In the late 90s, two series (more, really, but these two really were similar in a lot of special ways) based on raising battle monsters were going head to head in Japan and quickly, across the world. By the time I was aware of either, Pokémon had already won. I grew up with this winner, both its games and anime, and Digimon was never more than an afterthought to me. When I took notice of it once in a while, I only saw it as a shoddy knockoff of Pokémon, Agumon a Charmander minus its flaming tail.
This was unfair. Digimon’s similarities to Pokémon are surface-level at best, and it is where it is different that both its best and worst features come out. The difference we’re talking about today is evolution. Every Digimon can evolve, and all have 6 stages. The wildly complex details of this don’t really matter, except for the fact that in the original virtual pets that spawned Digimon, you could sometimes screw up, and your Digimon would evolve wrong. The unfortunate results are failure evolutions, and they are not okay. They are more grotesque than any Pokémon, and almost any other Digimon, and it’s amazingly special that you can turn your beloved Agumon into one. In fact, let’s start with the one that Agumon itself, mascot of the series, can become.
If you aren’t familiar with Digimon, it may confuse you that Numemon here is clearly a slug, not a dinosaur. Don’t dwell on it, Digimon is just like this. Numemon is the simplest of the failure evolutions, and really exemplifies the style we see in the early ones. Early Digimon borrowed a lot of their style from the comics of the 90s, especially Todd McFarlane’s work on both Spiderman and his own creation Spawn. However, Numemon and some other early failures remind me more of a very different 90s comic; The Mask. Look at that face and tell me it doesn’t fit. Still grotesque, but comically so.
Numemon is simple, basically just an introduction to the themes of failure evolutions. It is pathetic, weak, and disgusting, not because it’s a slug (slugs are lovely) but because it eats poop and throws it as its main attack, and is in fact the result of you failing to clean up after your pet. Being the first of the failure evolutions, Numemon is pretty simple, but has some fun variants building upon its concept.
KaratsukiNumemon is barely changed, but I like all the new features a little more. The weirder teeth are a win and I love the deranged grin they give it, and the colors on the shell are very nice. Shows how much just a few changes can really spice up a design! It’s also categorized as a crustacean instead of a mollusk for some reason? Weird.
More hilarious is GoldNumemon, a variation of the only final stage made specifically for Numemon. Unlike many final stages, it doesn’t lose anything that was charming about its predecessor but just adds angel wings, jewelry that reminds me of some depictions of Hindu gods, and an eye-bleeding golden sheen. Despite now being a shiny, gaudy Numemon, it still throws poop as an attack. Good. This feels like a parody of the endless shiny angels that Digimon is infested with, and I really love it for that.
Years after the original Digimon debuted, a new storyline came along as an excuse to release redesigns of many classic Digimon, made by a wide array of artists from all over Japan, not just Bandai’s usual team. The basic concept is that the supercomputer that rules the Digital World has attempted to fix overpopulation by releasing a digital virus, which only select species resisted by fusing with the X-antibody, forming new “X” variants.
X Numemon is one of the newest Digimon spawned from this concept and one of the best, with a brand new, absolutely killer pink and green color scheme. The snaggly teeth and blue tongue are beautiful, and the X-shaped eyestalks are something I’ve never seen before. I especially like that they point out at the bottom, like the pointy sunglasses anime likes to give to delinquents. The best feature, of course, is the fact it’s budding out little BABY Numemons! They’re adorable! This is by far the best Numemon, and the fun doesn’t end here.
Numemon’s classic evolution was Monzaemon, a teddy bear that was actually just a costume that a Numemon hid inside. It was a cute concept, but a design without much going for it and really lacking in connection to Numemon. Monzaemon X fixes all that with an overall cuter teddy bear that’s also leaking Lisa Frank-colored slime forming angel wings and a halo. Now THAT is a kindly teddy bear that’s also a slug! It’s so far from my usual style, but the concept and creativity behind it absolutely win me over. It’s also a better link to the angelic GoldNumemon, although I hope that eventually they come up with an X variant for that as well. I’d love to see what they do with this renewed creative spirit.
I promise the rest of these won’t be so extensive. Numemon just has a lot going on!
