So hey, Digimon Adventure tri. sure was a thing, wasn't it? An ambitious evolution following on from the original Adventure storyline, full of callbacks and references for hardcore followers, as well as constant, often ill-advised swerves and an ending that left one heck of a bad taste in your mouth. So what to wash that out with? Cue Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, a production apart from the concept and creative team of tri, designed as a true, last-hurrah send-off for the classic Digimon Adventure continuity. There's fresh reboots and new games coming out to hawk, so perhaps it's best for now to put the classic to bed with more of a singular clean break than whatever tri was attempting to do. And in terms of concept and intent, one can at least say an attempt was made here.
The very obvious central idea of Last Evolution Kizuna is ‘growing up’, something Digimon Adventure has allowed its characters to do with its audience over time, famously distinct from that other upstart tie-in anime whose title ends in ‘-mon’. The raw novelty of classic kids' anime characters as adults with jobs and college theses to worry about is front-and-center pretty much right from the beginning of this film. If you've been waiting to see the DigiDestined go out for beers, catch a glimpse of Tai's porn stash, or hear Matt swear, this is the movie for you. I don't mean to make it sound all that try-hard: the reality of the DigiDestined's day-to-day adult lives is presented with a matter-of-fact novelty, helped by the fact that they're mostly still recognizable as the characters we ourselves grew up alongside with.
There are more serious aspects of reaching adulthood, of course, and that theme of ‘growing up’ brings the characters' forward-moving motivations along with it. We see in the action-packed opening that Tai and a few others are still operating as destined defenders of the Real World against insurgent monster attacks, and splitting the difference between that role and deciding how they'll actually live for the rest of their lives is making them question how much that cartoon hero job was central to their identity. A bit more exposition and another big battle later, this doubt dovetails with the real plot of Last Evolution Kizuna: The revelation that their days with their monster friends are numbered.
It's a pointedly interesting hook to throw into the proceedings of what is otherwise an effectively standard-structure feature-length Digimon story through this point. Classic characters literally aging out of their roles perhaps ties into some viewers' relatable senses of passing their peaks, transitioning to roles apart from their most effective potential. Last Evolution Kizuna muses on these ideas enough at the revelation, but not so much that it bogs down the pacing or tone. Instead it weaves that idea of potential loss into the story it's setting up, putting the various characters, including the new ones introduced in this movie, at different phases of the digital deadline to impress their reactions on how they carry out what is basically ‘One Last Job’ for monster-fighting superheroes. It's a testament to the conceptual effectiveness of this base thread that I did find myself having a pretty good time for the first two-thirds of this movie.
So it's a real pity how it all turns out in the end.
After the movie reveals its true antagonist with all the grace of a modern-day Disney twist villain, Last Evolution Kizuna swerves hard into near-explicit metatextual commentary on the nature of nostalgia, and growing up and away from your childhood. The enemy in this piece is effectively an established Digimon fan who can't abide the finite nature of even a long-running franchise like Digimon Adventure, thinking its cast is better off trapped in eternal stasis of the pleasant memories of their classic, childhood incarnations. The idea of nostalgia was central to the narrative of Last Evolution Kizuna from the start (to say nothing of the conceit of the preceding tri), but this revelatory ending goes all-in on it, the villain tempting our heroes with heavy-handed offers to “Live forever with your best friends and your fondest memories”.
The problem with this construction is that it's fundamentally at odds with the movie's own conceptualization of nostalgia. Last Evolution Kizuna, from its declarative opening text, is a film founded on remembering and reliving fond memories, and ensuring the original Adventure characters persist as icons regardless of the passage of time. It's constantly dropping references to plot points and incipient continuity markers that fans will remember from the show it's based on (the Worldwide DigiDestined from the latter part of Adventure 02 are a major plot element, and for as much as this movie tries to sweep tri under the rug, even Meiko and Meicoomon merit a cameo). So to turn around to this idea that the nostalgia we came here looking for must be discarded in service of a painful-but-necessary ‘growing up’ feels like a poorly-conceived bait-and-switch. It also comes across as disingenuous on a franchise level. There's just such an obvious irony to Last Evolution Kizuna trying so hard to sell us on the necessity of moving past the childhood versions of the Adventure crew even as Toei, as we speak, has been happily putting these kids through fresh laps in the rebooted Digimon Adventure:.
