Happy 5th anniversary, Appmon!

This is a redraw of my favorite scene in the series. The context is a bit of a spoiler, so if you want to know what happened, you’ll have to go watch it for yourself 😊

It’s Appmon’s fifth anniversary today! How?! Has it really been that long already?! I think everyone should watch Appmon (it’s currently on Crunchyroll, if your country supports it), and by that I mean everyone, not just people who already know Digimon. I can approximate my feelings during the entire climax and ending of the series as [INCOHERENT SCREAMING] through all of it. Phryn can probably testify about how we went out to dinner together around the time the last few episodes were airing, and I went on a long and nonsensical rave on the way there because of how emotionally compromised I was. I don’t know of many things that can so tastefully navigate such a delicate balance of being so charming and funny while also sending you into an existential crisis about the potential future of humanity in the current era. It’s like when Mega Man Battle Network predicted the dangers of everyone plugging everything unnecessarily into the Internet, except speaking about those issues as they pertain to society in the present day. Oh, and also, everything hurts (in a good way).

It’s not like I’ve made a particular secret about my tastes in favorite kinds of media (mostly video games and a lot of kids’ franchises), but I also don’t tend to be overly public about it, mostly because I consider it to be somewhat of an extension of my private life, and I don’t like being too public about things that lie outside the realm of my creative work. But of course, being a creative means being influenced by things I like, and I’ve occasionally talked about video games I’m playing or other things I’m interested in, especially since I’ve been thinking of getting more into fanwork lately. (That’s kind of an opposite situation from how it usually is, isn’t it? Usually the stereotype is that you start from the fanwork and branch into original stuff, but I seem to be going the other way around…)

Every so often, I have That One Thing where I absolutely have to drop everything and no-holds-barred plug it, especially if it’s also something that I feel deserves more attention than it’s actually getting. At times like these, I usually end up plugging it obnoxiously until I sound like a zombie chanting encouragement for everyone to try it out. In terms of video games, my usual go-to for this is probably Ghost Trick (which you should also play), but in terms of anime, it’s Digimon Universe App Monsters (shorthanded as Appmon, of course). I think the majority of people who gave it a chance and watched it all the way to the end have given it good to stellar reviews, but the problem is that you have to get past the deceptive-looking premise, and all of the people who gave it a cursory glance and decided it looks too stupid to be a serious narrative (including a certain recent mainstream anime review article from someone who too obviously had not bothered to watch the series in full)…

Since I’ve been in a nasty bout of creative block this and last year, most of the work I’ve been doing has been commission work and stuff for larger projects, but I’ve been biding my time showing up as a regular guest on Jeff Ruberg‘s Podigious podcast covering the Digimon franchise, and I also ran an artbook project for Digimon Adventure 02 (another particular favorite of mine) earlier this year. I have an interesting and, uh, incredibly complicated relationship with this franchise; it’s probably the only one I’ve been following closely longer than I have even Vocaloid (since 2007; I started doing Vocaloid/UTAU work in 2009). But in all fourteen years or so that I’ve been following this franchise, Appmon really stuck out as something particularly special. Considering that there’s a long franchise history and a long list of works it has to compete with for me to hold in such high regard, and considering that all my friends know me as someone who’s way too deep into this franchise, this is saying something when it comes from me.

Look, when people are a little off-put by the premise, especially longtime Digimon fans who are weirded out by how much of a shock it comes off at first, I get it — because I actually was part of the skeptical crowd at first myself! At the time, even though I generally try to be open-minded about the franchise trying new things, I was dealing with a lot of other concerns about where the franchise was going, and I myself was in university studying computer science at the time (I’ve since graduated) and worried that they’d be treating “apps” like some cool buzzword to the point of cringe. But then the second episode featured a callout of people who rely so much on the maps app telling them what to do that they go running around in circles instead of realizing what the problem is, and I, who had once been in a car that had nearly driven through a farm and straight off a cliff for this exact reason, started realizing that maybe this was going somewhere. While the depiction of apps and hacking is somewhat fictionalized, the criticism of over-reliance on IoT and the corporate intrusion into people’s livelihoods (among a lot of other things) is a bit uncomfortably relevant. No, no, when I say I think people need to watch this because what it has to say is actually kind of important, I seriously mean it…

What particularly struck me about Appmon’s coverage of the tech world and its relationship to society is that it had a surprisingly refreshing take on it, one that didn’t necessarily demonize technology as inevitably leading to humanity’s doom — narratives with which I’ve seen dime-a-dozen — nor as something that’s only ever been good for anything ever, but simply bringing up the good things that the improvement of technology has brought us as a society, alongside the concerning things that we’ll have to worry about now that this is a thing. As I said before, I studied computer science in university, so I have a personal interest in the subject and especially in AI, but I’m also uncomfortable with how the direction of Silicon Valley and the rest of the tech world loves to be, as I call it, “overly lacking in humanity”. By that, I mean the trend of how the tech industry loves to pursue things for the sake of it without considering its dangers or what it’s going to hurt.

This series ended up giving me a lot to think about, but it also retained that sentiment of “kindness” and appreciating the little things in life. The deceptive cheeriness hides the true extent of how deep this series goes, but it’s also not just an outer layer; that sentiment and idealism is still part of its core. I have a lot of Words when it comes to people getting the idea that cynical or edgy things are necessarily deeper or more meaningful (I’ll probably have a post about that later), so the fact this series pulled off the balance between those extremes meant a lot to me, especially as we got into the second half and the final arc and I became a sobbing mess over the characters and their story.

The music is really good too! Take it from a self-proclaimed music enthusiast. On top of some amazing BGM by Nakagawa Koutarou, there’s a really good selection of vocal songs composed by Nanahoshi Orchestra, a name that should be fairly recognizable to a lot of Vocaloid fans. They actually went as far as making character songs for this, and, speaking as someone who knows how difficult it is to make duets with this kind of intricacy, I honestly feel it’s on another level, even with the very high standard this franchise has already set when it comes to music. The wordplay in the lyrics is fantastic too. I get the impression that this series must have been made with a ton of passion and thought and love, and seeing this level of detail even go all the way down to the music is just incredible.

So anyway, I think more people should watch Appmon. If you’ve never had contact with anything Digimon before, that’s great, because this is actually a pretty great entry gate; there’s no expectation of prior knowledge, and in fact it’s probably better to not have preconceived notions anyway. If you’re already a fan, despite the difference in how the premise seems, it’s actually a pretty conventional Digimon series with all the right tropes: deep and intimate partner and friend relationships, personal growth and epiphanies, starting off cheery and punching you in the face with emotions later. It’s great. Fantastic use of your time. Might change your life (I’m pretty sure it might not be exaggeration to say it did mine). Go do it!

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