THE DARK YO-KAI WATCH!If you were around for last Halloween, you know how much I love Yo-Kai Watch, the ridiculous mons series nobody in the states seems to be giving a chance. If you're not familiar with its sensibilities yet, go ahead and catch up on my reviews of some favorite Yo-kai here, here,, and here. The contrast is going to come in handy.
Before we begin, we should momentarily refresh our memories about the obvious inspiration behind this new setting. Virtually all modern Youkai entertainment owes a very great deal to the late Mizuki Shigeru and his semi-creation, Gegege no Kitaro, considered one of Japan's most beloved children's franchises for over fifty years and counting...but Kitaro wasn't always a sweet, lovable hero.
The true history of Kitaro, dating back to an entirely different artist in 1933, could easily fill out an article of its own. Long story short, Kitaro was originally full-blown horror, and a darker edge even continued for some time into Shigeru's reinvention of the character, then known as Hakaba Kitaro or Graveyard Kitaro. Receiving a faithful anime adaptation in 2008, this Kitaro was an amoral little shit at best and a harbinger of indiscriminate doom at worst, leaning much more towards the sensibilities of our pal Hideshi Hino than, say, Doraemon or Anpanman.
...So...what if maybe, just maybe, Yo-Kai Watch had had a similar history? What if there had once been a darker, grislier, entirely nastier Yo-Kai Watch the world had all but forgotten in favor of its brighter, cheerier, more modern incarnation?
There never was, of course, but that hasn't stopped the franchise from exploring what that could have hypothetically been like...
Whether you loved, hated, or knew basically nothing about series mascots Jibanyan and Komasan, I'm sure it's equally easy to appreciate them as decrepit, ghoulish scumbags and especially appreciate their spooky dance, which they seem to perform almost involuntarily in each of six animated segments set in this alternate "dark" timeline.
All this was teased as far back as January of this year, not long after my 2016 Halloween season drew to a close, but eight months later, it's still uncertain to what extent the dark Yo-Kai and dark watch will factor into the video games.
We do know, at least, how the dark watch actually functions, and it could not be more wonderful. I hope you read my post about Hideshi Hino, by the way, so you can appreciate this even more.
In the Dark Yo-Kai world, the roles of "Whisper" and of the watch itself have been folded into one, and unlike whisper, the Dark Watch is a competent, terrifying monster, craving victims, particularly terrible little kids, to sate its hideous appetite.
The first of these victims, the dark-world Keita or Nate, is digested and excreted by the watch into a pitiful, sniveling human-headed caterpillar, Mushiotoko or "bug man," as punishment for his disrespectful behavior, and yes, this is officially considered a full fledged canon Yo-Kai species. More on that later.
If you think I'd have vastly preferred Mushiotoko to have a more appropriate caterpillar-monster head, you're actually only half correct. I would have certainly enjoyed a fully insectoid Yo-kai with a horror slant, sure, but the sheer hideousness of this child's face on an otherwise adorable insect is the whole fun...and he's not alone!
In our next episode, we meet the dark world equivalent of Keita's friend Kuma (Bear), a lovable jock in the primary continuity and a good-for-nothing delinquent in this one, though he gets off a little better than Keita when he becomes a larger, more threatening centipede...though I'm surprised it wasn't a spider, since that would be KumO, and we all know how Japan loves its bad puns.
This is all actually so Jibanyan and Komasan can run away with his stuff.
Every prominent child in the series gets a bug-man form, and the third one couldn't have been more appropriate. Kanchi, known as "Eddie" in the dub, is an awkward tech geek whose mom looked a lot like my spouse, so we kept joking that he was their son. Not MY son, obviously, I'm not gonna take responsibility for a kid who once tried to use a live octopus as a thong and yes that really happens in this show, but as soon as we saw him here, we somehow knew exactly what he was going to turn into.
I suppose I can accept him as my child now that most of him is a horsefly. Maybe.
With the three boys down, the next most important Yo-Kai kid is Fumi or Katie, the female player option in the games and naturally Keita's big crush in the anime. It follows logically from this show's sense of humor that Dark Fumi would be a fearless gang leader who bullies Yo-Kai until she's transformed into a brutal, cannibalistic mantis-girl...and seems to be having a great time of it.
I absolutely love how the spooky dance ensues no matter the mood here.
Fumi is, unfortunately, the last human we get to see Andre Delambre'd (too obscure?) but only because the fifth short shows us what happens when a Yo-kai pissess off the dark watch enough to get eaten.
...Which is nothing. Nothing happens. I should be disappointed, but at least it was pretty funny.
This brings us to the sixth and final short, wherein Dark Jibanyan and Dark Komasan spend the day with the elderly war hero, Dark Bushinyan, who causes a series of mishaps with his flashbacks to medieval Japan.
When Dark Bushinyan finally sustains a serious injury in his own home, our antiheroes do the right thing and attempt to rob him blind...until the Dark Watch, staying true to itself, finally punishes their delinquent behavior.
I have no idea what Dark Keita is saying in the final moments of this clip, but does anybody NEED to know for it to be funny as shit?
Thus ends the saga of the Dark Yo-Kai Watch in animated form, which is tragic, since I could probably watch a thousand million hours of this for the aesthetic style and the spooky dance alone, but you'll be happy to know that the watch is already available as a real toy in Japan, complete with its own special summoning medals for over a dozen dark-world Yo-kai, and yes, this includes all four of the "bug people," so if you ever wanted your battle-monster partner to be a shitty child punished for their sins with the torso of a big maggot, your time has come. I can say confidently that I am not actually warped enough for this to have ever crossed my mind before Yo-Kai watch put it on the table, but now that it has, I can't possibly say no to the offer.