I would describe the first episode of Ghost Game as thoroughly okay.
The setting is simple enough. It's the near future. Holograms are everywhere. Phones are using 7G but people have given up trying to come up with sensible twitter handles.
Our protagonist Hiro is introduced as basically an overly competent pushover. He’s not overly hot headed, he thinks quickly on his feet and it was definitely the highlight of the episode to see him casually take out a lock-picking set. This kid is clieraly going places, let’s just hope that the show actually shows him going to those places. Yet, I am still a tiny bit worried because he revealed nothing that could really be called a flaw. That he let his friend talk him into something dumb but I don’t feel that’s going to be something that the story will ever seriously portray as a flaw (In his interaction with Kyoshiro after the incident it kind of seems like he’s wrestling with some guilt about making it possible that they got into that situation but the rest of the episode really doesn’t bring anything up about it). So I really hope that he ends up a consistent and rounded character and not just someone who magically has any skill to solve the exact problem the show throws at him.
I am kind of split on what to think about his father and his disappearance… on one hand it doesn't seem like something that happened on purpose (Like what sort of inventor or tech enthusiast would dematerialize himself in a way that breaks so much of his hardware?), on the other hand multiple digivices and pre-recorded hologram message speak for some sort of intention, and the overly casual tone of doesn’t make it seem like any sort of dire emergency preparation or anything. But what is mostly annoying about it is how blatant of a ploy it is to make sure the protagonist is conveniently unburdened by parents. A staple in anime stories, but a dumb thing happening a lot doesn't make it less dumb, especially if the setting underplays how bizarre that situation actually is. On that note, I am fully expecting Kyoushiro’s weird american college backstory to explain why his parents are nowhere to be seen and Ruri (Who I won’t call Ruli because that’s sound like it’s the name of a mascot for a ruler manufacturer) will doubtlessly also have some silly excuse like being the result of an immaculate conception and later her mother got turned into a newt by a witch or something.
Speaking of Kyoshiro, he is certainly the worst part of the series so far. He’s way to over the top and pretty much reversed my initial impression of him being a potentially intriguing character. For a cowardly genius character I felt most of the potential would have laid in his struggle being an internal one while everyone around him still views him as the reliable leader. But since all of his paranoia and fear are all out in the open and everyone just views him as a weirdo, all that potential drama get cheapened immensely. There’s nothing intriguing about “there he goes flipping out again”. I hope Ruri won’t be too over the top, between them and the generic annoying classmate, having the main character basically surrounded by clowns would be hard to watch even if Hiro himself seems okay.
Also I was expecting the reason why he came to Japan to have something to do with Digimon… but at least right now he seems to be the most clueless out of all the characters.
Also, if the digital world is only this strange overgrown overlay of the human world I am going to be disappointed. Not having their own actual world and ecology and just piggybacking off earth puts Digimon as a whole in a weird marginalized role. I could get into it, maybe if there’s more worldbuilding in the future about how the digital world got into this state and what it means. Like I could imagine there used to be an entirely different Dimension but when the networking in the human world grew more and more complex it forcefully collapsed the digital world into itself or something and now Digimon are stuck in that strange subspace.
It’s interesting that they kinda bring up the Digimon’s battle instinct (some teeny tiny tamers vibes here) but it was kinda awkwardly introduced since Hiro doesn’t really know anything Gammamon at that point and he was fighting to save him so him jumping to that conclusion about Digimon in general seems a bit questionable.
Now let’s talk about Clockmon. He’s an interesting guy, especially since his role in the plot is potentially not over.
There seems to be two parts to his attacks: The rapid physical aging and the seemingly more abstract visions of future that Clockmon seems to consume. In this sense Clockmon is doing nothing more than gathering information he just doesn’t care about the cost.
But what is very interesting is that we never saw the “future vision” for Hiro’s friend (I forgot his name already), even though it happened very prominently in the other two attacks.
One possibility is that we didn’t see his future because he has none, that he will not live to see adulthood, maybe foreshadowing him getting involved with another malevolent Digimon in the future but not getting as “lucky” as with Clockmon.
There’s also another take: When we compare it to the scene in at the start of the episode there was a similar flash but the second time Clockmon is in a different spot when the scenery fades in again. This could mean that some time could have passed between the start and end of that flash and perhaps the “future vision” took place during that time. Hiro was still there the entire time so he could have seen it, even if the audience didn’t. So maybe this could go back again, maybe there was something important Hiro saw in his friend’s future that could impact the plot later on…
The obvious question arising from the vision is an old one: If Clockmon can see (and steal) your future does that mean free will exists in Ghost Game?
