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.

If you enjoy reading my weebservations, consider dropping me a tip on Ko-fi! Thank you for your support.

Digimon in Translation | Adventure #1


I have a confession to make: I’ve never watched through Digimon, my favorite childhood anime, in its native Japanese before. Considering how far those digital monsters have continued to follow me throughout my adult life, that’s pretty weird. Digimon was so formative for me at such a young age that I garnered a reputation as a super-fan in the 2010’s, purely because I couldn’t shut up about it online, whether or not I actually knew what I was talking about. I wrote thousands of words about the franchise’s ups and downs, I burned my own DVDs from VHS rips of episodes in EP mode and designed ugly sleeves for them, I produced English covers of the Japanese theme songs, and I pumped out many hours of video analysis about the anime’s first three seasons in the old Blip.TV days. But apart from the numerous short clips I’ve checked out over the years, and watching all of Adventure’s modern updates like Tri and Last Evolution Kizuna in Japanese first, the version of Digimon Adventure I would always revisit was Saban’s re-scored and re-written edit for the Fox Kids block. I just never made the time to close that particular gap between my days watching dubbed cartoons as a kid and my years studying anime as an adult. Generally, if I felt like watching Digimon again in my 20’s, it was because I was sad or sick or otherwise in need of nostalgic comfort food, so I would gravitate to the corny voices and bad puns I grew up with.

This year, after enjoying Toei’s latest attempt to conclude the ‘90s Digimon Adventure with a theatrical exclamation point, and getting a taste of the Adventure-with-a-colon reboot they’re making for today’s kids who watch anime on their smartphones, I’ve got digital monsters on the brain again. I’d been away from the digital world for long enough that it only just occurred to me; I finally know enough Japanese to understand most of what’s happening in a show like Digimon Adventure without subtitles. (I still have subs available for when I do need them, but Tentomon’s Kansai-ben is one of just a few lingering comprehension hurdles.) Instead of returning to the same old well of nostalgia in this ceaselessly brutal 2020, I’ve decided to open myself up to reevaluating this piece of my childhood in a brand-new light. Perhaps by comparing the English and Japanese versions, my appreciation for Digimon’s story and characters will evolve or—dare I say it—digivolve?

Anyway, I hope these posts will serve as a useful reference for Digimon fans curious about the most notable differences between two beloved versions of a TV show that may have been produced to sell toys, but changed a lot of little lives for the better along the way. Digimon in Translation won’t be a painstaking encyclopedia of every altered detail in every episode. (If it was, half of every writeup would be stuff like, “This shot was originally silent, but the dub added in a joke about pizza.”) Rather, it’ll be a more personal overview of how I see both versions side-by-side, with a focus on anything that significantly changes the context of a scene, along with any changes that just make me laugh out loud or scratch my stubble in confusion. There’ll be more than enough weird dialogue to sift through without getting into the weeds of three-word line changes, trust me.

Since there are many character name differences between versions, I’ll be using both of everyone’s names interchangeably, depending on which version of the character I happen to be referencing, with an (S) for Japanese sub or a (D) for English dub added for context. I hope that’ll make things less confusing? I guess we’ll find out together. There are also overall tone trends to Saban’s localization of Adventure that I don’t want to harp on repeatedly. As a general rule, like many cartoons of its day, the Digimon Dub is terrified of silence, so there are lots of extra gag lines thrown in to fill space that ultimately don’t affect the story. Near the start of the Dub in particular, when it was trying too hard to impress, all the kids were a little snottier and snarkier than originally intended, like they’re ready to flip their baseball caps backwards after every new dig, usually at Mimi’s expense. In Japanese, the kids are largely polite to each other, so the faint dickish edge to their English dialogue is worth noting, even if the changes remain slight enough to keep the characters the same at heart—except maybe Matt/Yamato, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of snark, these posts are bound to get acerbic at times, so I should make one thing clear: I love the English Digimon dub. It still has plenty of issues that you wouldn’t find in kids’ anime dubs of today, but I think the team did a fine job localizing Adventure compared to many of its contemporaries that have aged with far less charm, and if I ever get to Digimon Tamers and beyond, I know the quality and fidelity will just keep improving. The totally radical ‘90s artifacts I’m sure to unearth in my comparisons are just a product of their time, and every once in a while, these dub changes can pepper more fun flavor into an initially straightforward scene. But it’s high time I experience a story that made such a big impact on me in its original Japanese form, from start to finish. I’m excited to fall in love with Digimon Adventure all over again.

Alright, enough prefacing, let’s get straight into episode one! The Sub version kicks off with a third-person narrator dryly explaining that radical climate changes are beginning to have a major impact on the earth. (Buddy, you don’t know the half of it.) In the Dub, this narrator is replaced by Tai himself, who’s much more nonchalant and colorful with his descriptions of global mayhem, before clarifying that he had no idea any of this was happening while he was dozing off at summer camp. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess. (Don’t we all wish 2020 was in hindsight right now?)

