by heavily editing three separate Digimon movies into an anthology film in the U.S. The results were that Pokémon came out successfully while Digimon: The Movie bombed. Outside of the U.S., both franchises would continue releasing films based on their respective anime annually in theaters. With Digimon being the focus, it had its ups and downs in terms of media adaptations over time, but it maintains its popularity in Japan.
That is, until fans rejoiced that a new Digimon movie series project was announced to not only commemorate the franchise's 15th anniversary franchise, but also a continuation of the original Digimon Adventure/02 anime. For those living overseas, it was a huge surprise to hear the movie series would also be dubbed for a limited release, along with most of the original actors reprising their roles. After a long absence, the series begins appropriately with the first chapter: "Reunion".
When infected Digimon have suddenly appearing, Tai Kamiya (voiced by Joshua Seth) and the rest of the DigiDestined reunite with their partners to handle the situation.
A Nostalgic and Refreshing Mature Reunion
Without going into spoilers or detail, the first few minutes of the movie starts on a dark note. Granted, they don't go that far, but it does gives the audience a foreshadowing threat. Shortly after the opening credit sequence, it definitely establishes the setting and main characters quite nicely. We see that our favorite characters have entered high school but grown apart and things since their last adventure. Once electronic malfunctions and wild Digimon start occurring, that's when the term "reunion" comes into play. From a fan's perspective, it was a comforting and nostalgic experience. The pacing steadily works throughout the movie. True, there may be one or two scenes that could drag on, but the rest of the movie overshadows it. As the movie progresses, we get introduced to new concepts and characters as the mystery factor grows bigger, which works effectively for the first chapter. For newcomers, it does supply some context what are Digimon and their purpose is.
Remember back when both the anime and Digimon: The Movie were heavily dubbed by Saban to make it more lighthearted for younger audiences? Well, this time, thanks to the North American distribution from Eleven Arts, they made the dubbing to be authentic as possible. They used the Saban brand names but maintained the serious and dark tone that the original Japanese version used. In other words, even our nostalgic childhood memories have matured as well. Again, they don't go that far, because the mood does balance out with some humor provided by the Digimon partners. Most of the jokes revolve around them trying to blend into human society and obsessing with food. Strangely enough, the humor works thanks to the creatures' curiosity and roles as "virtual pets". The only difference, besides the voice acting, is that "Butterfly", the original Japanese theme song, was replaced with a remixed English theme song, "Digimon Are Back (Again)". Though the FOX Kids original version was a catchy tune, this remix felt unneeded and later was replaced with "Butterfly" in the following films. In fact, majority of the Japanese soundtrack remains intact and delivers us some orchestrated and rock music sung by Koji Wada, who sadly died around the time the original version was released. On a minor note, there is also brief different pronunciations on certain characters, but again it was later fixed in subsequent films.
Similarly to how animator Mamoru Hosoda did in the past movies, the movie's animation was produced by Studio Zaendou, known for its works on Tokyo Ghoul and the 2003 Astro Boy series. Like the latter, the character designs' remain faithful to the original source material while giving their own artistic style to differentiate from one another. The human characters look and move realistically with restrained, comedic facial expressions and the Digimon characters look more creative and more animated. The framerate works accordingly whether slowly when characters are having a conversation or speeding things up when an action scene occurs. Many backgrounds take place in the human world, with the city of Odaiba being the main setting. At first glance, it is your usual Japanese urban area. Then again, it has its stand-out locations like the Fuji TV Station, Haneda Airport and Palette Town, where the Digimon would have their battles. The movie also has some nice effects like the digital portals or electric wavelengths.
When watching a movie based on an anime franchise, many fans expect the animation quality to receive a boost and this movie continues that aspect. The main highlight in the animation is definitely the action sequences. It always feels exhilarating whenever the Digimon fight over in a Japanese setting as a homage to the Toho and Godzilla films. You see two giant Digimon fight in a field near the Fuji TV station, they push through a portal, it sends them to a cliff, they burst through the cliff, enter through another portal, and they continue their battle at the Haneda Airport. That sequence alone was also accompanied by Wada's song "Brave Heart" throughout, another catchy beat worth listening. Later, during the climax hits, it is suspenseful and epic to see two Digimon evolving further into a white knight Digimon, then clashing swords against a black knight Digimon in Palette Town...in case, you haven't notice the poster above.
