By Emmanuel Gutierrez |Features Editor|
In reference to only the first seasons of each respective show (not the films, video games, or sequel series), Digimon the animated series is supremely superior to Pokémon.
In order to avoid confusion, by first season of Digimon, I am referring to the entire adventures of 01, and for Pokemon, every episode before Johto—including the Orange Island League.
While arguably a rip-off of the catch ‘em all pocket monster phenomenon amongst youngsters and those young at heart, Digimon managed to transcend the stale, self-contained plot-per-episode formula plaguing its arch nemesis by offering an epic, heart-warming bildungsroman.
Ash Ketchum from the town of Pallet wanted to be the very best like no one ever was, traveling across the land, searching far and wide at the ripe old age of 10 to collect a minimum of eight badges from Gym Leaders to enter the Pokemon League—to be a Pokemon master.
Tai, Matt, Sora, and company mysteriously crash-landed in the Digital World during their stay at summer camp. With the help of their digital companions, they searched for a way home, but soon realized they were the children of prophecy to save this new, fantastical world from corruption—they were the Digidestined.
“Digimon had a better story because Ash be taking too long, too busy taking side roads,” said student Phollar Khai.
Pokémon, unfortunately, suffered from minimal to lack of character development, Team Rocket’s predictable, incompetent escapades, and an unsatisfying absence of evolutionary stages in Ash’s party.
As a result, every episode felt extremely similar.
I am not condemning the show as a whole; I grew up with Pokémon—I was basically raised by television—and it’ll forever remain a cherished part of my childhood.
Particularly the episodes in which Ash released Butterfree during the mating season, when chased by a vindictive flock of Spearow, a bruised and battered Ash begged Pikachu to get inside his Poké ball—to save his life, and of course, when Charizard and Magmar duked it out at the peak of Cinnabar Island’s volcano—seismic toss!
Whereas, the entirety of the Digimon show’s core was character development supplemented with eye candy and razzle-dazzle of the digital monsters transcending their cuter, diminutive states to temporary stages of one-hundred percent butt-ass-kickery.
The Digidestined received tags to fill with crests embodying each character’s absolute strongest quality, such as courage, friendship, or love.
However, those very same characters weren’t the most courageous, friendly, or loving.
They were children making adult decisions in life-or-death situations, and often, their greatest strengths were completely absent when at their most demanded.
Tai lacked courage; hesitating to save his friend Sora when confronted with the bitter realization that despite being composed of data during his stay in the Digital World, the notion of mortality and death was very real—eliminating his earlier perceptions of invincibility and blind, mindless heroism.
Unwilling to subject his Digimon Agumon to any unnecessary danger and eager to prove his resolve in confronting himself and his fears before effectively facing his enemies, Tai pressed on, mustering the gumption that lied within.
He searched for his missing friend beyond a deadly electric fence—an electric fence that turned out to be only an illusion.
These obstacles, or perhaps tests would be more appropriate, concerning the Digidestined’s crests and greatest attributes were not story arcs that wrapped up neatly in a single episode—that would be so Pokémon of them.
These internal battles of hope, love, friendship, courage, reliability, sincerity, intelligence, and light occurred throughout the series a multitude of times as characters, when challenged with a seemingly impossible task, doubted themselves, lost his or her faith, and regressed to a powerless disposition.
Perhaps the prime example of this included Matt, the lone wolf of the group whose greatest quality, ironically, was friendship.
Swaggering with a too-cool-to-care attitude adorned as emotional armor, he sought solitude and distanced himself from potential companions because he felt capable on his own, self-imposing the weight and responsibilities of caring for his (somewhat estranged) younger brother, whom he loved fiercely.
Quickly, Matt confronted the reality that as strong as he and his Digimon companion Gabumon were, only through teamwork and understanding would they ever be genuinely strong—embracing friendship for its comforts and strengths.
Perhaps the ultimate test of friendship Matt faced was learning to accept his friends’ accomplishments; to be happy and supportive of them without culminating envious sentiments deep down in his heart of hearts—another’s success does not reflect negatively on you.
Matt felt stuck in a rut, expressing dissatisfaction with his friends’ considerable personal growth and independence; their time, their experiences, and their lessons in the Digital World made them stronger, better versions of themselves.
When persuaded by the evil, manipulative Cherrymon, Matt succumbed to notions of defeating the supposed pestilential presence in his life—his rival Tai—in order to continue growing as an individual and cast away the value of friendship altogether.
Gabumon swore his unyielding loyalty and allegiance, promising to adhere with whatever Matt decided, in effort to convince his friend that friendship is more than a word, which resulted in one of the most intense and personal clashes in the series: WarGreymon versus MetalGarurumon.
Leading into another factor in which Digimon was better, the development of each show’s respective rivals: Ash versus Gary and Tai versus Matt.
Other than the occasional lame, snarky comment to Ash, Gary was virtually nonexistent during the first season of Pokémon, and thus, inconsequential with the exception of the first episode, which involved choosing Squirtle (the strongest amongst the three starters, in his opinion) as his first Pokémon, leaving Ash to eventually resort to Pikachu.
They never even battled until after the Orange Island League when Pikachu lost to Eevee, which was equal parts adorable and badass.
Whereas Tai and Matt fought alongside each other, and just as often clutching at the other’s throat, from the very beginning.
The two created a compelling dynamic of two alpha dogs fighting for the same things but employing different methods and setting varying priorities to influence the group.
Tai was too gun-hoe and trigger-happy concerning pursuing their enemies, to the point of irrationality, as well as insensitive to his friend’s feelings, while Matt would prioritize the group’s safety—particularly his younger brother T.K.’s—and questioned the groups motives for tracking down fiendish beasts who yearned to kill them, but rarely as calm and collected as he usually behaved.
