12 Days of Anime: Amnesia and Grief in Science Fiction Done Right and Wrong

12 Days of Anime: Amnesia and Grief in Science Fiction Done Right and Wrong

Digimon has approached grief throughout its life as a franchise, despite how the eponymous digital monsters are inorganic and may be revived when they die. Digimon Adventure Tri, the second sequel series to the original Digimon Adventure, tried its hand at grief over lost memories.

In Confession, the only chance to save the world from destruction is to perform a “reboot” of the Digital World. It will leave the digimon uninfected by darkness, but without memories from before the reboot.  In a series where digimon exist to unconditionally love and support their partners for a lifetime, the loss is immeasurable.

This post contains spoilers for Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02Digimon Adventure Tri and A, A’ by Moto Hagio.

Despite their efforts to quarantine the partners of the digidestined and preserve their memories, all of them undergo the reboot and forget everything. When the digidestined enter the newly reformed digital world to meet their partners, it plays out like a reversal of Adventure‘s first episode. Instead of the digimon well aware of the startled children’s identities and connection to them, this time the matured humans know all about the oblivious digimon. Unlike when Patamon or Wormmon were revived and at least knew Takeru and Ken as their partners, they have no idea of their importance to these kids.

When Hikari realizes Gatomon (Tailmon) no longer has memories of abuse at the hands of Myotismon (Vandemon), she decides it’s for the best. The line is rather throwaway. The complex questions of how abuse influences you as a person or whether someone would want to forget a traumatic experience are left unexplored. Tri seems to not realize that Gatomon forgetting Myotismon also means forgetting her time with Wizardmon, her only friend before Hikari, who eventually gave his life to save them. It shouldn’t be as simple as amnesia wipes away trauma and creates a blank slate of happiness.

All the original eight digimon warm up to their partners, except for Biyomon. She doesn’t see why she should love Sora, a complete stranger, based on memories of a relationship she doesn’t have. It begs the question of what exactly ties a human and digimon together, and what defines their bond. Eventually, seeing Sora in danger compels Biyomon to protect her. It’s compelling, even heartbreaking, stuff. It’s all the more depressing when the gang realizes Meicoomon, the most infected digimon, hasn’t lost her memories or apparently been rebooted at all. Their sacrifice was for nothing; they’ll have to find another way to save Meicoomon and the world. Their digimon may have forgotten them, but they can find meaning in getting to know them again and forging a new kind of bond like Sora and Biyomon… right?

Well, no, because in Future the digidestined manage to unlock the backed up memories of every single digimon. The status quo has been restored. Digimon has always been about wish fulfillment, as isekai or children’s anime tend to, but not when it comes to grief like this. Adventure and 02 balance permanent loss of human loved ones with limited revival of digimon. The digidestined have lost their parents, like Koshiro’s biological parents or Iori’s father. They’ve lost other loved ones, like Osamu to Ken and Hiroki to Oikawa. The digidestined lost many friends of the Digital World, but even when they’re revived in Primary Village they aren’t the exact same. And of course there’s Wizardmon and Blackwargreymon, who sacrificed themselves but cannot respawn because they died in the real world. (Perhaps I’ll dedicate a whole post to grief in Digimon someday…)

In terms of memory loss, let’s look outside Digimon for a point of comparison. Moto Hagio’s science fiction triptych manga A, A’ (A, A Prime) explores memory, communication, trauma, and gender through a species of mutated humans known as Unicorns. In the first of three stories, the clone of a Unicorn named Adelade joins a team of space researchers after her original self dies. The clone A’ only has memory from three years before Addy embarked on the mission, which her teammates quickly notice by difference in demeanor and knowledge. Moto Hagio uses clones to craft a science fiction version of selective amnesia.

At first Addy’s boyfriend Regg resists the clone, claiming she couldn’t replace her, but falls for her again. He tells her about their relationship and the childhood secrets she shared, but she sees no reason to be invested if she doesn’t have the same memories. Like Sora and Biyomon, they have a lopsided relationship. Regg proposes they can build new memories together and fall in love again, but when he uncovers the first Addy’s corpse he resolves to leave the mission and A’ behind. He dies on the voyage and is replaced with his own clown. When the cloned Regg arrives, Addy thinks of his words about falling in love again and decides to tell him about her childhood. She wanted the agency to tell another person about her past, not meet someone who already knew, as the basis for a relationship. Their connection is more lopsided than ever, but distributed in a way that they may work it out this time. It paints a complex picture of amnesia through science fiction that Tri could only dream of, decades earlier. That may have spoiled the whole story, but it’s worth reading if Tri disappointed you.

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