Anyway, Sukamon is poop, but it’s got a ton of effort and detail put into its design. First off, those gnarly arms. They’re genuinely pretty creepy, with their withered look, and the metal bands all over the fingers are interesting. They don’t really mean anything, that’s just kinda something Digimon does, but they’re neat. Sukamon’s two best features are as follows. First, its mouth goes all the way around its body, allowing its whole top half to pop on and off. Second, its little companion, Chuumon!
Chuumon itself really exemplifies the more cartoonish route the trash digimon take. Its face feels almost like a graffiti logo, simple and flat and striking. With the rounded blobs for ears, it also kinda feels like a Mickey Mouse parody. I really love the lanky proportions and the weirdly human-like feet. In some games, Chuumon is a standalone Digimon that can evolve into all of the failure species, including of course Skukamon! I honestly like it a little more than Sukamon itself.
Not technically a failure evolution, but since its design is a reference to Sukamon, I decided to include it here. It’s not just poop, but metal poop, with a shiny silver body and golden limbs. If you look closely, you can even see an equivalent of Chuumon, named Tyutyumon, riding on its back. The design isn’t particularly detailed, but I like the very artificial face on it. “Dame” means “no good” in Japanese, so I think it’s definitely fair to call this a failure mon. Well, sort of. Because in actuality, Damemon is really…
A ninja! You can see how “Damemon” was actually just a shell around Tuwarmon’s more humanoid body. Tuwarmon just pretends to be useless in order to get people’s guards down. The overall design is only okay to me, one of Digimon’s many shiny humanoids, but it gets a lot of points for that clever concept and transformation between two very different forms.
As with Sukamon, it’s Damemon’s companion that really steals the show. Look at this little scheming bastard! The dull yellow and the stitches give the impression that it’s formed of burlap, or at least wearing an outfit made of it. The slightly sunken eyes give the impression of something else under there, although honestly it could just be darkness with some eyes. Digimon don’t have to have any actual anatomy. Either way, I still like Chuumon a little more, but I really do like Tyutyumon, and it brings something new to the table.
Oh boy, this one is… something. It’s like a pro wrestler minus the torso, beefy arms and legs coming off a humanoid head. This is nightmarish, but comically so. It is WILDLY different from any other design of the era, with no attempt to be cool or even cute. I kinda love it for that, as difficult as it is to love this thing. Nanimon is also a canon foreigner, supposedly an invader from another digital world. This is because it’s a reference to the tamagotchi critter Oyajitchi, basically just a middle-aged man’s head with some legs. He should probably have stayed in his original world, cause the digital realm has done strange things to him.
There are a decent number of plant monsters in Digimon, but few as cool as Veggiemon. I’m not sure why it’s a failure even, it looks rather capable. Its “root” body is nicely
Unlike most of the earlier failures, Omekamon doesn’t lean into a cartoonishly grotesque style, and is rather clean on the surface, with no slime or poop at all leaking out. Instead, Omekamon leans into being pathetic. Omnimon (Omegamon in Japan) is a Digimon often treated as basically the ultimate Digimon ever, a combination of the final forms of series leads Agumon and Gabumon. Omnimon has appeared over and over, with endless fanservice in the form of tons of new variants every time its components get new forms… which is all the time. As an outsider, I don’t really care about Omnimon past the fact that Omekamon is pretending to be one. Instead of a shiny robot man, Omekamon has formed its armor of plastic and hastily scribbled a face upon it, a much cooler face than the one Omnimon actually has. The best feature is that the pen on its back is apparently stolen from an art program. It’s not even a proper weapon! Adorable!
Sorry Omnimon, pathetic is just cooler than being just cool.
In some Digimon media, instead of traditional evolution, all advancement is done through fusion, combining two Digimon to create a new one. When you attempt to combine incompatible Digimon, the result is always Roachmon. My favorite feature, and the one I always notice first, is that mouth with the lovely blocky teeth. What a charming smile! The six arms with the more humanoid proportions are just neat looking, a cool way to translate insect anatomy into this cartoonish form. My only real problem with it is that the shape of the back and the wings don’t really work together well. The skull and crossbones pattern is cool, but the position is just awkward, jutting out of the hunched back at a strange angle. It isn’t enough to ruin the design though, and Roachmon is a nice addition to the garbage mons.