Also, at times, Tai played the role of a surrogate older brother to T.K.—a role Matt considered his one and only purpose—arousing tensions that lead to group conflicts and ultimately, separation.
“Well, I recently watched Digimon, the original 2 seasons, I think I like Digimon better. Like Pokemon was hype back in the day, but the monsters be looking too mutated with their funky ass names,” added Khai.
Which leads me to another note of superiority Digimon carries over Pokémon—character designs. More specifically, the monster designs.
While both shows exhibited fantasy elements, the Pokémon designs strode for more realistic takes on earthly creatures.
Definitely nothing wrong with that, especially since we have Togepi—the most adorable, useless spiky egg baby, Mewtwo—the super clone of the ancestor to all Pokémon, and of course the starters and their final evolutions: Venusaur, Charizard, and my boy Blastoise.
Digimon, however, premiered some of the wickedest and most adorable designs of all.
MagnaAngemon and Angewomon, with alabaster wings and lithographed helmets, brought sexy back; WarGreymon was an absolute beast, combining elements of a mechanized, Sci-Fi medieval soldier to a humanoid tyrannosaurus rex; Garurumon, the manga-stylized dire wolf with silver-white fur and streaks of stark blue, bearing an impressive set of icicle-sized fangs who could breathe frozen flames was what every kid wished for in the loyal, faithful canine-companion department.
“When I think of Pokemon, I think of the theme song. It’s basically my life’s mantra, even if I could never match up to it,” said student Cesar Marin.
The Pokémon theme song was beyond epic and timeless, arousing heartwarming, yet bad ass sentiments that became empowering. Particularly within fans who can recite the lyrics by heart and passionately (or shamelessly) sing along.
Certainly infinitely greater than the Digimon intro song, which, while catchy and thematically relevant with data and technology, was completely one dimensional and uninspiring, similar to much of mainstream music produced today.
If fans were to play each song on a loop, the Digimon theme song would tire for most before it finished playing the first go around.
“Pokemon was the cat’s meow, but Digimon had villains who actually played a more involved role with the plot and were actually awesome. Puppetmon was a selfish, crazy freak who thought he had friends, but no one wanted to be killer-Pinnochio’s friend,” said student Stephanie Rodriguez.
A hero is only as great as his villain (or antagonist), and with that in mind, Pokemon underwhelmed with the occasionally amusing Team Rocket trio, and by employing a looser definition, the Gym Leaders.
With the exception of Lieutenant Surge, Koga, and Blaine, Ash’s badges were unearned and undeserved in respect to collecting them in the traditional method—besting the Gym Leader in a three-on-three Pokemon battle.
Ash merely helped out the Gym Leaders from Team Rocket’s antics, extinguished a Gym building from a raging fire, borrowed the whimsical ghost-type Haunter to send Sabrina in a fit of giggles, and not once battled Giovanni for the final, most difficult badge.
Without ever experiencing the Gym Leaders at their most competitive, Ash himself was never pushed to his limits as often as he should have, and thus, the most hyped and anticipated experiences in the entire show, at least in this writer’s opinion, resulted in lackluster cop-outs valuing teamwork and altruistic notions—but cop-outs nonetheless.
After all, how can Ash become the very best if he consistently did not best the experts within each city?
I suppose the writers intended to value these qualities—teamwork and altruism—above being number one, which for a children’s television show is understandable and perhaps even admirable, but virtually every episode included a plot dealing with disposable characters that ultimately fell back on those themes.
To have the majority of Gym matches concluding in a similar manner, to me, foiled the one, single over-arching plot tying the series together—not cool.
Tai, Matt, and the other Digidestined faced threat after threat, and while most of the enemies were relatively one-dimensional—apparently evil for the sake of evil, or as explained in the show, it was in their programming—each new enemy villain instilled a new sense of danger while simultaneously challenged our heroes to up their game in ways they never could have imagined.
My personal favorite villains include the wooden marionette Puppetmon, and the androgynous, sword wielding jester Piedmon.
The Pinochio-inspired digital monster commanded the ability to manipulate his enemies, extracting free will from them—playing puppet master in the most literal sense.
He was both whimsical and sinister in his disposition, a chillingly potent combination, and his ultimate plight for friendship seeped these notions into our protagonists’ minds, testing the fortitude of their friendship.
Piedmon, the most deadly and formidable of the Dark Masters, instilled a terror and hopelessness in the Digidestined, capturing them one by one in the form of keychains.
As a kid, the suspense literally killed me (I am literally dead) when T.K. and Kari, the youngest of the group, were all that remained.
Through his entire journey in the Digital World, T.K. was always in the presence of another, older Digidestined, and thus, under their protection, but now, he was the only one standing in Piedmon’s way to transmogrify and take Kari away.
However, clinging to the trifling, frail bits of hope T.K. could muster, it was more than enough for Angemon’s ultimate digivolution to transpire: MagnaAngemon.
“Both had really good fights. Pokemon had some good surprises, like when Ash won the Orange League, beating a Dragonite with, like, half his team,” said student Anthony Martinez.
I concur with Martinez, both shows had their fair share of fights and that is why I consider this to be a tied category.
Digimon and Pokemon were awesome shows with their own devoted, die-hard fanbases, swearing one is superior to the other—and that’s it for all of infinity and forever, plus one.
However, just because you find one more enjoyable does not, nor should not take away from the experience of the other.
I have no qualms admitting Pokemon had its moments that not even Digimon can compare, but if I were to dissect each series and compare the two whole—as I have done—the decision becomes clear: I choose you, Digimon!