This third season of Digimon (2001-2002) strikes out in a different direction from the preceding two seasons of Digimon Adventures. No longer does the series perpetuate the storyline begun in the first season, which was neatly wrapped up at the conclusion of season two. Instead, we’re treated to a wholly unique universe, one in which (in the English dub presented in the DVD release, at least) the first two seasons are but a television series based on a popular playing card game that the children of the third season enjoy. In this world, then, Digimon is but a game… or so it seems.
For just as in the previous seasons, there exists a Digital World in addition to the Real World. Only in the Digital World of Digimon Tamers, the Digimon started off as artificial intelligences created for a computer game but eventually evolved to the point where they could “bio-emerge” into our world. The bulk of those that bio-emerge seem hell-bent on mindless destruction, but a handful of Digimon take children on as “Tamers,” who use their Digivices to augment their Digimon partners’ with cards from the Digimon card game that they might battle those destructive Digimon. The season finds the Tamers and their Digimon inevitably travelling to the Digital World and returning home once more to face a potentially world-devouring evil.
Thematically, this season is far darker than its predecessors. To begin with, it features a secret government organization that seeks to destroy the Digimon and monitors all the world’s internet activity (which of course bears particular contemporary relevance in the face of recent revelations about the NSA). Characters can and do die in Digimon Tamers, and one of the Tamers ends up suffering from PTSD following the group’s excursion into the Digital World. Rather than merely bogging down the series with overly serious content, however, this material strengthens the bonds between the many, many characters, which in turn amplifies the tension of the season’s climactic battles and results in some surprisingly powerful character arcs. The antagonistic Impmon in particular goes through a great arc, and even though it’s an arc you’ll likely see coming from moment one, it’s perfectly played out and supported by some truly startling narrative developments later in the season.
Overall, this serious tone makes for a decidedly refreshing departure from the first two seasons. However, Tamers is unfortunately hindered by the writers’ attempt to tell but a single story throughout the season’s 51 episodes, as opposed to the four or so story arcs that comprised each of the previous seasons. Sure, this allows us greater access to the characters’ psyches and gives us a greater sense of what their day-to-day existence consists of, but really the same story could have been told far more efficiently in 19-26 episodes and lost very little. The added running time afforded by this single narrative does have one clear benefit, though, and that’s in the complexity of the season’s battle scenes. Previously, the Digimon had one or two attacks and the battles would end after each power had been used once. Here, the Digimon literally come to blows, trading actual punches in addition to their special maneuvers. This adds greater intensity to the conflicts, which is thankfully not undone by the sort of hokey music that was played over the battles in the first two seasons and ostensibly deprived them of any genuine excitement that might otherwise have developed.
In short, Digimon Tamers is a strong follow-up to the previous two seasons, one that has its fair share of faults, but at least it uses those faults to its advantage. And sure, it gets off to a notoriously slow start, but it offers a genuinely rewarding experience for those who see it through to the end. The complete season of Digimon Tamers is currently available in an 8-DVD collection from Flatiron Film Company. As with the previous complete season sets, Digimon Tamers collects only the English-language version of the season, so keep that in mind. By way of bonus content, the set includes a character gallery on the eighth disc as well as a 32-page guide book to the season’s vast core cast of characters.