Spoiler warning: this review discusses plot specifics from the first two episodes of Digimon Ghost Game as well as the preview to episode three.
The level of hype I felt leading up to Digimon Ghost Game’s premiere was off the charts. Not only was it a new Digimon anime, it was the first in years to not be either a reboot or continuation of Digimon Adventure. Finally, a new continuity and new characters to take on new threats, all with a promising new horror lens. Then, when the episode finally aired, I found my enthusiasm rewarded by an enjoyable introduction that felt both fresh and emblematic of everything I love about the franchise.
In short, it would have been difficult for any subsequent episode to match or surpass the hype I felt last week. Difficult isn’t impossible, however. Not only was episode two better than episode one, it was the best episode of Digimon I’ve seen in a long, long time.
So what’s it about?
Here’s the series’ official trailer courtesy of Crunchyroll:
Also courtesy of Crunchyroll, here’s a plot synopsis for Episode 2 – “The Mystery of the Museum”:
Ancient Egyptian mummies are on special display at the museum. There is a rumor that a huge man fully covered in bandages was witnessed kidnapping people in the area. Hiro and Gammamon decide to visit the museum to investigate.
Slowly the heroes gather
If I had to choose a single word to describe the pace at which Ghost Game is introducing and uniting its core trio of heroes I would say “leisurely.” It’s easily slower than the likes of Adventure and Frontier that brought almost the entire team together within twenty minutes, and it’s even slower than Tamers in having its characters meet for the first time. With that said, two episodes in I think the show is pulling off this slow approach successfully.
Though the team isn’t all together yet and the episode primarily centers Hiro and Gammamon, Kiyoshiro and Ruli do still get some more screen time here. In Kiyoshiro’s case it’s mainly to emphasize his fearful nature, which makes for an interesting counter to his role as Hiro’s senior. There’s an implication that the existence of Hologram Ghosts is freaking him out, and his opposite of a gung-ho attitude should make him a solid contrast to Hiro and Ruli.
After she only appeared for mere seconds last week, it’s nice to see a lot more of Ruli this time around. We get glimpses of Angoramon following around behind her, and while it’s possible he could just be haunting her I get the sense that they’re already partnered up. Ruli continues to be proactive, searching for evidence of Hologram Ghost activity. While it’s Haru and Gammamon who end up taking on the big bad this week, the preview for next week makes me hopeful that Ruli will fully step up to bat soon.
Cute mascot scenes to sell cute mascot merch
So what are Hiro and Gammamon up to this week, you ask? Absolutely demanding that you buy Gammamon merch, that’s what. This episode has not one, not two, but three separate scenes that all serve primarily to emphasize just how cute Gammamon is and how badly you should want one of your own.
The first is an adorable picnic moment with Haru feeding his hungry partner, keeping the “Digimon have bottomless pits for stomachs” tradition going strong. The pair seem to be bonding well and really settling into the brotherly dynamic that Hiro’s father outlined for them. To make matters all the better they’re surrounded by some very nicely drawn and shaded trees, enjoying their friendship in about as idyllic of a setting as one could ask for.
Their bonding gets a bit more chaotic but still enjoyable later on when Gammamon accompanies Hiro to the grocery store. The series’ premise of hologram technology makes it possible for Gammamon to be go out in public without causing a panic, though he does get some weird looks. There’s a fun moment where a worker handing out free samples fawns over how cute Gammamon is (hint hint, viewer).
Lastly, there’s a brief scene in the museum bathroom where Gammamon wraps himself up in toilet paper mummy-style. It’s cute and though it borders on the episode hitting the same note too many times, it manages to not quite get tiresome. I’ll also note that earlier in the episode we get to see Gammamon stretch out his wings and fly, which is adorable while reinforcing his monster status enough to remind one that he is, after all, the mascot for a kids’ horror show.
So about that mummy
The monster of the week this time around is Mummymon, and his involvement is a lot of fun even without relying heavily on nostalgia for his role in Adventure 02. Upon reaching the human world he learns about ancient Egyptian mummy-making practices and the beliefs in reincarnation that accompanied them.
