What’s it about? Rumors have been circulating around town about virtual phenomenon called hologram ghosts, including a terrifying entity that steals time. Amanokawa Hiro is brought face-to-face with these creatures thanks to a strange watch left by his inventor father—as well as a friendly little dinosaur called Gammamon.
You might recall that early last year I gave a pretty optimistic review of the Digimon Adventure reboot, only to basically never talk about it again. That would be because it was an unmitigated disaster, a shambling nostalgia-mining mess with nonexistent pacing, drastically variable animation, and scant characterization that produced, at best, a few fun standalone adventures over the course of 67 whopping episodes. But it did make money, and the result is that we’re able to watch the first non-Adventure derivative Digimon series since 2016. And given how fresh and creative the first episode of Ghost Game feels, I’m willing to call it square.
…Well, okay, there is a little bit of Adventure 2020 hangover here in the form of director Mitsuka Masato; but he’s joined by Chioka Kimitoshi, the Digimon Tamers alum who isn’t a right-wing conspiracy theorist. In fact, Chioka is a franchise veteran with episode and assistant director credits on almost every title from the 2000s. Series composer Masashi Sogo is new to Digimon but his resume is a veritable who’s who of shounen anime—and also interestingly, for our purposes here, the chilling first cour of From the New World. It’s an exceptionally strong team, which gives me hope that Toei intends to stand behind this creative experiment. Perhaps it will give them a break from undercutting unions. Because being an anime fan means constantly grappling with the internal rot of its industry. We have fun here.
Ghost Game’s first episode is definitely dark. Its sets are bathed in moody purple shadows and lit in dusky orange. The villain of the week causes its victims to shrivel into old age, and even our cute heroic Digimon seems to have a dark power locked away inside him. It’s great Halloween-y fun, but it’ll probably be a bit intense for really young or sensitive kids, marking the intended viewership around 10-12 moreso than 6-10. Hiro’s going to be a middle-schooler, after all. He’s practically grown up.
Speaking of Hiro, he’s kind of a neutral presence despite his predestination-laden name. We know that he’s reliable and something of a pushover, which is a fine enough starting block, but he’s far from an instantly memorable protagonist. Making far more of an impression is the second member of the main trio, a boy played by the inimitable Ishida Akira with a heady mix of overconfidence and cowardice. There’s a female lead as well, but we get too brief an introduction to form much of an opinion on her character.
This is about as strong an introduction as you could ask for this kind of title, and I’m curious to see whether the theme of digital “ghosts” continues to bear a resemblance to the franchise’s spiritual cousin, Den-noh Coil. It lays out its most basic worldbuilding in a way that invites questions but is also easy to grasp, doesn’t require previous knowledge of the franchise, offers a glimpse of the leads, keeps the “buy this toy” element to a minimum, and shows off a strong eye for composition that will ideally carry the series through its more asset-strapped episodes. If you’ve ever been curious about the Digimon franchise or want to check out something a bit spooky but not too scary, this was an absolute delight.