re-watching digimon tamers thoughts and analysis

grendel

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I started writing about this on the discord, but realized it'd make more sense on the forum. Just gonna post random observations as I re-watch the show. While I'll be going episode by episode, I'll mention events throughout the series because this is intended to be holistic analysis. I'm watching on Hulu, which only has the English dub, and I also grew up with the dub, so I'll be sticking with that. I watched the Japanese version several years back and will reference it on rare occasion.

Episode 1:

-Takato and Henry's faces are first revealed in a frame within a frame shot (Takato reflected in his card reader, Henry through his window). This technique is most famously used in Wong Kar-wai's 'In the Mood for Love' and creates a sense of both observing and being observed, as we see with Takato and the unhatched Guilmon. Surveillance will remain an important motif throughout the entire show's runtime.

-It's never truly explained why the boys playing cards affects what happens to Calumon in the liminal space between worlds. It does however hint at the importance of children's beliefs to the worldbuilding. A more radical interpretation could be that competition is a secular form of ritual, the cards themselves a medium through which the boys commune with artificial gods.

-Ms. Asaji is framed towering over Takato in a position of authority. It is also one of the few times we see another character's face while Takato is in the frame. This will be inverted later when Takato stands on the balcony of his room over his father, perhaps representing Takato knowing something Takahiro does not.

-There's a symmetry to Kazu, then Kazu and Kenta, leaving Takato behind, while the episode is bookended with Takato moving toward Guilmon. I always took this to mean Takato is an amicable kid who gets along well with everyone, but has not forged a deep connection with anyone.

-The blocking in Henry and Rika's first appearances immediately establish their relationships with their Digimon. Henry's is a sibling dynamic while Rika's is that of master and servant.

-The first arc has more in common with magical realism than science fiction. It's all about contrasting the mundane with the magical, albeit through a technological lens. This arguably fades as the series progresses--to its own detriment--but magical realism elements remain throughout the show.

-The digital field represents the classic 'illusion vs reality' symbolism of fog, with characters constantly questioning what is and is not real and what their relationship with Digimon means. There's an undercurrent of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation running through the show's philosophical premise, which is all about reality, symbols, society, and how media blurs and heightens these into a hyperreality. I'll touch back on this another day.

Episode 2:

-Not as many interesting shots as the pilot. The ones I liked most involved Takato and Guilmon being in the same frame facing each other, a sharp contrast from the quiet alienation of the first episode. At the beginning of the alleyway scene Takato is standing over Guilmon trying to tell him what to do, while at the end he looks up from beneath Guilmon and speaks to him more as an equal rather than from a superior position. (Although I DID appreciate the nonbinary lighting of Rika and Renamon’s shared mindscape /jk)

-Digimon in previous seasons were portrayed as familiars, their digivolutions representing growth from and/or between the children. Digimon in Tamers are portrayed as sapient beings with wildly varying views and motivations. Guilmon is a newborn, and essentially a clean slate molded almost entirely by Takato despite having feral instincts hardwired into him. It becomes a question of nature vs nurture, with Guilmon learning to overcome his base animalistic tendencies.

-Because Guilmon is so young, he often struggles to properly communicate with Takato, and Takato with him, especially early on. I would argue communication is one of if not the most important theme of Tamers. When a digivolution happens, it almost always happens because the Tamer and their Digimon reach a level of understanding with each other. This ability to communicate will also translate to improved communication between the Tamers’ family members and between each other. It’s no coincidence that what ultimately separates the Tamers from their Digimon at the end of the show is a miscommunication, a lie by omission, from a trusted source of authority.

-At the end of the previous episode, we see Takato become uncertain once he at last finds Guilmon. This uncertainty is resolved in the opening of the second episode, but we'll see Takato struggling with his anxieties throughout the first arc. While most people describe their relationship as 'a boy and his dog' I actually think it has more in common with 'a mother and her child' archetype. Takato has a lot of feminine qualities, often worrying and crying over Guilmon, restricting the Digimon to understandable yet, perhaps, unnecessary degrees, something we see mirrored in how Takato's own mother treats him. Takato also bears a striking physical resemblance to his mother, furthering the parallel.

-In case it wasn't yet obvious, I love Takato, he's far and away my favorite protagonist in a Digimon series. He's such a gentle, enthusiastic soul with little to no toxic or fragile masculinity. When he gets angry it's almost always for very good reasons.

-I appreciate the subtle yet gentle ways Guilmon undermines authority. The one-off scene between him and the principal is particularly memorable, giving shades of a child asking why to an adult whose answers increasingly become nonsensical, no matter how rational they might try to portray them as. Guilmon reminds me a lot of Paddington or Superman, in that his arc is mostly flat and about elevating the characters around him.

-The fights are choreographed to feel more animalistic and visceral (Renamon and Guilmon's scuffle being a standout moment). There are a lot of cuts and stiff animation due to budget, but the storyboards are well-conceptualized and well-executed. They all have a sense of space and weight and use of location to them. I also liked the shot where Goblimon is being tracked by Hypnos then turns to face the camera in a 4th wall break. While they’re watching the Digital World, the Digital World is also watching them.

