Digimon in Translation | Adventure #2

Episode 2 returns us to the Digital World on a literal cliffhanger, as the ground beneath our heroes’ feet gives way under Kuwagamon’s powerful pincers! Luckily, there’s a river running through the canyon below, so Gomamon summons an army of fish to cushion the gang’s fall and float them to safety. This cheeky sea lion is the least mobile or mighty member of the team even on a good day, so it’s nice to see him take up the hero role in combat-free emergencies like these. (In the first episode’s fight against Kuwagamon, Gomamon was the only Digimon without a special attack handy, so he just seal-rolled into the enemy’s foot to make him stumble into everyone else’s blows, which is hilarious.)

The English dub gives Gomamon a solid gag about the local fish having a “school reunion”, made even better when he half-heartedly laughs at his own bad pun. Then he clarifies that those fish were just friends of his, which is kinda true—all fish everywhere are friends to Gomamon, he’s like Aquaman right down to his C-tier position in the Super Friends team. In the more straightforward Japanese version, Gomamon explains that controlling fish is his special attack. More importantly, I was delighted to discover that Gomamon’s personality in Japanese is slightly different from Saban’s dub version. You could most easily describe R. Martin Klein’s Gomamon as a clown or a goof-off, but Junko Takeuchi’s Gomamon has a punk edge to him. He uses assertive and informal language that makes him sound like a rebellious back-woods boy looking to scrap. His little shaggy mohawk makes a lot more sense now!

At this point, we’re starting to see small edits to Digimon’s English dub footage compared to the Japanese source, though not for any censorship reasons (yet). In order to compensate for the meager seconds of difference in airtime between the Japanese source and whatever FOX required for broadcast in America, sometimes shots will be repeated or extended in an episode, mostly Digivolution sequences. In this case, Saban padded episode 2 by replaying a few seconds from each Digimon’s Rookie evolution as they re-introduce themselves to their partners. In the Japanese version, they didn’t replay any evolution footage at all. There’s no way I’m going to be able to catch all of these changes, since most of them just consist of holding on a frame of animation for slightly longer without changing the scene around, and Digimon Adventure had no shortage of still shots for Saban to artificially lengthen. I’ll just note these kinds of edits whenever they’re different enough to stand out.

Anyway, since the Chosen Children’s new friends look completely different now, the monsters are pressured to explain how Digivolution works, but they’re nearly as clueless as the kids on the subject. Dub Agumon pretends to know more than he does when he tells Tai that evolving requires sharing another person’s energy. I mean, that’s kind of true? We’ll get more info on how evolution works over time, but Sub Agumon offers a different explanation by stating that he could never digivolve before, but something tells him that it’s only possible now because Taichi is here. None of the other Digimon seem to understand the process either, which is why Patamon has such an incredulous expression in this shot.

In the Dub, T.K. says, “It’s so cool that I help you change!” but Patamon’s cheerful agreement doesn’t match his face. I know that face. All nerdy children should know that face, because that’s the face you get from a kid on the school bus who really doesn’t want you to sit next to them, but they’re too polite or nervous to tell you to piss off. So, what’s going on here in Japanese? Takeru is actually asking Patamon if he can go back to his little baby version, to which Patamon responds, “多分”, which is the kind of “maybe” that might really mean “lol, I don’t know.” The whole vibe of this scene is more clueless in Japanese; the kids want answers, and the Digimon have none. Because the Dub version is more positive, the adaptive writers had to change the context of this following shot where Joe and Gomamon look unhappy. Joe is suddenly suspicious of Gomamon again while Gomamon implores him to trust him, and I certainly don’t care for that. Keep those bad vibes away from my boys! In the Japanese version, they’re both just frustrated because they can’t figure out how or why the Digivolution happened.

The episode continues to diverge between versions after this, snowballing from changes made in episode one. In English, everyone is arguing about what to do next, and the conversation sort of goes in circles with a few punch-up gags to fill in the blanks. That’s because the Japanese version was focused around a conflict that the Dub already erased. The kids are actually trying to figure out where File Island is geographically, which is a moot point in English because they already know that they’re in an alternate digital dimension, and Izzy has been making as many computer puns about it as possible. The Japanese version also tends to see characters repeat or rephrase lines they’ve already said, mostly Jou, to emphasize that the other kids aren’t listening to him, while the Dub avoids simplicity or repetition in favor of more snark or silliness. And that’s how you get English lines like Joe’s “I shouldn’t wear these pants. They ride up when I do a lot of walking.”

The Dub’s preference for disposable gags is mostly harmless, but it tends to affect Matt’s character the worst, and this scene provides a perfect example with a line changed from Japanese to say the exact opposite thing in English. When the kids consider going back the way they came to wait for help, Mimi objects because she doesn’t want to get eaten by another giant bug. Yamato (S) agrees with her, saying “I don’t want to put anyone in danger.” Matt (D) prefers to puff up his chest and let everyone know that “Those monsters don’t scare me!” Thanks, Matt, that’s very helpful, good to know you’ve got the biggest dick in the cut. Oh yeah, Matt’s episode is up after this one. I hope you’re ready for a truckload of macho posturing rewrites!

