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The Next Big Thing?

Full Licensee Roster to Back N.A. Launch of Japanese Anime Hit


Yo-Kai Watch, the hottest kids’ property in Japan over the past 18 months, will land in North America on Oct. 5, when cable’s Disney XD will begin showing the animated half-hour five days a week. The TV premiere marks the beginning of a licensing campaign that will see a legion of mischievous Yo-kai spirits unleashed across video games, comic books, toys, t-shirts, bedding and bean bag chairs over the course of the next year.

Will Success in Japan Translate to US?

Yo-Kai Watch licensor Level-5 and agency Evolution USA signed about 30 North American licensing partners (see below) for the property before the TV premiere. Interest has been driven by the property’s track record in Japan, where Yo-Kai Watch is the top-rated animated show for kids 4-12 years-old. Yo-Kai Watch has sold more than $2 billion in licensed merchandise and 8 million Nintendo 3DS games in less than two years, according to the companies involved. (Level-5 originally created Yo-Kai Watch as a video game, and is a partner in the production of the TV show, with Dentsu Entertainment and TV Tokyo Corp. It leads rights management and marketing coordination for the franchise.)

It probably also doesn’t hurt that pundits inevitably draw parallels between Yo-Kai Watch and Pokémon, which at almost 20-years old still sells $300 million annually in licensed merchandise in the U.S. and Canada, not including video games, according to The Licensing Letter’s 2013 ranking of properties with more than $100 million in retail sales (Nov. 3, 2014).

“The Yo-Kai Watch universe is much like many live-action sitcoms today—they touch upon current themes, happenings and concerns in the world at large. Because Yo-Kai Watch picks up on many of these issues, we wanted to bring it to western markets as quickly as possible,” said Yukari Hayakawa, COO, LEVEL-5 abby Inc. “In addition, the fan base in Asia has grown so huge, that other fans around the world have been clamoring for more content.”

Gearing Up for the North American Rollout

“Awareness for Yo-Kai Watch has been steadily building since this spring’s announcement of the franchise coming to North America,” said Brad Woods, CMO of Viz Media, which will publish Yo-Kai Watch manga beginning in November. “Many Nintendo players in the U.S. are also already aware of the property’s widespread popularity in Japan and combined with the Hasbro toy line this has further helped to fuel the anticipation for the launch of the property in North America.”

Key to Yo-Kai Watch’s North America rollout is the availability of media content across multiple platforms. The October cable TV premiere will be followed by a Nintendo 3DS game and Viz’s manga in November, and a digital app in December. The TV episodes will be also available for purchase on digital platforms, and later for subscription streaming. In addition, two feature films have been produced in Japan and are expected to eventually make their way to the U.S.

“We took note of how the product closely followed and subsequently benefited from multiple forms of content being available in Japan and how the TV show and comics drove the toy and game sales when they were in the market together. The multiplier effect was significant,” said Travis Rutherford, Evolution’s President Licensing & Retail. “Having TV, app, comic, and toys hitting close together for the North American rollout is the right way to go.”

Yo-Kai Watch Licensing Timeline, North America
Date Licensee(s) Details
10/5/2015 Disney XD Begins broadcasting half-hour Yo-Kai Watch episodes 5x week.
11/3/2015 Viz Media Manga launches. New print issues available bi-monthly.
11/6/2015 Nintendo 3DS game launch.
December 2015 Level-5, Hasbro Digital app launch.
January 2016 Hasbro Toy and game launch centered around a Yo-Kai watch and collectible medals.
Spring 2016 Various Softlines launch.
Summer/Fall 2016 Various Remainder of products launch for back-to-school.