-Is Takato the only gogglehead from a working class background? I love how lived in his home feels. It contrasts the spartan nature of both Henry and Rika’s rooms. It also blends Japanese and western architecture, while Henry’s apartment leans more western and Rika’s mansion more traditionally Japanese. The element of class (and how it intersects with race and gender) is never commented on directly, but it is subtextually prevalent throughout, with Henry being middle class, Rika being upper class, and Takato being working class.

Episode 3:

-I really appreciate how Rika gets to be an antagonist/anti-hero without having femme fatale or dominatrix qualities. Renamon doesn’t have quite the same luck in the English version, but her VO sounds like she’s having a blast, so I can’t stay mad.

-Speaking of the dub, it has a lot of well-documented translation issues, but I do quite love the vocal performances the main cast puts in. They bring so much energy and enthusiasm to their line deliveries, it's infectious. Dave Wittenburg in particular has a naturalistic warmth, a raw undercurrent, as Henry that I adore. Every single riff between him and Terriermon, or him and Suzie, is perfect.

-Henry and Rika foil each other a lot more than Takato foils either of them. They’re diametrically opposed on the philosophical spectrum, while Takato occupies a space somewhere in between, naturally putting him into the position to bring the two together and form the team. This is another fundamental aspect of Tamers. It sees the most important leadership quality not being courage or initiative (although Takato demonstrates both throughout), but instead the ability to bridge distances between people from disparate backgrounds and beliefs.

-Henry is shown with computers in his room, positioned as a mix of Joe and Izzy, but his interests seem to lie more in philosophical areas than technological expertise. That is a position his father will wind up filling. It's also worth noting that Henry is visibly a darker complexion than the other characters, something we don't see often in children's anime unless they're a Black stereotype. His mixed heritage is never truly remarked upon, and that's probably for the best, but there is a sense of all three main characters almost but not quite fitting the status quo--their relationships with their Digimon helps them come to terms with feeling like an outsider even in their own city, their own homes, their own school; alone even in a street crowded full of people.

-Gargomon is one of two times we’ll see a partner Digimon go berserk after digivolving. I believe this is rooted in a couple issues. Henry and Terriermon are on the same page when Terriermon’s life is threatened, which triggers the transformation. However, it is purely instinctual and rooted in the philosophies of the Digital World: might makes right, and survival of the fittest. Terriermon and Henry have not reached any sort of understanding with each other. We also see Henry immediately regretting the digivolution (foreshadowing Takato’s regret in the immediate aftermath of Megidramon). I see faith, and the communication of faith, as another key aspect of Tamers. Because Henry lacks that in his partner (and in himself), Terriermon loses control.

-We see doubts from Renamon as well throughout these early episodes. Her and Rika are not in sync, but later episodes will reveal just how disillusioned Renamon has become with the ethos of the Digital World. The arrival to the Real World is treated as a pilgrimage, a spiritual awakening, by many Digimon, and for Renamon to essentially be living out the same life as before must wear on her, even if she doesn't realize it yet. She yearns for the genuine connection and communication the other tamers have with their Digimon. I have a lot of thoughts on Rika and the impact high level competition can have on children, but I'll hold off on that until a more Rika-focused episode, I think.

-While control issues are most prevalent in Henry's arc, all three of the main characters struggle with control and asserting control in a world where children are granted very little individual autonomy. I find this tension fascinating and will try to highlight it whenever possible.
 
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Kiiro

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This is a lovely analysis! I never noticed this level of detail when I watched the series, reading this really opened my eyes.
I'd love to see this analysis going up to the evolution episodes, which I think the main struggles of the characters involved shows up the most in.
 

Quinnzel

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It's never truly explained why the boys playing cards affects what happens to Calumon in the liminal space between worlds.
It always seemed to me like the cards held a persistent connection to the digital world and allowed for some amount of control over the monsters, comparable to how Henry controls Terriermon through a video game. I think Konaka at some point simply described it as the layer closest to reality.

I wish I had time today to respond to more of your points. Apart from that, just wanna say that this thoughtful well-composed analysis is a welcome surprise. Hope you keep it up! Will be keeping an eye on this thread as you go. ^-^
 

grendel

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This is a lovely analysis! I never noticed this level of detail when I watched the series, reading this really opened my eyes.
I'd love to see this analysis going up to the evolution episodes, which I think the main struggles of the characters involved shows up the most in.
Thank you! I'll be honest, I have a strong affection and nostalgia for Tamers, so I'm quite biased whenever I write about it. I will try to cover everything and hopefully not run out of steam, heh.
It's never truly explained why the boys playing cards affects what happens to Calumon in the liminal space between worlds.
It always seemed to me like the cards held a persistent connection to the digital world and allowed for some amount of control over the monsters, comparable to how Henry controls Terriermon through a video game. I think Konaka at some point simply described it as the layer closest to reality.

I wish I had time today to respond to more of your points. Apart from that, just wanna say that this thoughtful well-composed analysis is a welcome surprise. Hope you keep it up! Will be keeping an eye on this thread as you go. ^-^

Thank you. :)

And yes, agreed about the cards, although I try not to reference Konaka's notes or statements too much since the text should stand on its own. We also see this in that the iconography of the "between" world has a very similar color scheme to the Hyper Colosseum cards.

