Reviewby James Beckett,
Yo-Kai Watch: The Movie
All throughout the world hide Yo-kai, spirits of all shapes and dispositions that go unseen by most human eyes. Nate Adams is a young boy who can not only see Yo-kai, but he befriends them as well! Using a device called the Yo-kai Watch, he befriends the many spirits he encounters while also calling on them to help-out in fights against the more…feisty spirits. One day, however, Nate wake up to find that things have changed. He is missing not only his trusty Yo-kai Watch, but his memories of his friends and his adventures with the Yo-kai as well!
A shocking encounter with a giant Yo-kai known as Hovernyan knocks him back to his senses, and reveals the truth behind the trickery: A trio of evil Yo-kai have gone back in time to prevent the Yo-kai watch from ever being invented. Not only does this mean that Nate and his friends will have never met, but the magical-chaos of time distortion threatens the fate of the entire world as we know it. As it just so happens, the inventor of the Watch is Nate's own grandfather, Nathaniel Adams, who was also an ally of the Yo-kai. Joining Nate and Hovernyan are the plucky cat Yo-kai Jibanyan, and the wisecracking ghost-butler, Whisper; together, they must ensure that Nathaniel succeeds in creating the Yo-kai Watch. If Nate and his friends can't fix the past, then the future could very well be done for!
Yo-kai Watch has absolutely exploded in Japan over the past few years; the most recent film managed to outdo The Force Awakens in its opening-weekend box-office, and when you can knock Star Wars off of its throne, you must be doing something right. The property hasn't been doing too poorly for itself Stateside either, garnering a sizeable fan base of young and old alike. The anime airs on Disney XD, and the most recent games, Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls, just released to the Nintendo 3DS a few weeks ago. With the show and the games gaining such traction in the US, it only makes sense that the mega-popular films would find their way over here as well. I myself haven't gotten a chance to investigate Yo-kai Watch a whole lot first hand, but my wife absolutely adores the series, so I've been hearing and seeing a quite a bit of Yo-kai Watch over the last little bit. Being the modern-day challenger to Pokémon's title of reigning champ of monster collect-a-thons, I couldn't deny how quirky and charming the series seemed. So when I got the opportunity to check out a screener of the English dub of Yo-kai Watch: The Movie, I jumped at the chance to see what all of the hubbub was about for myself.
I'll start off by saying that despite the Save-the-World stakes I established in that synopsis up there, one thing should be understood before going into this film: It is deeply, to it's very core, absolutely, one hundred percent ridiculous. In a good way, of course!
This is a film for children, after all, and at no point does Yo-kai Watch pretend to be anything other than the funny, charming, and adorable piece of entertainment that it is. To make sure that nobody expects this film to contain the emotional ups-and-downs of, say, Digimon Adventure tri., the film starts off properly, by having Jibanyan and Whisper break the fourth wall to greet the audience and thanks them for coming out to see the movie. They are then both promptly hit by a bus, and sent blasting off Team Rocket style for no reason other than a cheap laugh. Within the first thirty seconds the audience and the movie have entered into an explicit understanding: That absolutely nothing will be taken too seriously.
Again, in a good way!
For as much as I enjoyed Pokémon and Digimon as a kid, I don't know how many people would cite either property as being a bona-fide gut buster. Yo-kai Watch, though? Yo-kai Watch is really quite funny, if I'm being honest. Maybe I'm just a little too in touch with my inner child, but the constant barrage of meta-jokes and slapstick was a genuinely goofy good time. Nate and Whisper and Jibanyan play like a kids-anime version of The Three Stooges, and I can see kids and their older family-members being very entertained by their shtick. There are a definitely a few groaners scattered amidst the good jokes, most of which relating to the movie's love of scatological humor. One extended gag involves a Yo-kai plugging its own butt for sixty years with a cork and inflating into a giant balloon version of itself. This is a silly, silly joke, and I'm more than a little embarrassed to say it had me laughing pretty hard. People with a sense of shame might be a little less entertained than I was, I'm afraid to say.
Still, the movie is entertaining, and that's all I could really ask for. While the humor is surprisingly engaging throughout, though, the plot itself only really works in fits and starts, largely due to pacing issues.
The movie begins with energy to spare, hyping up Nate and Whisper and Jibanyan for some Back-to-the-Future style hijinks with his late grandfather, Nathaniel. Once Nate and Co. actually go back to the past, however, the pace slows down quite a bit, and for a good while. For probably forty minutes of the movie's ninety-minute runtime, Nate and Nathaniel and the Yo-kai are essentially just hanging out together, indulging Nathaniel's love for a cheesy old superhero named Moximus Mask. I'll admit, it works well to develop Nathaniel's character, and explain why a kid like him is so willing to push other people away, even his Yo-kai friends. The problem is, it takes what was presented as an urgent time-travel story and deflates most of the urgency right out of it. Since the main villains of the story only pop up a couple of times before the big fight at the ends of the movie, it gives the whole story a meandering feel that doesn't really pick up until we hit that climax in the last half hour. It honestly had me checking my watch a couple of times during its second act, which is a cardinal sin for any children's entertainment worth its salt, especially a comedy.
When that third act kicks back in, though, the so too does the energy, and the movie ends on a high note. Even the animation gets a (lampshaded) bump in quality, which is good, because even though the movie never looks bad by any means, the animation leading up to the finale wasn't ever much beyond “serviceable”. By the time the credits roll, the bad guys are defeated, power-ups are gained, and lessons about the power of friendship are learned by all.
Now is probably a good time to mention the dub work, provided by the Disney XD cast through Eleven Arts, Inc. Again, keeping mind that this is a kid's movie we're talking about, the voice-cast does a pretty good job, for the most part. Johnny Yong-Bosch gives Nate the energy and charisma required of the lead role, and Alicyn Packard provides Jibanyan with the appropriate levels of infectious adorableness. The MVP of the dub is probably Joey D'Auria , who plays Whisper almost like a weird hybrid of Mark Hamill's Joker and Bozo the Clown. Writing that out I realize it sounds super creepy, but's it's quirky and charming, I promise! It's no Cowboy Bebop, but it's also nowhere near as bad as an early 90s 4Kids dub either. It plays fast and loose with literal translation, as far as I could tell, including plenty of references to Wester pop culture to play up to American audiences. Normally I find this grating, but it worked here. Yo-kai Watch is essentially what would happen if Pokémon and the Looney Tunes had a weird anime baby, after all, so a little irreverence is to be expected.
So is Yo-kai Watch: The Movie worth checking out? That depends, I guess. If you're looking for epic adventure or Ghibli levels of artistry and emotion, you're barking up the wrong tree. Yo-kai Watch is simply a funny and heartwarming comedy-adventure, and it does its job well. It's perfect for families and young anime newcomers, and it should appeal to Yo-kai Watch fans of all ages. If nothing else, I know that 9-year-old James Beckett would have absolutely loved Yo-kai Watch: The Movie. If that isn't a seal of approval, I don't know what is.
Overall : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Wonderfully silly sense of humor, charming and adorable characters, and a whole lot of heart.
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