Based on the bestselling Nintendo 3DS video game that conquered the Japanese market, animated comedy-adventure TV series Yo-Kai Watch has arrived on North American shores. And licensees aren’t wasting any time in scooping up a piece of the hit boy-skewing property from TV Tokyo, Level-5 and Dentsu, which has generated US$2.26 billion in consumer products sales at retail in 20 months.
In fact, Yo-Kai Watch’s North American licensing agent, L.A.-based Evolution USA, just signed a raft of US and Canadian licensing partners that join previously announced program anchors—Hasbro (master toy, excluding Japan), VIZ Media (US manga rights) and Nintendo USA (worldwide 3DS video games).
Now part of the growing program are top-tier licensees like Accessory Innovations (bags, accessories), Isaac Morris (apparel), The Topps Company (confectionery), Cortina Leomil (footwear), Franco Manufacturing Co. (home furnishings), Panini America (stickers, photo cards), Bridge Direct (secondary toys) and Rubie’s (costumes).
“Everybody that’s involved with this franchise is really excited,” says Travis Rutherford, president of licensing and retail at Evolution USA, which is on the cusp of signing a master publishing partner. Apparel/accessories are also expected to be key driving categories. “All the licensees have shown a high level of interest and sincerity in making this a big, big opportunity for the marketplace.”
Yo-Kai Watch premiered on Japanese broadcaster TV Tokyo in January 2014 and is currently its top-ranked animated show for kids four to 12. It follows the adventures of a young boy who uses a magical watch to summon mischievous and mysterious Yo-Kai to help him solve everyday problems.
Yukari Hayakawa, CEO of Level-5 abby (the new North American joint-venture for the IP owner), says Yo-Kai Watch strikes the perfect balance between light-hearted comedy and depth of content. “Yo-Kai Watch is not your typical animated series, in the sense that it was first developed as a robust video game with an incredibly diverse story world of over 230 characters, all with back stories,” she says. “As we developed the TV series, we already had this rich universe to tap.”
Fresh off its US debut on October 5 on Disney XD (and rolling out on Canada’s Teletoon on October 10), the series will be supported at retail on November 3 by VIZ Media’s Perfect Square imprint Yo-Kai Watch manga comics. Nintendo’s 3DS North American version of the game rolls out November 6. Hasbro’s toy range, focused on a Yo-Kai watch and collectible medals, hits North American retailers in January 2016, before rolling out globally later in the year. Some soft goods could accompany the toys, and everything else should be on shelf by back-to-school 2016, says Rutherford. Evolution is also in discussions for an SVOD partner and looking to fill in the party, social expressions, and food & beverage categories.
Meanwhile, in Europe, a similar level of excitement is building around Yo-Kai Watch, which is being repped by Paris-headquartered VIZ Media Europe. The company will officially unveil the property at Brand Licensing this month.
“Everyone is telling us this is the Japanese property they’ve been waiting for,” says Pascal Bonnet, EMEA senior director of films, TV sales and licensing at VIZ Media Europe. He adds the brand’s core values of friendship, humor and collectibility should translate well to both North American and European audiences. “It’s a combination of Ben 10, Pokémon, Beyblade and universal Japanese storytelling.”
Bonnet says the European merchandising strategy will involve working closely with Level-5, Hasbro Europe and Nintendo Europe, and other key categories will likely include publishing, collectibles, apparel, promotions and confectionery.
Ideally, he says the series will premiere on European pay TV in April 2016, when Nintendo’s 3DS game launches, and then on a major free-to-air broadcaster in all major European languages in September 2016, in lockstep with Hasbro’s toy range. Collectibles and impulse items could launch next Q3/Q4 as well, and then the bulk of the licensing program should hit mass European retail in 2017.
Bonnet says he’s in final negotiations with leading European kidsnets, which, like scores of licensees, want to be a part of the mega-franchise that already has 82 episodes in the vault. “All the opinion leaders, TV buyers and licensing buyers think it could be the next big, big thing,” he notes.
This article was originally published in Kidscreen’s October 2015 issue.