Why did Yo-kai Watch failed in North America?

Why did Yo-kai Watch failed in North America?

It did catch on in its native Japan, but not so much in North America

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This post only applies to the English cast (both original and recast) and not the Japanese original cast.

I took a break from Pokmon Y after finishing the 3DS game back in mid 2014 and later skipped Sun and Moon due to a change in the art/animation style. Cartoon Network had the rights to air the Pokmon anime series expired back in late 2016 prior to the pay TV network had its ownership transferred to Warner Bros. Entertainment around two and a half years later. This begs the question after a four-year-hiatus from Pokmon: Why did Yo-kai Watch failed in North America (specifically, the United States and Canada)? I?m going to teach you why Yo-kai Watch failed in North America including the loss of the original English cast due to budget costs.

What will happen to the Yo-kai Watch fans in North America? Did they move on after the franchise didn?t catch on in North America? Maybe we should find out?

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First experience

If we take a look at the first 3DS game (which I didn?t own, but watched the majority of it on YouTube), if you play as Nate (Keita) or Katie (Fumika), neither one would appear depending on what character you play as. I took a break from Pokmon for the second half of the XY series (prior to Cartoon Network losing the rights to air the anime series in November 2016) and the entire Sun and Moon arc after completing Pokmon Y ? which I didn?t buy it ? but won from a contest at Game Boy Crammer (which is now closed) as my Twitter handle was @CR2JPN at the time before I ultimately changed handles on every social media except Gmail.

The voice actors for the first two seasons (and the first two games) at the time were the following prior to the recast following budget costs, including the fate of them:

  • Johnny Yong Bosch as Nathan ?Nate? Adams (JP name: Keita Amano ? not to be confused with the Gamers! light novel protagonist who has the same name but written with different kanji ?ama? ? ??? rather than ???), Hovernyan (JP name: Fuyunyan), Venoct (JP name: Orochi), etc.; known for voicing Bleach?s own Ichigo Kurosaki, as well as Persona 4?s own Yu Narukami. He later moved on to voice Mansaku Y?ichir?/Trevor Cook in Inazuma Eleven Ares.
  • Joey D?Auria (credited as ?J.W. Terry?) as Whisper and Robonyan (anime series only), additional voices.
  • Alicyn Packard as Jibanyan, Komajiro, Mrs. Adams (English dub name: Lily Adams, JP name: Keita?s mother/Mrs. Amano), etc. Fate is currently unknown.
  • Melissa Hutchison as Katie Forester (JP name: Fumika Kodama), Komasan, Kyubi (JP name: Kyuubi), etc. + Clementine in The Walking Dead episodic video game and Ashe from League of Legends PC game; later moved on to voice Bianca the rabbit sorceress in Spyro: Reignited Trilogy.
  • Brent Pendergrass as Edward ?Eddie? Archer (JP name: Kanchi Imada), Mr. Adams (English dub name: Aaron Adams, JP name: Keita?s father/Mr. Amano), etc. He later stated that he will not be doing any more Yo-kai Watch projects as stated on his Twitter. Fate is currently unknown.
  • Paul Greenberg as Barnaby ?Bear? Bernstein (JP name: Gorota ?Kuma? Kumashima) and additional voices. Fate is currently unknown.
  • Meyer de Leeuw as Nathaniel Adams (JP name: Keiz? Amano) ? both in the movie adaption and the second game and Kenneth ?Kenny? Forester (JP name: Fumiami Kodama) ? second game only, does not appear in the movie adaption + Nate Adams (Blasters only) and Venoct (third game only). Fate is currently unknown.
  • Jenn Wong as Spoilerina and Mermaidyn, etc.

Plus additional cast for the video game exclusives:

  • Todd Haberkorn as Steve Jaws (notable for voicing Natsu Dragneel in Fairy Tail), second and third game only
  • Mark Risley (Fate is currently unknown.)
  • Danny Katiana as Robonyan (Games only; fate is currently unknown.)

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The original Yo-kai Watch game received a score of 36/40 from Famitsu, with its sequel Yo-kai Watch 2 also scoring 36/40. Yo-kai Watch 2 won the Grand Prize in the Japan Game Awards. It also won 3 other awards: The Best Sales Award, and two Excellence Awards (for the 2nd game and its third version). In 2014, Yo-kai Watch?s manga in CoroCoro Comic won the 38th Kodansha Manga Award in the Best Children?s Manga category. In the following year, it also was awarded the Best Children?s manga at the 60th Shogakukan Manga Awards.

