Animate Times Digimon Universe App Monsters interview with Youichi Katou

(Lead writer Youichi Katou | Producer Daichi Nagatomi and director Gou Koga)

A translation of this Animate Times interview about Digimon Universe App Monsters, from December 1, 2016, with its lead writer Youichi Katou.

We speak with the lead writer1 of the anime Digimon Universe App Monsters, such as about how character catchphrases are born

Digimon Universe App Monsters (abbreviated as Appmon) is currently broadcasting every Saturday at 7 AM on TV Tokyo Channel 6. As the latest work inheriting the lineage of the Digimon Adventure series that has broadcast since 1999, it depicts a story of various monsters that are based on the theme of apps.

Youichi Katou-san, who is participating in this series as its lead writer, has also been in charge of lead writing for hugely popular series such as Yo-Kai Watch and Aikatsu!. In this interview, we speak with him about this series, but also about the unique catchphrase lines that he has created for other works, such as “Ok-ok-okay!” (Aikatsu!/Kii Saegusa) and “if I say so myself, it’s supremely excellent!” (Dream Fes!/Haruto Mikami).

Youichi Katou’s profile
In charge of screenplays and lead writing for many TV anime series and movies such as Yo-Kai Watch, Aikatsu!, Duel Masters, and Monster Strike. His most recent works include Digimon Universe App Monsters, Time Bokan 24, and Dream Fes!.

Digimon’s strength is in “depicting the near future”

–First of all, to start, please tell us the details of how you came to participate in this series.

Youichi Katou-san (hereinafter, Katou): Bandai made the request of me right at the early stage of launching the App Monsters toy project, and we worked together on considering how we could create an anime to work alongside the toys.

With that, we thought it might be good to talk about artificial intelligence as a theme, so we created a solid plan for the time being. Afterwards, Toei Animation called on me to participate in the anime production.

–What were your impressions when you first heard about the project?

Katou: I thought it would be interesting. The idea of each app having its own monster was inherently interesting, so I thought about what kind of story would be good to create from there. There’s a prediction about artificial intelligence surpassing that of humans by 2045, known as the “2045 problem”, so I thought it might be interesting to make a story that ties into that, and expanded on the idea from there.

–It would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but we’re now in an era where even children are given smartphones and allowed to use them, so is this approach being done to make it familiar to children?

Katou: Correct. Nowadays, things like smartphones, tablets, and apps are things that children will be very familiar with. Because it’s familiar to them, it’s a good entry gate to depicting a digital world. I think one of the most important selling points of the Digmon series is that it shows children the near future and helps them get excited about it.

In terms of all of the Digimon works we’ve had so far, at the time they came out, the world of the Internet, files, and servers weren’t things people would be familiar with. When I thought, “what would the modern version of this be?”, I figured it would be artificial intelligence, but we’re entering that topic using more familiar apps as an entry gate.

–When you watch the series, the fact that it uses apps as a theme gives off the impression that it’s an entirely new series rather than a part of the Digimon franchise, but from your perspective as a creator, what elements have you inherited from the Digimon series?

Katou: Naturally, we wanted to inherit Digimon’s strong point, the feeling of thrill and excitement while experiencing the near future, and we’re creating this series with an important priority of figuring out what’s interesting now and what the modern audience will enjoy, and we came to this result.

–So you mean that this came about as a result of considering the current times.

Katou: That’s right. Artificial intelligence is becoming a hot topic that’s starting to show up in current news every day.

–It seems like you’re working on several things at the same time right now, but what they all have in common is that they’re all animated series that are fundamentally targeted at children as a primary audience, but can be enjoyed together with their parents. Is there anything you pay particular attention to when you create that kind of story?

Katou: The first thing is, naturally, that the child has to enjoy it. That’s the absolute first part. For the sake of the work, that’s the absolute first part, because I think, when parents see their own children having fun, they have fun too. They see their children laughing, imitating the characters, singing, and dancing. From there, the parents start watching the TV over their children’s backs. So in that case, I want parents to also have fun and for everyone to enjoy it as a family.

One thing that I think is necessary for adults to also enjoy it is that the characters’ emotional progression should not be too anime-like. Since it’s an anime, it’s only natural for a lot of extraordinary things to happen, but I think the most important point is that if the emotional progression isn’t natural, people will start going “oh, yeah, this anime is for kids.” You could say that it’s like the heart got detached from the story.

Another thing is that, if you refrain from making choices along the lines of “it makes for an interesting story, but the kids probably won’t understand it, so let’s not do it,” that’ll become important to the reason why adults can also enjoy it. Each and every time, I think “what’s the most interesting story I could make for this series?”, so I’m not particularly thinking of only choosing story premises that children would understand. For example, in the case of Appmon, there’s a plotline where the navigation app starts going bad, and the users end up getting lost.

So when I started doing that, the evaluation criteria for a children’s anime that would naturally come up was “children don’t really use navigation apps, so maybe we shouldn’t do this.” But if it’s something that’ll be an interesting topic and suitable for the series, I don’t think too hard about it and just go for it. That said, I still put proper thought into how to make it in such a way that it’s understandable for children.