Episode 4:

-It’s no secret that Henry’s arc is oddly constructed. The decision to reveal he hurt another boy near the end of the show was a strange choice, as it would’ve contextualized his issues. That said, moments such as Terriermon apologizing only to be met with a reprimand and then silence hints at the dichotomy of restraint and need to assert control always boiling just beneath the surface of the character.

-There are a lot of overhead shots of Henry walking through streets. Henry would’ve walked right past Takato if Takato hadn’t noticed and presumably tracked him down. (How exactly it happens, happens off-screen, but the implication is clear.) It showcases that for all his knowledge and attempts at maturity, Henry has a rather passive personality. Takato is the one who initiates the friendship. We see this reiterated in Terriermon being the one to move toward Henry in most interactions throughout the episode, as well as pre-materialized Gorillamon.

-I love the shot of Rika fiddling with cards, and how it slowly pulls back to a wide shot of her alone in her home, her back turned to Renamon. Renamon stands at the threshold, not quite entering, turned away in deference. It juxtaposes nicely with Henry’s frustration toward Terriermon a few scenes earlier, both rooted in the issue of Digivolution.

-I’ve mentioned it before, but this is the first time we see Rika’s house. There’s an establishing shot of every residence in this episode, all of them at night. Each home has its own unique identity that in turn informs the character of our main trio, similar to how the Digital World molds the identities of its inhabitants.

-There are many strange, surreal moments in this episode. The digital field chases Henry of its own accord, and the Digimon game somehow provides him a window into the Digital World. Henry describing Gorillamon as coming ‘from the other side’ almost makes the Digital World sound like an underworld or hell. (If it’s an allegory for the Internet, that would certainly track. /s) The game, much like the cards, acts as an intermediary to commune with Digimon the same way prayer beads were used to commune with kami.

-We’ve talked before about fog symbolism, and another meaning for it is uncertainty or confusion. Henry’s own confusion and uncertainty physically manifests as a digital field and chases him down streets, before at last cornering him and forcing him to face his issues.

-When Terriermon first bio-emerges, we see him looking up at Henry through Henry’s POV, tears falling down his face from off-camera. The psychic distance we share with Henry throughout this episode is distant and removed--by closing that distance in the climax, we reinforce the scene’s emotion.

-Henry and Rika continue to contrast each other. Henry believed Terriermon was real before he ever even materialized, while Rika deludes herself into believing Renamon is just an extension of the card game even long after she's materialized.

-Radical Interpretation Time: The pace of innovation when refining gameplay rooted in violence far outpaces any other form of gameplay innovation. While the likes of Planescape Torment and Disco Elysium exist, with dialogue trees more thought out than simple if/than statements, most big budget releases are not that. This ubiquitous violence translates to the violence of the Digital World, which is intended to reflect our media landscape. Henry’s objections are rooted in questioning this accepted state and why alternatives are not explored to the same degree, contrasted with Takato’s lighthearted declarations of artillery fire and gratuitous explosions. (For him, and most people, the aesthetics of violence are fun and entertaining, and there’s not much more to it. You play your game, draw your robot dinosaur, then go to bed and go on with your life. Because Henry has experienced violence firsthand, the illusion is broken and he cannot ignore that.) However…

-While Tamers has several neat philosophical and psychological threads, its ethical queries tend to fall flat. Henry’s concerns about killing Digimon are never truly addressed in a satisfying manner, and at best they compromise by not downloading the data of Digimon they destroy. Ultimately, this is still a shounen written through a human-centric viewpoint, most conflicts resolving with a fight scene or some element of coercion. This isn’t Digimon realpolitik, and frankly I’m fine with that.

-Digression aside, the actual interesting aspect of Henry’s quandary is not so much the pacifism angle, but rather the fear that Terriermon will change if he fights too much and digivolves. (A fear Rika echoed last episode.) This metaphor parses better in the Japanese version, where stages are referred to as Child and Adult respectively. The fear that as you grow older you and your friends will drift apart is a timeless concept in media. It’s all about the transition from childhood to adolescence. Also, by fighting and hurting another person, Henry feels he himself has changed in a manner he can never undo, an anxiety he transfers onto Terriermon. Children don't want change, but change catches us all, often in ways we least expect. These types of paradoxes are where we find the space for unique characterization.


Episode 5:

-Lara Jill Miller is hilarious as Ms. Asaji. Her deadpan delivery of “If life were fair, I’d be in Maui” lives in my head rent free. My dream Digimon comedy would be a PEN15 style edit of the first two seasons where a slightly hungover Ms. Asagi replaces every scene Kari is in without comment or change to the narrative. That’s it. That’s the analysis. Thanks for stopping by.

-I haven’t talked much about Calumon because I was waiting for this episode to discuss him more in detail. First of all, Calumon is so freaking cute it should probably be illegal. But I like how they build him up through these past episodes until at last introducing him to the main cast here. It’s very well paced.

-We tend to occupy Calumon’s POV when he’s on screen, low to the ground and offering a sense of scale. Even buildings as mundane as tool sheds tower over Calumon. There was a great shot in a previous episode where Calumon stands on a stoplight and admires Shinjuku, a small figure swallowed up by a massive metropolis. From his perspective, the city has the same magical, wondrous quality that File Island had for the digidestined. While we do flirt somewhat with this angle whenever Terriermon is around, it’s rather subdued, because Terriermon is much more experienced and worldly compared to Calumon.