More than a Game

Like Pokémon, in which players, collect, trade and battle “pocket monsters,” Yo-Kai Watch has a strong collectible hook. In Yo-Kai Watch, a boy obtains a special watch that allows him to summon and befriend Yo-kai, or pesky spirits that cause minor troubles. Hasbro’s line will include toys and games centered around collectible medals, each representing a unique Yo-kai, and in Nintendo’s 3DS game, players use a Yo-Kai Watch to discover more than 200 Yo-kai, then befriend them and turn them into a team to battle other Yo-kai.

“We look forward to introducing kids to the amazing Yo-Kai Watch franchise through play experiences that give them the fantasy of befriending the Yo-kai characters and participating in their mischievous adventures,” said Jerry Perez, SVP Marketing at Hasbro.

Sales Expectations

Based on licensee and retailer response, Evolution expects 2016 retail sales to hit “the multiple hundred million dollar mark,” Rutherford says. He is realistic, however, about the level of competition in the marketplace, where Yo-Kai Watch will have to compete not just with other anime, but also with properties ranging from Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars for retail shelf space. “Good content with consumer demand puts properties at the forefront,” he says, noting that Yo-Kai Watch should appeal to kids of both genders and has TV content delivered every day. “I like the TV model when it’s got that consistency,” he says.

“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 and over 230 characters, all with back stories,” explains Hayakawa. “As we developed the television series, we already had this incredibly rich, diverse universe to tap.”

Yo-Kai Watch Lead Licensees

  • Hasbro (toys)
  • Nintendo USA (videogames)
  • Viz Media (publishing)

Yo-Kai Watch Licenses Granted, North America
*Extension or renewal.
†If no territory designated, for the U.S.
Granted To Products Manufactured (Territory)†
Accessory Innovations Backpacks, bags, cold weather accessories, headwear, hosiery, luggage, lunch bags, suspenders, ties, umbrellas, wallets
Acco Brands Binders, composition books, folders, notebooks, pencil pouches (U.S., Canada)
BrownTrout Publishers Calendars, desk pads, planners, sticker books (U.S., Canada)
Calego Intl. Backpacks, bags, handbags, luggage, pencil cases, pillows, rainwear, storage (Canada)
Cortina Leomil Footwear (U.S., Canada)
Cra-Z-Art Airbrush, arts & crafts kits, coloring kits, puzzles, rubber stamps, stationery (U.S., Canada)
Franco Manufacturing Bath accessories, beach towels, bedding, furniture, kitchen accessories, rugs, storage, throws (U.S., Canada)
Freeze div. Central Mills Apparel, tops (children’s, junior’s, men’s, toddler’s)
Global Brands Group Intimates, loungewear, sleepwear, underwear
Good Stuff/Basic Fun div. The Bridge Direct Amusement plush, banners, flags, novelties
Hasbro Figures, games, master toy, playsets, role play, trading cards (Worldwide, excluding Japan)
Hori Video game accessories (U.S., Canada)
Isaac Morris Apparel (children’s, toddler’s, men’s), subscription gift boxes
Just Toys Intl. Ltd. Badges, buttons, key chains, standees, stickers (U.S., Canada)
Little Buddy Jigsaw puzzles (U.S., Canada)
MB Wolverine Holding Co. Coin bank, construction block sets, dog tags, flashlights, glow sticks, key chains, stickers (U.S., Canada)
Nintendo of America Video games (3DS; Worldwide)
Northwest Co. (The) Beach towels, pillows, throws (U.S., Canada)
Panini America Photo albums, photo cards, sticker sets (U.S., Canada)
Pyramid America Canvas art, metal signs, posters, wood signs (U.S., Canada)
Radz Brands Candy dispensers, candy-filled containers, confectionery, Easter eggs, novelty candies (U.S., Canada)
Rubie’s Costume Costume accessories, costumes, masks (U.S., Canada)
Topps Chocolate candy, confectionery (U.S., Canada)
Underground Toys Drinkware, inflatables, mobile device cases, storage, talking key chains, talking pens, throws, wristbands
Viz Media Comic books
World Trade Jewelers Accessories (children’s), jewelry (U.S., Canada)


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