How to create good catchphrases that you want to say without thinking too hard about it

–It seems you come up with a lot of characters with catchphrases that leave a strong impression, so what kind of process do you go through when coming up with them?

Katou: Firstly, once the character lineup is finished, I start by deciding “this character should have a catchphrase.” After that, I narrow down lines for them to use, but I use my own different kinds of criteria to judge what to use.

For instance, Gatchmon is the main character for this series, so in order to show off the difference from other series, I felt it’d be good for him to have the word “search” in it, and use forceful words and a sharp manner of speaking.

In the case of Musimon, he gets along very well with his partner Torajirou, and they’re always in good spirits, so they use the line “do I feel it or not? I totally feel it!” as if they’re conversing with each other. It’s an interaction that shows off how well they get along with each other, and it’s also something they can use to judge differing conditions and what they think about them. Also, I think about what kinds of lines can be used on social media, as much as possible.

–In that exact vein, Aikatsu! also has a lot of phrases that roll off the tongue well, like “Ok-ok-okay”, so do you think about the rhythm of the words?

Katou: I also keep things like wordplay in mind. Also, when the cast members got together, I saw them all saying their respective characters’ catchphrases, so I think I did a good job with creating them.

–Why was the main character, Gatchmon, made into a search Appmon?

Katou: Bandai determined that from the very beginning. I think the idea was that, since, naturally, searching is something that everyone does, it was a suitable fit for the main character. On top of that, we were talking about how to deal with the topic of artificial intelligence, and we learned that artificial intelligence and the concept of searching are inseparable. You could say that when you have an artificial intelligence textbook, the concept of search will always be listed first.

Once Gatchmon was created, we decided on having artificial intelligence as the story theme, and it was only when we looked back on it that we realized that artificial intelligence and searching had such a deeply intimate relationship (laughs).

–Since you’re supervising the entire story of Appmon as a whole, what aspects are common to all of it?

Katou: Mainly, I pay close attention to making the story easy to understand, so that you can intuitively understand what’s going on within the anime. I avoid having an occurrence of any period of time where it’s hard to understand what’s going on.

In this case, while apps and smartphones are things that children are familiar with, there are still a lot of things that we’re better off explaining. For instance, things related to the inner workings of the Internet, or what kinds of apps exist.

There are stories that make you think “what’s this?” followed by “oh, it was actually this,” but if there’s any period of time where you don’t understand what’s going on, you’ll lose the audience for that long, so I’m very thorough about getting rid of that.

–What kind of research did you do when producing this series?

Katou: For this one, the first thing I did was start reading books or Internet articles about the subject. The other thing I did was speak with Youichirou Miyake-san, an expert on artificial intelligence. I received a lecture from him, and I’ve started incorporating what I learned from him into the story.

–Was it more like receiving a lecture from him, or were you having a questioning session with him?

Katou: Both. We spent a lot of time on it, and I asked him about all of the things that interested me about it.

–Since it’s a series for children, are there any particular messages you want to convey to the children through the series?

Katou: With every series work on, I always hope that people will watch it and that it’ll help them take on a more positive outlook on life, and the same applies for Appmon. If we’re going to be releasing an anime to the world, I think it would be a good thing for it to have some positive effects on people’s daily lives. For example, in the first episode, the premise of them defeating their enemy with “read and ignore” is based on that concept. It’s in the sense that people who don’t care too much about unpleasant things can live more positive lives.

Also, there’s an ultimate message that’s particularly unique to Appmon. It’s that I want them to think about all sorts of things with a sense of kindness. It’s in the realm of how we should accept artificial intelligence, which can be said to have both positive and negative things about it.

–Recent years have even seen Internet etiquette be taught in elementary schools, so I personally imagined that you might touch on those kinds of etiquette issues with apps as a theme. But in the first episode, “read and ignore” appeared and I was surprised, and now that I hear this from you, I understand this better.

Katou: Once the first episode finished, we heard impressions from people who thought “ah, so you’re going to be doing that kind of Internet education,” but that wasn’t what our idea was. “Read and ignore” does have to do with the Internet, but I feel it also applies to everyday life as well. It’s better to not get fixated only on bad things that others say about you, and keep going with a more positive outlook. I wasn’t trying to actively put in things about Internet education, but I did want to put in something that would be helpful when the occasion arises.

–In closing, what do you think is the appeal of this series?

Katou: I think the biggest charm point is that it’s the perfect anime to watch in this era. It’s an era where everyone’s getting passionate about covering apps in themselves, and about artificial intelligence. For instance, there’s been news lately about how artificial intelligence will be taking jobs away from humans.

And in such an era, I think there is no other anime like this that can portray the topic of the relationship between artificial intelligence and humans in such an interesting way for an entire year, so because we picked this as our theme, I’m going to do everything I can do. It’ll be a story with lots of passion and will make you cry, so I hope you look forward to all of it until the very end.

[Transcript/Photos: Arata Isobe]

  1. In literal terms, the role referred to here is series kousei (シリーズ構成, lit. “series composition”. []

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