The problem? Mummymon fashions himself a doctor and begins kidnapping people and wrapping them up because he’s under the impression that after being mummified they’ll be reincarnated as better versions of themselves. Frankly it’s quite a dark premise, but Ghost Game shies away from addressing the implications of death directly and instead approaches the idea with a silly, “Oh, oops” sort of mentality.
The most promising aspect of Mummymon’s actions and misunderstandings and is that they do in fact stem from a desire to help humans. While Clockmon explicitly aimed to kill for his own benefit, Mummymon is just applying incorrect old information to a modern setting. He wants to be a doctor and help people! Because of this, Hiro and Gammamon are able to settle the conflict without destroying him. Mummymon resolves to go learn about modern human medicine, establishing that there will be friendly Digimon in this series besides the children’s partners. I hope to see Mummymon return eventually ala Andromon and other early villains in the original Adventure, but even if he doesn’t our time with him here was a lot of fun.
When has Digimon ever looked this good?
Besides the great Mummymon plot, solid pacing, and emphasis on Gammamon’s cuteness, there’s one more major factor this episode has going for it: its visuals.
In terms of the quality of animation and art in general, this may be the best episode of Digimon I’ve ever seen. It looks even better than the premiere, where one might have expected extra budget to be allotted. I’m a lifelong Digimon fan so I don’t say all this to shade past installments, but just because I love them doesn’t mean I never noticed the JPEGs being dragged across the screen in Adventure or the wildly different art styles all jammed together within single episodes of Xros Wars.
This episode, though? It moves incredibly smoothly. Before Mummymon’s misunderstanding is cleared up he has a brief fight against Gammamon (and then his evolved form BetelGammamon), and the quality of its animation was outright shocking for the franchise. The fight is ultimately too short, but technically speaking its execution is great.
More impressive than the animation’s speed and fluidity, however, are the effects and shading used throughout. The glitching visuals on Mummymon look fantastic and really sell him as a paranormal threat. His bright pink gunfire and the red of the battle’s resultant flames also look fantastic and contrast effectively against the more muted background art. All in all, this episode is exciting to watch not only from narrative and character standpoints but from a visual one as well.
Plus, I need to shout-out the pleasant horror vibes given off by all the actual mummies in the museum. The multiple closeups on their bandaged corpse faces are definitely eerie but in a fun sort of eerie way befitting the show.
Plot-wise, it’s also important to note that this episode introduces the first of Gammamon’s Champion forms: BetelGammamon. It’s the first instance of evolution in this series, occurring toward the end of Hiro and Gammamon’s fight with Mummymon. Unfortunately, what should be an exciting and dynamic way to wrap up the action ends up being the episode’s most disappointing attribute.
There are two pivotal aspects to any protagonist’s new evolution in Digimon: the evolution sequence itself, and the handling of the evolution as a mirror to character development.
The former starts out promising, and the beginning of Gammamon’s evolution sequence is cool and builds up anticipation to see what form he’ll turn into. The problem is that the sequence then ends almost as soon as it’s begun. There is no depiction of the changes between forms ala Savers, no gnarly skinning of data ala Tamers. Gammamon goes from being himself to immediately being BetelGammamon, and the process of watching it unfold just ends up feeling disappointing. In this way Ghost Game parallels the Champion evolution sequences of the original Adventure: some brief Rookie spinning followed by a fully-formed Champion.
Unfortunately, the narrative build-up to the evolution isn’t any better. Digimon has always taken the metaphor of evolution as an indication of personal growth seriously, and there’s just not much indication that Gammamon and Hiro’s bond has grown enough to warrant this level up. It’s clear that the writers were certainly trying with all the bonding time the pair had this week, but the dialogue right before the actual evolution (with Gammamon talking about chocolate) just doesn’t sell the stakes of the moment. The actual fight between BetelGammamon and Mummymon then wraps up extremely quickly, without giving us enough time to really appreciate Gammamon’s new form.
Closing thoughts and looking forward
It perhaps speaks to high quality of this episode’s writing, cuteness, villain, and animation that in spite of the Champion evolution scene’s flaws this is still the best new episode of Digimon in many years. It’s an absolute joy to look at, and up until the climactic battle the writing is stellar as well. The preview for next week hints that we’ll be getting a lot more of Angoramon, so hopefully more focus on Ruli will follow suit.
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