His Master’s Voice (Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 13)
Enter Chiaki J. Konaka. Along with Dai Sato, Konaka is widely revered as one of the two best screenwriters for anime in it’s modern epoch. And for the release of this Digimon Adventure 02 episode, released originally in Japan on June 25th, 2000, he was inexplicably called in to work.
Konaka’s works are generally psychological in thrust, with an intense focus on postmodern philosophical themes and techno-sociological analyses of possible future cultures. In this way, his interests align with writers like Manga artist Masamune Shirow (known for dense cyberpunk sci-fi works like Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell) and Dai Sato (known for his work on projects like Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, Ergo Proxy, and Eureka Seven). In the same year that Mamoru Oshii released his classic anime film adaptation of Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), Konaka’s cyberpunk classic Armitage III was also released. In the following years up to the millennium, Konaka wrote scripts for numerous other classic work of dense, thought-provoking anime like Serial Experiments Lain (1998) and Big O (1999), both of which are among my personal favorites.
So why cast Konaka for an anime geared more towards children like Digimon? First off, Digimon by this point already had a history of interacting with auteur animators and creators through their work with Mamoru Hosada. That collaboration is somewhat legendary now, but ultimately involved Hosada created the pilot episode for the anime titled Digimon Adventure, the classic paranoid thriller of Episode 21 in Digimon Adventure 01 when Tai first returns home from a long sojourn in the Digital World, and finally creating the first movie for the series in the short film Our War Game!. The creative interplay continued in the future as Hosada eventually took ideas for Our War Game! and expanded them into his 2009 film Summer Wars. Later, in Digimon Fusion/Xros Wars the team would dedicate the third to Hosada by entitling it The Boy Hunters Who Leapt Through Time, referencing Hosada’s 2006 film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Second off, Digimon Adventure 02 had been severely lacking in smart screenplays up this point in the series and the team drastically needed smarter content to catch a wider audience. This is where Konaka fit in and his contributions certainly helped to hold my attention upon rewatch of the series as it was a relative snore-fest before episode 13.
In the episode, Kari awakens from a disturbed sleep. She has been tossing and turning at night due to bad dreams. Waking in constant cold sweats and not getting enough sleep have led to much more stress for the student and Digidestined, and she seems to be developing something akin to an acute stress disorder that, if the root causes remain unaltered, could make her increasingly into a Lain-like figure, withdrawn, internal, not socially available or interested, anxious in social interactions, and prone to living a Puer Aeternus fantasy life within online culture.
While in her first period math class, she begins to feel extremely tired, the room around her fades away as a sea of fog encroaches and water ascends, reaching knee height. She feels all alone and within an odd existential void not quite within the human world and not quite within an internal world either. When T.K. looks over at Kari, she is shown blinking statically like a television set on a void channel. T.K. calls out to her and brings her out of her daze momentarily. Her teacher sends her to the nurse for a check-up to make sure she isn’t sick, but on the way there, the hallways darken and turn grey (not unlike the human world of Hosada’s Digimon Adventure 01 episode) and she imagines past times when she let others down, like her brother Tai. These feelings of insecurity and insufficiency continue to grow and then she sees it: a figure shadowing her down the hallway behind her, looking something like a spectral Goblinmon.
Later, T.K. searches for Kari and finds her sitting by herself on a bench outside of school. She claims that “they keep trying to take me to their world,” but is unable to explain who “they” are or make herself comprehensible to T.K. He tries to show his support and claims that he won’t let them take her away because he cares about her too much for that, but when Kari presses him and asks him what he means (hoping he will confess his feelings for her), he demures, becomes embarrassed, and promptly makes up an excuse to leave. This throws Kari into a deeper emotional spiral, which culminates in the other world taking her from her own. She blinks out and disappears from the Real World before Gatomon’s very eyes, leaving her backpack with her D-3 and D-Terminal behind in the process.
The world she arrives within is a deserted town by the beach. There is quai with a beautiful, but somber lighthouse emitting Dark Light out towards the sea. She has stepped over some liminal gate and been put into a state of Kamikakushi, or being Spirited Away, to a new world in-between the Digital World and the Real World that shows influence from both and has effects in both. In a dark tunnel, voices cry out for her help and when she goes therein she finds a group of Scubamon that are infested by Dark Rings. But they are not violent, they are weak and helpless and call for release from their pain by Kari who attempts to give them the release they call for, but finds herself incapable to tearing away the Dark Rings with her own measly human strength.
The tunnel begins to collapse as a group of Airdramon attack from above and Kari’s spirit cries out for assistance, resulting in the apparition of Kari appearing before T.K., Patamon, and Gatomon in the Real World. They pass through a liminal gate to her unique realm without going through the computer lab terminal, which later prompts Izzy to begin pondering metaphysics once more. Then the episode becomes straightforward once more as Pegasusmon destroys the Control Spire Lighthouse and Angewomon destroys the Airdramon (without freeing it from its Dark Ring mind you?!?!). They finally free the Scubamon with the power of the other Digimon, but the diminutive beings return to their ghastly spectral forms instead of their substantial forms, begin to recall some innate evil, and ask Kari to help them revolt against their undersea master and to become their new Queen.
The effective total of freed Digimon for the series would become 113, if the Airdramon had not been destroyed and if the Scubamon actually became good by being released from their Dark Rings. Instead, the total remains at 107. In the ending crawl, we see the outline of the Scubamon’s master in the mist: it is Cthulu! (Cthulumon?) This comes as no real surprise as Konaka is a writer for the extended Lovecraftian Cthulu Mythos and often incorporates elements of the mythos into his screenplays. Unfortunately, this story ends here as the plotline was not carried on into future episodes of Digimon Adventure 02, which is surely the series’ biggest creative sin (and there are many).
In the following years, Konaka would go on to write some of the darkest, most critically acclaimed anime of the 2000s like Hellsing (2001) and Texhnolyze (2003). All of these previously mentioned projects were ones on which he wrote the entirety of the script, but he would also go on to write one-off or short series of episodes for shows like Princess Tutu (2002) and Rehxephon (2002). And most importantly for the context of Digimon, he was the series creator and head writer for Digimon Tamers (2001), the third season of the Digimon anime franchise. This series would be acclaimed for its dark themes about the nature of neurosis, of technology, of demoralized societies, and of the dangers of postmodernity that we could one day face.
Ciao for now,
The Digidestined Cody
[P.S. In between each season on Digimon that I rewatch and review on this blog, I review other short anime series of twenty episodes or less. Because the next season of Digimon after Adventure 02 is Tamers, I will be reviewing a topical anime to get myself ready for Konaka’s Digimon series. This anime will be the classic Serial Experiments Lain. So look forward to that one in about two months from now!]