Fights like Star Wars vs. Star Trek or Marvel vs. DC have made it clear that it’s impossible for fandoms to agree about anything. But for a certain type of ’90s kid, there was no fight more important than the war between Digimon and Pokémon. Though the franchises have similar names, were both born as video games, and feature kids going on adventures with strange monsters that fight for them, their latest-feature film projects show the core difference between the two series.
Where Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a shot-for-shot remake of the first Pokémon movie, with updated CGI animation and without the original songs, the newly imported movie Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna is the conclusion of 20 years’ worth of stories, closing the book on a beloved franchise by looking back at what made it so special, then acknowledging that neither the characters nor the audience can remain kids forever.
In its opening scene, Last Evolution begins by taking us back to where it all began, to the streets of Tokyo, where a giant Parrotmon crosses over from the Digital World and starts wreaking havoc, while Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro” plays in the background. Viewers who find it off-putting to see the film blatantly wearing nostalgia on its sleeves by playing the original musical arrangement of the 1990s anime theme song should be warned: this movie probably isn’t for you. But if the mere sound of the late Kouji Wada’s “Butter-Fly” brings tears to your eyes, then you better bring a towel when you watch, because Last Evolution is like Toy Story 3 for anime fans.
Though the opening scene directly reflects the opening of 2000’s Digimon: The Movie, it quickly lets the audience know that things have changed. This isn’t the ’90s anymore, and technology has grown along with the DigiDestined, who are now coordinating battle strategies in mid-fight like an anime version of The Avengers. Five years after the events of the 2015 film series Digimon Tri, and 10 years after the events of the original series, the DigiDestined have grown up just like the audience has. Izzy (Mutsumi Tamura) is now the CEO of a tech company. Joe (Junya Ikeda) is in medical school. Mimi (Hitomi Yoshida) is working as an influencer who says she’s “spreading kawaii” across the world. Sora (Suzuko Mimori) has apparently left the DigiDestined behind to focus on following her family’s business, as seen in the short film prequel “To Sora.” Even the kids from 2000’s Digimon Adventure 02 are back, after an egregious absence during Digimon Tri. After the nostalgia-filled opening credits, a new threat emerges and goes after all DigiDestined across the world. And Tai (Natsuki Hanae) discovers a timer in his Digivice, counting down to the moment his partnership with his Digimon Agumon will end forever.
Kizuna is fast-paced and features gorgeous fighting animation, including scenes that combine the art style of the original Mamoru Hosada-directed films with new digital animation techniques. But director Tomohisa Taguchi and the animation team at Yumeta Company clearly made this film for the millennials who grew up with the franchise and want a little more than constant battle scenes. The plot is a detective story with an intriguing central mystery, and the tone is much more melancholic than most modern anime movies, as the end of the partnership between the DigiDestined and their Digimon casts a large shadow over every scene they share. Thankfully, the film gives the characters enough moments to breathe, with mostly silent sequences where they contemplate their future and their past, without dialogue and with a minimalistic score.
The original Digimon Adventure portrayed some heavy themes for a kids’ show, including divorce, depression, and death. And as the characters grew up, the themes continued to mature. Tai goes out for drinks with Matt (Yoshimasa Hosoya), and he’s now working part-time at a gambling parlor, and has a porn stash in his apartment. He has no idea what he’ll do with his future. Though Joe, Izzy, Mimi, and Sora seem well-adjusted in their 20s, Tai and Matt struggle with deciding what to do with their lives and how to let go of their childhoods as they prepare for an uncertain adulthood.
The film begins with the text “the more that people accept the future chosen for them, the less they will age,” and viewers’ enjoyment of the film will depend on how they interpret that phrase. Though we know the film is counting down to the moment the DigiDestined grow up and leave their old adventures behind, there’s no clear idea about what the film considers “growing up.” It’s more specifically about the moment when people realize they can no longer juggle what their lives used to be like when they were kids, and the life they’re now entering.
But it’s also about the danger of forcing yourself to grow up before you’re ready. It’s about those who think they have to leave their old friends and lives behind, and those fighting to embrace both the past and future as much as they can. Like Toy Story 3, Kizuna goes for a bittersweet conclusion that waves goodbye to childhood while suggesting that eventually, we all learn to find a balance between our responsibilities and our desires. Some audiences may not agree with the way the film handles this theme and its connection to the infamous epilogue from Digimon Adventure 02, which reunites both teams of DigiDestined, as well as their Digimon and their children, in the far future. But for those who are on board with the way the film handles the transition out of childhood, Last Evolution will be like saying goodbye to a childhood friend you don’t often speak to, but still hold close to your heart.
Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna manages to be the best addition to the Digimon franchise since Mamoru Hosoda was at the helm. Its references to previous franchise installments, its surprising cameos, and its emotional story all help put a bow on 20 years of adventures, while providing a nice returning point for fans who may have skipped the underwhelming Tri series of films. It’s a love letter not only to the entire franchise, but to those who have grown up watching these characters throughout the years. This is the conclusion fans have been waiting for.