Image for postNate Adams (left) and Katie Forester (right)

When the anime first aired, in 2014, the franchise became really popular in Japan. By February, the first game, which originally sold only 53,654 copies, was at over 500,000 shipped and the anime was surpassing Pokmon in the TV rankings; being compared to it and being dubbed the ?Pokmon Killer?. By the second game?s release, the first game had sold 1,195,287 copies and the second game surpassed that at release at 1,316,707 copies. The third version also impressed, at 1,244,171 units.

Second game and second season, including budget costs

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I bought the second game after I skipped the first game since I had Yo-kai Watch Wibble Wobble (removed in the western markets after the end of May 2018 due to license expiration). I used YouTube to help what to go next as I did with Pokmon Y. Sun and Moon started as a sneak peek ? which later became a premiere on Disney XD ? but I refused to purchase Sun and Moon for the 3DS because of an art style change and the main protagonist (Satoshi/Ash) attending school with his classmates ? none of which traveled with Ash, like in both real life and in fiction. And, so far, Suiren/Lana is the only female companion ever to wear pants, as opposed to the other female companions wearing either shorts or skirts who previously traveled with Ash (Iris wears calf-high leggings as pants under a pink skirt).

The second main game in the series, was released in Japan on July 10, 2014 as two versions, Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls. Yo-kai Watch 2 expands the areas to be explored, with nearly 100 new Yo-kai in the present day of the Kemamoto region (called Harrisville outside of Japan) and the past, where the player time travels to meets traditional Yo-kai and sees their grandfather, who made the predecessor to the Yo-kai Watch. A third version, Psychic Specters, was released on December 12, 2014 to coincide with the first Yo-kai Watch film Yo-kai Watch: Tanj? no Himitsu da Nyan!. Psychic Specters featured characters and scenarios not initially included in Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls.

Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls were localized in English and released in the United States on September 30, 2016 (April 7, 2017 in Europe). The localized Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls received the Oni Evolution update on September 14, 2017, making those games compatible with save data from the western release of Psychic Specters on September 29, 2017.

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Dentsu Entertainment USA announced in April 2014 that they were seeking broadcast and merchandising partners in North America for the anime. The anime began broadcast as a 26-episode season on Disney XD on October 5, 2015, with the official Yo-kai Watch YouTube channel posting episodes a month later. Since the show had performed well, a second season (no relation to the Japanese second season) with an additional 50 episodes was broadcast on August 1, 2016. The third season premiered on July 2, 2018, on Disney XD US, and ended on December 29, 2018. In 2019, Disney XD removed the Yo-kai Watch anime from its lineup due to low ratings. The first season?s first volume was released on DVD by NCircle Entertainment on February 26, 2019, and one version of that set comes with a free comic book. The first season?s second volume was released on September 3, 2019.

I did cosplay Nate on Halloween 2018 and then again in May 2019 while I got an iMac from PC Richard (NY metro area only!) because my Windows laptop is not 2020 compliant (which, in fact, Microsoft is ending support for Windows 7 in less than four months).

The first movie was also brought over, as a special screening one day screening, on October 15, 2016. This was only in the US, via Fathom Events. Those who attended got a Hovernyan medal. Outside of the US, the first season and the movie are currently streaming on Netflix.

Image for postKeiz? Amano/Nathaniel Adams (right)

The English version of the anime dub used a cast from Bang Zoom! Entertainment for the first two seasons and the first two games, but they were replaced in the third season with actors from SDI Media due to budget costs. The third season?s cast (except the majority of them marked with ? means that they refused to reprise their roles in the third game) were the following:

