Think back to the late 90's/early 2000's. If you were a young kid just getting into the anime fandom like I was, chances are you can remember one of the greatest fandom wars of all time – Pokemon V.S. Digimon. Both shows became instant hits with kids of all ages, and both are among the very few anime titles to actually have seeped even slightly into the mainstream. Sadly though, as time went on, and more and more shows were seeing slight and/or full DVD releases, only Pokemon continued to get major attention between the two, and Digimon became one of those shows that we all remembered fondly, but had no legal access to.
That time is over now. Rejoice, my fellow Digimon fans – our wish has finally been granted. After years of anticipation, and seeing our favorite franchise stagnate in the States, becoming a slow trickle of sub-par video game releases and only short television runs, New Video has stepped forward as our savior and released 'The Official First Season' of Digimon on DVD.
Before I delve any further into how exciting and awesome this box set is though, there's one more release history note I'd like to touch on, to highlight just how much of a godsend this set really is. This is the first time fans have ever been able to LEGALLY own this series in the United States. Back in the show's high points, there were a few VHS releases done for season one, but the series never saw a completed release. After that, 'Digimon: The Movie', the frankensteined combination of three separate Digimon movies, did get a VHS/DVD release, but nothing else would come out until Well Go USA's attempted to put 'season five' (AKA Digimon Data Squad, here in the States anyway) on DVD. That release, quite frankly, bombed, and we never saw past episode 26 on any home format.
Then, a couple of years ago, Toei started to allow the subtitled versions of 'season 2' to stream on online video websites, which was shortly followed by 'season 3', and then the latest 'season 6'. And now finally, the 'season' that started it all is in our hands. This is truly something to celebrate.
Now that I've got my gushing out of the way though, let's talk about the set itself. New Video pulled out all the stops for this release, and pushed out the entire 54 episode 'Season One' in one 8-disc DVD set. The set itself is a little more than the width of two standard DVD cases, so it won't be causing any shelf space issues at all. The casing for the release is about what you'd expect – a hard plastic brick, with four double-sided disc holders on a hinge on the inside with the discs. Each disc's face has a picture of one of the lead characters and their Digimon partner on it, accompanied by an episode listing of which episodes are on the disc. There are 7 episodes per disc, until you get to the last disc which rounds out the series with it's final 5 episodes (plus bonus features, which I'll talk about in a moment).
Overall the casing is nice, and the set comes with a sturdy enough slipcover, but it's nothing to write home about. To compare the packaging to another series' release history, this set would lie somewhere in-between the quality of a DBZ Season Set and a DBZ Dragon Box – not flimsy at all, but definitely not something you should be tossing around without care.
The casing does seem to have one flaw however, and it seems to be an inherent one that all the sets probably have, seeing as how both mine and my girlfriend's sets share it. One of the bonuses with this set is a booklet, housed inside the case, and when the booklet is inside the case, it doesn't want to stay snapped shut all the way. It's a minor flaw that the slipcover fixes easily enough, but still something New Video might want to figure out before any future releases.
As for the special features, there are two main things included on this release. First up, on the final disc is a set of two photo galleries, showcasing a few character design sheets for seven of the eight main characters and all forms of their Digimon partners. For some reason, Kari is left out of these design sketches, which is a bit odd, but nothing to really complain about. All of the promotional material and even the back of the set itself seems to treat Kari as an 'additional' character anyway (which to be fair, she is).
The second and final bonus for this set is the Guide Booklet. It's a little over 30 pages long, and has pictures of the main characters and all of their Digimon partners forms (in full color anime art, not production sketches, this time), along with some very basic info about the characters ages, qualities, and powers their Digimon might have. The booklet is a bit of a let down really though. We already have all of what the characters look like in the design sketches, so having it again here was a bit unneeded. The character info is nice and all, but it's also wildly inconsistent – some characters are listed with their ages, while others are not, and I'm also not entirely sure the ages are correct via the dub (which is all that's on this set). Also, there's no mention of the Crests that accompany each kid in the booklet, though this might be to avoid spoilers. There's even some attack names that are listed incorrectly, at least by the dub. There may be a reason for this however, which actually leads me to the most bewildering part of the booklet. On the back, there are 'Song Lyrics'. You might expect these to be for for the dub opening and the one insert song this season had, but you'd be wrong. For some reason, English translation lyrics for 'Butterfly' (the Japanese opening), 'Keep On' (the Japanese ending), and 'Brave Heart' (the Japanese evolution theme) are on the back. Hmm...
