Digimon superfan Jean-Karlo gushes about the newest Digimon series, Ghost Game and how it revitalizes the franchise with its unique designs and spooky vibes.
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Hey Nicky, so like, I know we’re talking about Digimon today but I really don’t like the Saban theme from way back, so I’d appreciate it if we didn’t really bring it up—
Hey, even if I have no proper nostalgia for Digimon Adventure I can’t deny the appeal of a catchy (but also kinda lame) kid show theme song. However, you know what’s not lame? Digimon Ghost Game!! Today, we’ll be teaming up with the latest horror-tinged iteration of those adorable digital monsters.
Me, I’m a longtime fan of Digimon. I mainlined the first four seasons growing up; those original seven kids that went to camp for the summer feel like longtime friends of mine, the sight of that old ruined street car by the lake tugs at my heartstrings, and I long to make a pilgrimage to the Fuji TV station where Wizardmon made his last stand. I even liked Frontier, so sue me. And—bear with me, I promise there’s a point to this digression—it all starts with virtual pets! Back in the 90s, when Bandai’s Tamagochi toys were all the rage, Bandai decided to make a line more-obviously aimed at boys. So they ditched the cutesy abstract designs, reskinned the feeding and playing minigames to make them “tougher” (candy was replaced with “protein”, playing was replaced with “training”), made the pets look more like tokusatsu heroes or kaiju, added a data-sharing mechanic that allowed for battling, and created the Digital Monster line of virtual pets which went on to inspire the anime. I had one as a kid, before I even watched the anime, but it’s long since been lost to time. Bandai has continued making new Digital Monster pets since the 90s, but very few have come to the US over the past 20 years. This past summer, I had a nostalgia-bomb and bought the US releases of 20th Anniversary edition of the original Digital Monster pet, pictured here, as well as the subsequent Digital Monster X update. And it was fun! It definitely helps contextualize the original show, its obsession with the Digimon being properly fed or pooping creating Digi-sludge, or the choices in Digimon that appeared.
Bandai went on to unveil a new Digital Monster pet over the summer, the “Vital Bracelet”. A pedometer toy aimed at kids, this allowed kids to raise Digimon with physical activity. You can install new Digimon to the device with “DIM cards” (like SIM cards, but Digimon instead). It’s fun, and Bandai has expanded the Vital Bracelet line to the Ultraman brand. But you can’t keep a good franchise down, so Bandai decided to make a new anime to tie into the new toys. Hence Ghost Game! See, I told you my bloviation would pay off.
Ah, I see! I was wondering how the watches played into the real-world merchandising aspect, as a total Digimon novice. I never got into the original series. My parents were very strict about not letting me enjoy certain things aimed at boys, growing up. I sneaked whatever I could anyways but I couldn’t fit in Digimon and I kinda feel like I missed the boat ever since. Then, when I was interested in stuff like Tri or the new version of Adventure those ended up kinda dropping the ball. So don’t sue me for being a little skeptical about a new Digimon. However, since Digimon Ghost Game is not connected to the Adventure continuity in any way, it made it pretty easy to dive-in as a newcomer.
Which is equally great whether you’re an adult who never watched Digimon or also if you’re the intended audience, that is, children.
I was excited to try out the new show, but also fully expecting to be let down. Digimon Adventure was ambitious for a show made to hawk toys and dealt with themes like children forced to grow up fast to help with chronically-ill siblings, kids dealing with divorced parents, or kids learning that they’re adopted before their parents are ready to tell them. And while I haven’t seen Tri or Last Evolution, much of what I’ve heard is that they kinda drop the ball on the writing front. A shame, that. So imagine my surprise when I queue up the first episode of Ghost Game and what I find is body horror and forced transformation! Which actually freaks me out a whole lot, I might add!
It’s a great “All-ages” spooky times that’s just skilled enough to make my definitely-not-a-kid-anymore skin crawl. I was thoroughly impressed by the tone of the first episode, it lands the direction and audio just enough to be scary while never being explicitly gruesome even with otherwise modest animation. It’s very much “What if Digimon acted more like yokai?” It actually reminds me a lot of the latest GeGeGe no Kitarō series, which I watched some of but it also went pretty hardcore in a way that was also fun and stylish.