-The scene where Calumon watches kids play soccer harkens back to a type of loneliness we haven’t quite seen since the pilot. Most people aren’t outright loners like Rika, and loneliness isn’t something experienced all the time. It comes and goes, sneaking up on you when you least expect it, leaving you wondering when exactly night fell and why everyone else left. Loneliness can be felt by anyone, even people with naturally friendly dispositions such as Takato or Calumon, and you don’t have to be alone to feel alone. (Conversely, just because you’re alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely.) There’s something very poignant about that, and the little moments where Tamers captures the nuances of these universal emotions are when it’s at its most mature.

-We get a hint of Jeri’s depression in this episode. She checks into the school infirmary for reasons never explained, but on re-watch one can make a pretty good guess. I like the way Jeri’s depression is written. It’s subtle, but for many people, depression is subtle. Jeri is bubbly and outgoing and has quite a few friends, but she also showcases off-kilter moments of alienation and idiosyncratic behavior. My personal belief is that Takato is attracted to her for this reason: he connects with those off-beat moments in a way he doesn’t fully comprehend. (I’ve heard some describe Jeri as a high-functioning autistic. I’m not knowledgeable enough about autism to comment on this, but if people within the community see their own experiences reflected in her, that’s good enough for me to believe it.)

-Takato and Henry completely cut Calumon out of the process of finding his own tamer. It’s rather dehumanizing. They don’t even attempt to talk to the candidates they consider, which also plays a factor in why they failed. Partnership is all about consent, on both sides, not an outside force playing arbitrary matchmaker. Guilmon is arguably a gray area, since he’s so young he cannot make informed decisions, but, well… Guilmon is an exception in general on a number of fronts.

-Guilmon and Calumon are extremely cute together. I could watch ten minutes shorts of them getting into silly hijinks forever. They accidentally draw a hexagram, summoning a digital field, which is very interesting. The hexagram has a variety of meanings, from the Star of David in Judaism to the Seal of Solomon in ancient Islamic mysticism to a conjuration talisman in occultism. This will not be the last time we see religious iconography have a tangible effect on Digimon.

-The hexagram has also been used in freemasonry, and here could allude to the secret society nature of the Digital World, of Hypnos, of the children themselves as they hide the truth of their reality from the adults around them.

-Radical Interpretation Time, Part 2: Guilmon and Calumon also have the hexagram symbol on their bodies. Perhaps one could argue that Calumon is a golem, animated by the Catalyst on his forehead in the same way a golem is animated by its shem. He will ultimately protect the Digital World as the ancient golems protected Jewish communities. (But with a much happier ending.) While Guilmon’s symbol represents his dark digivolution into a creature that can shatter the Digital World much like the beasts prevalent in eschatology.

-Baudrillard asks an important question:

But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme power that is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or does it volatilize itself in the simulacra that, alone, deploy their power and pomp of fascination - the visible machinery of icons substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God?

To understand what he means by simulacra and by this question, think of Renamon. She is not pretending to be a kitsune nor an inari, and she is not described as such either. But she is a simulacrum of the folklore surrounding these creatures, a copy of how pop culture represent these myths; she demonstrates many of their paranormal abilities, so perfectly one could not plausibly differentiate her powers from those of the real thing. All of this is a long winded, rather pretentious way to say that images and icons have power, especially in the Tamers universe, although that power may not stem from divinity so much as from self-referential signs iterated and reiterated upon throughout human history.

-Calumon does not let Takato touch him near the beginning of the episode. However, at the end, he touches Rika. He seems to gravitate toward women in general, also growing close with Jeri down the line. Moreover, I like to think he senses Rika’s loneliness and resonates with it, since he experienced similar feelings earlier.

- The composition again emphasizes Calumon’s size, with Rika looming over him. The kaiju in this situation is not the Digimon but Rika herself. We glimpse Rika’s softer, gentler side here as well. There’ll be a great call back later in the season when Rika sprints to hug Calumon, a wonderful representation of her growth as a person.

-I love this episode. It’s one of my favorites, and just needs more Rika to be perfect. It synthesizes the show's weird mysticism with mundane school life, and Calumon and Guilmon have an amazing dynamic. Plus, I like Calumon’s closing response when Takato tries to convince him it’s dangerous out there: “It’s dangerous with you, too!” As we will see in the future, this is indeed true.
 
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grendel

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Episode 6:

-Ah, this episode features the first of many iconic Rika reaction shots. Her resigned expression when her mother leaves is fantastic, not to mention depressing in an ‘it’s always like this’ way. The manner in which they establish this dynamic is also why I tend to fall on the ‘Rika’s fears of being left by Renamon stems primarily from her mother’ end of the spectrum. Her father’s absence does matter, but it’s more supplementary than the driving force behind Rika’s abandonment issues. Rumiko is disengaged from her daughter’s interests and constantly busy with work.

-I probably sound like a broken record by now, but god do I love Rika’s home. It’s like a stealth extra character in the show. The visual gag of her running the perimeter of it just to get to her room and change, then running back around to leave, is quite funny. It sharply contrasts Takato’s home, which is dense with a lot of verticality.

