Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 & 2
Nate Adams is an ordinary elementary school student until the day he finds a mysterious capsule machine embedded in a giant tree. When he puts a coin in, a stone capsule comes out and opens to reveal Whisper, a yo-kai butler. Whisper gives Nate the yo-kai watch, a timepiece that allows him to see all supernatural creatures and to summon them if they become his friends. Now Nate is off to find and befriend all the yo-kai he can!
If you're familiar with this story – which traces its roots back to a card game and a Nintendo 3DS game – you'll notice that Viz's release of the shounen Yo-Kai Watch manga has been localized. (A shoujo manga also exists, but as of this writing, it has not been licensed in English.) As this is likely to be the biggest issue for older readers of the series, it seems best to address it first: while calling the protagonist Nate Adams rather than Keita Amano does feel a little odd for readers savvy enough to recognize the Japanese setting and the fact that “yokai” is a Japanese word, it does not really serve as a detriment to the story. Names of some of the actual yokai being changed is a bit more of an issue, but given that the series is intended for child readers in elementary school – this is published under Viz's Perfect Square imprint – it actually serves its youngest readers well, as the intended audience is not likely to be at a stage in their reading where foreign names will be comfortable and could in fact deter them from reading.
That issue aside, if looked at exclusively as a children's series, Yo-Kai Watch works fairly well. Lighter and goofier than Pokemon, to which it bears more than a passing resemblance, the story follows Nate Adams, who is quick to tell us at the start of each chapter that he is an ordinary elementary school student. One day he finds a capsule machine embedded in a huge tree, and being a curious kid, pops a coin in. To his surprise, a stone capsule comes out, and when he opens it, he meets Whisper, a classically shapeless ghost yokai who proclaims himself Nate's butler. Nate thinks that's annoying (and he continues to do so), but Whisper also provides him with a magical “yo-kai watch,” a timepiece that can emit light that allows humans to see the supernatural world. With the watch, Nate can spot and befriend yokai who are causing problems for humans, and if they're willing to become his friends, he can summon them with a special yokai coin. It's very formulaic, with all but one chapter in the two volumes following an identical plot, something which is generally considered beneficial in books for early or reluctant readers: what we adults might see as dull and repetitive, children can see as reassuring predictability, and the tally at the end of each chapter of how many friends Nate has made throughout the series can help them keep track, especially since it doesn't always match up with the chapter number.
Noriyuki Konishi, who won the Kodansha Children's Manga Award for this series in 2014, keeps the story and art from lapsing into cuteness that could turn away readers. His art is less classically pretty and adorable than many children's series, and he makes frequent use of grotesquely bulging eyeballs and other slightly icky imagery, making these two books thrillingly disgusting for kids without being actually gross. His art is deceptively simple and very expressive, and there's an easy flow to the panels. Viz's translation is likewise easy to follow, though I am not fond of the stock phrase used for Nate's activation of the Yo-Kai Watch: “Yo-Kai Medal, do your thing!” It feels uncreative in general and in specific not like something that interested young readers could or would want to use in their play.
Each time Nate uses a medal to summon one of his new friends (who pledge their friendship with a fist bump), the first yokai he goes for is Jibanyan, whose name remains unchanged from the original Japanese edition. Jibanyan is also the yokai most likely to give readers pause, as he is a cat spirit who died after being hit by a car. Sensitive children may not be on-board with this, though after the initial revelation of his backstory, Konishi keeps it light, and each time he is summoned, he appears to have been doing something bizarre, making for some good humor. Thus far the cast is far more supernatural than human, and Konishi works with that by having background characters consistently mention that Nate is talking to himself again (no one else can see the yokai), which juxtaposes nicely with his claim that he's “ordinary” while also providing some additional humor.
Yo-Kai Watch's first two volumes are not likely to garner fans outside of their intended child audience, but there's a lot to like if you're looking for a gift for a young reader. With a comfortable story format, silly humor, easy art, and a localization that isn't off-putting if you aren't looking for it, and even a teachable moment in terms of the word “watch” in the title, which can refer to the timepiece or the fact that Nate's watching for yokai, this is looking like a good series for the younger set.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Comfortable narrative patterns for kids, nice humor, and very easy to read. Should appeal to young Pokemon fans.
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