Image source: 妖怪ウォッチ 公式チャンネル 妖Tube on YouTube
Two genre redefining anime franchise meet in the new Yo-kai Watch movie. Those anime are none other than Yo-kai Watch and Gegege no Kitaro.
Yo-kai Watch Shadowside: Oni-ō no Fukkatsu takes us away from the anime series and puts us 30 years into the future. A strange comet is descending on Earth and with it brings an evil Yo-kai. In order to stop this evil Yo-kai, three teenagers must find the legendary Yo-kai Watch, a device that allows them to summon friendly Yo-kai. Along the way the teenagers meet new friends and some unexpected allies.
While we’re seeing a new set of characters, the theme of this movie is still the same: find Yo-kai (supernatural beings) and become friends with them. The thing is, much like the anime series, not every Yo-kai is taken from Japanese folklore. Some are new creations for the movie. Yo-kai Watch is literally redefining what a supernatural being is for a new generation. The movie takes this one step further and incorporates modern Yo-kai from the Gegege no Kitaro anime franchise as well. In essence, the Yo-kai Watch movie brings together two franchises that not only modernized Yo-kai for Japanese people, but also redefined exactly what falls into that category.
Image source: 映画『妖怪ウォッチ』 on Twitter
It’s hard to think Yo-kai Watch and Gegege no Kitaro are genre-redefining series, especially in regards to the supernatural genre. But, the fact is both series have managed to capture the imagination of multiple generations as well as add to Japan’s ever-extensive list of supernatural beings. For instance, prior to his creation in 2013 the main Yo-kai of the new Yo-kai Watch movie, Jibanyan, never existed. True, the idea of ghost or spirit cats existed in Japan before Jibanyan’s creation. But, Jibanyan was never associated with them. Now, though, Jibanyan represents a specific ghost/spirit cat within the minds of Japanese people.
The same is true with the characters Kitaro, Medama Oyaji, Nezumi Otoko, and Neko Musume from Gegege no Kitaro. These characters didn’t exist until legendary manga author Shigeru Mizuki created them in 1960. And much like Jibanyan, you might be able to find the inspiration and influences on these characters, but they’re modern Yo-kai through and through. The thing is, now every single one of those characters has entered the broader collective conscience of the Japanese people and as such are seen as legitimate Yo-kai. Their origin’s don’t matter all that much anymore because now they occupy a corner in the broader space of Japanese supernatural beings; Kitaro and his friends are essentially classic Yo-kai now. And Yo-kai Watch Shadowside only proves this by incorporating Kitaro and his friends into the story.
Image source: 妖怪ウォッチ 公式チャンネル 妖Tube on YouTube
But, here’s where things become very interesting with Yo-kai Watch Shadowside’s use of Gegege no Kitaro characters. This isn’t some way of introducing a new generation of children to these characters. But rather, is using something familiar to build a story around. Since many Japanese people are already familiar with the characters, little time needed to introduce and exposit about them. When we see Kitaro in his yellow and black jacket we instantly know who this character is and what he does. It’s fascinating because his appearance tells us so much about him that as an audience member we don’t need any sort of exposition.
Consider Kitaro like this. The movie also uses far older Japanese supernatural beings in the story; beings that have been around for the better part of the millennia. These include characters like Enma Dai-o (the judge of souls), Fudo Myo-o (a Buddhist deity), and Nurarihyon (a classic Japanese Yo-kai). If the movie came up with original versions of these three characters most of the audience wouldn’t have a good reference point for them. So, time would be dedicated to introducing and explaining who these new character are. However, if you say here’s the Enma Dai-o, just portrayed a little differently than you’re used to, we don’t need any introduction or backstory. We know exactly what the Enma Dai-o’s function is. This is how Kitaro and his friends function in this movie. He’s so iconic, trying to replace him causes more of a hassle than anything else.
It’s amazing how Yo-kai Watch Shadowside merges modern and classic supernatural beings into one movie, especially with characters from Gegege no Kitaro. It just goes to show with enough time everything becomes a classic. Now we just need to wait for Jibanyan becomes a classic and iconic character so he, to, can pop up in some future Yo-kai anime.
Yo-kai Watch Shadowside: Oni-ō no Fukkatsu premiered in theaters on December 16, 2017 in Japan. There is currently no news for an international release.