-Rika mentions feeling bored quite a few times. She has a naturally competitive personality and derives self-worth from external validation such as winning tournaments or digivolving Renamon. Once Rika achieves her goal of becoming Digimon Queen, however, her interest in the card game wanes, because she has little intrinsic motivation to continue. (No doubt exacerbated by the person she lost to the previous year not competing, which, if you rolled your eyes just now… I understand. We’ll get to Ryo eventually.) If her relationship with Renamon had not improved, one cannot help but wonder if something similar would’ve happened between them.

-Alfie Kohn divided the means to achieve goals into three categories: competitively, which means working against others; cooperatively, which means working with others; and independently, which means working without regard to others. Rika is, of course, competitive. Henry falls more into independent modes. We see this especially with his martial arts scenes later down the line, focused primarily on personal growth irrespective of another person’s failures. Takato is a blend of cooperative and competitive, leaning more toward cooperative. For him, the card game is a means to socialize and enjoy something he loves: Digimon.

-We see this reiterated in the scene where the boys and their Digimon play rock-paper-scissors together. The show never takes a radical stance on competition the way Kohn and some sociologists do, but it does suggest the healthiest forms of competition are when they’re sublimated by cooperation and companionship, rather than the other way around.

-Our first Impmon appearance! The blueprint for incels everywhere. Him showing up in the first Rika-focused episode is no coincidence. Impmon, Renamon, and Rika will parallel each other in numerous ways as the narrative progresses.

-The moment where Renamon and Rumiko say Rika’s name at the same time is a lovely detail. It’s even better in Japanese since the same VO plays Renamon, Seiko, and Rumiko.

-This episode has a lot of wide shots. One that always stuck out to me even as a kid was Rika in the center of her empty, enormous room just staring up at the ceiling. It’s such a great use of space to create isolation, paired with the melancholic blue tone that shades the entire scene.

-Rika winning a major tournament, only to come home where no one cares, is honestly really sad. Part of that is on her for not communicating what she achieved with either parental figure--it’s a two-way street after all--but as someone who competed on travel teams when they were younger, the joy of celebration is just as important as the accomplishment itself. Here there’s… nothing.

-This is the first of several occasions where a character will be tempted by a pseudo-Faustian bargain. The sequence where all those Digimon beg Rika to be their tamer is rather bizarre and surreal, and I’m not entirely certain we’re meant to take it literally. Rika herself describes it as feeling like a dream, the black-and-purple imagery suggesting a nightmarish quality. Given the show’s preoccupation with dreams, especially early on, this may well be the case.

-Much like how in the games, tamers are often paired with multiple Digimon, the implication here seems to be that Rika could’ve had an army of Digimon at her disposal a la the Digimon Emperor. While she does not view Digimon as real at this point, she still desires a 1:1 partnership.

-We get an instance of someone actively wishing for their partner. With both Takato and Henry it was more implied. All three had to complete some sort of task in addition to an act of faith. Henry had to play the video game and believe Terriermon was real; Rika had to win the card game tournament and believe Renamon was a suitable partner; Takato had to believe his digivice would guide him to Guilmon and physically seek out the space where he would bio-emerge.

-The full shot of Renamon that cuts to a close up of the back of her head, camera rising so that Impmon falls into frame between her ears is such a neat transition. It would be so easy to just shot-reverse shot every conversation, especially given the budget, but they don’t and I love it.

-We then have a scene where Renamon and Impmon just talk. For almost a full minute, with no cuts. The composition is really strong here: Renamon balances on the wire much like her current fluctuating feelings toward her tamer, while Impmon remains firmly entrenched in his opinions, sprawled out above the light.

-Worth noting that Impmon only attacks when Renamon is on lower ground, putting her at a disadvantage. This will happen often with Impmon, where he turns violent upon sensing an opening or weakness, or when his insecurities are triggered.

-While I don’t have a lot to say about the Dokugamon fight, it does a good job rooting the battle in its location. Similar to how the Gorillamon fight scene took advantage of being in a construction area, Dokugamon crawling around web-infested trees makes for some strong imagery. I also really like the transition of Rika walking through the fog into the webs, it has an appropriately dream-like quality to it.

-We see what will be a continued motif for Renamon and Rika here, when Kyubimon burns up the webs: their fighting abilities are rooted in purification. It’s a nice little hint for the direction her line is trending toward.

-On its own, this episode does a good job conveying emotion and moving Rika and Renamon’s relationship forward. Juxtaposed with upcoming episodes, however, it does feel slightly out of place. Not even necessarily from Rika’s perspective, but from Renamon’s. The way she acts down the line feels slightly incongruous with just how loyal she is here. This analysis isn’t really intended to be a critique in the traditional sense--which is to say there are flaws I could’ve focused on more but chose not to--but given this is the one aspect of their otherwise excellent progression that clunks a little, it’s worth pointing out.

-That said, Rika ends the episode saying, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” It’ll help contextualize her attitude in the next one. Which brings us to…

Episode 7:

-There’s a lot of conversation about dreams, and having dreams, within this episode. Dreams, similar to fog, often represent a blurring of illusion and reality. It’s a place of absolute creativity and nonsense and make-believe, qualities strongly associated with childhood. When someone lucid dreams, they can control and shape the dream much like a game designer can control and shape the world within a video game.

