The Digimon Adventure remake that every '90s baby has been waiting for is finally here, and boy does it deliver.
Digimon was the first majorly popular isekai anime to air on western television during the '90s.
Initially premiering on Fox Kids in 1999, the anime features the adventures of a group of children who are inadvertently transported to the Digital World and chosen to become DigiDestined heroes alongside their very own digital monsters. Digimon would go on to became an archetype for anime that successfully broke into the mainstream media, sparking an entire franchise of follow-up series like Digimon Adventures 2, Digimon Tamers, and Digimon Frontier, not to mention a ton of movies.
Now, in 2020, Digimon has returned to its rootshas returned to its roots with a remake that revises the classic 1999 tale by Akiyoshi Hongo, with dazzling new visuals boasting over two decades of advancement in animation tech. To top it all off, this new remake is set in the modern era, which is going to be super interesting to watch play out.
But before we get into the awesomeness that is this remake, let's backtrack a bit.
For the newly initiated animehead wondering what isekai is, it's a genre of anime that features a protagonist (or group of protagonists) being transported to a fantasy world. The term isekai roughly translates to "different world."
Japan has a long history of escapist fantasy, and as the home of anime, we can see that fantastical influence in most genres (like Shonen battle anime). The isekai genre, however, is exclusively composed of series centered around the trope of displacement. This genre can be traced beyond the history of anime, back to Japan's very first folktale storytellers.
The first record of isekai dates back to the folktale of Urashima Tarō, a fisherman who falls into a portal to an underwater world after saving a sea turtle. His bad luck doesn't end there, because on the fifth day of his stay in this new world, Urashima decides to head back home only to realize that an entire century has passed. Undoubtedly, this leaves the fisherman feeling like a fish out of water and a "traveller" for the remainder of his days.
Similarly, in the 1999 version of Digimon Adventures, our protagonists are swept into the digital world by a rising tidal wave—perhaps a nod to its predecessor. Isekai anime has seen a subsequent rise in popularity over the past two decades, birthing major franchises like Sword Art Online and Overlord, along with Studio Ghibli's seminal 2005 film Spirited Away and Mamoru Hosada's 2015 feature The Boy and The Beast.
Escapist fantasy is a large part of Japanese culture primarily due to its tragic history with the Hiroshima bombings and the post-traumatic stress that came with the constant fear of nuclear warfare. This need for escapism began to manifest in art and literature alike, especially post-World War Two. Films like Godzilla and anime like Astro Boy famously turned tropes of giant monsters and robots into metaphors symbolizing the larger than life threat of nuclear bombing.
Much in the same way that escapist art has functioned as a form of therapy in the past, isekai has become especially relevant amidst this global pandemic. While we are all stuck inside and do our best to cope with the changing times and the tragedies taking place worldwide, there is a great need and demand for an escape from reality. Many people long to find themselves in another world, one of fantasy and wonders. This, along with a consistent upward trend of production, is why isekai anime is about to see an even greater surge in demand.
The remake of Digimon Adventures is symbolic of this rise in relevance and demand for isekai. Set in the year 2020, the remake by Toei Animation features Taichi Yagami and Koshiro Izumi (the same protagonists from the original), as they are alerted to digital attacks taking place all over Tokyo. Thus begins their call to adventure, leading them into the Digital World to battle and save their town.
Much of the initial plot is a rework of the 1999 movie, wherein several digital attacks around Tokyo formed the story's backdrop as well. The rework is visually spectacular and builds on many of the things that the initial series lacked, like sufficient spatial manipulation, fluid animation, and a popping color scheme.
If it's your first time hearing about Digimon, this is definitely a good place to start. Better yet, if you're a long-time fan, sequences like Agumon's mid-battle Digivolution into Greymon will blow you away. Not only is it visually stunning, but the ways in which it subverts expectations by either improving on or relocating narrative elements, gives everything a fresh feel. It's definitely worth checking out.
In 2020, art, literature and entertainment are going to play a large part in how we recover from this pandemic. The much needed escapist fantasy of isekai will be pivotal in helping us to keep our cool. As the first major isekai anime to blow up on western TV, the remake of Digimon Adventures arriving at a time when the world needs it most feels like things have finally come full circle.
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