Sunday, October 16, 2016

Yo-kai Watch: The Movie

In 2013, Japanese developer Level-5 released Yo-kai Watch, the first in a series of video games where players search for and befriend Yo-kai, mysterious spirits who are responsible for all of life’s problems, big or small. After obtaining a Yo-kai’s medal, players can use them in battle against other Yo-kai, keeping each Yo-kai’s unique ability and Soultimate in mind when forming their team. The original game proved popular enough in Japan to warrant an anime adaptation starting in 2014 and a sequel game later that year, Yo-kai Watch 2, after which its popularity skyrocketed and became a cultural phenomenon, spawning a number of spin-off games and further tie-in merchandise, as well a third game, Yo-kai Watch 3, in 2016. It is also notable that, in Japan, the second Yo-kai Watch movie outperformed Star Wars: The Force Awakens in opening weekend ticket sales.

While the success of Yo-kai Watch in the US has been nowhere near as big as in Japan, it does seem to at least be gaining some steam, enough to warrant the release of Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls. Thanks to Fathom Events, the US also received an English dub of the first movie as Yo-kai Watch: The Movie, which I decided to go see as a recent convert to the series.

Attendees also got an exclusive Hovernyan medal.

The Yo-kai Watch allows Nate Adams (Johnny Yong Bosch), to see the Yo-kai inhabiting the world around him. One day, however, he mysteriously has no memory of the watch until he sees the Yo-kai Meganyan (Johnny Yong Bosch), causing him to regain his memory and summon Whisper (Joey D’Auria) and Jibanyan (Alicyn Packard) to his side. After defeating a wave of Wicked Yo-kai, the trio go to Harrisville and meet Hovernyan (Johnny Yong Bosch), who takes them back in time by 60 years. There, they must convince Nate’s grandfather, Nathaniel Adams (Johnny Yong Bosch) to finish creating the Yo-kai Watch so they can stop the evil Yo-kai Dame Dedtime (Alicyn Packard) from keeping the human and Yo-kai worlds forever separate.

Dame Dedtime (Alicyn Packard) wants a world where humans never interacted with Yo-kai.

First off, the animation is very good. The bright color palette fits with the tone of the franchise and the characters move in a very fluid way, which aids some of the slapstick humor. Both the human and Yo-kai characters feel more polished in their designs and the backgrounds are impressively well-drawn and detailed. Certain scenes also show off great lighting effects, including light coming through the trees, the glow of a city at night or the heat of a factory furnace. The quality of the animation also shows through in the major fight scene in the third act, featuring moves from multiple Yo-kai and some fairly decent CG.

The story, which seems to be based on Yo-kai Watch 2 from my understanding, may not be the best to ever grace a movie screen, but it’s not overly complicated and is actually pretty easy to follow along, even for viewers who aren’t very familiar with the series. What helps is that the first few seconds succinctly re-introduce the concept of the Yo-kai Watch and offer some background to the series, all without slowing down the pace. Nate and Nathaniel both go through some good character development in their interactions with each other, plus Nathaniel and Dame Dedtime have rather interesting backstories which help them feel more three-dimensional. It’s also fairly easy for viewers to understand who the previously existing characters are, as they are re-introduced to Nate and the dynamics they share quickly sink in. Additionally, it’s good that the plot doesn’t take itself too seriously, allowing a lot of room for levity.

This leads into another primary aspect of the movie: the humor. As previously mentioned, there’s a fair amount of slapstick, but most of the humor comes from the dialogue, made more effective by the way the jokes are delivered. The character interactions aid the movie’s generally light-hearted atmosphere, particularly those between characters with conflicting personalities. Admittedly, it’s difficult to mention specific instances without spoiling the plot. This can be extended to expressing that the story also has its more serious moments and, true to the premise of Yo-kai Watch, there is no effort to hide the concept of death.

Another high point is the voice acting. During the credits, it was interesting to see how a fairly small number of people can voice at least five or six characters at once, proving that they have good range. One stand-out is Johnny Yong Bosch, who is able to voice Nate, Hovernyan and Meganyan and have them all sound completely different from each other. Alicyn Packard, Melissa Hutchinson and Brent Pendergrass, among others, accomplish the same feat with a combination of human and Yo-kai characters in a wide age range.

Left to right: Hoverynyan (Johnny Yong Bosch), Nathaniel Adams (Meyer DeLeeuw),
Whisper (Joey D'Auria), Nate Adams (Johnny Yong Bosch) and Master Nyada (Joey D'Auria).

Oddly enough, the movie also promotes exercise, as during the credits, the Yo-kai Sargent Burly encourages viewers to follow along with the Yo-kai exercise. Additionally, viewers are encouraged to follow along with movements made by some of the characters during a rendition of Gero Gero Po which plays during a separate credits sequence. Apart from mentioning that I saw kids at my screening participating, it’s simply a unique element worth mentioning.

One last thing I want to talk about is the short which played after the movie called The Legendary Poofessor. This short is animated more in the style of the anime, giving it more of a TV broadcast quality. Although I’m not usually a fan of humor involving bodily functions, the delivery in this short is actually pretty funny since Poofessor is a Yo-kai who causes those he inspirits to spout out random trivia seemingly without end, aka “diarrhea of the brain.” The short covers a very relatable issue and, overall, was a good way to cap off the Fathom Event.

Yo-kai Watch: The Movie is an example of a video game adaptation done right. It manages to make a video game plot fairly compelling and accessible, has an effective balance of humorous and serious elements and has very good animation to boot. The characters are all varied in their personalities and motives, helped by a good selection of talented voice actors. While a movie based on an anime series popular among children may not appeal to everyone, it is enjoyable by both kids and adults alike. In the event of a home video release, TV broadcast or extended screening, I would easily recommend Yo-kai Watch: The Movie for people and families who simply want to have a good time. It’s not the best thing ever, but it’s good for what it is and, in the end, that’s all that really matters.

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