It’s hard to tell from his first victim, since we only see the visions from behind, if we are supposed to see stations of just a single life, or a number of separate possibilities of her future. In the second case determinism may still be not certain, or at least weaker in a sense. Dark evolution might only be one of several possible futures for Gammamon, or perhaps a constant in all of them.
That said, there’s still a few questions: What exactly is stopping Clockmon from attacking people in groups?
Also, what if one of Clockmon’s victims has already died of “old age” at the point he was defeated would his defeat straight up revive them, or return them to a young corpse?
Anyway, Clockmon is still at large, he has seen Gammamon's "future" and he didn't like it. Since he doesn’t seem to be on the side of whatever GrusGammamon represents this could give him additional motivation to target Hiro, since he should have figured out that there is a connection between him and Gammamon. Perhaps Clockmon can’t steal anyone’s time as long as his clock is broken but that might get repaired or even heal “naturally” if it’s part of its body. Knowing that the aging ability is not restricted to humans makes it quite versatile, and something that could certainly pop up in the story again, whether as a returning villain or even an ally.
The fact that we did not get an evolution did mean that the final battle was not as flashy as it could have been, but there is something to be said for the fact that the most critical part of the fight was Hiro’s tactical intervention with the acorn, something that would have been overshadowed by an evolution sequence and the obligatory show of overwhelming force after. As it stands, the contribution was split pretty evenly between human and Digimon, and I think that’s a statement. While I think that at higher levels physical contributions from humans would make less sense I hope that tactics stay relevant throughout.
That Clockmon did not get defeated (and honestly wasn’t even that banged up at the end) sets an interesting precedent especially since that means that we now cannot automatically assume that Mummymon will be actually killed in episode 2, which should put the worries of some people to rest who were worried about Ghost Game throwing away levels. I also see it as a good sign since I would welcome any indication, no matter how slight of any business that is not neatly wrapped up at the end of the episode that could come back later could lead to the show not becoming an episodic bore.
That’s basically all my thoughts specificially about this episode but there’s still a few more general thoughts. One of the first thing that jumped out to me about Ghost Game was that the animation was a major step down from Adventure: and that's certainly a letdown. They had a lot of talented animators working on that show from time to time (and I would argue much of that flashiness was wasted on a story that never managed to imbue the spectacle with any sort of weight, tension or meaning), but at least so far I don’t see much of that talent returning, most of the animation just seemed like… B-grade if you’re generous. I understand the quality dipping a little bit if the show is not as action focused in general, but I was expecting at least a bit more polish.
Speaking of visuals, there are some weird styles going on with the backgrounds. In most scenes they have a soft somewhat posterized look, preferring to use splotches of flatter colors over gradients, but it seems that in “digital world” everything suddenly looks more textured and detailed even discounting the variations added by all the vegetation. The backgrounds in the first two scenes in which clockmon attacks have an additional noise filter over all their backgrounds, which was slightly off-putting because all the noise was static and didn’t extend to any of the human characters in the scene… just a slightly weird look in general.
On the other side the music was really really good, Kou Otami truly doesn’t disappoint. I was slightly worried that the future setting and focus on hologram technology would force him into generic edm/chiptune “cyber” sounding music but so far they are keeping the sound traditional, with only a few electronic influences. There’s even his signature flute sound that I instantly recognized from Shadow of the Colossus. There’s some decent ambient music in the scenes that are meant to generate suspense, but I feel it could still be a little bit more intense. Definitely one of the best things about Ghost Game so far and I am already looking forward to the eventual release of the OST.
Then there was also the opening. Neither the animation nor the song really get me excited but at least the evolutions are worth talking about.
I hope that they get some serious mileage out of Gammamon’s evolutions although I am also worried that it could lead to some awkward pacing later on.
The adult levels for Angoramon and Jellymon might make them trade places in my "worst design" ranking, SymbareAngoramon looks interesting, like a more fashionable Andiramon (It would make for a great pre-evo for) him but TeslaJellymon just looks like Jellymon's body was aged up and she grew a dress displaying an almost comical lack of creativity (in an unintentional way before someone brings up Gottsumon) to the point that when I first watched the opening I was not even sure if she evolved at all or she just fluttered her tentacles around. So that was... eh.
Overall as I said everything is solidly okay. Nothing really scary but eh, actual effective horror in the classical sense of supernatural stuff going bump in the night is pretty much a rarity in anime anyway, I think the gold standard from what I’ve seen would be Ghost Hunt and that’s pretty hard to top.