I'd like to say that there's effective merit to the movie's last third just on a basic plot level, but it's so impossible to untangle it from the obvious metatext as to be pointless to do so. But as well, it's still a cynical swerve that results in several of the film's previous plot points not making sense and dragging out with those conceptual declarations hindering the pacing. It also underlined how lopsided the movie's focus is. It's hardly unexpected at this point for this corner of the canon, but the lion's share of the plotting and character development is occupied by Tai and Matt, and their personal Digimon partners. A few others put in effective appearances, notably Izzy and the 02 DigiDestined – Toei seemingly apologetic for their scuttling in tri. But for a film supposedly predicated on giving fans one last blast with all their favorites, most of the other previously-main characters barely merit roles ranging from support to cameos. One character in particular is especially screwed over. If you're one of those aforementioned seasoned fans you can immediately guess it's Sora, who puts in only a couple brief appearances standing in her apartment in the dark, staring out her window and talking with Biyomon about how they promised they'd leave all the fighting to everyone else. The characters never even get to interact with any of the rest of the cast; a callous, but not unexpected dismissal in a movie full of misfires.
For as baffled by Last Evolution Kizuna storytelling decisions as I was by the end of it, at least it has the decency to look pretty nice. The designs of everything feel more expressive than tri, and as frustrating as watching their plot play out can be, I'd almost say it's worth watching this movie just to see your favorite Digimon characters as young adults. The backgrounds sport a colorful, almost photographic quality with their compositing. Most of the movie takes place in the Real World, so jazzing up the presentation even in this ostensibly mundane setting is impactful and makes for a strong contrast with the scenes taking place in digital settings, which are effectively defined by more monochromatic background color choices and some strong use of minimalist atmosphere in the last act. They also smartly constrain CGI use mostly to particular characters to emphasize their alienness even among the inherently bizarre Digimon. The animation feels consistent, with the action scenes functioning strongly as fluid, exciting setpieces. It's one reason the movie can be so fun if you don't let yourself think about it too much as it goes on.
The recast Seiyuu for the human characters and carried-over classic voices for the Digimon from tri continue for Last Evolution Kizuna's Japanese version, and if you liked what you heard there, you'll be at home with this entry. The English dub, somewhat ironically, dips even further into the annals of nostalgia this movie was made for. Digimon Adventure dubs have been a somewhat odd case these days, being a casserole of leftovers from a successful FoxKids adaptation mixed with modern localization sensibilities. This one threads the needle well, keeping around the names and terminology lifelong fans are used to, but otherwise staying mostly faithful to the tone and script of the story. I say mostly – there are a couple instances of punchy little jokes slipped in that do an entertaining job of feeling like they'd be at home in the old dub without offsetting the tone, and of course Mona Marshall gets in one last 'Prodigious!' as Izzy. Speaking of actors like Marshall, the dub, like the one for tri, couldn't get the whole classic band back together, but there are enough to push the buttons of those memories if you've got them. Some replacements like Nicolas Roye as Matt do a solid enough job with their own interpretation of the old favorites, while others like Bryce Papenbrook subbing in as Cody are just never going to sound ‘right’. Still, for as much of a mess as this movie ends up being, that auditory nostalgia works as a key selling point: An old-school Digimon fan would have to be made of stone not to feel something at hearing Joshua Seth and Tom Fahn come back to voice Tai and Agumon, for maybe the last time, in this story where they say goodbye to each other.
At the end, I almost want to give Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna credit for sticking to its conceptual guns. The way it finishes is meant to be pointedly bittersweet, intending to leave us and the characters with but memories of the good times we shared together for so long. But it's just too clumsy to reconcile with its intent as a release, to say nothing of its notable place in the broader Digimon Adventure timeline. It could lend to fans debating the continuity of this thing for far longer after its release until Toei sees fit years later to patch in another ill-advised cinematic extension. But such questions avoid the real issue with this thing: that it can't be reconciled with itself. It's a movie that tries to have its nostalgia and move past it as well, tripping over itself at a finish line it's been running towards for 21 years.