Life Goes On – Digimon Adventure tri. 2: Determination

wadakoujiwebsite

What was originally supposed to be a review of the second Digimon Adventure tri. movie has now taken on a different context with the passing of Digimon singer Wada Kouji at the age of 42 after a long battle with cancer. While his voice was absent in the English dub of Digimon, many fans around the world came to know his distinct, powerful voice across multiple works, and in many ways his songs have defined and encapsulated the swirl of emotions and memories that Digimon brings. In listening to Wada’s tri. renditions of “Butter-fly” and now “Seven,” the softness in his voice comes across not simply as the melancholy of growing up, but also Wada’s last push to make his voice heard, similar to Freddie Mercury in “These Are the Days of Our Lives” before succumbing to AIDS.

Although Wada’s unfortunate passing does not any direct impact on the story of Digimon Adventure tri. 2: Determination, it does cast an interesting light given the primary focus of the second film. What do we as people do with our lives? What does it mean to be an adult? How do we handle the challenges that life throws at us? How can we continue to be the Biggest Dreamer?

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Determination, like Reunion, places great emphasis on character exploration, with greater attention on how difficult it can be to both aim for and avoid conformity as we get older. In particular, the film puts the spotlight on worrywart Kido Joe and Tachikawa Mimi. Just like in the last film, Joe has been actively ignoring the call of the Digimon because he’s more concerned with trying to get into a good college. Mimi has to deal with the fact that her aggressive attitude and individuality (implied to be a product of both her personality and her time spent in the US) rubs her classmates the wrong way.

Though overall decent, I find this second film to be weaker than the first one, mostly because the pacing feels stiff and that not quite enough was done to explore Joe and Mimi’s conflicts. The comedy, including seeing Gomamon cook instant ramen for Joe, and even the bath house hijinks (including a brief steamy moment between Takeru and Hikari) are all wecome and keep the film just light-hearted enough, but the story’s progression still feels quite uneven. However, one potential point against the film, namely that it focuses on boring ol’ Joe, is something I see as a point of contention. I think that Joe’s story is something that can be hard for some to relate to while others will connect more immediately to his plight, and that the extent to which Determination resonates with viewers can therefore vary tremendously.

Given that Joe’s choices are between studying for college entrance exams or helping to save the world the choice should be “obvious,” but it’s clear that Joe is trying his hardest to become a responsible adult. After all, he’s supposed to be the responsible one, and the fact that this pressure seems to come not so much from his parents but from society as a whole and his own expectations for doing what’s best makes his inability to improve his test scores despite all of the work he’s put into it feel that much more devastating. Joe is essentially struggling between doing the right thing and doing the right thing, and the fact that he cares so much about both is what makes it a conflict in the first place.

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By comparison, I think Mimi’s troubles are easier to understand, but both her and Joe have to confront what it means to live and exist among others, when one is increasingly expected to fall into line. Mimi also pushes through her problems with greater determination than Joe, but that also comes down to their differences in personality. That’s not to say Mimi doesn’t struggle in this film herself, or that her concerns are any less important or difficult to deal with, but if there’s one thing Mimi doesn’t lack, it’s confidence.

I think what made Digimon and Wada Kouji such powerful presences in many children’s lives is the sense of discovery and (of course) adventure that they conveyed. Determination plays with these feelings, asking whether or not they should be left in the past or should be carried into the future even as we become adults. It’s a simple yet profound fight that many must go through, and I’m confident that the next film will deliver hope to all those who believe their childhoods have long since disappeared beyond memory.

You can watch Digimon Adventure tri. on Crunchyroll.

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