  • Griffin Burns (+ role reprisal in Yo-kai Watch 3; later moved on to voice Okuiri Hiro/Csar Montalbn (spelled Cesar Montalban when the accented letters are not available) in Inazuma Eleven Ares)
  • Michael Sorich (+ Tessai Tsukabishi in Bleach) ?
  • Kira Buckland (+ Rulue in Puyo Puyo Tetris) ?
  • Katie Leigh as Usapyon (+ role reprisal in Yo-kai Watch 3 before leaving the franchise forever)
  • Reba Buhr ? (Fate is currently unknown since she left the franchise forever.)
  • Tony Azzolino ? (later moved on to voice G?jin Tetsunosuke/Adriano Donati in Inazuma Eleven Ares)
  • Bryce Papenbrook ? (later moved on to voice Koz?maru Sasuke/Basile Hardy in Inazuma Eleven Ares)
  • Erica Harlacher as Inaho Misora/Hailey Anne Thomas (+ role reprisal in Yo-kai Watch 3; would later move on to voice Masakatsu Hiyori/Kiko Calavente in Inazuma Eleven Ares)
  • Christine Marie Cabanos as Komajiro (+ Amitie in Puyo Puyo Tetris and Filia in Skullgirls 2nd Encore; later moved on to voice Hattori Hanta/Nino Nango in Inazuma Eleven Ares) ?
  • Bobby Galebi ? (Fate is currently unknown since he left the franchise forever.)
  • Peter Michail ? (Fate is currently unknown since he left the franchise forever.)
  • Brian Beacock (previously voiced Hideyoshi Toyotomi (uncredited) in Samurai Warriors 3) ?
  • Christopher Corey Smith (previously voiced Nobunaga Oda (uncredited) in Samurai Warriors 3; moved on to voice Zhao Jinyun/Mister Yi in Inazuma Eleven Ares) ?
  • Cristina Vee (+ Cerebella in Skullgirls 2nd Encore and Morgiana in Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic; moved on to voice Mikado Anna/Regina Mulgrave in Inazuma Eleven Ares) ?

There was some backlash on the new cast from some fans, which caused the franchise to come to an end after the third season, which happened towards New Year?s Eve 2018 and New Year?s Day 2019.

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Yo-kai Watch: Shadowside replaces Nate and Katie (both of which are married as adults and are Yo-kai Watch veterans, as they retain their trademark hairstyles) with Keisuke and Natsume Amano (no English dub names) for protagonists.

Taking place after the events of the fourth film, the series centers on Keisuke Amano, Natsume?s brother who doesn?t believe in supernatural phenomena. But as he notices his sister is frequently comes back home late, he decided to stalk her, only to find out she is exorcising evil Yo-kai and running a Yo-kai detective agency. With their secret revealed to him, Natsume decided to let him tag along in her activities as they investigate Yo-kai crimes and take on evil Yo-kai to maintain peace all over the city.

Meanwhile, Shutendoji (the one who had planned all the evil, as seen in an epilogue at the end of the fourth movie), accompanied by his Yo-kai bodyguard Doketsu, is in search of the ?princess? that he has hoped to unite with, over the events of the anime. They both search for the ?princess? while in their human disguises, and observing the actions of the Yo-kai detective agency.

Even the president of Level-5 (and the franchise?s creator), Akihiro Hino (pictured below), was surprised by Yo-kai Watch?s popularity. ?While I did believe that it would get its break, honestly, to have it come this far, where the children of Japan would get so hopped-up on Yo-kai, to the point where all the goods would sell out, is something I didn?t expect.? They were the second most popular characters in Japan, in a survey by Video Research Ltd. Explanations for its popularity ranged from catchy songs and dances, to being something parents and kids could enjoy together, to ?weird adults? not being interested in it. Hino himself said that it was the relatable characters and situations relatable to modern kids that made it popular.

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This also translated into toy sales, racking in 55.2 billion yen for Namco Bandai. Yo-kai Watch toys were frequently out of stock; people having to wait in lotteries to get a Yo-kai Watch and search hard for medals. Other merchandise had to wait longer because of the long licensing wait times. This demand made it the second highest product in Nikkei Trendy that year.

Third game and discontinuation in North America

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The third game bought back the original cast (minus Bosch) from the first two seasons and the first two games, while Griffin Burns would reprise his role as Nate one final time.

Nathan Adams (Keita Amano in the Japanese release) has moved from the upstate American city of Springdale to the southern town of ?BBQ? after his father was transferred (in the original Japanese release, the move is overseas from Japan to America). The yo-kai around BBQ have corresponding ?American? looks and abilities. Unlike the first two games, the player is not given the choice to select between Adams and an equivalent female protagonist, Katie Forester.

Meanwhile, back in Springdale, which served as the setting for the first two games, Hailey Anne Thomas (Inaho Misora in the Japanese release) is now a playable character who has formed a y?kai detective team. The third game only sold around 2,000?4,000 copies in the west, due to its rarity and many stores in North America (and Amazon.com) only receiving two or three copies.

When I first reviewed the game I later found out that the original cast (Johnny Yong Bosch originally landed the role of Keita/Nate for the first two seasons and the first two games prior to being replaced due to said budget costs) from the first two games and the first two seasons reprised their roles one final time instead of the whole season 3 cast.