Moving on, you can see that the kids originally got more detailed name plates showing their school and grade. For whatever reason, the Dub chose to erase any info pertaining to the kids’ exact ages or grades in school, not just in this episode, but for the rest of the series to follow. I don’t get this at all. That’s context I definitely would have appreciated as a kid, making it easier for me to compare myself directly to the kids who were older or younger than me. Anyway, the Dub fills this narration gap with Tai razzing everybody instead, our first introduction to Saban’s efforts to cool-ify these kids. They all casually pick on each other in these early episodes, but if I pointed out every little extra insult in the script, we’d be here all day.

When a mighty unseasonal blizzard throws their camp into chaos, Jou (S) is the first to tell everyone that they should leave the cabin and find a camp counselor right away, only to be undercut by Mimi’s enthusiasm for a snow day. Joe (D), however, is just worried about catching a cold, which is not as strong of a choice, though it does lean more into Tai (D)’s prior assertion that Joe is a pants-wetting weenie. Jou (S) is supposed to be more of a worrywart than a scaredy cat; it’s a subtle difference, but it matters! When the aurora borealis appears and the other kids gawk in awe, Joe doubles down on his worries about getting sick, but Matt (D) tells him they can’t miss this amazing spectacle. In the Japanese version, Jou is still talking about getting adult supervision, and Yamato (S) actually agrees with him, reinforcing his more thoughtful, protective instincts in contrast to Taichi’s reckless excitement. Nitpicks aside, this scene does a good job of introducing us to the cast’s most prominent character traits in both languages. Matt is protective of T.K., who mirrors Mimi’s childlike energy and just wants to play in the snow, while Izzy is too busy fiddling with his computer alone to even notice.

After a geyser erupts from the canyon and washes all the kids down into the Digital World, the action picks up with the appearance of Koromon, whose name does not mean “brave little warrior”, as the Dub claims. I don’t think people bought that even as kids. I mean, the “mon” at least clearly stands for monster! Koromon doesn’t feel the need to explain his name in the Japanese version, because it’s pretty straightforward. As with Koro-sensei from Assassination Classroom, “koro” just vaguely means “round”. Not much more to him than a hopping head, after all.

It is wild to me that Saban just left all the Japanese text onscreen for every new digital monster’s profile. They clearly had the ability to translate text for composite shots and not just replace still frames, because we saw them do it a few minutes ago for the kids’ intros—in Comic Sans, no less! How am I supposed to know that Kuwagamon is virus type if I can’t read katakana? Seriously though, I admire the Digimon dub’s relative preservation of its Japanese-ness compared to many of its peers from the late ‘90s. For every reference to Japanese geography or culture they excised, they did keep a surprising amount of the original context in the show. You can even see it in Izzy’s dub introduction—they do show you that his real name is Koushiro, even though no one ever calls him that again.

Speaking of which, Koushiro (S) shows up soon after, and there’s a good gag in the Japanese version where he’s relieved to find Taichi because he thought he was all alone, but Motimon interjects that Koushiro can’t be alone, because he’s here to help! Motimon is moving their relationship forward too quickly for Izzy’s (D) liking in both versions, but the Dub maybe loses the point that Motimon’s fumbling jokester personality is very different from Koromon’s bold enthusiasm. Every Digimon is unique, but with a cast this big, you gotta cram characterization into every line you can! Before Kuwagamon shows up to ruin everyone’s day, the kids try to figure out how they ended up in a tropical jungle, and both versions choose to focus on completely different information. In the Dub, Motimon tells them that they’re in “Digiworld,” so Izzy immediately starts making computer puns and analogies for the rest of the episode series, and everyone just accepts that they’re inside some kind of digital dimension going forward.

The Sub version buries the lede for much longer, because Motimon only tells the boys that they’re on “File Island.” So, the kids have various conversations later about how far “File Island” might be from Japan, if it’s near South America, things like that, because why would they assume they were on a completely different world? The Digimon never bother to clear things up, because they don’t know anything about Earth either, so nobody actually grasps that this is a Digital World until long past episode one. I like that! It’s a shame that this endearing naturalism is lost in the Dub, but on the other hand, it’s not like they’re ruining some big twist or anything; we know what show we’re watching, these are digital monsters.

Suddenly, Kuwagamon swoops in, screeching in creepy bug clicks in the Japanese version and roaring like a TIE fighter in English. I don’t really have a preference between these monster noises (who’s to say what a stag beetle that big sounds like?), but it is funny how completely different they are. Tai (D) is impressed with Koromon’s bravery when he decides to fight back, but Taichi (S) is more earnest about thanking Koromon for saving his life. Since Koromon is no match for Kuwagamon, the kids flee to Motimon’s “hiding tree”, which is explained in Japanese to be nothing but a metal pipe that projects a hologram of a tree on the outside, our next clue that this world operates on different rules from our own. That’s fine, the kids in the English version already know that this is a digital world, so they don’t need to learn about holographic trees.

