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Is Japan's Fascination with Yo-Kai Watch Over?

posted on by Eric Stimson
Distribution insiders admit franchise is struggling

The children's-oriented video game and anime Yo-kai Watch has taken Japan by storm, overtaking longtime favorite Anpanman in a recent poll and displacing Pokemon at McDonald's. It even earned a slot at The Red and White Song Contest, a popular New Year's program, which seemed to cement its status as Japan's biggest new popular culture franchise.

Yet Yo-kai Watch fever seems to have cooled down now, with less visible excitement among children and more products lingering on store shelves for longer. The prices of Yo-kai Watch merchandise are dropping. Sales of Yo-kai Watch medals are at ¼ of what they were in the summer of 2014, at the height of the Yo-kai Watch boom. Sales of other merchandise range from 1/5 to 1/8 of their levels last year.

What's happening? While pop culture trends may be ephemeral, Ken Hōri of the Business Journal examines the issue from a distribution standpoint. Toymakers are forced to secure copyright approvals from two different entities, Level-5 and Level-5/Dentsū/Bandai, and the process takes roughly six months. Stores were unable to keep their shelves stocked during summer vacation, when demand was highest. To compensate, they placed more orders than usual, leaving them with an oversupply of stock at this point, when demand has tapered off.

Hōri also points out that Yo-kai Watch had compatibility problems. The medals sold last summer were incompatible with watches sold both earlier and later. His own son had a watch without any medals to use it with, and soon lost interest in Yo-kai Watch, leaving the watch to gather dust in a cupboard.

Although the author cites these two factors as most prominent, he also speculates about others. Jibanyan (left in the forefront of the picture) was the main character in the franchise last year, so most of the stock in toy and convenience stores features him, but this year the newly introduced character USApyon (right in the forefront of the picture) is more popular. As a result, prices of Jibanyan goods have dropped by 10-15%. He feels that performing Yo-kai Watch songs at New Year's gave the impression that the franchise was a "one-hit wonder" destined to fade away the next year. McDonald's has been struggling in Japan in the past year due to a chicken meat safety scare. And it could be that there simply "aren't any more characters that can earn [money for toy retailers]."

Hōri compares the situation with Yo-kai Watch's primary rival, Pokemon. Media Factory, which made Pokemon cards, was part of Daiei at the time; Daiei also owned Lawson, a major convenience store chain which has branches all over Japan. Lawson's buyers also put in effort to ensure that stores were kept well-stocked, avoiding the shortages that stymied the Yo-kai Watch boom. Shogakukan and Nintendo also privileged suppliers that used Loppi, Lawson's electronic shopping terminal, to ensure Pokemon products were available nationwide. These effective distribution measures helped Pokemon survive the 1997 outbreak of seizures caused by flashing lights in Episode 38 and eventually become a worldwide phenomenon.

[Via Business Journal; Image from Yo-kai Watch official site]

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