The reason why the franchise failed in North America? Here?s why, along with the decline in viewership of the show, with the increase of recurring Scrappy characters, Toilet Humor, the mischaracterization of several popular Yokai from the games, Flanderization of several characters, and, in the case of the English dub, the changing of the voice actors for the third season:

Despite not meeting Level-5?s expectations in the United States, the franchise still enjoyed a successful U.S. launch, with the original 3DS game selling 400,000 units (200,000 units for the second game, and 4,000 units in the third), as well as toys and an airing of the TV series on Disney XD. However, interest in the Yo-kai Watch franchise steadily declined as The Pokmon Company built hype for its Pokmon Go smartphone game and the seventh installment in the mainline game series, Pokmon Sun and Moon. Although Hasbro still produces and manufactures the Yo-kai Watch toy line in areas such as France and Italy, the line was discontinued in the United States in 2017.

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Unlike in its native Japan where it experienced a short period of great popularity, Yo-kai Watch had an overall underwhelming performance in the United States. Although it got off to a promising start in that region, with the original game selling at least 400,000 units there as of 2016, the sequel, Yo-kai Watch 2, sold less than 200,000 copies in comparison. The anime series was Adored by the Network for a few months and even got its first movie aired on TV quickly. However, the anime never picked up much steam and the most viewed episode had only 500K viewers (less than half of what an average episode got in Japan). Things got worse when the more popular Pokmon was given a Channel Hop to Disney XD.

Image for postIt?s game over for Yo-kai Watch in North America.

A combination of Invisible Advertising, competition with other shows on the network, and long periods of no new episodes led to the anime being dropped midway through season 3 and replaced with Inazuma Eleven: Ares in April 2019 (which, in fact, caused the characters? dub names reverted back to their Japanese originals, and the Yo-kai Watch license in North America was later expired).

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Despite the franchise?s unsatisfactory western response, it maintains a cult following. The franchise is also popular in Europe, with the original game?s sales outpacing the Japanese release as of October 2016.

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I can remember Yo-kai Watch is one of the interesting franchises following the break from the Pokmon franchise back in the days where there was the original English cast. It?s always sad when a franchise didn?t catch on in North America as it had only 500k viewers per episode, and in this case that flopped franchises that originated in Japan with the English dub cast, cheaper or not, are forced to have the franchise to be completely dropped in North America. It?s sad as we don?t get to see more of the franchise (specifically, the anime series, toys, medals, and video games) in North America anymore, except we still have the spirit for it as Pokmon gains a lot of popularity both in its native and outside of Japan, but we can at least know that the original and the third season?s cast are alive and well and have moved on to other projects.

It is later stated that Yo-kai Watch 4 will have a western release date, but it is currently unknown that Griffin Burns will be reprising his role as Keita/Nate again. Not only that, but flopped franchises like this, while they remain popular in its native Japan, will have its NA license expired. Yo-kai Watch Wibble Wobble was taken down from the App Store and Google Play at the end of May 2018 and Yo-kai Watch Land at the end of 2018.

Update 2020/03/10: Yo-kai Watch 4 earned an acclaimed flop, as it only sold less than 200,000 for the Nintendo Switch version compared to Pokemon Sword and Shield. The 4++ version re-release ultimately faced the same fate, as less than 10,000, and the PS4 version now has 3,000 units sold. The series also returned on Disney XD for one final attempt, using only the 3rd season?s reruns.

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And lastly, Yo-kai Watch isn?t plain dying. It was discontinued in North America completely (Canadian children?s TV networks, such as YTV and Teletoon, have stopped carrying the series in mid/late 2017 and has refused to air the third season). As of October 2019, four years after its North American debut, Yo-kai Watch 4 was released in Japan, it is currently unknown if it will have a western release date, nor it will stop using localized names despite Level-5 expressing interest in localizing the game and the films.

Thanks to the original and the third season?s cast for their hard work, and best of luck in the future!

Update: It?s worth noting that Viz Media still licenses the manga adaption (Noriyuki Konishi version) despite the franchise ceasing to exist and licensing for the franchise has been dropped outside Japan. It?s up to Viz Media who will drop the license after translating around 20 volumes.

About the author

Cory Roberts is an American comic/manga artist and graphic designer. When he is not in front of his iMac, he can be seen playing video games for at least one hour or less. Cory is also one of the ex-Cube writers as he formed his own video game-related publication on Medium.

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