Japan’s Yo-Kai Watch monsters are set to take the world by storm
Move over Pokémon, a legion of new cutesy monsters is haunting Japan and set to invade the rest of the world.
Yo-Kai Watch is a series of manga comics, anime cartoons and computer games revolving around a boy and monsters – Yokai – that he summons with his wrist strap. It is already huge business in Japan.
“We bought a lot – about 20 items – as we can rarely buy them,” says Shoji Takayama, walking out of a shop with his wife, two children and a large plastic bag full of toys.
The family spent about 30,000 yen (Dh1,030) at Yo-Kai Watch Town, a temporary shop in Tokyo’s main railway station. Such is the demand that tickets to get into the store were distributed in online lotteries, allowing up to 432 people to visit every day.
The first group of customers included an 8-year-old boy with his mother and a middle-aged man.
Yuuichi Ishii, who runs the Toy Cats toy store in Tokyo, says the age range of fans is indicative of how popular the monster-collecting phenomenon has become.
The secret to its success, he says, is its cute characters and the non-violent way the main character interacts with them – defeated monsters aren’t killed, they become friends.
Matt Alt, a pop-culture commentator who co-wrote Yokai Attack!, a book detailing the monsters and spooks of Japanese popular culture, says the series draws heavily on folklore archetypes.
“These have been around for hundreds of years as folk tales. And now this series has woven them together to make a new sort of content out of them,” he says.
The protagonist, Keita Amano, is an “average” fifth-grader (about 10 years old) who gets a watch that can summon monsters. With the assistance of a “butler” monster and friends, he fights beings that trouble humans and then befriends them.
“The big difference between Yo-Kai Watch and Pokémon, however, is that Pokémon is set in a pure fantasy world ... whereas Yo-Kai Watch is definitely set in, at least, a version of Japan,” says Alt. “I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular with kids here, because it makes you feel like these monsters could be just around the corner.”
That appeal is certainly paying off for the manufacturers.
Replica versions of the watch worn by Keita – in which medals are placed to produce different sound effects – are in such short supply that their price has rocketed on online auction sites.
Alt says he expects Yo-Kai Watch to become an international smash hit.
“They all work together in what’s called the media mix, where the video game, the comic book, the animation, the toys – all support each other,” he says. “Japanese toy companies have figured out a system for strengthening and cross-promoting their products that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.”
Updated: October 12, 2014 04:00 AM