Digimon has usually been ordinary serialized narratives with some degree of isekai-flavor, be it the kids being dropped into the Digital World or their Digimon partners being dropped into the Human world and needing to be passed off as stuffed animals. But in today’s age of robotic animal toys and Altered Reality games, I guess they needed a different hook, so they rolled with the idea of a world where holograms are the norm, only some (which, unbeknownst to the people in the show but knownst to us) are actually masquerading Digimon causing trouble for humans. Lending a horror twist to this show is nothing short of creative and I appreciate the effort.
It also fits nicely into a (no pun intended) “Monster-of-the-week” format that feels native to a kids show and allows us to explore all the cool Digimon properly as they wreak havoc upon the real world. It also plays a lot with rumors, social media, and smart devices as added flavor, something I love amongst more recent horror-outings when it’s done well. Regular readers and people who know me should know that I have a soft-spot for horror and spooky stuff and kid’s horror is no exception, in-fact a lot of kids shows are slightly scary because fear is one of the few emotions children understand easily and can have fun with in the safe context of a cartoon.
I know a lot of folks bemoaned Yōkai Watch being heavily episodic and not having a lot of fights, and it feels right out of the gate like Ghost Game took cues from that as well as the recent GeGeGe no Kitarō adaptation. But the spooks are genuine, the fights are snappy and the set-ups are intriguing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, our main character is Hiro Amanokawa. His father vanished under mysterious circumstances and his mother is abroad doing humanitarian work, so he lives at the dorm for his local middle school. Rumors abound of Hologram Ghosts attacking students, and one day one of them even pops into his bedroom. A hologram of his father presents him with a trio of Vital Bracelents (the show just calls them “Digivices”), which allow him to interact with little Gammamon. His father’s final message is that Gammamon his “his brother”. With a partner that can help defeat the rampaging Hologram Ghost Digimon and no other clues to his father’s whereabouts, Hiro sets off to get to the bottom of the great Digimon mystery.
Hiro’s pretty handy, actually. He’s overall easy-going industrious attitude thanks to his dad. He’s even able to crack open doors! I was very glad that the show didn’t shove some goggles on his head and make him like every other dumbass kid-protag and instead his pro-active nature aids the shows detective elements as they try to get to the bottom of things every week and means there’s very little time wasted solving the mysteries. His biggest problem might be more about trying to figure out how to be a “Big Brother” to his new pet and “younger sibling” that also happens to be shaped like a tiny dinosaur.
Oh yeah, this shouldn’t have to be said but here’s a reminder that never feed your Digimon after midnight.
I’m actually shocked that he doesn’t have goggles, either. Like, dye Adol from Ys into a guy with green hair and make his new romantic interest a blonde, why don’t you. Give Professor Xavier a mullet. Give Kirby a Tom Sellick porn-stache. The goggles are a big part of Digimon iconography (Takato from Tamers went through the effort of getting himself some once he met Guilmon, and the Digimon show was canonically fiction in his world!). Not using goggles was a ballsy move—and by God, they pulled it off. Who needs goggles when you have a lockpicking kit?
Likewise, Gammamon could have been very annoying—people hate kids or people with kid-like brains. Gammamon is all id, no common sense, and has his own weird way of speaking, like calling Salmon “shiny” or referring to chocolate as “the champion”. But he’s nevertheless very cute. The big draw for Digimon has always been the idea that out there in the world, you have a best friend waiting for you who just happens to be a talking dinosaur that can turn into a bigger talking dinosaur and they want nothing more than to eat junk food and play video games with you. (You’re on you’re own if you get the snarky seal-guy with the marching fishes.) The two fall in step with each other very quickly and Hiro is shown to be very diligent in raising Gammamon right from the word “go”.
Gammamon is also like, very reminiscent of a toddler where even young kids can empathize with while looking like a cute animal where his behaviors are forgivable and amusing even if he does things like destroy the principal’s office when you get talked to for bringing your dino-dog to school.
Hiro really lookin’ like he’s experiencing all the wonders of parenthood at age thirteen.
Can testify, that’s the Digimon-raising experience. Those babies poop a lot in the 20th Anniversary device.
