And it’s not just due to his goggles.
Tai and I shared some growing up together. Rather, my younger self was fascinated by his world away from home, as the place I never wanted to visit. There was no way I could actually do anything that Tai did had I been the one sucked into a digital world, with all those really ugly (sometimes cute, sometimes cool-looking) digital monsters hanging around. What I’m sure I could have handled was staying alive long enough under his guidance.
Tai Kamiya is the leader of the DigiDestined in 1999’s Digimon Adventure. It was a weird show—much more intense, and less kid-friendly than its pocket monster predecessor, Pokémon. I loved every minute of it for its focused fantasy and sci-fi adventure. I also loved each of the misfit kids with distinct personalities and real world problems to overcome, all handled with some measure of maturity.
Digimon was full of dangerous situations I wasn’t quite sure they’d get out of. The show had suspense, and stupid gags that I probably had no right chuckling at. And that oh so terrible Reggae-influenced victory song that played way too many cringe-worthy times.
But most of all, I loved that damned Tai.
There was something about that kid. Tai was not exactly the smartest of the lot, but he began and continued throughout the original series’ run as the most courageous, though at one point has some self doubt when he triggers the evolution of SkullGreymon, which makes him lose confidence. It’s a turning point in his own journey and an event he must overcome to grow. It could be argued that his dim-witted persona made it easy for him to go headlong into danger without really considering consequences. That’s probably true, if only partially so. You see, Tai is just that type of person. The sort of brave one who was quick to make decisions and take control in any given situation.
Tai tended to be too good and acted in the interests of what he thought was best for the group, not for his own well-being. He let his fists do some talking at times, didn’t always come up with the best plans but rarely backed down from a fight. He was a go-getter and motivator. Considerate and caring under his somewhat rough exterior, Tai’s biggest worries and concerns were for his little sister, Kari.
In Episode 48 “My Sister’s Keeper”, it is revealed that Tai had the good sense to not leave his sick sister at home alone (where their parents were though...well, who knows?) but for “selfish” reasons—attributed mostly to the primary interests of any young boy—took her out to the park because he really wanted to play football. The exertion and being outdoors strained Kari’s already fragile health, and she ended up in the hospital where she almost died.
Tai held on to the guilt of almost killing his little sister for which he believed he should always atone for—consumed with fears of being unable to protect her too as an older brother should. This becomes a source of tension for him on the adventures in the digital world carried from the real world.
It’s true all of the DigiDestined each have their defining traits, flaws and burdens to bear with every story just as personal, even if a little clichéd at times—but these are what made the show really great. This aspect of Tai’s backstory gave me mixed emotions. It was incredibly gutting that he shouldered that weight but at the time, it really made me feel awful when Tai lashed out at poor Izzy in that episode for making a rare mistake. It was uncharacteristic of Izzy but morso, uncharacteristic of Tai to behave so unkindly.
That conflict was sad to watch, along with the deaths of the digimon that the group couldn’t save. Digimon hit those emotional points well which was not what I was expecting from a show in its designated time-slot, aimed at a particular demographic.
Re-watching the scene after all these years, it’s even worse seeing Tai’s face the moment his mother yells at him after slapping him for making the decision that almost killed his sister. It was a poor, unfortunate decision without any malice—mistakes by an eager child, with no real concept of the gravity of a situation and a quick, hard lesson in forced responsibility. But it’s one that surely helped shaped his leadership skills, and his caring nature having an understanding of the fragility of life.
Tai’s antics, goofiness, sense of adventure, big hair and his goggles really appealed to me (I bought a pair of goggles once during my Digimon craze. No regrets) the most of all the characters. His willingness to admit his failures, his openness, and his lack of hesitation in doing so made him the most down-to-earth.
Most of all, he wasn’t a self-proclaimed “too-cool-for-school” punk hiding emotions under spiky hair and an icy persona—like Matt.
And that alone makes Tai the absolute best.
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