I saved my top three for last, and in no particular order. I chose these cause they exemplify the various themes of the failure class better than any other, which also managed to make them my favorites. Thus is it is fitting that first up is Garbagemon, one of very few further evolutions of the failure Digimon that keeps the themes of garbage and filth.
Garbagemon is incredibly fun, really pushing the more cartoonish vibe. I love the pointy nose and bizarre teeth, and the weird combined Sonic-style eyes fit well. The slimy pink coating is a nice balance of being gross but not too disgusting to be charming. Garbagemon is, of course, a being of garbage, and like Oscar the Grouch spends the majority of its time halfway in a garbage can. I adore its makeshift gear, with its can’s lid for a shield and a bazooka made of tin cans. And of course, it wears a banana peel as a wig and has a cockroach tattoo. This is a failure that has totally embraced the crust punk lifestyle it was thrown into. Who couldn’t get behind that?
Gekomon is a bit of an unusual case, because it normally evolves from a tadpole like you might expect, but anything else in the game it originated in can become Gekomon if they fail to meet the minimum requirements for their regular evolutions. Out of all the wacky, wild, Mask-esque failure mons, Gekomon probably takes it the furthest, with those wildly asymetical eyes and rubbery mouth. The trombone somehow attached to its neck adds a nice dash of color and ties in with its prevo’s musical theme (Japan sees musical notes as tadpoles). My favorite feature, however, might be that tongue, splitting into three tubes. Apparently it’s part of its musical abilities, presumably making a different note with each tongue. Digimon designs don’t often tie into their powers, so that’s really neat!
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Raremon, which is a bit of a first here. I chose to save Raremon for last because it’s very different from the rest of the failure mons, leaning more on the horror-inspired designs of other Digimon. Raremon is played much less for laughs than the other failures, and that goes beyond the design, although we should talk about that first.
Raremon is a gristly, rotting heap of flesh, interspersed with mechanical components. Ribs and wires alike break the skin, really selling that this thing is already dead. My favorite features are concentrated on its head, however. If you pay attention, both of its eyes are nearly on the same side of its head, peering through steel plates bolted to its skin. Then there are those teeth, poking straight outwards with the lip flesh dangling around them. I’ve never seen anything quite like that!
Lore-wise, most Digimon act as if they don’t evolve, but with Raremon we have an explanation of how it ended up the way it is. In Digimon, it is extremely common for later forms to be cybernetic, enhanced beyond their usual limits by machinery. Raremon is a Digimon that has attempted the process of becoming a cyborg and utterly failed, becoming an unliving creature only kept moving by the mechanical implements in its body. Effectively, Raremon is a cyber-zombie, flesh being puppeted by robotics. Raremon is a tragedy, a creature that wanted to be Metalgreymon or Ultimatebrachiomon and just didn’t quite make it. It just gets worse for our dear cyber-globster from there, at least in its best evolution.
Traditionally, Raremon gets a similar plush evolution to Numemon, hiding its horrible form in a cozy mascot suit. That’s thematic for a Raremon who is well cared for and nursed back into some semblance of health, but what happens to a Raremon left to rot? RAREraremon, the only name I could accept for this thing, is a worthy successor to its prevo. It trades blue flesh for green, now more gloppy and apparently translucent, given the glowing core at the center. Its metal plates have grown out to cover its entire head, now sticking straight in the air, with eyes similar to its original eyes all over its top and bottom jaws. From its body sprout multiple extra heads, all with the same blocky teeth. There’s still some metal tubes sticking from its skin, and its base is still a dragging sluggy thing, but now outfitted with tons of humanoid hands to help it crawl along.
It’s very different from Raremon, but it’s also feels like a logical progression, much more than most Digimon ever get. It makes Raremon more powerful while not making it any less deformed and unwholesome, a rare and impressive feat. It also, just possibly, references Hedorah a little? Godzilla’s smog monster is popular in Japan, and there’s something about Rareraremon’s stance that calls it to mind. Am I crazy here? Either way, there couldn’t be a better end to this review. The slimy, putrid, and disgusting failure Digimon are fantastic, and I look forward to seeing what other punishing forms we see in the future.