-The question “Do Digimon dream, and what do they dream about?” is very simple and inherently existential. Guilmon describes his dream as: “All white and bright and empty.” This likely reflects how little experience Guilmon still has: he’s a blank canvas. This is also one of the few times where the episode’s obstacle is destroyed not by the children, but by Hypnos. Hypnos, the Greek personification of sleep, who used his powers to trick Zeus in the Iliad.

-The transition of Shinjuku overlaid by the beeping red light that fades into the iconic blue Hypnos grid is great. While it’s never stated outright, the way this episode is framed suggests the anomaly is created by the very existence of Hypnos. This anomaly is then destroyed by Hypnos--it is both the cause and the solution, a recurring pattern in the narrative.

-This episode highlights the anxiety of losing a Digimon and foreshadows that their stay in the Real World might be temporary. Henry is quite blasé while discussing this possibility, showcasing that no matter how mature he might portray himself as, his emotional intelligence is still a work in progress, much the same as Terriermon.

-Hypnos is one of the more overtly sci-fi aspects of the show. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think Tamers is at its best when playing into science fiction conventions, and as a result I’m not that enamored with it. I find the secret government organization most interesting when looked at through the lens of adults trying to control and regulate children, and the things children enjoy.

-The conversation between Takato and Calumon is really interesting. Calumon states he doesn’t feel lonely, but we know that isn’t true, because we saw him experience loneliness in an earlier episode. At the same time, I don’t think he’s lying either. Calumon himself doesn’t understand what loneliness is, and Takato does a poor job communicating the meaning.

-Renamon and Rika introduce themselves by challenging Takato and Guilmon to a fight. They don’t actually engage, and in fact, Rika has shown little to no interest in fighting Guilmon since he saved her life from Gargomon. Most of this episode is them performing a pre-established role, not necessarily believing in it or actively pursuing it, because otherwise they would have to admit they were wrong and Takato (and Henry) was right. It’s a subtle balancing act of pride and shifting priorities. That’s also why Rika is so insistent that Digimon are data in front of the boys, even if we know from the previous episode that that’s not the case, at least where Renamon is concerned.

-I find it amusing that Rika talks about Takato not knowing anything, while she herself knows very little about Digimon. There’s a mundane schoolyard quality to the interaction that just feels evergreen. People tend to dislike how much more Rika quips and banters in the English version, but it can lead to some fun interpersonal dynamics between the group. And more importantly, it reinforces that she’s still a child and prone to bouts of childishness.

-Seiko is hilarious and wonderful. I love her.

-There’s another casual display of Rika’s family wealth. Seiko implies that Rika just has to ask, and Rumiko would buy another computer for them. That Rika declines is also an interesting touch, implying little interest in material objects. (Or perhaps the idea of asking her mother for anything is unappealing, as it feeds into the mentality of Rumiko trying to buy her affection.)

-We see Takato’s parents worrying over his absence, echoing Takato’s worry over Guilmon.

-Takato is much more assertive than usual here, driven by the need to protect Guilmon from the mysterious threat trying to take him away. He winds up snapping at both Henry and Rika at different points in the episode. He’s also the catalyst that brings the trio together for the first time in the show.

-Henry is especially sassy during the tunnel walk. He might be passive, but he’s far from a pushover. I’m not sure if it’s because Terriermon isn’t there or because Rika grates on his nerves. Probably a mix of both. Rika in general adds a friction to the dynamic that was missing with just Takato and Henry, bringing different shades of their personalities to the forefront.

-I love the imagery of Guilmon creating a path to lead them to safety. Takato believed he would find his partner again, and Guilmon repaid that faith by saving everyone’s lives. The ‘skating on sausages’ call back line is so bizarre and idiosyncratic that I kind of love that as well. It means nothing to most people, but it means something important to Takato and Guilmon in the specific context of their relationship, and that’s wonderful.

-Much like how Takato drops any further discussion of seeing Rika in a dream, most of the explicit threads revolving around dreams will fade from here on out. At least, until Shibumi appears.

-On a symbolic level, the conflict resolution of this episode is the tamers working together to overcome the uncertainties of life. Even if something comes along and takes their Digimon from them, through cooperation and communication they can find ways to get their friends back. It ties in well with the bittersweet yet hopeful ending of the series. If you were to try and explain what Tamers is about in a nutshell, this would be the episode that best encapsulates its themes.
 
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grendel

Ain't got no mojo...
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Apologies for the long wait, school starting has occupied much of my time and energy. I decided to add some screenshots from the episodes to help emphasize my point, however, so hopefully that makes up for the slacking.

Episode 8:

-This episode doesn’t waste time introducing the main conflict. We see Impmon scaring a couple in the park, providing the answer to a question we haven’t yet heard. While Impmon will display moments of genuine malice in the future, here his actions fall more in the vein of mischievous trickery. This helps us and the characters underestimate him--it’s hard to see someone whose actions are so banal and overcompensating as any sort of threat. It creates an interesting paradox, in that a more powerful Impmon would not have survived the tamers long, while simultaneously, his disempowerment becomes more and more his primary motivation, leading to his tragic fall.

