In an era when everyone wants to peek behind the scenes at the development of their favorite games, it’s harder than ever to separate the final product from the news of its dev cycle. That’s especially true with Digimon Survive, the latest installment in the monster-collecting franchise that was announced in July 2018 for release the following year. That, of course, did not happen. A 2019 release became a 2020 release, a 2020 release evolved into a 2021 release, and a 2021 debut turned into a 2022 finish line. Pandemic delays, an overhaul of the game’s engine, and a complete switch in production teams combined to turn the wait into a seemingly indefinite one.
Of course, this is nothing new for Digimon fans. For years, a dearth of official releases and scattershot localization of the anime meant that the franchise has been kept alive only by fan passion in America. It doesn’t have the almost omnipotent branding of Pokémon, where every big release is a major pop culture event. Instead, Digimon is only as strong as the will of its fan base. But in 2022 that fan base is more than eager to see its favorite batch of monsters thrive.
A far cry from the explosion of Digimon in the late ’90s, the number of games bearing the Digimon logo on store shelves would be reduced to a trickle by the end of 2002. When the anime did finally show up again in the US, it was on short-lived programming blocks like Disney’s Jetix, and some series never even finished their runs. Even now, the latest three series have never been dubbed and aired on American television, though fans can find the Japanese versions on streaming services like Crunchyroll.
However, even though the landscape looks barren, “what allows Digimon to continue growing today is this passion from fans,” says Ravel Carvalho Monte, a notable Digimon enthusiast and the researcher responsible for the Digital World Archive blog. Monte’s love of Digimon actually blossomed during those lean times. He first encountered the franchise through a DVD of the second anime series that he’d watch during school breaks in 2006, while “hundreds of children played with different things” around him, he says. Nearly a decade later, he’d throw himself into fan communities on Facebook and other platforms, even as Digimon was breathing its last on network TV outside of Asia. (The most recent Twitter post for the brand’s TV efforts was in September 2015.)
Monte has made deep dives into the franchise’s history, often aided by The Digi-Lab, a one-person labor of love by its site owner. Translating everything from Japanese chats with artists and writers to CD liner notes, the site allows fans to play catch-up and learn the intentions of the franchise’s creators. “Even when Digimon isn’t airing an anime, there’s already so much content that those fans just continue making new fan content,” Monte says.
Interviews aren’t the only things fans are translating. In 2013, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the anime, a Digimon Adventure game was released by Bandai Namco on the PlayStation Portable. It seemed like the game was destined for a wide release in Europe and North America. But when that didn’t happen, fans stepped in, creating a full English translation patch for it in 2018. Fans gave the same treatment to the similarly region-locked Digimon World Re: Digitize, and though there remains a broad spectrum of Digimon games that haven’t been translated or patched, officially or otherwise, fan perseverance continues to fill in the blanks.
The Digimon community remains strong, albeit on unofficial platforms. The With the Will forums are a popular hub for news and discussion, one can find threads almost 20 years old on Neoseeker’s still functional Digimon section, and the Podigious! podcast regularly revisits older eras of Digimon along with the latest subtitled episodes. For years, Digimon Forum Roleplay has operated as a center for fans who wish to act out their stories of having a Digimon partner, and as I’m writing this, the latest piece of Digimon fan fiction on Fanfiction.net was updated 12 hours ago. (The oldest, 1,673 pages of stories prior, is from December 4, 1999. That’s less than four months after Digimon first appeared on American TV.)