There's also a new Digivolution animation sequence where it blends 2D and CGI. The results came out weird where the CGI makes the 2D characters look 3-D, which comes out looking a little uncanny. Not to mention, the sequence can be a bit time consuming when it takes up the running time. It is understandable that this is a movie, but it could've been edited shorter.
Old Faces, New Faces, Different Faces
Before discussing the characters, an important notice to address is that each movie's story is character-driven and focuses on one of the main characters (with one or two exceptions) while the others act as supporting characters. With that said, it's start our subject character of this movie: the anime's main protagonist Tai Kamiya.
For those that follow the anime, Tai is the brave yet stubborn leader of the group. In this movie, he goes through an arc where he is hesitant to take action in fighting the infected Digimon due to the damages that both his and the enemy Digimon cause to Odaiba. His behavior in the movie is considered debatable among fans. On one hand, it is understandable that Tai is afraid that he doesn't want to see innocent lives hurt during the attacks. On the other hand, especially with newcomers, Tai refusing to listen to his friends, including the climax where their Digimon get constantly thrashed by Alphamon, would make him like a cowardly dick. Granted, Tai eventually came back to his senses, so no hard done. His partner Digimon is Agumon. Once you get past his love for food, he is a friendly yet sharp-minded creature who knows his life purpose. Not to mention evolving from the Tyrannosaur-like Greymon to the humanoid metallic warrior WarGreymon. Once he and MetalGarurumon are together, they unite into the mighty Royal Knight Digimon known as Omnimon.
For the rest of the DigiDestined, Matt Ishida is the stoic yet deeply-caring second-in command of the group. He can be considered more likeable than Tai since he points out the flaws and comes up with more thoughtful solutions. His partner is the loyal Gabumon. Sora Takenouchi is the caring mother-like member with her partner Biyomon. Izzy Izumi is the tech whiz of the group who has a secret crush on Mimi. His partner is the cautious Tentomon. Mimi Tachikawa is the girly-girl who moved back to Japan, along with her partner Palmon. Joe Kido is the sedulous student with his playful partner Gomamon. T.K. is Matt's younger brother with his partner Patamon. Kari is Tai's younger and supportive sister with her partner Gatomon. Without context of the anime, these characters are simple but have likable traits. As for the season 02 cast, like Davis, the best way to describe their appearances as "cameos".
Then, we shift our focus to the new and exclusive characters of the film series. On the human side, we have Meiko Mochizuki. She is the very shy new girl in Tai's school who is constantly looking her pat cat. Daigo Nishijima is Tai's homeroom teacher who later assists them during the movie. Maki Himekawa is the government agent and childhood friend of Daigo who monitors the suspicious activity that the infected Digimon cause. With the Digimon themselves, we have a cat-like Digimon named Meicoomon and the silent but destructive Royal Knight Digimon known as Alphamon. All that these characters have in common is one word: "mysterious". Since this is the first movie, the word fits as we learn more about them in the later films.
As mentioned before, most of the original voice actors from the Saban dub have reprised their roles while some have been replaced due to unavailability, retirement or having passed away. Though few of the actors sound they have aged and the replacements don't sound exactly like the original actors, they all perform pretty well along with help building the nostalgia factor. The most noteworthy and highlighted voice actor among the cast is Joshua Seth, the original voice of Tai. For those who don't know, Joshua Seth retired from voice acting some time ago to focus on his mentalist and magician career. One time, when a made-for-television movie called Revenge of Diaboromon was dubbed, he was replaced by Jason Spisak. But, once the movie series was being dubbed and happily accepted an offer reprising his role, it felt like a breath of fresh air. While some fans may be divided on Tai's character arc, Joshua made up for it and shows us that he still has that charisma and charm that what fans remember about Tai.
Overall, Digimon Adventure tri. Chapter 1: Reunion is a must-watch for fans who had fond memories with the anime. It's not recommended for everyone on its own since they some context on what Digimon is in general. For anime fans, it's not bad to check out as a rental if you like some great-looking animation and action sequences. Yes, the movie plays the mystery factor too much on its plot and characters, but at least, you'll get some substance. With the DigiDestined back together again, it's not long now when Chapter 2 kicks in.