In this movie, remember how everyone hates the way the dub used to add random lines to the script? Turns out it was just ahead of its time!
Watching Digimon has always been a different experience depending on which language you opt for. It's the biggest reason we've always tackled one language at a time and not spend too much space dwelling on what was different. Watching two languages at once for comparison purposes isn't the experience the staff of either side are shooting for, and we have a tendency to prefer the side we were exposed to first anyway.
This is the first time we're going back and covering ground we've explored already. So by default, we'll talk about what's different. But more important than script decisions or music choices or even taking it as a movie instead of episodes is the overall feeling of watching tri. in English. All of the production choices could be exactly the same and with the exact same quality as the Japanese subtitles, but Digimon Adventure tri. in English will always be a different experience. For anyone who grew up with the original dub, whether they now like it or dismiss it, it ultimately captures emotions that weren't possible watching it in Japanese.
When the Japanese cast was announced and we learned all of the children had new voice actors, there was a sense of disappointment. Giving new voices to the characters to represent their progress into adulthood was an important (and, tragically, necessary in hindsight) creative decision. It did mean that one of Reunion's biggest tasks was re-introducing us to these characters, their new problems, and the new voices they've found along the way. Having half of the original human cast back saves the dub half the trouble. Especially in the cases of Tai (whose personal doubts dictate the movie) and Izzy and Mimi (whose first major scenes are so delightfully them), we're already that much closer to catching up, which makes the reunion aspect of Reunion that much easier to achieve.
Of all the returning voices, however, surprisingly none proved to be quite as crucial as Agumon. His first scene, where Tai is feeling so helpless and needs a miracle from his past, only truly hits when watching in the language of your childhood. Agumon showing up, blasting Kuwagamon, then reassuring Tai in that goofy dub voice of his, created an audible harmonious gasp in the theater as nostalgia stole air from the entire room. That's how Tai had to feel in that moment, and more than anything else, it left the impression that yes, they're back.
Integrating these familiar voices with some of the new castings was going to be a hard sell, but succeeds by playing it safe. Of Matt, TK, Joe and Kari, only the latter had a unique new voice that took some getting used to (with occasional inconsistencies). It still provided a nice compromise between Kari's distinct younger voice and her more matured self. The others don't stretch too hard, staying close to neutral, never trying to imitate their predecessors and simply delivering a balanced performance. They felt like understudies- playing their roles adequately without putting too much of a twist on them that it overshadows the lead actors.
Instead, the characters are allowed to shine through the script. One thing the dub never got enough credit for was allowing the characters to explore our language better. Rather than being restricted by subtitled translations that often come off as stiff, characters sound more expressive, allowing even unremarkable conversations to at least have a pleasing rhythm, and ratcheting up the tension when something big is going down. Matt's impatience with Tai is apparent in either version, but now we can hear him escalate conversations, attack Tai's slightest hesitations, weaponize sarcasm, and feel just how upset the whole mess makes him. The post-credits scene has a whole new interpretation now that the annoyed sarcasm in his tone and his choice of words becomes apparent.
One of the biggest criticisms of tri. is the constant bombardment of silence. While it adds to the deliberate feel, it's also a grind on the movie's pace. The dub, with its long history of fearing silence, lives up to its reputation. It breaks up quieter scenes with dialogue or screaming bystanders or chatty students. It's refreshing, especially when used in scenes that really shouldn't have been silent in the first place. Some lines even help explain situations better, clarifying things that originally had to be picked up by non-verbal cues, some quite subtle. Some of Tai's angst, both with and without cell phone service, now comes with internal monologue. It's overused in a couple places, but it does help get to the bottom of his hesitation better. Most importantly, critical moments of silence are preserved and additions are rarely used to artificially inject humor. I only counted one instance that was both gratuitous and forced.
The dub does come with its share of flaws. There's a strange insistence on refusing to name locations such as Kawasaki, Haneda, and even Odaiba. Some of the attempted translations of jokes don't succeed quite as well as their subtitled equivalents. The lack of any visual editing creates weird situations where Daigo's calligraphy has to be awkwardly translated through dialogue and Maki's computer screen still has Japanese names for all the characters. Referring to Meicoomon's use of Tottori dialect as “Meicoomon speak” brought on unwanted flashbacks to calling hiragana “digicode.” But overall, Reunion dubbed succeeds at the goals the movie sets for itself, offers a more engaging experience, stays faithful enough to the original script, and celebrates what we remember loving about the original dub while quietly shedding all the embarrassing bits.
My Grade: A-
- It's easy to criticize the dub for cutting out some of the more memorable lines like “Knife of Ramen” and “is she human?” And that's fair. But at least acknowledge some gems added like TK asking Izzy if he's “going heavy on the can” or Tai referring to Meicoomon as an “imaginary cat,” then sticking the landing with “look what the imaginary cat dragged in” when Matt shows up.
- We knew going in that Daigo would have the same voice actor as season two TK, but expected a different voice for obvious reasons and thus didn't dwell on it. What we overlooked was that Daigo sounds exactly like epilogue TK. And that comes off as a little strange.
- Was it me, or did Kari feel a little too slang-y in her word choices? While either version of tri. does a good job giving her attitude a little more color, she uses words like “bummer” a lot, which doesn't seem like something she, or anyone in 2005, would actually say.
- One of the scenes that is simultaneously more clear and more confusing in the dub is Sora calling Izzy while he's at the restaurant. Originally it was a bit vague exactly what she was calling about, only that it was some sort of emergency. In the dub, she just wants advice on her “soccer vs concert” crisis... although it's strange that she'd think Izzy of all people would have a useful solution.
- Instead of calling it Haneda Airport, it's now “International Airport.” Which is problematic because it didn't actually serve international flights in 2005. Which is problematic because one of the characters was arriving from an international flight and is seen stuck at an airport. But not the airport where the action is. Which is initially unclear. Silly dub.
- Daigo's codename for Tai is “DD1” and that is wonderful.
- For those looking for a proper name of Maki and Daigo's agency, the dub calls it the “National Data Processing Bureau,” which is somehow punchier than the hilariously lengthy mess in Japanese. Matt still needs to sift through a hilariously lengthy mess to get to Daigo's title, so the joke is preserved.
- Sure they can't name Haneda or Odaiba, but Highton View Terrance? Yeah, that gets name-dropped.
- Apparently Gennai's defying the old dub and going with a hard “g” now.
- One translated line that hit so much harder was the scene of Tai and Agumon at sunset. When Tai turns to Agumon for advice, instead of a frustrated “I don't know,” it's a more reassuring “you'll figure it out.” It's not that Agumon suddenly has answers, but that's how a good Digimon partner should spin it.
- While a lot of the attack names aren't used in the final battle, Togemon uses the cumbersome “how about some Needle Spray” line so common in the original dub to fit the flap as the original attack name was far longer.
- In an effort to break up the silence, the Ultimate and Mega forms of Agumon and Gabumon announce themselves as they appear for their one-attack cameos.
- Since tri. was announced, I've maintained that a good dub would stay mostly faithful to the original script with one “prodigious” added for good measure. This does and chooses the absolute perfect moment to do it (reacting to Omnimon's appearance). This is a good dub.
- Meicoomon is pronounced slightly differently in English to emphasize its namesake- the Maine coon breed of cat.