During the height of its peak in 2014, it wouldn’t have been strange to see Yo-kai Watch’s “Gera Gera Po Song” take over as Japan’s national anthem, but the boom is seemingly ending according to the latest financial report from Bandai Namco Holdings. [Thanks, Yahoo Japan.]
While Level-5 is in charge of developing and distributing the Yo-kai Watch games, Bandai Namco Holdings is the company responsible for selling products based on the game, and it helped bring the company some serious money during its peak in 2014, where it impressively raked in over 55.2 billion yen (about $484.69 million USD).
Yo-kai Watch didn’t exactly start off as nation-sweeping hit with only 53,654 units sold in the 3DS game’s debuting week in July 2013, but things actually took off once the anime began airing in January 2014. Yo-kai Watch 2 also released that following July and it pushed the series’ popularity to new heights.
To give you a good idea just how popular Yo-kai Watch was during its peak, you basically couldn’t go anywhere in Japan without seeing Jibanyan, Whisper, and their many friends.
These ghastly critters were everywhere—from department stores to your very own toilet.
Yo-kai Watch a.k.a the “Pokémon killer”
Considering that having a successful anime isn’t usually enough to drive a series to such heights, there are many factors as to how Yo-kai Watch got so popular in Japan. Most would agree that it’s because of a sense of familiarity that comes from the deep roots of Japanese tradition that is seen in many of these yo-kai, based on various folklore characters. So basically, it was something kids were able to enjoy alongside their parents and grandparents. This would also explain why it was so popular in Japan but never reached the same level in the West.
However, signs of slowing down began to show after Bandai Namco Holdings reported its 2015 profits of 32.9 billion yen ($288.88 million USD). At the time, analysts attributed its decline to the oversaturation of the series after releasing a sequel to the first Yo-kai Watch just a year later, followed by a third version of Yo-kai Watch 2 about five months after that. It even saw a couple spinoffs that year in Yo-kai Watch Busters and Yo-kai Watch: Just Dance Special Version.
Come 2016, Bandai Namco Holdings’ big seller franchises in Dragon Ball and One Piece continued to perform well as usual, and even though Mobile Suit Gundam didn’t do as well their 78.6 billion yen performance the year prior, it managed to stay close with 74.3 billion yen. Yo-kai Watch, on the other hand, saw its biggest plummet after pulling in 10.4 billion yen, a third of what it made in 2015 and only a fifth of its peak year in 2014. This was also during the year the series released their third major title in Yo-kai Watch 3, which was nowhere near on par with the first two installments. Analysts expect sales to continue dropping in 2017 with an estimate of about 6.3 billion yen ($91.3 million USD).
It’s also worth noting that Pokémon saw a huge revival in Japan last year as well as a worldwide surge in popularity when Pokémon GO launched in the summer of 2016 and the latest main entry in Pokémon Sun & Moon that November, both putting up record numbers and profits from around the globe. These mega-hit titles definitely overshadowed Yo-kai Watch, and it showed when Level-5 released its third version of Yo-kai Watch 3 last December, which still remains the lowest-selling mainline title by far.
Level-5 president and CEO Akihiro Hino stated last year that they’re taking a pause from Yo-kai Watch to focus on other new things, which makes sense considering they’re barely releasing their fourth cross-media project, The Snack World, this year and have already announced a fifth in Megaton Musashi. Let’s not forget that the company is also busy working on titles such as Ni no Kuni II, Layton’s Mystery Journey, Inazuma Eleven Ares, and Fantasy Life Online.
So does this mean the end of the Yo-kai Watch series for Level-5 and Japan? Absolutely not. Don’t forget that they’re still raking in billions of yen. However, other than a few smartphone games in the works, we probably won’t be seeing major titles from the series anytime soon. Besides, Jibanyan and friends could probably use a little break after all that hard work. Until next time, our spooky friends.