Oh, Yo-Kai Watch. That's right. That exists! It's real! I swear!!
Catching up With Yo-Kai Watch...OR IS IT GOODBYE!?!
I think I might have talked about this in my last Yo-Kai article all those centuries past, but what a bittersweet life this franchise has had. Once making news as "THE POKEMON KILLER" (for real this time!) it positively slammed out new material by the truckload for a while, reaching nearly three or four entire core games in the short years between the sixth and seventh Pokemon generations.
Perhaps this itself was a bad move, oversaturating its own market and burning out its fandom precisely in time to drop Jibanyan like a hot brick as soon as Pikachu knocked on their door again, or perhaps its success had always been bored Pokemon players starved for content.
The last time I looked at new Yo-Kai, I was excited about some of those additions! Even if the gameplay, story and style were a drastic, possibly desperate departure for the series, I held out hope that it might really catch on with the rest of the gaming public...but the wait for the fourth game's localization dragged, and dragged, and just a year after promising everyone that it was still being worked on, Level-5 announced that they'd be completely discontinuing all sales outside Japan.
Before I'd ever get to formally meet a Gomendako or Daniel at all, the series had already moved on from Shadowside and its disappointing sales to yet another total reimagining, Yo-Kai Watch Academy, currently still plugging along as it struggles for air under Pokemon's Sword and Shield sales.
It is by truly astonishing coincidence that I'm writing and putting up this article the very day after the Yo-Kai Academy game released its physical version in Japan, although the digital version has been playable since October. Reinventing series Yokai as human high school students, the new setting has a more interesting storyline than you might think, eve tying into the other continuities in a fairly surprising way the accompanying anime only more recently revealed...though another reinvention this soon, this drastic, certainly feels more than ever like Yo-Kai Watch is on its last legs.
You're here, however, to see some lovable monster designs, and this setting still provides quite a few. There's no RPG title in which you can capture and train them alongside other, classic creatures and there may never be again, but we can all still dream!
We were off to a phenomenal start when this design was first teased! A weird, hunched, rubbery looking humanoid figure, O Eater's blue skin is broken up by strange red markings almost resembling "runes," its bulbous back is draped in long, black hair and it has a huge, tooth-ringed mouth instead of a head. I think that's an important distinction to make here; it's not that its torso blends into its head or that its head is dominated by the mouth, but that if this creature stood upright, the mouth would be pointing straight up and flush with its shoulders. A mouth instead of a head! Know the difference!!
It's just about one of the coolest designs I've ever seen for a lamprey-mouthed humanoid, but unfortunately, its actual lore and series role are extremely underwhelming. O Eater is just the ghost of a guy who had an unrequited crush, it possesses a minor character as a throwaway monster-of-the-week, and then we're done.
It's SUCH a serious, terrifying monster design for this series, it looks like something from a completely different setting with its own distinct style, and then they pretty much did nothing special with it at all.
Okay, cute gag! "Gesu" basically refers to a delinquent or a "low life," so this is like the Death Note, but if you write someone's name in its pages, they just do something shitty. I love that! The cuter, more harmless looking form is actually just named Note-kun, while Gesu-note is properly the name of its more malevolent, multi-limbed form, which still isn't its most powerful stage!
Gesu-note can transform further into Gespider, a fat, purple arachnid yokai whose rubber lips and sharp teeth do feel like a nod to Death Note's Ryuk. I also don't see enough spider-like monsters with one big cyclops eyeball and multiple smaller ones.
We sure have a lot of blue purple so far, huh? Anyway, we mentioned that this new series has more human versions of past Yokai, and if you're already familiar with Yo-Kai Watch then you know exactly who this guy represents! The wonderful Slimamander already had one humanoid "superhero" form in the last reboot, but the design of it was played mostly for comedy. The Viper has a much more frightening and inhuman looking appearance, with classic Slimamander mouths for shoulders and a very cool face design. It looks like he has four little white ocelli above that strange, flaring W-shaped mouth, but his real eyes seem to be the two tiny, pink lights inside that mouth, arranged one above the other. What an alien look for just a "humanoid superhero" design!
