Youkai Watch has been stirring Japan for some time now, and I’ve been trying to keep my big yapper shut about it, but screw it. Jibanyan has been able to beat Pikachu in many fields for now, and the question is whether or not Game Freaks will tackle this challenger head on, or will they allow Pokémon franchise to grow old. The thing is, Pokémon was a great children’s franchise. Not so much anymore, where it’s a franchise modern parents remember from their childhood, or still follow strongly. The games have essentially stayed the same and the cartoon has more or less stagnated in many ways for some time already. Fans will of course argue that Natures and other little things have changed the game, but those barely make an impact to the now true and tested catch, train, get four attack slots and six monsters.
I’ll be frank; if Pokémon will not reinvent itself as a franchise this decade, it’ll end up in a sad state.
As I mentioned, Youkai watch has been successful in Japan. Immensely so. Youkai Watch 2 surpassed five million copies sold in Japan. Jibanyan has even replaced Pikachu’s central throne in the Next Generation World Hobby Fair. It’s safe to say that Youkai Watch has gained a strong position as one of the new main children’s franchises in Japan. A franchise that has not changed with the times in almost twenty years nor has reinvented itself at any point will have a hard time to stand against something new. New is not necessarily better, but when new challenges the old this hard (and topping it), the old is doing something wrong.
With Youkai Watch slated for Western release, the question that everybody asks if it can challenge Pokémon outside their native soil. After all, both of them have some Japanese culture in them, Youkai Watch is the one hard-rooted to the culture from the get go. In order for West to accept Youkai Watch in the same way Pokémon was, the localisation work needs to be spot on.
The otaku culture in West hates dubs, generally speaking. I’m not sure whether or not this is due to the stupidly purist nature at large, or because people simply regard Japanese better for their ears. Sure, there are differences in the quality of the dubbing, yet the arguments are from universal.
Dubbing is not destroying the original product or anything similar. Dubbing is expensive, costing about $10 000 per episode for a Saturday morning cartoon. Dubbing a movie can be even more expensive, and with each failed take the time ticks, spending more money. As such, dubbing historically has been done to series and movies that have been regarded high quality enough to get such treatment. Dubbing was and is still done to show respect towards the body of work, not the opposite. Dubbing also ensures that the largest possible audience will have an easy access to the product. While reading the subtitles has been in the local culture for a long time, this does not apply to other cultures.
The original Godzilla movie is an example where localisation did not only dub the product, but went their way to give it an extra localisation in form of Raymond Burr’s inclusion. This allowed wider spreading of the movie, but also lowered the bar for people to see the movie. The localised Godzilla movie is not a lesser product in any sense from the original Japanese production, but it is different enough to say that it is its own entity and a worthwhile entry. Unlike with some later dubs, it had both proper budget and approach to make justice to the film. Later in the line with Godzilla movies, budgets were cut and quality became a lesser concern. It wasn’t until later that purists and extreme fans began to regard the localised Godzilla as a lesser product, a thing that nobody though at the time, not even Toho. History has been rewritten by fans in this regard, and it is only rather recently that even the fandom has began to accept the localised version with the high regard it deserves.
Youkai Watch will be a show I will follow relatively closely in the beginning, because it requires similar approach as with the original Godzilla. The franchise is getting ready to be pushed by all fronts; Nintendo publishes the game, Hasbro manages the toys and Viz will push out the cartoon and comics. Whoever is/are in charge of the core translation have rather large responsibility to bring in a good translation. Not necessarily accurate to the word, but something that will go well with the Western audience. Youkai Watch is facing an uphill battle already, and doing a half-assed localisation will only yield lacklustre success.
I have peculiar history with Pokémon myself. Cyber Solider Porygon was aired in Japan on December 16th, 1997. The same day the news broke out about the epileptic seizures it caused, and I remember watching the news that day and seeing the footage. I’m not sure why this caught to my mind then, but about two years later sometime in 1999 I recall reading a magazine in a hospital about the incident and how the series would be coming to local television. Pokémon began to be pushed in the local market around the same, games actually hitting the shelves and so on. I find it weird to get interested in a series because a news piece on television stuck to my head.
After Pokémon hit the television and games became widespread, I too got swept by the mania and for a good reason. Pokémon was a big damn hit with long lasting effect, and proved to be a franchise that impacted the cultural mind. Pokémon was sort of last of its kind, a game that wasn’t a hit with the hardcore gamers and stayed in the Red Ocean. One thing that the series is being constantly criticised of is its unwillingness to change any of the core mechanics or implement all the changes from preceding games to the new ones. For example, the Generation 3 lacked the Day-Night cycle introduced in Generation 2. Then again, Game Freak’s staff is barely able to optimise Pokémon games for the 3D on the 3DS for stable framerate, a thing multiple third parties are able to do just fine.
I want to see Youkai Watch become a successful franchise in the West, to become a new Pokémon to in Pokémon’s place. Much like how I have grown too complacent with the shit I write, so has Game Freak and Nintendo become too complacent with Pokémon as a whole. I can’t fault them really, as the franchise has been able to bring in stable revenues. Digimon has been regarded as the only strong contender against the Yellow mouse machine, but even then Digimon has been mismanaged to large extend, and actually the Digimon movie is an example where the source material was not treated with respect during the localisation. I’m sure Youkai Watch was a surprise to Nintendo, even if it is a game that ensured software sales for their system. This may be a good enough reason for Game Freak and Nintendo to sit back and do their stuff and allow Youkai Watch to become the top dog, but then we can always ask if that is enough from them. Companies should want to keep their top dogs where they belong. It’s easy to do so when there’s no competition, but whenever a challenger appears, one should be willing to tackle this challenger to the fullest extent of their abilities.