Despite perilous fumbles and mighty rivals in recent years, Pokémon marches along Victory Road: 2020 was its most successful sales year on record.

It seems a world away now, but back in 2014, the writing was on the wall for Pokémon—at least in one of the most telling frontiers available to Japanese parents. It’s actually fairly easy to tell what the most popular kids’ products in the country are by paying a trip to your local grocery store. Themed bread, small candies, and little trinkets will be adorned in whichever the flavor of the month in children’s media is.

▼ Pokémon bread is often present, as is bread labeled with children’s TV juggernauts Anpanman, Precure, and Kamen Rider.

In 2014, however, many stores weren’t stocking Pokémon tie-in goods at all anymore. See, there was a new band of colorful creatures in town, and the shelves weren’t big enough to share.

Yo-Kai Watch, a similar beast-collecting RPG by Level-5, stormed the relative lull in Pokémon’s activity with force. As you can see in the tweet below, Yo-Kai Watch bread was bought up in droves, while all the other bread languished unloved in comparison.

“I’m gonna eat this now. You can’t sell Pokémon bread for the standard price anymore. My local supermarket’s under attack by Yo-Kai Watch bread!”

Now, even in 2014 only one of these franchises was a worldwide phenomenon. Pokémon would never be seriously threatened as a global brand by Level-5’s Jibanyan, cherished as it is by generations of children who have grown up with the games, surrounded themselves in its plush, and dreamed of owning their own Pikachu. But 2014 was a shock in that, for once, Japanese kids were way more interested in watching Yo-Kai than catching Pokémon, and that was reflected by how it took over collaboration slots typically considered Pokémon’s property.

2014 marked the start of a dark spell for Pokémon. The year saw no landmark titles from the brand, just a slew of tie-ins and the remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Thus began something of a content drought where only games that would entice current fans were released, and though the anime for 2013’s Pokèmon X and Y remained popular with children it stood no chance against the Yo-Kai Watch zeitgeist.

Thankfully, things began to seem hopeful as 2015 drew to a close.

▼ 2015’s Pokémon GO trailer.

2016, the year of Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, heralded the official arrival of The Pokémon Company’s adventurous new project: Pokémon GO. That November finally brought a new mainline entry into being: Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon. The game’s anime tie-in, as well as several original songs and YouTube videos meant to showcase brand new Pokémon, boosted the brand’s recognition to previously unseen heights.

With this groundwork laid, the company enjoyed its most dramatic increases in net profits during the fiscal year of 2017, bolstered by a faithful userbase and an influx of new fans from Pokémon GO. Though The Pokémon Company is a private company and so doesn’t need to release its financial particulars, a summary of their net profits showed that they jumped from 5.6 million USD (for the fiscal year ending in February 28, 2016) to a whopping 143.3 million USD (for the fiscal year ending in February 28, 2017).

But it turns out that even such an incredible turnaround can be built upon.

▼ The official video for Bump of Chicken’s GOTCHA!, a love letter to Pokémon’s long history.

For the first time ever, The Pokémon Company released their financial information for the fiscal year ending in February 28, 2021. Remember that dizzying high of 143.3 million? Well, according to the information provided, The Pokémon Company saw a net profit of 170 million USD in 2020. A number of factors must have conspired to reach this new landmark: new titles Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield certainly sold well, as did their additional DLC packages, and Pokémon GO’s continued success is nothing to sniff at either. Increased Nintendo Switch purchases during the pandemic may have helped as well, as people struggled to find ways to entertain themselves and their families at home.

The future looks similarly bright. Pokémon has long-awaited Diamond and Pearl remakes in the works, but they’re taking a new angle compared to previous remakes; Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will blend full 3D-model battles with cute, squishified overworld art reminiscent of the game’s original pixels. They’re also producing Pokémon Legends Arceus, which seems to have more in common with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild than the series’ typical offerings.

Consider that alongside 2021’s insatiable hunger for Pokémon Trading Cards and Pokémon Snap‘s desperately desired sequel, the creatively named New Pokémon Snap, and we’re expecting the company might hit another record high for the fiscal year of 2021.

And how is Yo-Kai Watch doing…? Well…in 2016, right around when Pokémon was recovering, it plummeted in popularity and many of its dedicated stores closed in 2018. There hasn’t been a new mainline game since 2019, but a new take of the anime started airing in Japan in April 2021. Now, though, stores don’t even sell Yo-Kai Watch groceries anymore, let alone themed bread.

Pokémon bread, on the other hand, is back in its rightful throne at the supermarket bread shelf. And no wonder, considering all the dough it’s earned!

Source: Kantan Games (1, 2) via My Games News Flash
Top image: YouTube/ポケモン公式YouTubeチャンネル

● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!