The Geek Empress Becomes a Digimon Tamer

Last year during SixTAY Days of Writing, I got nostalgic and broke out one of my old digital pets, the Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Giga Pet that I had since I was a kid. During that article, I talked about all the different pets that were available when the fad hit, including Digimon.

I never had a Digimon as a kid. I remember the over-the-top 90s commercials for them, and recall seeing them in stores, but I didn’t make any kind of connection to them until, like many other kids, the Digimon anime aired on what was then known as Fox Kids.

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The first season of the Digimon anime resonated with a lot of kids, and became the cool alternative to Pokemon. I watched both and was a fan of both franchises, though neither Fox nor Warner Brothers made it easy on me since they often tried to air Digimon and Pokemon at the same time. As such, I remembered the original Digimon digital pets and really started wanting one, but the problem was the pets came out in 1997, whereas the anime didn’t start airing in the US until 1999 and the digital pets were no longer available. Bandai rolled out a whole line of Digimon action figures, toy digivices, video games and the trading card game, but the pets were impossible to find. The closest I had ever gotten to getting one, in spite of all my years hunting at garage sales, thrift shops and secondhand stores was a kid of a family friend letting play with his old one for a little while.

And the more years passed, the worse the situation got as prices on Digimon toys, particularly original Digimon toys, got to stupid prices—as anyone who tried looking up digivices can attest to. And reproduction toys from Bandai weren’t any better priced—as anyone who collects Sailor Moon or Power Rangers toys can attest to.

So imagine my surprise during Labor Day weekend when casually going into Game Stop (and ironically right next to the Pokemon toys) I saw a 20th anniversary Digimon digital pet available. Just as Bandai had released a miniature version of the original Tamagotchi to celebrate the toy’s 20th anniversary, it appears they continued the trend by making the original Digimon available in the US as well. And at a reasonable price. The Digimon toy only cost me twenty dollars, which was about what it cost the first time around in 1997. I got the blue one (which was the only one in stock at the time) which gives you access to the anime version Agumon that can evolve into Wargreymon. There are four Digimon pets available in the US, and depending on which one you have determines which Digimon you have access to. Red (called ‘brick’ color) and blue get you Agumon’s evolutionary line, whereas the gray and yellow ones get you Gabumon’s. Apparently there were three additional ones available in Japan that had their own exclusive Digimon including Apollomon and Meicoomon.

The device is simultaneously very simple and very sophisticated at the same time. Though the body design and graphics are identical to the original 1997 pet, some of the functions and abilities have been updated. Such as you raise two Digimon at a time, the second appearing once the first one hits Rookie stage, has all the previously available Digimon from all the other original pets (the first generation of Digimon had a very limited selection of mon available), you can evolve your pet all the way to Mega level and it’s backwards compatible with previous versions of the pet including the original and the D3. When you connect to another device you can either battle, or send copies of your own Digimon to your friend, which is the only way to access certain exclusive mon and obtain certain high level Digivolutions like Omega/Omnimon, since DNA/Jogress Digivolution is also a thing.

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Raising Digimon is just like raising any other digital pet. You have to feed it, heal it when it’s sick or injured and er, clean up after it. What made Digimon unique is that you also train it for battle. You can feed your mon vitamins to increase its weight and strength, and train it so its effort level is high. Then you can take it into real combat where you can either fight the game’s AI or a friend. The battles are pretty simple, as your aim is to press your button fast enough to gain full powered attacks, and afterwards it’s a matter of luck and your monster’s strength to see if you win. Losing battles won’t kill your mon right away, but too many losses will result in injury that can eventually result in death, so training is vital both to keep your pet alive in the ring, and get access to the better, more powerful evolutions. And the better you take care of your pets in addition to training results in better monsters and more variations as the Digimon reach the end of their natural lifespan, or die due to miscare. Digimon is a marathon, not a sprint, so if you were hoping for a Wargreymon first thing out of the gate, it’s unlikely as it may take a few generations of mon before you get the evolution.

I’ve found Digimon are nowhere near as needy or annoying as Tamagatchi, which is a real blessing. They actually sleep through the night, their natural bedtime being between 9pm and 7am, and if you’re really busy you can put them down for a nap, though that will slow their evolution cycle, as only their awake time is counted towards their time totals. So you get a Rookie Digimon after 6 hours, a Champion after an additional 24 hours, but that doesn’t include sleep time. So if you got your Agumon at 4pm, it won’t be 4pm the next day when it evolves, but probably 9am the day after that, and so on and so forth. I got my first Blitzgreymon, a Mega Evolution, after 8 days.

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Like the Giga Pet, I’ve found these time constraints a lot less cumbersome than as a child, since staying up at 9pm isn’t going to get me into trouble, and it only does take a few minutes every hour to make sure the Digimon’s well fed, properly trained and doesn’t need to be cleaned up after. I’ve found they can pretty much survive just fine with as little as feeding them once every 2 hours. Again, compared to the Tamagotchi/Giga Pet, that’s practically self sufficient. What’s also cool is that many of the Digimon you can raise aren’t ones you see all the time. Of the over 1000 canonical Digimon, surprisingly few of them ever make it to any media. Even the video games tend to stick to the ones seen in the show, particularly the ones the protagonists use since they are the most popular. But some of the designs are extremely cool, and I wish Bandai would showcase more of them more often. For example, the first Mega I got, Blitzgreymon isn’t a Digimon that’s appeared in any version of the show as far as I know, but look at how freaking sweet it is:

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One of my Blitzgreymon died after 35 days. At least he went down honorably. Wiped out in a tag-team battle against an Apollomon. Which is probably the way I’d want to go too.

So now I have a Zubamon and the cycle continues.

If you have the time and patience to deal with digital pet toys, the 20th Anniversary Digivice is a fun bit of nostalgia with some cool features. Hopefully Bandai releasing it will signal more releases of Digimon toys in the US, because finally getting a digivice after all these years has brought my fandom for the franchise back with a vengence.

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