It’s important to remember that most series change over time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the people that love the series grow along with it, and to keep them invested, some things need to evolve. However, it’s important that any effort to gain new fans while pleasing old ones should remember, above all, the heart of the series needs to stay intact. It’s tricky, but doing so can take the series to new and exciting places.
When it doesn’t, unfortunately, you end up with something like Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning, which feels content to recycle old tropes on a road to nowhere.
Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning is both the sequel film to the anime series Digimon Adventures 02 (2000) and the film Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna (2020), though it’s far from being the second Digimon movie. It’s actually the 19th. Set in 2012, two years after the events of Last Evolution Kizuna, a giant Digi-Tama has appeared over Tokyo Tower suddenly as Daisuke (Fukujuurou Katayama) is making ramen in a shop. A message is broadcast across the world when it appears: may everyone in the world have friends, may they each have a Digimon.
The DigiDestined – Hikari (Mao Ichimichi), Takeru (Junya Enoki), Ken (Arthur Lounsbery), Iori (Yoshitaka Yamaya), and Miyako (Ayaka Asai) – meet in Daisuke’s shop to discuss the Digi-Tama’s appearance, but are interrupted by a news report saying someone is scaling Tokyo Tower. As they watch, the climber falls, and the group jumps into action to save the day.
The climber ends up being a boy named Rui Owada (Megumi Ogata), who is carrying a broken Digivice and has no Digimon companion. He explains that he’d been trying to reach the Digi-Tama and Daisuke agrees to help him. After they reach the top of the tower and jump towards the Digi-Tama, they’re transported back in time and witness a scene from Rui’s childhood: the moment he received a Digimon companion. After being abused by his mother, Rui found a Digi-Tama that hatched Ukkomon. After they return safely to the ground, Rui explains that he was the first person to ever bond with a Digimon.
However, their bond ended in disaster as Ukkomon’s attempts to make Rui’s life perfect caused a great deal of pain. After an accident caused Rui to lose an eye and Ukkomon gave one of its own to help him, they had an argument that resulted in Ukkomon melting into a pile of fleshy sludge. He says that he feels a connection to the Digi-Tama as he believes it’s Ukkomon. With the help of the other DigiDestined, he reconciles with his Digimon friend.
Something fans of Digimon may notice while watching this film is the lack of the action-adventure feeling the series is known for. It’s not that there’s no action here; there is, but it comes about an hour and six minutes into an hour and twenty minute movie. This may not be a deal breaker for some, but it’s definitely a strange choice for a series that places a pretty heavy emphasis on Digimon battling each other. This leads to it feeling a little wrong in terms of tone when compared to its prequels, but again. It’s not all about fighting. There’s plenty of drama here to keep your attention.
Except that it doesn’t. While the film does tug at the heartstrings, especially when it comes to Rui’s past, it’s not the most original story, and there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself predicting the ending at the halfway mark or sooner. In addition, there’s no real villain. While I’m the first to defend non-conventional antagonists – familial expectation, fear of the future, that sort of thing – some series genuinely need a tangible villain, and Digimon is one of them.
I don’t say this because it’s made for any particular age group. I say this because the series doesn’t need to make themes of growing up, drifting apart, and friendship into antagonists. They’re already woven into the story. It’s okay to show us cool fight scenes. Show us more of them, actually.
Again, this may not be a deal breaker for some fans. I know I love a good shounen that’s as predictable as it is entertaining. However, the plot feels almost lazy as it shuffles through the usual “poor communication almost leads to disaster” story, and it doesn’t have that Digimon charm or the action necessary to keep the pace moving and drum up interest.
While the plot itself is lackluster, the film does have impressive design. The animation is excellent, especially in the few fight scenes the film has, and the updates to the Digimon designs are mostly positive. The sound design, in all aspects, is fantastic; the score never missed, and the voice acting (at least for the Japanese version) was so well done. In particular, Rui’s voice actor caught my attention. The way he handled young Rui’s cries in the flashbacks was honestly gut wrenching.
Digimon Adventures 02: The Beginning isn’t necessarily bad. It has great animation, high quality voice acting and music, and it may be a great time for fans who don’t mind more drama and (way) less action. However, its story is incredibly lackluster, easily predictable, and lacks a proper villain, opting instead for a trope that is quickly becoming tired and is wholly unnecessary in a series that already contains all of the themes being turned into antagonists. Ultimately, the film lacks the overall feeling the Digimon series is known for, feeling less like a fun adventure and more like a chore.