-It’s difficult to take Impmon seriously while lecturing Guilmon, but he raises a good point. Throughout their entire conversation, the composition emphasizes that Guilmon is behind bars. His home appears less like a home and more like a jail cell. It winks at the audience, subtly asking the question of whether or not Guilmon is actually free and equal, confined as he is by the environment Takato set him in.



-The composition of the boys surrounding Kazu and discussing the mysterious prankster emphasizes that while Takato might be part of the group, he’s still on the periphery.



-Takato doesn’t explain why Guilmon needs to stay inside for the night. In fairness to him, Guilmon isn’t paying close attention either, busy burying his bread. (I love the nonsense logic here, it’s adorable.) But it again implies an imbalance, an inequality, in their relationship.

-Watching Guilmon and Impmon interact is a lot of fun. Much like with Calumon and Guilmon, it feels a lot like watching children meet and play together for the first time. Radical Interpretation Time: The different ways Impmon and Calumon exert peer pressure on Guilmon perhaps echoes some of the dynamic between Takato, Kazu, and Kenta. Or maybe even Takato with Rika and Henry.

-Takato’s escalating nightmares about having Guilmon taken away comes from a place of genuine anxiety, exacerbated from almost losing him an episode prior, making us instantly sympathetic to his plight. We’ve also seen Guilmon be consistently disobedient over the course of these episodes--this emotional outpouring is not just a response to the reveal that Guilmon was involved in Impmon’s scaring spree, but a response to a culmination of events.

-However, Takato’s reaction centers his feelings over Guilmon’s, stems more from how it reflects upon Takato as a tamer, and implicitly doubts Guilmon’s ability to make informed decisions. Which, as we’ve seen, is unfounded. Once Guilmon catches onto Impmon’s plan, he leaves. Moreover, when Guilmon starts explaining what happened, Takato isn’t actually listening beyond the first few words. His fears have been confirmed and nothing else matters.

-I really like how Impmon interacting with the Digital Field allows Devidramon to leave it. For one, it’s a strong sequence of images. For another, in believing himself to be safe, Impmon has made the uncertain certain, the abstract concrete, the spiritual physical. And in doing so, Devidramon is set free.

-There’s a certain absurdity to Devidramon flying around Tokyo uninhibited that feels reminiscent of western contemporaries such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was in syndication around the same time and about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, much like how Tamers is about the transition from childhood to adolescence. Both feature a mostly ignorant and indifferent public despite the growing supernatural discrepancies. Rationale is found within the irrational and humans derive meaning from a meaningless world. It’s an expression of the absurd. Both are also, I believe, fundamentally humanist works. To quote Kurt Vonnegut:

I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.

-”Oh for goodness sakes, he’s his own worst enemy.” Rika sums up Takato’s issue in this episode with one sentence. I also like how we see a code of honor from Renamon. She’s the oldest there and most familiar with the rules of engagement within the Digital World. It makes sense that she continues to abide by them.

-While Takato’s trust is renewed in Guilmon upon learning more details about Impmon’s escapades, what’s more important is that Takato and Guilmon have a genuine conversation. It’s not Guilmon asking questions about the world and Takato answering them, putting Takato in a position of authority, but a back-and-forth where they clarify their relationship with each other.

-The line that best encapsulates Guilmon is, “I’m… trying.”

-The fight between Devidramon and Growlmon has a lot of similarities to classic kaiju battles. It also pays minor homage to the original Parrotmon and Greymon fight.









-Yamaki ordering a media blackout again reminds me of Buffy. I kept expecting a principal to pop up and talk about gang members high on PCP.

-It also calls back to how the media informs what is and is not real to people. In Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, she makes the point that images are essentially neutral; when and how they’re disseminated informs our reaction to them. The combination of images and manufactured narratives can manipulate public response. We see this on a smaller scale when Guilmon walks through a crowd uninhibited in an earlier episode. Once Takato explains that Guilmon is wearing a costume, he has informed and contextualized the unusual imagery for others to rationalize away the absurdity.

Episode Nine:

-This is my favorite episode of the show. It’s slice-of-life perfection with several fascinating symbolic layers to be found just beneath the surface.

-That little moment where Takato is briefly afraid of Growlmon and it makes Growlmon cry is beautiful. There’s something raw and human about both their reactions that we never see in the earlier seasons. It’s naked emotional vulnerability--the fear of change and the fear of being perceived as different because of change.

-I don’t really consider Tamers a deconstruction the way most do, but this episode definitely comes across as a deconstruction of how digivolution has worked in the series up to this point, foreshadowed earlier by Terriermon but now made the focal point. Digivolution exists primarily to facilitate character growth and doesn’t have much Watsonian function in the first two seasons. Here it’s written to be more naturalistic with tangible, unforeseen consequences that drive the premise of the episode. Growlmon can’t operate easily within Takato’s world and must find a way to revert back to Guimon. If we recall our child/adult metaphor, it suggests something rather important in that respect as well.

-The quietness of the scene where Takato and Growlmon pray at the shrine is rather moving to me. It also hints at how faith will play a role in Growlmon de-digivolving, and once again subtly touches on the importance of faith and wishes for the overall narrative. It also makes for a funny visual gag.



