One to watch: The journey of Yo-Kai Watch

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

November 9th 2015 at 10:34AM
One to watch: The journey of Yo-Kai Watch

It has created a frenzy in Japan with merchandise sales hitting €2bn in just 20 months and now, Yo-Kai Watch has its sights firmly set on the West. With the TV series heading to UK screens and the toys hitting shelves next year, Licensing.biz explores the property expected to be the biggest boys' brand of 2016.

Tipped to become one of the biggest boys’ brands of 2016/2017, Japanese videogame and cultural sensation Yo-Kai Watch is heading to the West. 

A franchise built around the success of Level 5’s hit videogame series, and one that has already dominated the Japanese TV, gaming and toy markets to the tune of €2 billion in just? 20 months, Yo-Kai Watch has started to turn its attention to the UK. 

Described by those close to the brand as an ‘IP phenomenon to rival Pokémon’, word of the franchise’s plans to take on the Western markets first emerged earlier this year when Hasbro detailed its move to take charge of the master toy roll out with a range of collectable figures and plush, scheduled to hit UK retailers in 2016. 

Now, with Bulldog Licensing – the firm responsible for guiding Shopkins to dizzying heights – on board to bring Yo-Kai Watch to the UK, hopes are high that it’s a brand to watch (pun intended). 

“We believe Yo-Kai Watch could be the biggest boys’ brand in the UK, building ?on the popularity it has already demonstrated in its home market,” Rob Corney, MD of Bulldog Licensing, tells Licensing.biz. 

“There have been very few new properties in the boys’ space for a long time, with the industry largely marketing re-hashed classic IP, so it is enormously exciting to be working with the strongest new opportunity in the sector for a very long time.” 

Yo-Kai Watch follows the adventures of schoolboy Nate and his dealings? with a cast of sprites with whom he interacts via a special wrist watch. 

It’s a concept that? has enjoyed success in Japan, where Nintendo has managed to shift eight million units of its 3DS game, and Yo- Kai Watch products including manga, novels and toys have sold in their millions. 

In June this year, the Japanese Toy Association reported that sales of Yo- Kai Watch toys had helped the domestic market see its best result in a decade in fiscal 2014. 

It’s small wonder therefore that Bulldog Licensing, master licensing agent Viz Media and Hasbro are all keen to see the Japanese series’ success translate to similar effect on the global stage. 

The UK is no stranger? to Japanese anime of course, with ?a property like Pokémon continuing to flex its muscles in the field having accrued $2 billion in retail sales across the franchise in 2014 alone. 

Despite this, Viz Media ?is confident that Yo-Kai Watch has what it takes to outpace Pokémon in the UK. 

“This will be the next big boys’ brand, essentially the next Pokémon, and we have very high expectations for the property in the UK,” explains Waell Oueslati, EMEA associate brand manager at Viz Media. 

“In the Japanese videogames market, we are already bigger than Pokémon with a 95 per cent share of the market. There’s no reason we can’t do the same overseas.” 

Meanwhile, Manga Entertainment, the longest running anime distributor in the UK and Ireland, believes the UK is a great place for anime to thrive, having enjoyed success first hand with the Dragon Ball-Z franchise. 

“The market for anime products in the UK is? rock solid,” reveals Jerome Mazandarani, chief operations officer at Manga Entertainment. 

“We have not seen our DVD and Blu-ray sales dip at all since the recession, and the key area of growth for anime content is in the merchandising, particularly apparel and collectables.” 

It makes a lot of sense therefore that Bulldog is taking charge of Yo-Kai Watch’s UK programme, with a ‘retail first’ strategy. 

“As with all key boys’ titles, we think toys, apparel, publishing ?and home will be major areas for Yo-Kai Watch,” continues Bulldog’s Corney. 

“We will be looking to keep initial lines tight for 2016 with a more expansive range the following year, but we believe that all major categories will see strong sales with this brand.” 

Amid the early excitement for?the UK arrival? of Yo-Kai Watch, general manager ?of indie retailer ToyTown, Brian Simpson, is quick ?to point out that simply because something works in the Japanese market, is no guarantee of success here. 

“Yo-Kai Watch is one of those things that always piques a retailer’s interest, but the only sure thing in toys ?is that you can never know for sure what will become a hit,” says Simpson. 

“However, it does tend to help when ?a brand becomes popular somewhere globally. It gives it a little bit of positivity before product is released. 

“There is a gap in the market for a good boys’ collectable brand, but whether Yo-Kai Watch will be that one is difficult to judge until we see product.”