As someone who never completely outgrew his love of animation and video games, I try to at least keep up with what’s popular with kids in Japan. I can identify Pikachu, Squirtle, and a handful more of the cute cockfighting stand-ins from Pokémon. If I visit my in-laws and my nieces are watching an episode of PreCure, I know that it’s about a team of friends who fight evil with their magical powers (even if I have no idea how one of the girls got stuck with “The bursting scent of lemons!” as her special ability).
Still, until recently I hadn’t heard a single thing about Yo-Kai Watch, Japan’s current megahit among the elementary school set. At first I thought this was weird, but as it turns out Yo-Kai Watch’s popularity isn’t in spite of people in my age group not knowing about it, but because of it.
The earliest incarnation of Yo-Kai Watch was a manga that began in 2012, but the franchise has since branched out into anime and video games, including the recently released Nintendo 3DS title Yo-Kai Watch 2 that’s selling like hotcakes. It’s not too hard to imagine why kids would be drawn to the series, which revolves around adventurous youngsters meeting and training friendly yokai, spirits that regularly appear in Japanese folktales, in order to defeat powerful, less benign supernatural entities.
Of course, the core elements of building a fighting force of cherubic creatures sounds pretty similar to Pokémon. So why is it that in a recent poll by toymaker Bandai asking parents what their kids’ favorite series was, more than three times as many said Yo-Kai Watch as Pokémon?
Hoping to find out, Twitter user Utsuro-chan asked one young fan, who told him he prefers Yo-Kai Watch because adults don’t really know about it.
But how is that a positive? Yo-Kai Watch isn’t filled with graphic violence or sexual innuendo, so it’s not like the franchise flying under adults’ radar is secretly letting kids catch glimpses of things their parents would object. So what’s the advantage?
As the kid explained to Utsuro-chan:
“Yo-Kai watch doesn’t have annoying adult fans like Pokémon does.”
The Pokémon franchise is so old it started out in black and white, with a pair of video games released in 1996 for the original Game Boy. That means even though it was initially aimed squarely at kids, the fanbase now includes long-time followers in their 20s and 30s.
▼ “Pikachu, I choose you…to buy us a six-pack of beer since you’re old enough to drink!”
Adult fans of Pokémon and other ostensible “for kids” series have adult money, with Mom and Dad no longer in a position to impose limits on how much time or cash they can pump into their hobby. This sometimes leads to grownups snatching up all the latest toy models, or hogging arcade machines that, from their small-scale cabinets, are clearly meant for younger gamers. Some have even taken to calling these senior fans otomo, an abbreviated form of okii na tomodachi, meaning “grownup friends” or “big buddies.”
Still, considering that once upon a time Pokémon was also largely otomo-free, Yo-Kai Watch’s kids-only status is probably temporary. As one Internet commenter put it, “It’s only going to last until Yo-Kai Watch gets more mainstream and enters the adult public consciousness.” In other words, pre-teen Yo-Kai Watch fans should enjoy their Logan’s Run-like youthful paradise while they can.