At it’s core, the children’s anime Digimon Tamers is primarily about isolation, loneliness, abuse, escapism and depression.
That probably sounds a little heavy for a show that most would just claim as a Pokémon rip off.
Digimon Tamers (2001 – 2002) was the third entry in the Digimon franchise, following on from Digimon Adventure (1999 – 2000) and its sequel season, Digimon Adventure 02 (2000 – 2001). Season one of Digimon followed a group of 7 kids as they are trapped in the digital world. Later adding an 8th. Being told they are the destined ones to save both this world and ours and learning to grow along the way. Season two is set 2 to 4 years later, depending on which language version you’re watching. Following two of the 8 children as they meet 3 new, then a 4th, digidestined while the older kids struggle with the fact that they now have real world responsibilities, and that they can’t keep being kids the rest of their lives.
Season three was set in our world. Not the real world of the first two seasons. Our world where Digimon is a tv show, and the events of the first two seasons are just that. Two seasons of a tv show. In this season, the digital world and Digimon were created by a group of hackers who in the 80s wanted to know more about artificial intelligence and digital life. The digital world is created through an evolution on this new plain. This becomes the inspiration for the TV series and card game that sweeps across the world. However, the barrier between these worlds are slowly decaying. Glitches and creatures from the digital world are trying to cross into our world. Of course, there is a shadowy organisation that goes about making sure these incursions are never known to the public, but it’s when the kids Takato, Henry and Rika learn the truth, all separately of course. They learn that the franchise they love is in fact real, and they become partners to their own Digimon. They find themselves battling to save the people they care about from invading monsters while going about their daily lives. For the most part the first half of the season is fairly light. Your standard kids fair. But it’s what it leads into and what it builds up to that make the show so important.
Strangely, Digimon Tamers was written by Chiaki J. Konaka, the writer of Serial Experiments Lain. And was heavily inspired by the show Neon Genesis Evangelion. Truth be told, Konaka did write an episode in the second season. He tried to incorporate the Cthulhu mythology of H.P. Lovecraft into the show by creating a dark void dimension, ruled by a monstrous aquatic creature, that could only be reached by those who knew the meaning of darkness, isolation and loneliness. The things the episode introduced were largely swept under the rug after, kids show of course. But canonically the two characters in the show that have the biggest connection to the void are Ken and Kari. Ken previously being the shows villain until he was snapped out of it and made to face the truth of his brother’s death. And Kari who had been showing signs of being a little out of it ever since her introduction in season one, as well as the loses she had faced at a young age. Including the traumatic death of Wizardmon as he tries to save her life during the first season. This traumatic moment in her life is even a point brought up in a later episode as a major plot element.
It’s a little strange that Konaka would only be brought on for one episode in season two, only to become show runner for Season three. Especially given the shows aim towards children and his more adult themes. But this means that season three heavily dives into his own interests. While all the main cast members have their own problems and burdens to bare, it’s the character of Jeri that suffers the most throughout.
While at first Jeri comes off as a goofy side character that has a bit of a crush on Takato. Very energetic, overly happy at times, and always carrying around a puppet. Slowly through the season, you learn that she is deeply lonely, constantly feeling left out, and when she learns that Digimon are in fact real, she wants one for her own. Not in a malicious or spoiled manner. She sees how much fun Takato and Henry have with their partners, how important they both are and the fact that they have a purpose and wants to be like them. To feel that she is good for something. That she has meaning. During an incursion, a Leomon appears in the park before Jeri, and she is convinced that he is there for her. He’s not, in fact he doesn’t know why he’s there, but she keeps childishly chasing him, until they both find themselves in a situation out of there control. Through a series of events, Jeri is granted a digivice. The device that all chosen ones receive, and the pair are now partners. It’s a sweet moment, as Jeri is given some hope that her life will get better, that she does have a purpose. Now, while watching the show and getting to that point, it may not seem like it’s that big of a deal, it’s in retrospect that you come to understand why she is the way she is. It’s heavily hinted through the middle to end of the show that Jeri comes from an abusive household. That her parents make a very unorthodox living, though the English dub changes a fair amount of this.
Later in the show, our cast of characters journey into the digital world in order to rescue a friend that has been kidnapped and held hostage. They travel, are separated, go on crazy adventures, etc. Even come across another digidestined, one that ties it back to the first two seasons in a way, Ryo. But as they go through their journey, another character is having his own adventure. Since the start of the show, a weird creature known as Impmon has been popping in and out of the story and constantly proclaiming to be the real villain. Problem is that he’s small and is more of a nuisance that anything. He often proclaims that for a Digimon to partner with a human, it shows how weak they are. That it’s an abomination. At one point he’s even called out on this, asking why he cares so damn much. At the point of the main characters travelling into the digital world, Impmon makes his own journey. Making a deal with the villains to grant him the power he so desperately wants. Impmon becomes Beelzemon. A gun welding psychopath that now finally has the power he craved.
When the two stories converge, the team argue with Beelzemon about the nature of power and what he’s done to himself. Leomon stands to try and defend the team, only to be brutally murdered in front of their eyes. Jeri is heartbroken. Her mind slowly begins to unravel from this point onwards. In a fit of rage, Takato even begins to abuse his connection with his partner Guilmon, ordering him to transform to his mega form, and kill Beelzemon. Guilmon begins to transform but is corrupted as Takato’s digivice disintegrates. The entire moment is fuelled by rage, sorrow, and corruption. The effect it has on Jeri is devastating. She begins to withdraw herself from everyone, barely speaking until their journey through the digital world is at an end. During their time in the digital world, they learn of the entity known as the D-Reaper. At its simplest, a being of pure destruction. As the group travels back to the real world, the D-Reaper begins to follow them, even taking Jeri and replacing her without the others noticing. She has become so withdrawn within herself that a puppet can easily pass for her in the eyes of her friends.
By the series finale, the D-Reaper begins to take over the real world, the hackers who created the digital world are revealed. One of which they had already met in the digital world, while another is revealed to be Henry’s father. And the plan is enacted to save the real world. However, at the core of the ever-growing D-Reaper, in a small sphere is Jeri. The D-Reaper is feeding on her sorrow. Letting her feel as useless and empty as she always feared. Even when the heroes manage to break through and almost reach her, she tells them their better off without her and pushes them away. Jeri is severely depressed. Everything in the show has lead up to this. All 51 episodes. She is at her lowest point and is giving up on life and a future. In doing so, she is allowing the world to be swallowed whole and devoured.
Of course, given that this is a kids show, she is rescued and the world is saved. But her depression is not ignored. It’s acknowledged though never directly named. The show takes a stand and acknowledges the weight that lose, abuse, emotional pain and physical trauma can have on a person as well as how it affects those around you. The show physically manifests her pain in the form of a destructive being that knows no boundaries. This is something Digimon Tamers managed to accomplish better than many adult or teen driven shows managed at the time.
When a lot of kid’s television focuses heavily on obvious morals such as ‘don’t steal’ or ‘play nice with others’. Having media that does tackle such heavy material but breaks it down to a level that a child can understand, maybe one of the best ways to aid in emotional growth and understanding of such a heavy subject.
The uncomfortable subjects that can destroy a person’s life are the ones we should feel the most comfortable discussing. Ignorance and an inability to understand a subject such as depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, only make it harder for those affected to open up. While not all children’s media should include such heavy subjects, we should have the ability to talk and to educate. While the major themes of loss, abuse, depression and loneliness are not the first thing that might pop into a child’s mind when watching the show. It can provide them with a frame of reference. Educating without them knowing.