Gatchmon explaining who and what he is to Haru.
Image: Toei

Every season of Digimon has more or less followed the same basic formula, introducing different groups of chosen children who embark upon epic adventures into physical manifestations of the world’s digital telecommunication infrastructure. But no two seasons have been exactly the same as they’ve each had unique overarching themes and novel takes on the “Digital World.”

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While most people live in complete ignorance of the various Digital Worlds’ existences (most every Digimon series is set in an alternate reality), the franchise has always made the central characters’ journeys important by establishing that the goings-on in the Digital World have a direct impact on the real world. An infected Digimon’s destruction within the Digital World might just be it destroying a house, for instance, but in the real world, a correlating home’s electrical systems might begin to malfunction, necessitating one of the chosen children—the Digidestined—to step in and make things right with a battle.

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In Digimon Universe: App Monsters, though, the story’s markedly different as the focus aren’t Digimon exactly, but rather Appmon, digital monsters who are the embodiments of the various applications that smartphone users download by the millions. App Monsters introduces you to Haru Shinkai, your standard 13-year-old anime protagonist who very much believes himself to be a side character despite the fact that when we first meet him, he’s already got his own signature pair of goggles that all of Digimon’s leading characters have sported in the past.

Haru’s life takes a turn for the fantastical after he stumbles upon a mysterious handheld device known as an App Drive. One day he wakes up to see the icon for his phone’s standard search application literally pushing itself up and out of his screen. As Haru frantically tries to force to icon back into the LCD, he doesn’t realize that what he’s pushing back on aren’t just otherworldly pixels, but Gatchmon, an energetic Appmon who determined that Haru was fated to become his chosen buddy in a fight against a malevolent presence lurking in the depths of the internet (here conceptualized as an unending ocean that links all phones together).

Gatchmon running a search on Haru.
Image: Toei

What’s immediately apparent about App Monsters is that while it’s very much a Digimon adventure aimed at younger viewers, it’s meant for folks who grew up in a world where it’s perfectly normal to have cell phones around all the time and to spend a rather significant amount of time poking around on the internet. Gatchmon takes it upon himself to teach Haru that while most Appmon are naturally friendly and helpful considering their source apps are meant to be tools, they’re quite capable of wreaking havoc too.

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When a malicious messaging Appmon gains access to the secret blog about Haru that his mother runs and then begins sharing embarrassing posts to the larger public, the boy’s alarmed and believes that his personal world’s coming to an end. Gatchmon assures him that by teaming up to fight the messaging villain, they can put things right. But the creature also uses the moment to emphasize to his new friend how important it is to be careful about what kinds of information about yourself that you put on the internet.

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As App Monsters progresses, it hits a lot of the same narrative beats as the previous series, particularly as more App Drive holders with unique Appmon of their own begin to show up and become part of Haru and Gatchmon’s fight to rid the world of corrupted Appmon. But the series does a surprisingly excellent job of cleverly buffing out its cast with kids who feel less like prototypical shonen characters and more like accurate (though heightened) reflections of what kinds of people the present-day internet has turned kids into.

Take Eri Karan, a 14-year-old influencer type who works for an agency that assigns kids to work as brand ambassadors for different applications. She’s famous for being equal parts glamorous and eternally ready to fight people, as her brand is being the center of the universe. Her understanding of the internet as a whole is shaped by the fact that she genuinely wants to use her platform in order to launch a longterm career for herself as an elite gamer—the major drawback to this being that she’s rather neglectful of her partner Dokamon, an Appmon who hails from a fighting game. Torajirou Asuka, a child famous for making “Try Guy”-style videos on App Mon’s take on YouTube, similarly has aspirations of becoming a personality alongside his straightforwardly named Appmon Musimon.

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Dokamon introducing himself to Gatchmon.
Image: Toei

Though each of the chosen children are quite competent at dealing with errant Appmon when push comes to shove, App Monsters takes a considerable chunk of time to explore the ways in which we all have to conscientiously work toward cultivating healthy digital habits as people who live on the internet. In some instances, that means knowing when to log off in moments when you need to recenter and take stock of the real things in your life that are of immediate importance, but in others, it can mean knowing how to properly take advantage of all of the tools the internet provides.

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In each and every episode, as Haru and Gatchmon come face to face with a new threat, they end up finding out how to win by....simply running a search and doing the necessary sleuthing to logic their way through it. It’s a simple enough concept that we’d all do well to bear in mind, but seeing it transformed into a ridiculously wild fight sequence is a particular sort of charming.

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What App Monsters really has going for it is the fact that the series actually finished airing after 52 episodes back in 2017. With the new Digimon Adventure reboot currently on an indefinite hiatus, now’s the perfect time to give App Monsters a shot. If you’ve been craving a few more digital monsters in your life, it’ll have you covered.

Digimon Universe: App Monsters is now streaming on VRV.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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