For the last few months, for a number of reasons, I’ve been mostly staying away from current airing anime and engrossed myself in kids cartoon. More specifically, the two, arguably is still, giant in the kids-and-monster genre, Digimon and Pokemon. It was then that I realize that I’m now quite familiar enough with the two franchise (it’s anime, specifically) to start comparing the in what they set to out to do.
Make no mistake, despite sharing the whole kids befriending monster trope, the two series couldn’t be more different. They have different tones, priorities and goals when it comes to pitting monsters against each other. Which is why I apologize in advance if you’re coming in here expecting me to start comparing which series is better. This is more of a compare and contrast post in seeing what the two respective franchise is trying to set out to do (although you may find out about which aspect on either series that I like better).
Before I get down to comparing what each franchise sets out to do, I wanted to talk about a little bit regarding about the style of the monster design in each franchise because if you notice, there’s a clear difference in the style of these monsters. It’s a small surface-level thing, but I do find it quite fascinating
Lets take a look at Pokemon first. You’d notice that Pokemon’s monster design are lively, varying, and most importantly, very animal-like. Each has it’s own habitat, clear biological organ and means for survival and behavior. Each evolution stage feels like a natural extension of adaptation to their environment. The monster in Pokemon feels like an extravagant fantastical animal that we’ve known in real life (ghost and gods nowithstanding).
On the flipside of the token, Digimon’s monster design, while diverse and vivid on it’s own, seems like, well, monsters out of a videogame. Every monster seems to be design with the purpose of battles in mind rather than organic living animal. Every evolution stage seems more like a leveled up version of their original form (notice how each stage often look “deadlier” and “hardcore” than the last), rather than natural adaptation. While this may sounds like a detriment to the series, this design style is quite appropriate given the fact that Digimon, like it’s given name, is a digital entity rather than living creature, a weird intersection between biology, technology and, to some degree, culture.
Now that that’s out of the way, lets get down to the meat of this post, what each franchise sets out to do. For commercially-driven kids brands this does sounds pretty nuts, but regardless, there’s a clear storytelling priority with each franchise. While the two franchise more or less sets out to make fantasy action adventure story, where the focus of the story lies is different.
In contrast with it’s videogame-ish monster design, Digimon focused a lot more on the character development of the main protagonist, the kids who befriend the monsters. There’s bad guys who wants to destroy the world of course, but Digimon more often treated it as an external stimuli to our characters growth, rather than engaging compelling conflict in it’s own right.
The arc that the kids in the series are varied and relevant. One kid learns how to be an independent without having to rely on his little brother need for help, one learn to cope with his family origin, or just general maturity. When Digimon focuses on this and the kids internal dynamic with one another, it truly shines (when it just general pure plot stuff, it really fell short).
Pokemon in comparison, focuses a lot more on the joy of adventuring side of things. The main plot generally involve our MC taking down gym after gym and reaching the regional League, but the narrative sidetrack a lot, equally interested in setting up vignettes and one off adventures. The world of Pokemon is all sunshine and permanent summer vacation where nothing bad (nothing too bad at the very least) ever happens. There’s evil organization of course, but more often they’re really more of a obligatory subplot.
The vignettes vary in quality and content. At it’s best, it focuses on interesting dynamic and relationship between trainer and their Pokemon, the mystery and the whimsiness of the Pokemon world, and when it occasionally genre jump as well. One time, Pokemon became absurd comedy (it involve a certain Togepi), thriller chase, and even Tom&Jerry style cat-and-mouse game between Meowth and Pikachu.
Pokemon also aims for character growth for its protagonists, with also varying quality, but their more often self-contained and didn’t really have much impact on the long run (an almost sitcom-esque, if you will). Meaning that the kids will learn lessons and new things, but they’ll largely feel like they’re the same person from the beginning at the end of the series. Plus, the character growth all of the protagonist undergoes through are largely tied to their pursuit of their dreams and goals, so Pokemon’s emotional space is limited in comparison to Digimon in regards to character development.
At this point, I guess some of you probably wants me hold up the end of my bargain promised in the title and wondering which one that I prefer. It’s….honestly depending on my preference on the moment (boring, but eh). I’ll go to Pokemon if I’m in the mood for some comfort food, and I’ll go to Digimon if I wanted to see kids suffering and having growing-up angst.
So what do you guys think? Which one do you prefer?