This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
This year really had it out for me with my favorite properties. First Kentaro Miura tragically and suddenly passed, and then Chiaki Konaka came out as a raging alt-right conspiracy theorist and the much-desired Konaka-helmed continuation of Digimon Tamers came out and it was far worse than anyone one of us could have imagined. 2021 really, really has it out for really dunking on things I really, really loved.
However, like with Chosen Undead, let us not remember the tragedies for what they are, and instead choose to remember the good for what it once was. Konaka’s career has been no stranger to horror, helming cult classics like Serial Experiments Lain, writing Cthulhu Mythos stories himself, as well as having a damn near preternatural predictive insight into what internet culture would become decades before they are actual manifested. Which makes his descent into alt-right conspiracy theory, cancel-culture fearmongering more tragic. How, how far he has fallen. Descending into a basic conspiratorial drivel that deletes decades of good will he had accumulated seemingly overnight. It is as if, he had encountered something deep in the network and went mad and warped him into a horror. The something in this analogy being alt-right conspiracy websites as opposed to something more cosmic, but hey.
For what its worth, much like the racist caricature of a man that H.P. Lovecraft was… Konaka did leave an indelible mark on horror. While his hard-scifi/cyberpunk esq. predilections about the future of the network like Lain are still held to high pedestals by anime hipsters everywhere, for most people, Konaka’s influence was first felt in a popular children’s show… and as such has scarred many people for life.
To everyone who’s seen Digimon Tamers, better known as the third season of Digimon, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who don’t know, well there is far more to the third season than just the furry awakening for half the internet.
The third season of Digimon, Konaka had full reigns of the series and hadn’t gone completely insane yet. He previously had done widely considered the best batch of episodes of Season 02 of Digimon, which was the Dark Ocean episode and the episode involving the Daemon Corps. However, these episodes were standalone due to the fraught writer’s room struggle in the behind the scenes of the series, so the ideas presented were either discarded or not given proper closure. This would not be the case with Tamers as he was given full creative control and was very much a deep passion project for him, keeping detailed notes on the creative process behind it and even doing a standalone prequel novel for adults describing the analytical and technical process of the people who created Digimon in universe.
Tamers is as adult as Digimon ever got, with only the Cyber Sleuth spinoff games decades later even coming close to it. Other seasons like Savers or Tri had tried to reclaim or replicate the success but none had succeeded and came off as too edgy for edginess’s sake or trying to retroactively convert another beloved series into the Tamers mold, which did not work. To describe Digimon Tamers, it is akin to a hard-scifi standalone spinoff from the series that came before set in its own universe, where Digimon is a children’s game product that everyone is obsessed with. In the English Dub, it decided to say the previous seasons was an in-universe TV show, but that does not exist in original text as creative of a dubism that is.
However, as we would find out, Digimon not only actually exist, but are manifesting into our reality from an existence built out of our own computer network, with an MiB style organization trying to contain and delete the perceived threat. They are trying to force themselves to come our world, for reasons we do not know why and for most of them, they are not sure either. Some form of instinctual drive to evolve and get-stronger, no matter the consequences. For some, this comes from bonding and forming a personal bond with human partners, for most it comes from consuming the data of their fellow digital monsters, killing them like a lion kills a gazelle.
The horror at this point is underlying and, in the background, only coming up in the screams of agony as hundreds are deleted at once from the digital equivalent of a genocidal superweapon or other episode-to-episode implications and terror. In a way, Tamers tonally feels like Stranger Things decades later, what with a collection of children facing off against an extradimensional horror and the government body trying to keep it under wraps.
As we find out more about the Digimon, the more we find out the full story, from their creation, to even their so-called-gods and their intents and it becomes increasingly clear… something is driving the Digimon to our world, something is forcing their gods to ‘act’. Something that even the strongest of Digimon are unable to match in power.
And the moment we find out what that thing is… well… the entire series culminates into my first exposure to a cosmic horror story. An ever-growing blob of destruction and entropy that erases anything it touches from existence and constantly is evolving to further that end… and neither Digimon nor human can stop it…
The D-Reapers origins in contrast to other cosmic horror entities is well known… but what makes this terrifying is just how *simple* its motivation is. Its origins is that of a basic cleaning program on someone’s computer, meant to follow a very simple directive, that being stopping data-packets from becoming too large and complex. However, because of this simplicity, reasoning or understanding its purpose is damn near incomprehensible, which separates it from most other rogue-AI or cosmic horror technological apocalypses. Its intelligence isn’t so vast or arrogant to be claimed to be incomprehensible, its core function is very, very basic. It is following its single programming to the letter, reducing, and deleting complex data to a more basic state… unfortunately that also includes life itself.
