Digimon seasons tend to start the same way. Protagonist gets digivice, protagonist meets Digimon, protagonist is freaked out by Digimon, bad stuff starts happening, bad Digimon appears, good Digimon fights it, protagonist offers critical edge to help good Digimon win, protagonist and good Digimon affirm partnership. The order of these things may fluctuate, but it’s a reliable first episode script to introduce the main characters, the world, and some of the basic mechanics. This doesn’t change because they’re called Appmon now. While Haru and Gatchmon themselves present new wrinkles, there’s a distinct impression that we’ve seen this before. That’s a far cry from being a great opener, but it’s reassuring in its own way.
Haru’s dream is to be the kind of protagonist he reads about in books that are definitely not Harry Potter. The protagonist thing comes off a little strong, but it hammers home the central notion that he doesn’t think he’s special. He’s a sidekick to true stars like Yujin who strike home the winning goal and win the hearts of all the girls. Other kids even wonder why Yujin and Haru hang out. Yujin, adding some needed subtlety, suggests Haru comes off as kind of “protagonisty” and maybe injecting some self-esteem. That’s really what sets him apart from the other main characters in Digimon (that and the whole reading thing): that lack of confidence that leads him to conclude he isn’t destined for great things. Even Takato, who shared a meek, more passive attitude, never lacked confidence until the reality of actually raising Guilmon set in.
Once the cool toys and monsters show up, every previous main character leaped at the opportunity to show his stuff. Haru literally hides under his covers. Gatchmon, meanwhile, is exactly like many of the “lead” Digimon, only with a high-speed connection. Brave and bullheaded as Agumon, cheerful as Veemon, confident as Shoutmon, sneaky as Gumdramon, this guy shows up expecting a suitable gogglehead and gets… Haru. He’s impressed Haru retained the exposition he blitzed through, but the timidness is a turnoff. You want confidence? Gatchmon insists on dragging Haru through this only because he trusts his own searching ability. We’ve seen partnerships where the human and Digimon have drastically different personalities, but this will be the first time we get that dynamic with the main duo and it’s already paying off.
One of the downsides of feeling like a proper Digimon opener is we’re going to be in “monster of the week” territory for a little while. This is where Appmon can really shine by playing with the concept of corrupted phone apps. Messemon doesn’t quite get the job done in that sense. His havoc of choice is broadcasting private text messages, but the sequence goes so fast and most of the examples are so benign it doesn’t demonstrate the chaos this can cause were he to fight dirty. Gatchmon drags Haru into an AR Field, which looks a little too similar to DigiQuartz for its own good. For all the in-world logic behind them, both are just ways to keep battles out of the public.
Messemon essentially trolling Gatchmon to death doesn’t necessarily make sense for a text app (YouTube comments maybe) but evokes the spirit of the internet well enough. It’s all a long not-that suspenseful buildup to Haru getting frightened, then frustrated, then angry enough to take action and finally accept the Terms and Conditions on his App Drive. He admits he’s a protagonist out of necessity… but since protagonists are often forged from necessity it still sort of works. If nothing else it’s self-fulfilling prophecy.
Once Haru enters the game, things get clever. His ability to enter queries for Gatchmon to search offers something for him to do in battle and shows off his brainpower. The answer to the query of how to stop aggressive texting is brilliant: mark them read and don’t respond. We even have time for more observation from the villain, a quick establishment that realized Appmon can have physical form in reality, and one ominous final shot. For a very by-the-book first episode, it spells out all the potential this show can realize.
Initial Grade: B
- You’d think that in all the books Haru reads, he’d be bound to come across one where the protagonist initially considers themselves ordinary and unremarkable. Guess that’s where “Terry and the Magical World” and Harry Potter differ.
- Yujin tries to assure Haru he has some protagonist in him based on his red jacket and goggles. It comes off as random and panders to Digimon lore a little too heavily, but it’s also generally genre savvy in that it’s the sort of distinctive clothing and fashion choice an anime main character would wear.
- Some wonderfully subtle character building in the way Haru experiments with his App Drive, and later swipes his hand through the transparent Gatchmon. The cuddling and trying to drink from it is cute and funny and all, but it shows a side of curiosity and instinct for exploration that prove to be among his greater assets.
- Haru’s mom blogged about him wetting the bed in fourth grade: worst tragic backstory in anime… or best tragic backstory in anime?
- Rather than Messemon’s general chaos, more attention is paid to sharing the bed-wetting incident with everybody. It lets us read character reactions a little more (particularly Yujin getting all “protagonisty” comforting Haru’s crush), but Mom put that on a blog. Shouldn’t that have been public already and out of the scope of a text messaging app?
- The Apprealize sequence is a perfect modernization of the Digimon tradition of evolution sequences that are flashy, extra, and just long enough to get kind of annoying. You can already imagine rolling your eyes when they string three of these babies in a row.