Spoiler warning: this review discusses plot specifics from the first three episodes of Digimon Ghost Game as well as the preview to episode four.
Even considering the months of hype leading up to it, Digimon Ghost Game hasn’t disappointed. The first episode did a great job introducing new heroes, new lore, and a new horror lens through which Digimon can be viewed. Then episode two took all those elements and heightened them with stellar animation in the best Digimon episode in years, potentially even a decade. There was a week off between episodes two and three but now the show is back and so am I. Has Ghost Game continued to meet its own high standards?
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 3 – “Scribbles”:
The new paranormal phenomenon is spreading. It is said that if red scribbles appear somewhere on your body in a digital photo, that area will begin to act strange. The red scribbles then appear on Ruli’s photo.
Ruli and the legacy of Digimon’s female characters
The most notable aspects of this episode all pertain to its expanding of the core cast. Hiro and Gammamon meet Ruli for the first time, and it’s also Ruli’s first time ever seeing Digimon and meeting her partner Angoramon. Two new members have joined the party, but are they spotlighted effectively?
In Ruli’s case I would say so. She’s allowed to drive the plot and action single-handedly for about half the episode before Hiro and Gammamon even show up. Though she’s an (understandably) scared girl struggling without a Digimon partner of her own there’s no sense that the show writers are belittling her or view her as less competent than the other characters. She actively seeks out information about a strange social media urban legend involving red scribbles, wherein people find their pictures suddenly defaced and the body parts that have been marked end up injured…or worse. In Ruri’s case it’s her hands, which begin to slowly disappear before her very eyes.
The treatment of Ruli in this show is going to be a pivotal factor in determining if it’s just a fun kids’ show with some appeal to adult fans of the franchise or if it’s one that can be confidently recommended to outsiders. That’s because Digimon anime’s treatment of female characters has historically been spotty, and that may be putting it charitably. The first several series impressed with the variety and depth of their female characters, at least within the context of early ’00s kids’ action cartoons. Ever since then, however, things have gone considerably downhill.
The first portent of this trend was probably Frontier’s Izumi, who was the first Digimon heroine to be the sole female member of the cast and thus be relegated to “the girl” role so extremely and literally. The same issue plagued Yoshino in Savers, and both her and Izumi couldn’t even count on new evolution episodes (traditionally the go-to places for specific characters’ development) to get quality screen-time.
In Yoshino’s case her partner Lalamon had to split her final new evolution episode with one of the male characters’ partners, capping off a a series worth of plot lines that provided her with almost no room for growth whatsoever. In Izumi’s case meanwhile she would still get to be the main character of the week but a male character would swoop in to save the day at the last moment, or she (a grade school-aged child) would be depicted in swimsuits against backdrops with the words “Sexy Dynamite.”
Though some of the female characters since have fared a little better, the only one to receive arguably equal treatment to her male counterparts is Appmon’s Eri. It’ll be impossible to give a final verdict on Ruli until Ghost Game concludes, but so far I’m choosing to take her displays of competence and generous amount of screen-time sans Hiro as good signs. Though Hiro serves a pivotal function in catching Ruli up on plot mechanics, she and Angoramon are still allowed the final hurrah in the battle against this week’s Big Bad…
This week’s Little Bad
…or rather, teeny antagonist. The villain of the week is Dracumon, and first things first I’m happy with this localization of his name. It actually preserves the ending “ク” sound instead of shortening his name to Dracmon. That tendency in past English media has always seemed weird to me given that his name is an obvious Dracula homage and it just reads more smoothly with the “u” intact.
But anyhow! Linguistic choices aside, Dracumon is a solid villain-of-the-week pick. He has a cool design with various elements befitting this current horror show: there’s the dramatic eyes painted onto his mask, the real eyes in the middle of his palms, and his cute bat wings. Visually he’s a fun pull, even if he’s not a particularly deep character here and seems all the flatter after how fun Mummymon was last episode.
Though his personality is lacking, his story and abilities have interesting implications. He’s a Digimon who specifically haunts social media, leaving portents of incoming harm before attacking his victims. The specific references to time frames within which he commits his crimes is a smart choice, calling to mind such films as The Ring. It also allows him to be built up as a threat before he ever actually appears on screen, as opposed to just being a villain who pops up out of nowhere for sake of shoving in a fight scene.
With that said, the execution of his plan isn’t very riveting. The main fault is that the artistic depictions of his scribbles aren’t actually scary. One has to wonder if the photo defacements could have been rendered in a more unique and eerie way, perhaps by incorporating the eye motif so central to his own design? Hell, if we were just going to get simple lines they could have at least been cross-hatched more menacingly. The impacts of his powers were also unclear in their scope and manifestations, making it difficult to know how worried one should be for Ruli’s safety.
Human/Digimon partner bonding
This episode’s other main con concerns Ruli’s partner Angoramon. Design-wise, he’s excellent. He’s obviously going to be (and to an extent already is) a breakout Digimon design in terms of sheer visual appeal and cute factor. The fact that he’s so gigantic for an assumed Rookie is also a fun deviation from tradition while enhancing the odd Yeti-rabbit vibes he has going on. All and all, he’s cool.
With that said, his first meeting with Ruli leaves something to be desired. He starts following Ruli and protecting her from Dracumon’s attacks after hearing her play the piano, which he enjoys. This connection to his partner’s artistic interests in a cool idea, but could have been more affecting if that element of the episode was more pronounced. As is, we don’t actually hear much of Ruli’s piano playing or get any sense of how emotionally invested in music she actually is. With more focus on that element the terror of her hands disappearing could have been made more poignant and relevant as well, since it would have symbolized the loss of a passion and major emotional outlet.
Nonetheless, Ruli and Angoramon are both quite likable individually. Ruli is likely to be the most gung-ho member of the human trio, while Angoramon seems more laid back and maybe even shy. There are clear dynamics shaping up both between them as a duo and in terms of their roles in the larger group, which shows a promising amount of forethought. Nonetheless, it would have been nice to see more actual bonding between the two of them here. As is, it just feels like Angoramon happened to like Ruli’s music for some indeterminate reason and then chose to stick by her for some other indeterminate reason.
Closing thoughts and looking forward
For all my discussion of this episode’s flaws, I should make clear that it was still a very enjoyable watch. This series’ art and animation continue to be shockingly impressive for a Digimon anime, and it was great to see Ruli get so much screen-time without any of the male characters hogging it. There also continue to be obligatory cute moments with Gammamon, and the size difference between him and Angoramon is sure to spawn an explosion of fanart of the two cuddling together. Even if the execution wasn’t perfect, it was nice to see the series continue its commitment to urban legend themes as well.
Unless the preview for next week intentionally obscures their involvement, it looks like the last main human/Digimon pair won’t be joining up just yet. Instead we’re going to be treated to a fun Pumpkinmon episode just in time for Halloween, and given my love for his design I’m excited. Plus, it should allow more opportunity for the four heroes already assembled to feel out their dynamics some more before adding the last two characters into the mix.
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