-The conversation between Takato and Jeri has a lot of nuance to it. Notice how difficult it is for Takato to ask for help. He blushes and is clearly embarrassed, unable to make eye contact throughout much of the scene. While he displays confidence around family and friends, and a growing confidence around the other tamers, he’s more nervous and anxious around people he’s unfamiliar with. (We also see this with Ms. Asagi and the police officer in the previous episode.) This one-on-one conversation between them will be echoed much further down the line, but with much more serious implications.



-This conversation has some interesting parallels with the conversation Takato had with Calumon. When Takato is trying to explain loneliness, he makes it about himself. Jeri, upon hearing his concern for a friend, makes it about herself. Both Calumon and Jeri were listening, but they weren’t really listening. Takato also, again, isn’t communicating effectively, in this instance because he can’t tell Jeri about Growlmon. Any help others left in the dark provide will always be minimal at best. Not until Takato comes clean about the truth can any of them truly assist him.

-Jeri, in misinterpreting what Takato’s saying, incorrectly assumes he likes her and turns him down. While Takato expresses a crush toward Jeri on several occasions, her feelings toward him tend to fall more on the side of ambivalence and ambiguity.

-We then cut to a dinner scene with his parents. While it’s played for laughs, let’s take a moment to consider what these scenes being juxtaposed together might mean. We’ve established that Takato and Guilmon have something of a mother-child dynamic. An issue with their relationship is that a lot of the time, Takato’s concerns are about how Guilmon reflects upon himself. I think we all either had a parent or knew a parent who acted similarly around their child, their first response being--but what does this say about me?

-We again see Growlmon interacting with Calumon and Impmon in isolation. It’s interesting how the show continues comparing and contrasting the two Digimon without tamers primarily in relation to Guilmon.

-The transition where Terriermon spins in a circle while searching for Growlmon, and we go from a road to a playground, is very slick.

-”That must be one ugly store.” This episode is funny in general, and this line might be one of the (intentionally) funniest punchlines in all of Digimon. I laugh every time.



-Rika again shows up threatening to fight, and it again turns out to be little more than posturing.

-And we get to the ending, one of the most intriguing endings in the show. After the rain appears and washes away the paint on Growlmon’s body, alongside hours of hard work, Takato is left in tears and at a loss. (As an aside, “I can’t afford oil based paint!” might be the second funniest line in all of Digimon.) Then the rain clears and a rainbow comes out, and through it Growlmon reverts back to Guilmon. There’s a lot to unpack here.

-Rainbows have a lot of symbolic meaning in various cultures and religions. I feel confident that in this instance, however, the intent falls under Judeo-Christian interpretations. When we think of a rainbow in that context, we think of Noah’s ark and the rainbow as a covenant between God and man in the aftermath of a terrible cataclysm. I plan on detailing the theological implications more in-depth when Leomon appears, but I’ll mention this:

The text's overall emphasis remains YHwH's resolution to sustain life on earth in the future. This resolution, however, is a paradoxical expression of merciful divine forbearance in the face of no improvement on human life pre-Flood… That is, YHwH's forbearance, rightly understood, should lead not to complacency or the heedless exercise of evil thinking, but rather to the living of life in a way that recognizes its quality as gift… Life for both Israel and for the world is a gift of grace - recognition of which should elicit a gratitude that renounces faithlessness.

R. W. L. Moberly. The Theology of the Book of Genesis (Old Testament Theology)

-Moberly then remarks that pre-flood to post-flood marks a shift in the narrative from judgment for the past to hope for the future. In a similar manner, Takato himself does nothing to solve the problem of Guilmon as Growlmon. He does not grow or change in any noticeable way. Growlmon reverting to Guilmon is an act of grace.

-This also dovetails nicely into the concept of the eucatastrophe. It’s a sudden turn of events in which the protagonist had no control over what happened. It’s easy to criticize Tamers’ characters as lacking agency, but we see them consistently brainstorming solutions for the problems they face. The issue is that they don’t often work because the problem is bigger than anything they can reasonably handle. I’ll end with a quote from J. R. R. Tolkein, who coined the term:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
 
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Kiiro

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I haven't seen anyone try to explain the meaning behind the rainbow scene before, and it's really interesting to look at it from a new perspective!
Also, I have always thought of Takato and Guilmon as a pair that works well and understands each other from beginning to end and as such, found this episode's evolution scene to be quite weak. After reading the analysis though, I see that I had forgotten quite a lot and how much the pair had to "evolve" to get to the point they are, and that this episode was just the first step.

Very nice analysis as usual!
 

Call Me Deacon Blues

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I love your analysis! I have also vaguely tried to analyze the theological implications of Tamers, because unlike the occasional bit that pops up in Adventure and Frontier (mostly in the form of a sacrificial lion that I suspect comes more from Narnia's underlying Christianity spiking the punch bowl of "children going to another world" media), and the Christian mythological trappings adopted by Frontier (the angels, Lucemon, etc.) I always felt it was more.. intentional, I guess? I felt like it's not a coincidence, that those readings of the text (as it were) were put there on purpose. Not to say it's a Christian show by any means, though that's more my area of knowledge so maybe that's just what jumps out at me, and of course when you've studied enough Christian texts, everything does start to look like a crucifixion nail if you're not careful lol.
 
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