Slimamander has been one of my top favorite monsters since the very first game, and you can easily see why. Its original gooey, toothless, eyeball-plant-newt design is still by far the best, but I really do get a kick out of its other incarnations, mostly because they all read as its own self-insert fantasies. The writers feel this beast should be a pompous egomaniac, so of course it wants to reincarnate as increasingly badass figures, and while Shadowside's take was a chivalrous hero, Academy's "Viper" possesses a school mafia boss! He always has to be the center of attention.
Yes, the Yo-Kai medal was the best looking artwork I could share; they just don't release standalone artwork of every monsters anymore. "Pakkun," which is just kind of an eating noise, was used as the name of a fly-trap Yokai in Shadowside, but in Academy it's more like a tree-based creature. It's interesting, though, for having the overall shape of a typical "Audrey II" style plant monster; not something I've seen done before as a woodier botanical!
I think this might just be the single largest playable monster in any version of the game, but I could be mistaken, since I think Puni Puni features almost every boss in the franchise somewhere. It's a really great, unique design for a haunted house monster, I like the two different mouths and I've surprisingly never really seen one that turns a front...porch? What do they call that on a mansion?...into a big set of jaws using the broken beams as teeth. The front stairs even become a "tongue!"
This yokai appears in the anime when a nerdy kid gets possessed, but its in-game profile makes it a distinct entity; a yokai born from a scientist's inferiority complex, who now loves to mock others and pinch them with his giant tweezers. He's also just a delightfully excessive design; with his wild hair, pale skin, sharp teeth, elongated limbs and snazzy black coat, he's one of those characters you might expect to be a fan-art favorite if the series were a little more mainstream and his presence a little more prominent, but then he has that positively absurd upturned beaker on his head, microscope lens goggles, multicolored test tubes sticking out of his temples and an orbiting halo of flasks. It's just a simultaneously badass and completely stupid look I couldn't possibly respect more.
I'm not sure what the joke or pun is for this yokai, since it isn't just a straightforward cyclops; its initial form is a normal, middle-aged, balding salaryman who just happens to be over a hundred feet tall, and isn't otherwise all that hostile, but when angered he becomes a cyclops with an interestingly almost crab-like set of jaws and teeth.
An undead fish and a fish with legs! My two favorite fish monster tropes in one!! I'd like it a little more if the design were played for the sillier, cuter look of some other Yo-kai, but I don't mind it being a grumpier and more terrifying creature. This yokai's lore is that an illegal fisherman left an unwanted black bass to die on the shore, which I'm surprised hasn't been the tragic origin for any other fish-based yokai I can think of. Its anime appearance also features a whole army of them, and sadly, it wouldn't really be surprising; a lot of caught fish just get dropped on the ground by less respectful people.
The name here is a pun on the word for "fish" and The Walking Dead, but while that's always been a term for zombies and ghouls, it was the TV series of the same name that more recently popularized it in Japan. This isn't the first time it's been referenced in Yo-Kai Watch, either; there's already a zombie character named Go-King Dead, because to the Japanese, "Walking Dead" begins with a syllable that rhymes with "go," and "go" can also be a monstrous, roaring sound effect. It's even how Godzilla's roar is sometimes written!
So, SURPRISE, Yo-Kai Watch Academy adds non-yokai aliens to the franchise! Most of them look generally human, robotic or for some reason like anthropomorphic dogs, but their basic foot soldier goons are cute, classic greys...or are they!?
To my utmost delight, the Yo-kai universe has decided that greys are just the more palatable, humanoid guise of a very different organism:
The true form of greys are giant, one-eyed amoeba with gooey Jack O' Lantern smiles, and they even have the power to possess and corrupt Earthly beings into alien mutations! Most of these are just big, black versions of the original host with an additional eye or two, but one episode has some human students fused with an assortment of corrupted animals to become "Alien Beasts!"
