The slide from pinnacle of children’s entertainment to threat of obscurity continues for Jibanyan and crew.

Let’s travel back to the year two-thousand fourteen A.D. The state of Scotland held what was to become the most ironic referendum ever, voting for the security of a political and economic union over their own independence. Taylor Swift was showing everyone how to Shake it Off and in Japan you couldn’t look in any direction without getting an eyeful of the Yo-kai Watch franchise.

It started a dance craze, produced plastic watches valued at 30,000 yen (US$294) despite being unable to tell the time, and even rivaled Star Wars at the box office. It was kind of annoying for us at SoraNews24 because we didn’t quite know how to spell it in English at the time, but while we were mildly bemused by that, there was none for whom the dusk was darker than Pikachu and his bioweapon buddies over at Pokémon.

By more-or-less taking the formula of collectible monsters which made Pokémon the hit it was, kids of the mid-2010s appeared to latch onto the freshness of Yo-kai Watch largely because it wasn’t what their parents were into. Signs of Yo-kai Watch overtaking Pokémon were popping up left and right. McDonald’s even pulled their yearly Pokémon calendar collaboration and replaced it with a Jibanyan adorned timekeeper instead.

It was looking a little bleak for the long-running and best-selling Nintendo franchise, until a miracle came in the launch of Pokémon GO. Regardless of the lasting appeal of the actual game, at the time it was enough to send a wild charge and resuscitate the hearts of fans in Japan.

Meanwhile, Yo-kai Watch seemed to get lost in the shuffle. In 2016, Namco Bandai forecast toy sales to be about 6.3 billion yen (US$588 million) for the following year. While that’s no small potatoes, it’s only nine percent of its revenue in 2014 and about a tenth of the 40-year-old Gundam series of toys for comparison.

Now, in 2018, the website for the Yo-kai Watch exclusive merchandise stores, Yo-Roz Mart, kicked off the financial year with back-to-back announcements of closings for three of their 10 locations.

2018-03-30
Important Notice
The Yo-Roz Mart Maker’s Pier Nagoya location will be closed on Sunday, 8 April, 2018.

2018-04-02
Important Notice
The Yo-Roz Mart Qualite Prix Sapporo location will be closed on Monday, 30 April, 2018.

2018-04-02
Important Notice
The Yo-Roz Mart Mini Lake Town Mori location will be closed on Monday, 7 May, 2018.

To find out the impact Yo-kai Watch‘s recent move had on the kids, I asked a nine-year-old what she felt about the franchise. She replied, “I don’t like them. They’re, um, gross.” I also interviewed a five-year-old who said, “I like Pokemon better than Yo-kai Watch, but Pretty Cure is better than Pokemon.”

After a brief detention by the police for lurking around elementary schools, I looked to the Internet for their opinions on the matter.

“That doesn’t look good for them.”
“There were Yo-Kai Watch stores?!”
“You don’t mess with Pokémon.”
“The turning point was that whole AKB48 collaboration.”
“I made a lot of money during that medal boom. Good times.”
“The fact that I’ve never even heard of these stores might have something to do with it.”
“They jumped the shark with Usapyon.”
“The video game was never as good as Pokémon. With Yo-Kai Watch the game seemed like an afterthought.”
“It was because they couldn’t get a foothold in overseas markets like Pokémon had.”

There’s a lot of theories as to why Yo-kai Watch didn’t maintain its success, but it may simply have been an unavoidable twist of fate that sent it on this course. For that reason, it’s perhaps premature to call this the end of the franchise either.

▼ But just in case, let’s enjoy one last dance, shall we?

Store closings were just the first step in the unprecedented comeback of McDonald’s Japan, and only four years ago many were spelling the doom of Pokémon, yet they bounced back with a vengeance as well. It’s too early to count Yo-kai Watch out completely, but these next few years will be crucial to its future and its place in the pantheon of Japanese pop-culture.

Source: Yo-Roz Mart, Golden Times
Top image: YouTube/Level5ch