Dub Agumon continues to assert things he doesn’t actually know when he says Tai and friends are the first humans to ever come to the Digital World. Adventure fans already know this isn’t true, so it makes more sense when Sub Agumon says they’re the first humans he’s seen in the Digital World. Alright, now I’m just getting nit-picky and negative, so let me shift focus to a Dub change that I do like. Mimi and Palmon’s riverside exchange in Japanese is just a silly gag, as Palmon brags about being able to photosynthesize, but gets embarrassed when she realizes that she doesn’t know what “photosynthesis” even means. All the Digimon partners are doing this to some extent, trying whatever they can to win over their partners, who remain focused on getting back home instead. But in English, there’s a little more character to their conversation, as Mimi offers to style Palmon’s hair, but Palmon likes her petals the way they are and wonders if Mimi might be too superficial for her own good. It’s a cute change that introduces a charming contrast between them, just like the gulf in personality between Gomamon and Joe.

When they finally reach the beach, the kids are relieved to find a row of telephone booths and start scrambling for loose change to call for help. Jou (S) exclaims that the phone booths are proof they can’t be far from Japan, only for Gomamon to bring down the party by asking what the heck a “Japan” is supposed to be, while Joe (D) says he’s going to call his parents, but Gomamon doesn’t know what a “parents” is, either. This is a great adaptive choice because it changes the details of the scene while preserving the intent—Joe’s relief at finding a sign of human civilization is comically undercut by Gomamon’s ignorance of a basic Earth thing, suggesting that they’re further from home than he’d hoped. Different, but same, as Mr. Miyagi might say. (Sorry, I’ve been on a Cobra Kai kick lately.)

If you can believe it, the litany of nonsensical phonebooth messages that annoy the kids is basically identical between both versions, from the dumb jokes about ice cream weather to the “automated” voice being so snide and irritable that it’s hard to believe it’s a robot at all. We never get an explanation for any of this, so like most life forms in the Digital World, I have to assume these phonebooths are just fucking with people to entertain themselves. After everyone but Joe has given up on the badly behaved booths, they turn to the problem of food, which only the 2nd-grader thought to bring along. Now here’s a weird change for you; in the Japanese version, nobody else knows that Yamato and Takeru are brothers! After Takeru shares candy with Mimi, she points out that he’s the only member of the group who doesn’t go to their school. Presumably, their school organized the summer camp or something? I don’t know how these things work in Japan.

OK, so here’s where it gets complicated. Takeru says that he only came to this camp because he wanted to spend summer vacation with his big brother, so he got special permission from his mom. Given the way he says this, combined with the fact that Yamato and Takeru have different last names, Taichi and Koushiro assume the two of them are cousins or something. In Japanese, you can call any slightly older male relative “big brother”, or even a very good friend or mentor, and it wouldn’t seem unusual. Yamato remains stoic throughout this, like he doesn’t really want to talk about it, because the truth of their parents’ divorce weighs on him pretty heavily, but we’ll get to that in episode 3.

This is all too much cultural subtext for the Dub to handle, so the entire scene is changed to a puppy-love flirt session between Mimi and T.K., and Matt’s standoffishness is reframed as “eww, girls, cooties.” And Tai and Izzy aren’t even paying attention to those three, they’re just thinking about how hungry they are. It’s a shame to lose the foreshadowing, but there’s just no way Saban was going to try and rework the “big brother” mystery into English.

Mimi may not have brought any food to the party (and she has no interest in carrying the bag of emergency rations she foisted on Joe), but she has been sitting on a heap of survival supplies that leaves the gang agog. The Dub accidently wrote itself into a corner here, because they added a line of dialogue in episode 1 about no one having a compass. When Matt (D) asks her why she didn’t share the compass earlier, Mimi replies with a big smile on her face that she thought it’d be fun to see how far they could get without one. What a jerk! Of course, you can’t assume that Mimi’s any more sweet or innocent in Japanese, because in the Sub version, she’s smiling about taking all of these camping supplies from her dad without asking, just for the hell of it.

Once Shellmon washes ashore to start trouble, the episode is basically the same between both versions. Agumon digivolves to Greymon after a lunch break, and everyone learns a valuable lesson about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet in a world full of hungry monsters. So, that means the secret to Digivolution’s gotta be food, right? As the Adventure continues in episode 3, we’re sure to learn more about these kids and what really fuels their new partners’ powers.

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2 thoughts on “Digimon in Translation | Adventure #2”

  1. I’m having a lot of fun reading these!
    As someone who first encountered your work via your Digimon video essays on Blip.tv, it’s always fun to read more of your content on the series.
    Hopefully, you’ll get to do this with Tamers as well.
    A couple years ago I decided to re-watch Tamers for nostalgia value and figured I’d take the opportunity to watch it in Japanese with subtitles. I assumed I’d be disappointed watching a kids show, but ended up thinking it was way better than I remembered it being as a kid. Impmon’s dialogue is so spicy, Leomon’s last words are completely different, and the final post-anime audio episode was like the most depressing ending to a show ever, but overall it was a great experience. 😛


  2. Hello. This is not a response to this review but just wanted to give you a heads’ up about something. You know that Digimon Tamers blog that Konaka’s been running? I haven’t been keeping up with every post, but in a few recent entries, he indicates that he’s anti-vax and mentions some conspiracies that a friend tells me line up with JAnon (Japanese Q followers) beliefs.

    I’m very disappointed as someone whose favorite season is Tamers, and I feel any evaluation of Konaka on Tamers’ 20th anniversary should be aware in case you happen to post about Tamers sometime.


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