It's slightly disappointing that there aren't other bonus features, like old advertisements, or the old 'Digi-Bloop That' blooper reels that ran on Fox Kids, but it's likely those materials just weren't available anymore, or that they weren't kept in very good condition. At any rate, after how long we've waited for this set, beggars can't be choosers anyway.
You'll notice that I'm not really talking much about the show itself and mainly focusing on the set, and that's because I'm really not expecting to sell anyone new to the show on it with this set. Season One all in one set is a great way to start off a new fan of course, but most older anime fans are either going to already be a fan, have moved on, or just aren't interested in some 'kiddy monster fighting show'. For anyone that actually does not fit one of those above categories though, here's a brief setup of the show.
Seven kids – Tai, Matt, Sora, Izzy, Mimi, Joe, and T.K. - each with their own problems in their past, are sent to camp for the summer. Unbeknownst to them, strange things are happening all over the world, culminating in a weird aurora in the sky that shoots down seven small devices (known as Digivices) to them, and when the children grab them, they are all whisked away into the Digital World. There they each meet their own Digimon partner, who they quickly befriend and learn will defend them from other monsters in the Digital World. They also learn however that there are dark forces at work, and if they ever want to return home, they're going to have to save the Digital World first.
It sounds like a pretty basic set up for monster fighting, and on the surface it really is just that. But what sets Digimon apart from other anime aimed at kids that young, is the heart showcased within. Over the course of the series, you really come to care for the characters, and you find yourself caring for them beyond the mere scope of watching their Digimon kick other Digimon butt. The show is also the only anime of it's genre or age range to actually flesh the parents of the main characters out as well, once they're introduced. Rather than just playing them off as gags, or making them stupid, or making them carbon copies of their kids, the parents become a huge part of the backstory for each child – you know, kind of like how parents in the real world are.
The show does show it's age both in the animation and the dub however. While the footage included on this set looks like it's been cleaned up pretty well (and features no TV logos at any point in time), it's still a cheaply animated kids show from 1999. There's only so much that can be done to pretty that up really. The dub too is a relic of it's time, an edited dub-only feature that has one-liners hiding around every corner. Beyond that though, the dub is actually fairly faithful, it keeps the story and heart of the original almost perfectly, and the dub voice-over is especially great for a kid's show. There are a few characters that have pretty awful voices, but overall everyone is well cast and well acted.
In the long run, this set is EXACTLY what every Digimon fan has been crossing their fingers for years to get. If you're already a fan, then this is definitely a great buy for you. If you're currency-challenged like myself, or a new fan, or someone who's not sure if the show's as good as you remember however, you might want to do some price-checking to get the best deal. The set is retailing for $79.95, and even RightStuf's pricing only knocks it down to $59.99, which while not a bad price considering the amount of content you're getting, is still a hefty price. My recommendations are to check Wal-mart.com's listing and order from there if you can, as they've had it at the lowest price I've seen – a mere $34, a steal if I ever saw one.
That about covers it all, but if I haven't tired out your eyes yet, look into the possible future with me for a moment. There are infinite possibilities before us now that this set has seen the light of day. Hopefully, if this sells well (which I'm confident it will), we'll see full season releases for the latter seasons of the show, as well as something for the movies. There's even a chance for more beyond that though – New Video seems to be, if nothing else, willing to listen to the idea of a subtitled Japanese release (again, they'll just listen, there have been no actual mentions of any plans from them at this point in time). I personally would like to believe this is fully possible, due to a LOT of little 'Japanese version snafus' in regard to this set – advertisement material referring to it as 'Digimon Adventure' as it was known in Japan; the Japanese lyrics on the back of the booklet; Japanese staff info on the back of the box; even the booklet's use of the Japanese character names right beside the dub ones. It's very clear that they know the Japanese version is out there, that it has diehard fans as well, and that it might possibly sell in this market. So if that's more your cup of tea than the dub version is, get the word out there, and see how many of your friends you can get to buy this set to give it sales as well.
So without any further rambling from me – great show, great box set, in the immortal words of Action Bastard, get yours or die!