Background: While at first glance it is easy to categorize this show as a rip off of Pokemon. However, if the shows are watched in whole and compared the two shows do not have much in common other than the idea of human and monster partners. First off the Pokemon franchise was designed as a whole. The video games, card games, and TV show were all planned out together. Digimon was a show created for the purpose of selling virtual pets that could be fed food and used to battle people. The writers, given this mandate and a low budget, created a show that was intended to only be 13 episodes long. However, it was very successful that a full 54 episode season was created. With that said, it's time for the review.
Review: The review will consist of a plot synopsis, a review of the plot, and a review of the content so families know what to expect to see.
Plot: The story begins with 7 children at summer camp. While at camp, bizarre weather occurs all over the world. For the children, this means a blizzard that hits their camp site. The children witness an aurora in the sky and 7 devices fall from it. After each child gets their device they are transported into what is known as the Digital World. The Digital World is inhabited by several small and large monsters called Digimon which have the ability to evolve to more powerful forms. Each child realizes that they have a partner Digimon which they slowly but surely become attached to. The kids soon realize that the particular island they have landed on is ruled by an evil Digimon, Devimon. The children decide that in order to go home they must save the Digital World from Devimon.
Review of the Plot: I don't want to spoil too much as the plot does expand from here. The show is broken up into 4 story arcs each featuring a new villain or in the final arc, a team of villains. In order to defeat their enemies, the children have to show special characteristics which unlock the powers of evolution in their Digimon partners. Some of these moments are fleshed out well while others are forced in order to move the story along. From a story perspective, the peak of the show comes during its 3rd arc. Here the battle switches from the Digital World to the Real World. Because of this, the children eventually have to reveal their Digimon partners to their parents. This leads to the strongest parts of the show. While in some children shows, parents are seen as either inept and stupid, overbearing , or nonexistent (there are some exceptions e.g. Rugrats and Rocket Power), Digimon uses the episodes where the fight is in the Real World to show each child's relationship with their parents. Issues of divorce, adoption, responsibility, and living up to expectations are all fully tackled. If there is a part of the show that can be appreciated by both parents and children, it would be this arc. However, the show is not without it's flaws. The villains are rather two-dimensional in that they don't really have any reason to be evil other than they are just evil. There are two important exceptions but they are henchmen, not primary villains. Also the English dub has a lot of bad puns, especially in the beginning. This does improve as the show progresses though. Finally, the budget for this show was low so the animation is not all that great. Music in the Japanese version is much better than in the English dub. My personal favorite is the piano version of the song Butterfly which is just touching and beautiful. Overall, the show does have plot holes and subpar animation. However, what it lacks in budget it makes up for in the heart that was put into the show. Considering what the show was intended to be made for, the writers created a heart-filled character centered show with plenty of monster battles to appease the action fans of the show. I give the show 3.5/5.
Review of Content
I know some parents care about the content of the show so I will point out some things they should keep an eye out for. The violence is very fantasy based with monsters shooting energy balls and beams at each other. While there is rarely any blood drawn from the attacks, some of the attacks result in Digimon getting incinerated or cut into pieces. When Digimon die in this show, being that they are comprised of data, they dissipate into the air. Their data is sent to a place called Primary Village which is where Digimon are born (they hatch from eggs). The data from the dead Digimon is reformed into an egg after which the Digimon re-hatches with or without their memories intact. As for the humans, a parent does slap her child and there is a fist fight between two of the characters. While the children are constantly threatened, they never take any damage from a Digimon in the show. There is also a scene of self-mutilation by one of the Digimon which was cut out of the English dub.
There is very little sex-related content. The only thing close is the children are shown in a hot tub but the boys are separated from the girls and all the characters are covered. Some of the female Digimon show clevage and there is a Digimon fight between two female Digimon that causes the male characters to be in shock and awe. There are some fart jokes which are edited out of the English version too. There aren't any drug references but there are some alcohol references and the father of one of the children smokes. The alcohol reference was edited in the English version but the smoking was not. There is some language in the Japanese version but not in the dub.
I hope this review helps to understand this show. The show has a direct sequel called Digimon 02 which takes place 3 years after the events of this show. There was also a movie which consists of three different stories. Neither has anything to do with each other and are actually three separate Japanese films which were combined for American audiences. The sequel also has its own movie which doesn't add anything to the story but is a sequel to the second of the films shown in the Digimon movie. After the second season, the story was concluded. Every season after was a reboot where the rules of the Digital World were redefined and new concepts were used. I would recommend the third season, Digimon Tamers although it is more violent and adult themed than its predecessors. I would also recommend to any fan to watch JesuOtaku's Digimon retrospective where she goes in depth into the first three seasons. Honestly a lot of this review is inspired by her videos. I would also recommend WhatTheEgad's Digimon 02 retrospective which critiques the second season. Viewing these retrospectives should give the fans and the parents and idea of what the show is actually about.