After the danger dies down, the kids gather for an official introduction to their Digimon friends. In Japanese, this scene is just the monsters saying their names one by one, but in English, they’re talking about how funny and cute and cool they are, which I only mention because the choppy timing makes it sound exactly like a Burger King commercial. You can collect all 7 in your Kids Club meal! Since Mimi is the only one still missing, her disappearance turns into a dunk-fest in the Dub, while in the Sub, Jou mentions that he has something to give her. I think this is setting up something in episode 2 that I don’t remember. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is this hilarious shot where Izzy says that Mimi is probably off picking flowers—with his mouth closed, because there wasn’t supposed to be any dialogue here.

Five minutes in a fantasy world, and Izzy has already developed telepathic powers. Makes sense, he is the most likely member of this cast to become the protagonist of an isekai novel.

Of course, Mimi is being chased by that tenacious Kuwagamon, so they all flee for their lives again until their retreat takes them to the edge of a cliff. Matt (D) shouts, “Great. Anybody bring a helicopter?” and you know what, that’s a quality joke, got a chuckle out of me. (In Japanese, nobody says anything, take a shot.) Tai gets closest to the cliff’s edge to look for a safe way down when Kuwagamon charges, so Sora (D) shouts, “Watch out!” like any concerned friend would—except in Japanese, Sora (S) shouts, “Now’s our chance!” What? I have no idea what she means by this. Does Sora think the edge of a cliff is the best place to pick a fight with a giant flying monster?? Or does she think they can all get away safely if they abandon Taichi to get eaten first??? If “今のうちに!” means anything that makes sense in that shot, please enlighten me.

Once again, Koromon throws his body at the unstoppable threat, and right on cue, the Dub opts to undercut the resulting violence with a joke. Koromon (D) explains to Tai that he’s just trying to make a good impression on him, like this is a job interview for lifelong monster partner, while Koromon (S) pulls out a classic super-sincere “I have to protect you!” When his bravery inspires the other mons to join in the fray, Izzy (D) gets a wonderfully cheesy line in response: “They must be programmed for courage!” I love it, Izzy and Tentomon always get the best material. After the evolved Digimon partners save the day, Tentomon (D) even says that his powers are “pretty wizard!” Please, zoomers, I’m begging you to help us bring back “wizard” as an everyday superlative.

I forgot that “Hey Digimon” wouldn’t make its debut as the Dub battle song until further into the series, so I guess I’ll enjoy that while it lasts. I am not a “Hey Digimon” defender. You will hear no defense of “Hey Digimon” from me. I don’t plan to compare the music very often in these posts, so I’ll just say overall that I enjoy both musical scores, and they don’t diverge enough in quality to affect the material most of the time. The biggest problem with Saban’s soundtrack is just that it’s overactive at times; dubs of this era were truly terrified of losing kids’ short attention spans with any moment of silence. Anyway, “Hey Digimon” to the left, we get our first dose of “Brave Heart” in the Japanese version! This superior battle theme’s never gonna get old for me. We’re nearing the episode’s end, but it’s a lot harder to take notes with all this saltwater in my eyeballs.

As the kids tumble down from the crumbling cliff, the Narrator (S) foreshadows a time-distortion aspect of the Digital World by proclaiming this to be both the longest and shortest summer vacation of the Chosen Children’s lives. There was also a Sub-only remark from one of the tiny monsters earlier that they’ve been waiting a “long time” to meet their partners, which’ll come up more often in future episodes. Digimon Adventure certainly starts out with a bang. Looking back, I appreciate how much of the runtime is just spent, well, running from terrifying monsters. The kids are even scared of the new best friends that destiny has assigned them! All seven members of the ensemble get just enough attention to make their personalities clear, and their monsters exhibit a surprising level of individualism too. But all that dialogue is woven firmly into the action, which basically never stops, even if the show’s animation can’t possibly keep up with the peril as scripted. (Nobody who loves Digimon cares about how ugly the show looks most of the time. It’s beautiful on the inside!)

In closing, the biggest detail that stood out to me in this rewatch was that T.K. is the least weirded out by the Digital World, while Joe freaks out the most. This fits their personalities on its own, but it’s also a sly little nod to how strongly the Digital World is connected to childhood, and how quickly characters age out of it once their big adventure ends. Digimon have always had this “imaginary friend”-like quality to them that fades in power as you grow away from their world and start finding your place in human society. Right away, T.K., the youngest, has the strongest connection to his new partner, while Joe, the oldest, takes the most persuading. And he’s only in sixth grade! There’s a special kind of magic to the transience of Digimon stories, a bitter sweetness that’s always stuck with me. I’ll try to make these next 53 episodes last.

If you enjoy reading my weebservations, consider dropping me a tip on Ko-fi! Thank you for your support.