They don't get to do as much in the show as you might like - and the designs look a bit cheaper in anime form, to boot - but I love that the Alien Beasts, as a collective, actually get a Yo-kai medal. I don't think you can summon and use them in the game, but having a medal is kind of this franchise's most reliable mark of a "canon" monster, so all in one medal you get yourself a freaky, fleshy scorpion, mantis, caterpillar and rat with human heads disturbingly protruding from their foreheads, or in the caterpillar's case, their underbelly! As cool as the three arthropods may be, I actually kind of like the rat the most. I think it's just the fact that a big, eyeless cartoon rat has a little tiny human head poking out of its scalp. It's such an unsettling look, though the whole bunch are VERY "Devilman."
...It's really too bad that Inaho (Hailey Ann in the dub) isn't around to see this, having been thus far left out of every reboot and spinoff continuity. All she ever wanted was aliens. She was one of the few children on Earth privileged to know Yo-kai were real, and it only disappointed her that they weren't from space. I loved that. How could they do this to her.
I'm not really clear if this is considered part of Yo-Kai Academy or not, since it's only made its debut in Puni Puni, the free-to-play puzzle app game that is, unfortunately, the only game collecting all Yo-kai together but also no longer playable outside of Japan.
This Yo-Kai is apparently meant to represent a coelecanth, its name actually a pun on both "Coelecanth" and mummy! The design looks a little more like a beady-eyed, simplified cartoon shark, but there's definitely a Coelecanth-like shape to its bandaged body! I think the visual joke here is not only an ancient mummy Coelecanth, but possibly combined with how whole, fresh fish are sold wrapped in paper. Clever! I have no idea what it wears a little baseball hat though!
Yeah, the name sounds a little bad in English, but only by an interestingly convoluted coincidence. We already talked about the "Go-King Dead" pun, so now "Go" all by itself is being used by this franchise to just designate something as zombie-based, and here it's been combined with "neko!" Ne-Go is simultaneously one of the cutest and most horrifying recent Yokai, just a tall black figure whose bulbous, neckless torso culminates in an undead Jibanyan-like face stitched together so crudely that the eyeballs aren't even aligned. It's a design straight out of a child's nightmare, and its official profile acknowldges how disturbing it looks...but that it still has a friendly, people-loving kitty cat personality, even if it only scares everyone away.
While there are a few other somewhat interesting Yo-kai added since our last review, we're going to end with our next one, and it's a damn impressive piece of character design:
Seriously, holy shit! THIS is from Yo-Kai Watch!? Actually the main villain of the Yo-Kai Academy introductory movie, let's just break down what we're seeing here together: She's got a skeletal torso with a heart-shaped ribcage, while her fleshed, pale blue arms hover independently, and each splits into a pair of intensely pink snakes. She has no stomach, pelvis or thighs, but her severed mannequin-like lower legs and feet also float detached within an incredibly menacing "skirt" of more two-dimensional serpents. Her neck and head are also fleshed, but her eyes are hidden under the spiral coils of another giant pink snake, which forms another Valentine's heart by biting its own tail.
Top this off with those oversized, spiky black shoulder things and you have one of the most beautiful, menacing, snazzy villain designs I've seen from almost any piece of media in years, entirely unlike almost anything else in Yo-Kai Watch and even outclassing some of the best Digimon, for that matter.
This is, however, only her "default" form, surprisingly enough, and her "more powerful" forms are deliberately, hilariously more typical of this setting's zaniness...
And that's still not all!
I have no idea how well this current incarnation is doing over in Japan. Will we in the states, or just about anywhere else in the world, ever get to experience another Yo-Kai Watch game with an up-to-date roster? Will we possibly know the answer another year from now? I unfortunately feel like that answer is going to be a hard "no," followed by a few years of further decline before Jibanyan and Whisper finally have to pack up and retire for good...but for old times's sake, I've looked back through my little folder of favorites from across the series, and I've put together my "up to date" dream team on aesthetics alone...
If you want to know who all these freaks are, you'll just have to check out all of my past Yo-Kai Watch articles, and appreciate just how difficult it was for me to narrow down those six:
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