This also means that Gammamon is absolutely garbage at anything that involves using a braincell, and Hiro is left searching for answers on his own for at least a few episodes. However, our little scrapper is also very cute and very loyal and is implied to have three cool-ass transformations like a full gen’s worth of Pokémon starters rolled into one.
It doesn’t help that Gammamon doesn’t know anything about Earth. Like, at all. Hiro has to do the thinking for both of them.
Now, I want to underline something I said earlier: the fights aren’t much of an emphasis in this show. In the first 7 episodes, Gammamon digivolves maybe once every other episode—and he’s the only one who has digivolved. Indeed, many of the conflicts with Hologram Ghost Digimon are only really started with a few Breaclaws and Horn Attacks before Hiro points out to the Hologram Ghost that what they’re doing is actually quite hurtful and they sheepishly head for someplace else so as not to inconvenience people. Episode 2 is a great example: a Mummymon (ps: I love seeing Mummymon again after Digimon 02) is wrapping people up into mummies thinking that it’s the cure for their daily malaise. It’s not until Hiro points out to him that mummification is a positively ancient practice that he immediately ceases his “treatments”, and excitedly goes off to shadow actual doctors in hospitals so he can learn how to help people. I mean, I dunno what he’ll achieve as a glorified digital poltergeist, but it’s a sweet sentiment from the guy.
Yeah, while a larger portion of the show is dedicated to figuring out the problem, the solution usually isn’t from fighting but Hiro acting as a diplomat of logic, goodwill, and reasoning towards the Digimon. Again, part of the reason I compare the Digimon to yokai a lot, compared to traditional western-style ghost is that they’re kinda fae-like. They’re not inherently malicious, but they don’t understand humans or human logic and therefore they have a pretty grey-morality system where some of them act maliciously and some of them are simply acting on misunderstanding. A lot of them also follow specific rule-sets and most importantly, they’re really just seeking for ways to have a good time even if it means messing with humans in cruel ways. I enjoyed the Halloween-centric episode with the pumpkin monster who really just wants to be friends for this reason. By making people into living jack-o-lanterns just like him!
They range from simple alien logic where they don’t understand that they might actually be causing harm or they don’t care because of their single-minded nature but that also means it’s easy to understand and sympathize with some of the Digimon and leads to the lesson of each episode.
I would like to congratulate Pumpkinmon on finally escaping Myotismon’s dark DigiDungeon. I can only hope Gotsumon also found his way out.
But yeah, this is a thing I like. I may love Kamen Rider and the sight of villains getting blown up every week, but there’s something to be said about a kid’s show where the problem can be resolved diplomatically and with no ill will towards either side. Sometimes, people just don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong. People are nice, if you give them a chance. And I appreciate that, at the end of the day, a lot of Digimon just want to be friends with humans.
AND THEN THERE’S THIS ASSHOLE.
Pretty sure the only one I would label as actively-malicious so far! But the singlemindedness still applies. Dracumon is just harming people for funsies. and also so he can materialize in the real world but we’ll get into that.
Dracumon up there was using his Mystic Eyes of Entropy or whatever to cause people’s precious limbs (or hair) to degrade over two days. This brings in Ruli, one of Hiro’s classmates whose hands start to vanish because of Dracumon’s curse. Ruli has some degree of fame among her classmates as the internet figure Lirurun, who’d been investigating the rumors of Hologram Ghosts on social media. But as Hiro finds out, there was another Digimon tailing Ruli: Angoramon, who wanted to help her but couldn’t find a way to communicate with her. Using one of Hiro’s spare Vital Bracelets, Ruli is able to bond with Angoramon and find her own big, plush tubby friend.
Seriously, Angoramon looks like Big the Cat with belts on his arms and an actual vocabulary, I love the guy. And he’s got Tails’ ability to fly, only he uses his ears!
Angoramon is very good! Not only is he a soft and plush BIG FRIEND TM, he’s also smart and he kicks ass. Also named after the particularly floofy angora breed of rabbit. He’s a little broody but he’s basically “the mature one”, speaking quite sophisticated compared to Gammamon, and he’s even able to enjoy Ruli’s piano playing. He gives Hiro some info about Digimon and even tells him how to hide his new friend so it’s less of an issue keeping him out all the time. I also think him and Ruli have the best relationship out of all three of the main pairs. Ruli is a good girl-lead, she’s more social than Hiro but she isn’t any dumber or less proactive than him. Instantly, she works well with both Hiro and her new Digimon friend.
