Takeru Takaishi – or as I knew him from the English dub, TK – and his digimon, Patamon, are the first recipients of many Digimon lessons involving the concept of growing up. In their accidental visit to Primary Village, Patamon wrestles with the fear that he’ll never digivolve – an easy stand in for becoming older – while the young Takeru is still thoroughly enjoying his childhood and refuses to find answers through fighting. It becomes apparent that one of the reasons why Patamon has yet to transform is because his partner, Takeru, isn’t ready.
The answer that Takeru and Patamon find together is a simple but effective one: you’ll grow up when the time comes. There’s no need to rush things – especially if your impetus for wishing to grow up is simply because those around you are older – but it’s also important to move forward when you can, growing bit by bit. Takeru has to accept that conflict is sometimes inevitable, and that he can’t remained sheltered forever. When Patamon finally does evolve, he does so to protect his friend Takeru, and Takeru’s acceptance of the change still takes some time.
Digimon Tri revisits these ideas of growing up with it’s now older cast, starting with Mimi Tachikawa and Jou Kido.
“It’s fine. I did know on some level. These past couple of days I was made painfully aware. When something feels right or I think something is good, I act like it’s good for everyone else too. But ultimately . . . I’m not seeing those around me.”
-Mimi Tachikawa, Digimon Tri, Episode 6
Mimi’s problem is easily solved through compromise, primarily because Mimi has grown into a fairly self-aware young woman. In spite of her selfishness in presuming that her perspective represents the thoughts of those around her, when forced to examine her actions, she faces it almost immediately. In her conversation with Joe at the river, she even admits that she partially knew of her own arrogance, but had shrugged this off, thinking that she was ultimately doing more good than harm. This doesn’t forgive her pushy presumptions, but it her refusal to wallow in sadness and address the situation quickly is both an admirable trait and a necessary comparison to Joe’s emotional narrative in these same episodes. Mimi stares down her problems and finds a solution, while Joe hides, avoiding everything.
From a certain perspective, Joe is not wrong to wish for his own life separate from being a “digidestined.” Digimon, and the digital world, are the last remnants of his childhood. Much like the children in Dennou Coil, for a time, there’s a fleeting aspect to the digimon and the digital world that doesn’t translate into the real world – until the real world is directly affected later in the series. Being a “chosen one” in a world that you cannot share with others is an inherently childish narrative, and often used to gently push characters into adulthood. When compared to the pressures of high school and pursuing the goal of becoming a doctor, it’s natural for Joe to shrug off the trappings of his childhood, even while knowing that being a digidestined carries its own set of very real responsibilities. The problem lies in how Joe goes about dealing with his own inner conflict.
It’s also important to understand Joe’s specific point of view. When I watched the first and second seasons of Digimon, I falsely equated Joe with Koushiro Izumi (Izzy) because both characters were presumably smart. However, there’s an important distinction between the two of them that Digimon Tri makes abundantly clear: Koushiro is a genius, and Jou is not.
Everything comes naturally to Koushiro, and by the time of Tri, he’s seemingly built his own business conglomerate. Based on the selection of his wardrobe and general interactions outside of his office, Koushiro has remained blissfully unaware of common social norms in spite of growing older. In contrast, Joe is trapped by anxiety caused almost entirely by social norms and societal pressures. He’s not a genius, and his hard work has yet to pay off in the form of better test scores.
In his initial refusal to help the others and his partner Gomamon, Joe is fully giving in to his self-doubt regarding his schoolwork and future, shirking the duties of both the digital and real worlds while projecting his own feelings of inadequacy across all aspects of his life. Unlike Mimi, his response is to further withdraw from all of his responsibilities. It’s important to note that Joe is also self-aware. He knows what he’s doing and yet this doesn’t stop him from retreating, calling himself a coward. This is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of how crippling anxiety and self-doubt can manifest themselves into every day life. Joe is aware that he has a problem, but his anxiety warps everything around him to the point where he refuses to do anything.
“You said you wanted a reason, right? A reason for what? For fighting? Or a reason why we’re the digidestined? Joe, you’ve forgotten something important. You and Gomamon were chosen together as partners. Do you need a reason for that? Who cares about being an adult or a child? You two are partners.”
-Hikari Yagami to Joe Kido, Digimon Tri, Episode 8
This is the grown-up version of Takeru and Patamon’s initial trouble, albeit with the additional nuance required when discussing adolescents. In the first season of Digimon, Takeru refused to fight and it hampered Patamon’s ability to evolve. Now, in Tri, Joe’s refusal to face his fears aversely affects Gomamon until Joe overcomes his own self-disgust. He finds his answer in Hikari’s words quoted above: at the end of the day, Gomamon is a dear friend and he needs Joe’s help. Growing up doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your childhood completely behind, nor can one stay a child forever. Sometimes, doing the grown-up thing is as simple as helping a friend in need.