When tri. was first announced, there was a healthy skepticism over whether a new team could write the Adventure characters with the depth and maturity they deserve. The end product is a challenging, thought-provoking critique of the digidestined concept with more care for each character’s problems and peculiarities than we could have ever hoped for. The same skepticism applied to a stage play. How could a live production do justice to these kids, both as we saw them in Adventure and how they developed in tri., especially with puppets portraying the Digimon? The end product isn’t as challenging—the stage is too ephemeral for that—but the attention paid to staying true to each of these characters and what makes them compelling gets even more of the spotlight. The story is as fleeting as its medium, but the character work is a triumph, making it a worthy addendum to both Adventure and tri.
While tri. is obsessed with the broader question of what it really means to be a digidestined and how a kid matures with that weight on their back, the stage play takes a more personal look at each of the eight and how their individual experience both strengthens and entraps them. The whole thing takes place in an artificial reality where the problems introduced in tri. don’t exist but the good stuff like the Digimon being around, Koushiro’s nifty server for them, and Taichi’s distortion goggles still are. Everyone’s happy to go on this trip to commemorate August 1, but some are worried that they’ll have to drag Joe and Taichi kicking and screaming: Joe because of his exams and Taichi because his broadening perspective may make him frown on an excursion designed to evoke memories of when he was 11.
Instead, Taichi is more eager for the trip than anybody. Turns out him seeing more and understanding less has him so freaked out about the future he jumps at this opportunity to be a reckless leader again, especially in a relatively stable environment with no real stakes. This entire reality turns out to be a trap, time-locking them in a deteriorating digital space where its inhabitants can have anything they want (unfortunately, this includes some of their enemies). While the emphasis is on Taichi, all eight are guilty of wishing they could live out August 1 forever.
These rose-tinted memories are challenged in tri. by three new digidestined whose experiences shattered rather than strengthened them. The play asks how they’re supposed to progress into a hopeful future if the past will always be seen as the unsurpassable glory days. In the second act, when everyone’s roughly aware of what’s happening but the only way out is for each of them to recognize and undo their subconscious desires, it’s the Digimon who help them see their past adventures not as the pinnacle of their lives, but rather a foundation they can begin to shape their futures around.
While Taichi gets the most weight and special attention is paid to Joe for being the only one taking any steps towards his future, everybody’s fears are discussed. Koushiro fears that his love of computers is more a means to acquire information than an interest in itself. Yamato is afraid that everyone will drift apart once free to make their own choices, while both he and Takeru are hesitant about turning a hobby into a full-time career. Hikari wonders if teaching is a true path for her or a profession she admires but isn’t cut out for. Sora admits she preferred being assigned the Team Mom role to having to decide for herself who she wants to be. Mimi has so many different things she wants to try but nothing she wants to commit to. The various internal dilemmas sometimes expand on the ones introduced in tri. (particularly Taichi, Joe, and Sora) and some (like Mimi and Takeru) are different facets entirely, but all are consistent with the kids we’ve seen so far. Best of all, the interactions between the kids are refreshing, giving the most recurring ones in tri. a break and revisiting old favorites like Taichi and Koushiro or giving life to new ones like Hikari and everyone whose name doesn’t start with a T.
The story itself is the tried and true old yarn about living in an internal fantasy vs. accepting an unknowable future/harsh reality, with enough digital flourishes to sort of make sense in this universe. The only action is reserved for the end and does more to show off some impressive set pieces and puppetry than provide coherent drama. Before that, Etemon provides the conflict while serving as a combination guide, villain, and fellow prisoner. His over-the-top, fourth-wall-breaking performance often steals the show, while still proving to be a compelling character in his own right. Everything undoes itself in the end, leaving the kids back to worrying about distortions and Meicoomon and Joe’s grades, but it’s a deep and enjoyable sidebar building off tri. while adding in its own share of new memories.
My Grade: A
- While the Digimon are feeling attacked and lethargic in the prologue, Palmon complains about having low blood pressure. Palmon is a plant Digimon. I have questions.
- Thanks to their original Digital World trip, Mimi’s idea of camping is to bring no provisions and forage and work for every scrap of food and shelter. What’s even more hilarious about this is recalling that when they were first pulled into the Digital World, Mimi happened to have a confounding amount of useful supplies on her.
- Props to Taichi’s actor for successfully playing keepie uppie with a real soccer ball on stage!
- As a stage performance, it’s anything but subtle, with actors using a loud, expressive delivery. That said, there are some lovely background moments, such as Tailmon’s visible reaction to Joe reminding everyone of how many Digimon they watched die. For an expressionless puppet, you really feel her there.
- When prompted for a ghost story, Hikari launches into a very vivid account of her first Dark Ocean trip, scaring the crap out of Mimi. Probably wise nobody called for her to tell one in Coexistence.
- Amazing what solid grades do for Joe. Thanks to this fantasy world giving Joe consistently solid results on his mock exams, he’s more upbeat and free to go camping. He especially takes an interest in mentoring Yamato through his crisis, and his reassurance that anyone partnered with a Digimon would want to keep them forever hits straight at the complexity over Maki’s situation.