His design is such that I’m disappointed we never see him Digivolve. In the tradition of rabbit-like Digimon like Terriermon having badass forms like Gargomon or Rapidmon, I’d love to see the kind of thing Angoramon turns into.
Oh yeah, is should mention that both the OP and ED are very catchy, and the music for the show does it’s job well with various synths for both the spooky parts or the more action-y parts.
But not all partnerships can be healthy relationships. It just wouldn’t be Digimon if it didn’t introduce kids to weird kinks at an entirely inappropriate time (shout-out to the legendary catfight between LadyDevimon and Angewomon—there was hair pulling, Izzy became a man that day). So on that note: Jellymon.
Jellymon-sama is definitely the most fae-like of the main Digimon, lol. Including the high sense of superiority. Too bad Jellymon-sama’s partner, Kiyoshirō Higashimitarai ,is a little scaredy baby, an overachiever, and also a major chuuni, who is magically not annoying at all thanks to a surprising appearance by veteran Akira Ishida. I did not expect to hear him in this after the last major role I heard him in was the last freakin’ Eva movie!
That’s all to say that I love him and think he is precious.
To wit: Kiyoshiro is in middle school but he graduated with a Master’s degree in America. He came back to Japan because he’s an incurable weeb who wanted to experience Japanese school life like in his Japanese anime. Jellymon-sama is sure to call him out on that.
Sorry, Kiyoshiro. Jellymon’s got the Louis Vuitton CBT boots on, too late to back out now.
Kiyoshiro is also painfully superstitious, like Benny from The Mummy. He goes so far as to hack 1,000 devices in his city to set up a network of talismans in an attempt at preventing Jellymon from “haunting” him. The kid turned the blockchain into a digital sealing ward, and it didn’t work.
He’s somehow both hypercompetent, and cool, and also pretty pathetic with how paranoid he his. He also keeps talking about his sealed bandage hand.
Also, I’m not kidding about Jellymon having a domme-streak—she most assuredly is into Findom because she hijacks Kiyoshiro’s talisman blockchain and turns it into a computerized money talisman that winds up disrupting the city’s entire financial system. So she turns a sealing blockchain into some kind of money-hijacking blockchain, all because money amuses her. I say again: she may not completely understand how money works, but Jellymon knows what findom is.
Also, Jellymon does this thing where she can curl up her body into the bell of her jellyfish-hat, and it cannot be a coincidence that this makes her look like Kuramon from the Digimon motion picture, which is a grave reference to make but also fitting with how she will step all over you. You’re gonna wish she only had access to launch codes.
I definitely noticed a couple motion-picture shot references in ep 5 in particular. Especially for Majiramon considering his Kaiju-sized presence. Because of Jellymon’s mischief Mr. Dorm Leader Sempai Kiyoshiro is sought out by the Shenron of Money Digimon, and all his zodiac pals. Who’s gonna unleash 108 arrows of light of holy retribution for something he didn’t intend to do (though he did hack everyone out of paranoia).
But Jellymon ends up helping him out anyways, and he does end up being useful as the group hacker in other episodes, when the plot needs. Meaning all the kids are relatively skilled at different things.
She also earns a degree of respect for Kiyoshiro when she sees that, coward that he is, he’s still willing to take responsibility and stand by his friends. She even goes as far as to do the Lum Invader-thing of calling him “Darling” (hey, she can control electricity already, why not?)
Anyways, that’s all to say I think the cast isn’t very complex as characters but they have strong enough simple personalities to the point where they aren’t annoying or whiny like a lot of kid shows are and they never slow down the episode. Helps that the beats and jokes are presented in a pretty snappy fashion so they don’t overstay their welcome. Even some of the more repeat-phrases don’t break the tone to feel like a real “turn to the camera” moment.
There’s a line between characters having personalities and characters just having a shtick, and Digimon Ghost Game stands quite firmly in the former and not the latter. It’s the difference between a kids’ show and a good kids’ show, and for the most part Digimon has been great on that front as a franchise. Ghost Game isn’t quite Tamers, but it’s up there in terms of execution. Way better than 02, at least.
