Early reaction to Digimon Fusion

One of my iconic memories of watching anime as a teenager child was in an episode of Digimon Adventure 02 when TK, a carry-over from the 1st series, normally last to act rash or with violence, decides enough is enough and knocks the Digimon Emperor (a kid himself, albeit corrupted by power) into next week.  The reason I point this out (aside from the novelty of a monster-battle anime resorting to Muggle fists) is that I’ve been a Digimon fan for a while, starting with the original Adventure, before finally dropping off sometime during Frontier.  (I only watched maybe one episode of Data Squad though not out of spite.)  However, I still got amped when seeing Digimon Fusion (nee Xros Wars) heading to US TV.  After watching a few episodes I’ve certainly felt nostalgic, but is it any good?  Well…

First, here’s the story.  Our goggle-wearing leader this time around is Mikey Kudo (voiced by newcomer Nicholas Roye), a 7th-grade baller who likes to be a team player on and off the court. Obviously, Mikey doesn’t wear his goggles during basketball games because I’m the only one who remembers Horace Grant, but I digress.  He finds Shoutmon (Benjamin Diskin) in the human world near death and offers his help, so Mikey, along with tagalongs Angie (Digimon 4-timer Collen O’Shaughnessey) and Jeremy (6-timer and still Digimon Emperor Derek Stephen Prince) get sucked into the Digital World in the middle of a turf war between Shoutmon and the army of Lord Bagra.

Right from the get-go there are a few things that distance Fusion from its predecessors. Mikey doesn’t get a Digivice, it’s a Fusion Loader.  Monsters don’t Digivolve, they DigiFuse. The theme isn’t the iconic earworm that I won’t link to here (but I’m sure if you Google “Digimon Theme Song” your day will be ruined, don’t say I didn’t warn you) but a halfway decent EDM number that makes a much better rock track.  Finally, most important to the plot is that instead of the typical JRPG of fixed party size that the previous Digi-series have had, Fusion has more of a tactics/RTS-type vibe.  Everyone is vying for control of the Digital World’s 108 zones in order to become King.  Find the Code Crown and you control that zone, and in Mikey’s case, probably add a Digimon or two to your party.  Unfortunately, the game aspect is merely a framing device for the plot, but the party-growing aspect is a big and welcome departure from the norm.  Complicating affairs are two other humans, the power thirsty and unfortunately named Chris (is this really Vic Mignona’s first foray into the Digiverse?) and the enigmatic Nene (4-timer Melissa Fahn) who are seeking control of the Digital World with monsters of their own.

Fusion is defintely its own series, but doesn’t always shy away from its past.  There are plenty of monsters from the original series to make you feel nostalgic, even though some are oddly placed. (Why is a Lilymon in Shoutmon’s village?  How does Puppetmon go from final arc mid-boss in Adventure to just another party member?  Who thought it was a good idea to give Chris a Greymon?!) Being that this is a Digimon series, you know there are going to be some sad backstories and some dilemma about the human and digital worlds encroaching on each other.  But what really stands out to me this series are the new monster designs.  I’ve felt that the more recent Digimon series were tributes in a way to Super Sentai (especially Savers).  Fusion is a tribute to Giant Robots.  In order to fight the week’s villain, Mikey has to fuse Shoutmon with various other mons to create a more power creature.  Fuse him with the Beetle Borg robot Ballistamon (2-timer Kyle Hebert) and you get the robot-looking Shoutmon x2.  Combine the pair with the literal lone-wolf Dorulumon (also Kyle Hebert) and you get the gattai-inspired Shoutmon x3.  Shoutmon x4 is x3 with a Blazing Sword (which sometimes starts in Jimmy’s hands) and so on.  Throw in Nene’s army of Kanti/Zaku-inspired Montiamons and you have a love of all things Super Robot that hits the nostalgia sweet spot better than any Digi-callback.

Of course, not all the callbacks work.  One thing that helped make Digimon special in the US was its writing.  Saban had a history of playing fast and loose with translation, sometimes even discarding it entirely in favor of snappy one-liners and non sequiturs.  (This wasn’t restricted to Digimon, although another iconic anime moment included the Digimon-related shout out seen here.) Fusion tries for the same deal and while some are decent (Jeremy has quoted Daffy Duck verbatim) most of the humor misses the mark.  Another issue is the pace of the series is so breakneck, I thought Saban was editing episodes together, but that’s apparently nature of the beast.  Sadly, it cuts out character development, which could be helpful for our human cast.  Instead, it’s just one monster fight after another.

To be honest, though, for all its faults as a vapid Saturday Morning cartoon, I can’t hate Digimon Fusion.  There’s just enough to keep it interesting, and I know as an experienced Digifan that the intrigue can only climb higher as the stakes raise.  Right now, Nicktoons is getting to the homestretch of Season 1, while Vortexx started airing Fusion eight weeks ago.  If you want to catch up or don’t have third-tier cable, watch it on your CW station.  Trust me, there are worse ways to kill a morning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find where I put my blue card.