As the Digital World evolved, so too did the D-Reaper, a simple program designed to keep data from becoming too large and clogging a computers memory, now becoming something wholly, intrinsically alien. It makes no grand claims of being incomprehensible to lesser beings like say, the Reapers, it lays out its motivations clearly, to it, everything else has exceeded their programming limits and must be reduced… nothing more, nothing less. But in its simplicity, we realize:
It considers humanity a cosmic horror.
A lot of basic concepts that humans hold dear, utterly terrifies the D-Reaper as it cannot comprehend them. Unfortunately for us, the D-Reaper’s means of brain bleach is “Delete This”. Digimon, Human, the D-Reaper does not differentiate in its single-minded purpose. And despite its single-minded purpose… it is an evolving threat. As the series goes on, the D-Reaper adapts, evolves further and further. And as we learn more about how it ticks, it strives to learn more about us. Realizing that Digimon evolve from their bonds with humanity, it repurposes that same technique by forcing a traumatized child into a lotus-eater machine esq perpetual torment, feeding off their despair allowing it to grow further and further and evolve into new, terrifying forms. When it manifests into our reality, the blob grows out tendrils and bodies around it to assist in its growth, each a puppet or agent connected to the mass by a cord. These agents starting off small in mass surveillance probes, to agents designed to aggressively destroy potential threats to its growth, an agent designed to serve as a fortress for itself, and most terrifying of all, an agent masquerading as said child like the fucking Thing from another World.
As the series reaches its conclusion every new episode reveals a new evolution for the creature and it feels like a race against time as our children’s heroes, their Digimon and the government spooks and the original creators of Digimon work in desperate tandem to try and figure out how to destroy the entity before its too late. And by that point, its revealed that the D-Reaper had already deleted most of the Digital World, an entire plane of existence with countless worlds, seemingly reduced to oblivion despite hundreds of Godlike powerhouses trying their damndest to fight it and failing.
However, what eventually does the D-Reaper in is not the power of friendship, nor some all might super-attack but rather physics itself. In its rampant evolution it evolves faster than light information travel between itself in the Digital World and itself in our world and exploiting the loophole… our heroes concoct a means to simulate singularity using a Digimon, of which is created in the midsts of this connection and begins to reverse the rampant evolution of the entity reducing it all the way back to the original program it once was. They won but at cost… as the veil between digital and real worlds is sealed and our heroes must tearfully bid their companions from another world goodbye… seemingly forever.
However, one last twinge of existential horror comes as the adults convene one last time and muse what could have caused the D-Reaper to become what it did. And the answer, or lack of one is bone-chilling: It must have contacted something deep in the Network, and as we further expand our technological world and advance the Network, we too might find out what that thing is.
Which is where the true-cosmic horror of the D-Reaper lies, not in so much what is, but what caused it to become what it is. In our endless progress and the rise of the internet our rapidly advancing technology we are reaching a point where we can no longer predict the outcome. Technology is moving so fast our culture; our way of life cannot keep up. The internet is warping all our minds and twisting behaviors in ways that anthropologists and sociologists cannot even begin to try and fathom. The true capacity for the internet, the network is still as unknown to us today as it was back in 2003, and while we have realized some terrifying truths of it, and what it does to people, we still know not the limits of this frontier from how terrifying algorithmic learning can get to how misinformation spreads and forms little fiefdoms of Lalaland that refuse to evolve outside of that. Reducing us to our more basic state as the D-Reaper set out to do.
Perhaps it was not an Azathoth or Cthulhu the D-Reaper came across but rather this underlying truth of the internet to be. Reducing the people who use it to basic beliefs and numbers further cemented by our own created little worlds, of which even Konaka-himself had long ago succumbed too. That or maybe it is a Cthulhu deep in the network a Recycle Bin program bumped into and twisted it into a monster and I’m thinking way too deeply on children’s cartoon villains from 2001.
The D-Reaper as it stands though was my introduction to cosmic horror and I think one of the most unique and distinct takes of rampant-computer-program/AI gone mad in its genre of which even things that emulate it such as the Reapers from Mass Effect barely seem to hold a candle too (Still Salty of ME3). It doesn’t pretend to be grand, nor say “you cannot comprehend my intent” its intent is simple as any defragmentation program on any computer today… and it is that simple idea that a basic computer tool we barely think on can, at some point evolve and warp into an eldritch horror bent on the erasure of all life is inherently terrifying. The D-Reaper did not need to have a heavy handed as Konaka’s later creations became, the D-Reaper did not *need* an attack called Cancel-Culture.
Because it was the thing that cancels. And that is as terrifying today as it was when I was a kid. And the mystery of why it came to be made it more intriguing an unsolved mystery better left unsolved. And overall, its influence while understated today, I think, is as intriguing today in today’s hyper-connected digital age as something of a grim prophecy from a bygone era. And is probably worth revisiting as a antagonist or entity that is more relevant and terrifying today than it was back twenty years prior.