I mean, at least the writer for Digimon Ghost Game hasn’t been caught posting conspiracy theories on twitter afaik. So there’s that. (sad)
Though does the episode where crows turn out to actually be drones count?
This episode is a bizarre twist on the “Pigeonman” episode from Hey, Arnold!: a man who loves birds becomes enchanted by Yatagarumon and helps it free all of the birds in the city. The gang has to stop him from freeing the birds at a local nature preserve, since it has eagles and condors that are much more dangerous than sparrows or budgies.
The episode allows Gammamon access to a second alternate form, KausGammamon. It lets him fly!
At other times it feels like a kid’s version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, so that’s fun. I also enjoyed the episode prior with Sirenmon who also has a lot of bird-like qualities, and weird beak mask reminds me of Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise.
An entire generation of mecha-fans recoils at the words “Listen to my song” as echoes of “Fire Bomber” bubble to the surface of their memory…
Also, the aerial battle in the most recent episode was probs one of the more extended fight scenes, it’s cool how the attack names just randomly appear in the kid’s head. Idk if that existed in previous Digimon series but I think it’s a neat way of making that trope more diegetic.
That’s new to this show; for the most part, the older shows had the Digimon fighting on their own while the children offered moral support and fueled them with the power of friendship (not kidding, that’s how it worked). There was never a need for the Digidestined to call out their partners’ attacks before. Considering how the Vital Bracelets IRL depend on the user’s physical activity for the Digimon to be able to fight or Digivolve, it’s a neat way to demonstrate how there’s more of a need for the kids to take part and contribute to the fights, even if it’s just their heartbeat or whatever.
Anyways, I don’t consider Ghost Game to be a radical take on the franchise or the genre but it’s solid at what it is and it seems to hold a lot of respect for the audience watching it regardless of what age you are enough for me to enjoy it without encountering some of the plentiful kid show hang-ups. Which is pretty ideal, honestly.
In fact, I could probably name at least three other shows I’m watching that wasted my time more than Ghost Game does.
I’m a long-time Digimon fan and I can honestly say that, ignoring my nostalgia, Ghost Game is a competent show that does everything it has to in order to earn that distinction. Nicky’s right; the show respects the intelligence of the audience, the characters are distinguished and consistent, the mysteries are engaging and genuinely gripping, and there are good lessons to be had. Even with this show revolving around selling a toy pedometer to kids (that doesn’t even track your movement all that great—the Vital Bracelet is a bit inaccurate), this is a really fun show.
Taking my nostalgia into account? Even then, Ghost Game stands on its own. The references aren’t even aimed at the older shows in particular, although seeing older Digimon pop up every so often is fun. The show is not like the older ones in terms of format, and that’s fine—it works very well. Maybe this show will crap the bed and tack on some laborious world-saving plot that’ll crumble its delicate foundations, like in 02. Or maybe it’ll weave in an interesting angle as to why Digimon are bleeding into the real world and we’ll get some kind of tragic twist of a final villain that casts the actions of the main cast in a different light, like with Apocalymon in Adventure.
I mean, hell, they still do the thing where the Digital World has random splotches of color in the sky and foliage. I can’t help but love that.
Oh yeah, we didn’t mention but they do occasionally swap between the real and digital world, it’s just doesn’t make a big deal about it.
I’m kinda glad I haven’t seen Tri or Kizuna. As much as I love the original Digidestined, I think Ghost Game is much better as a continuation of Digimon Adventure. Sure, there’s no world-saving plot and the kids have much simpler lives than Joe-“You don’t understand, this seal is ruining my life and he won’t stop owning me, someone please help me”-Kido, but it’s a show about kids having adventures with their best friends. Sometimes, the adventures are dangerous, sometimes they’re less so. Sometimes they make new friends, sometimes they find a new enemy leering at them from the shadows. But they’re always with their best friends, through thick and thin, and I could never ask for more from Digimon. It’s why we’re here.
So please. Bandai. Release the Pendulum Z and the X-3 Digital Monster pets in the US, I am dying here, help a guy out.
Well as for myself, I might keep up with this show on a casual level. But for now. I gotta take this page of wisdom from the big fox Digimon. Even adults need to take naps! ZZZZZZZZ