Friday, May 10, 2024

The Power of Kindness

As I finish off Digimon Adventure 02 and as it’s mental health awareness month, I wanted to highlight some of the best character development from the series. From Digimon Emperor to saving the Digi-Destined from Daemon, Ken went through his personal hell to get where he ended up by the end of it all. So let’s start at the beginning. 

Ken and His Brother
Exact dates and years are unclear, but as a young child Ken constantly compared himself to his older brother Sam. Who could blame him? His parents and neighbors frequently praised Sam and Ken felt forgotten. Even when the Digivice appeared to Ken, Sam claimed it was his. How could that not affect his self-esteem? So when he ventured to the Digital World, fought Millenniummon, and was infected by the Dark Spore, there was already plenty of trauma and darkness in his heart for the Spore to feed on. Wormmon warned him that people would try to take advantage of his kindness and he couldn't have known how right he'd be.

The Dark Spore
This feat of dark engineering would feed on a child’s innocence and potential that would make them a Digi-Destined, according to Oikawa. You could compare it to depression, anxiety, addiction, or any other mental health issue. With our world as broken as it is, I believe all of us have “mini traumas” that have shaped the way we look at life. These traumas big or small are like the Dark Spore, feeding on everything good and bad in our lives.

Losing His Brother
Maybe it was the Dark Spore at work or maybe it was some dark coincidence, but the resentment in his heart got Ken wishing his brother would disappear, so he could have the spotlight for once. After his brother’s passing, he felt responsible for it, so add that to his traumas. So when he was drawn to the Dark Ocean, the darkness and self-loathing in his heart overtook him. 

The Reign of the Digimon Emperor
Trying to escape from the traumas of his life, Ken retreated to the Digital World, as his grades and athletics rose to new levels. He had all the adulations he’d ever wanted, but it was never enough. And somewhere along the line he grew to believe that the Digital World was like a video game and his actions were inconsequential there. He could rule and conquer to boost his ego and get that dopamine hit. 

Reality Check and Wormmon’s Rebirth
After his defeat at the hands of the new Digi-Destined, he came back to himself, realizing how real the Digimon were, just in time to see Wormmmon die. With the Crest of Kindness in hand, he walked off from the others. The soul-searching that came afterwards took him through memories of his brother and the Dark Ocean, eventually leading him to return to the Digital World where he reunited with his partner. With the forgiveness of his Digimon, Ken was finally able to begin the process of moving on and making restitution for his wrongs.

Ken's Redemption Story
In the second half of Adventure 02, Ken becomes an integral part of the Digi-Destined team. Eventually the whole team, even Cody, forgive him for his actions as the Emperor. However, multiple events would still occur that would trigger the trauma of what he'd done, including slipping into the Dark Ocean with Kari, facing off against Daemon, and allowing himself to be taken by Oikawa. Even with all the good he'd done for the Digital World to repair his wrongs, he was still haunted by his mistakes. 

A Lesson in Treating Yourself with Kindness
I think the best thing for me that came out of my recent re-watch of Adventure 02 is the less in self-compassion. Interesting since his was the Crest of Kindness. Mention was made multiple times through his redemption arc of the irony that the ex-Digimon Emperor would have that crest; he Digimon was anything but kind. However, even when he changed his ways and was outwardly kind, we never saw his crest glow (and oh how I wish we could have seen Wormmon's ultimate form). Maybe it was because there was no tag. Or maybe it's just plot armor. But equally likely, in my opinion, is how unkind he was to himself during his redemption.

I could reference the confrontation with Daemon (and it's a good one) to illustrate how Ken had to be kind to himself and forgive himself, but I think what proves my point even more is when the Digi-Destined faced off against MaloMyotismon. When the reborn villain cast his illusion over the children, TK had his family back together, Kari saw harmony between both worlds, and Cody and Yolei were presented with fantasies without much previous build-up. However, instead of a fantasy of his brother reborn or of a happy Digital World, Ken's insecurity-based illusion involved him being punished by the Digimon and taken away by his brother (to the afterlife, I guess). It illustrates a level of shame and self-contempt that was not present with the other Digi-Destined. It took the support of Wormmon and his friends to pull him out of the shame-based illusion.

Facing the Dark Spores
Later, as MaloMytotismon fed on the hopelessness of the Dark Spore kids. I've already compared the Dark Spore to the darkness of mental health struggles and it's apparent here. The kids have lost hope and have forgotten their dreams (or told their dreams were worthless). Through the encouragement of the Digi-Destined the kids latch onto their hopes again, even just a little bit. Even just that little bit of hope and self-compassion helped the darkness lose control. How powerful would it be if we could all do that? It's like casting a patronus; you need to focus on the hope in life for any chance of fighting the powers of darkness. 

Sometimes I feel like I've got that Dark Spore in me. By no means have I done anything as atrocious as the Digimon Emperor, but like anyone I have my regrets. Practicing kindness and forgiving myself for mistakes I've made is rough. I think TK said it best in the Adventure 02 epilogue:

"The darkness has not been conquered, and it will continue to fight against the light forever. But as long as people remember to follow their dreams, evil will be kept at bay. And on days like today, it's hard to see any darkness anywhere. Now it's up to our children, and to children everywhere, to follow their dreams. Who knows where they'll end up... But the only way to find out is to take the first step into adventure..."


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