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The Japanese series is picking up steam in markets all around the world, and Viz Media Europe plans to extend the brand even further into consumer products and entertainment.

April 6, 2018

5 Min Read

The Japanese series is picking up steam in markets all around the world, and Viz Media Europe plans to extend the brand even further into consumer products and entertainment.

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Since its debut this year in Europe, "Yo-Kai Watch," an animated series developed by multi-media entertainment company Level-5 abby, has taken the market by storm. Kids across Europe have quickly embraced the stories of central character Nate and his adventures as he discovers and befriends the mischievous Yo-Kai, which are unseen creatures that affect human behavior.

The franchise has enchanted children in Japan since 2013, when Level-5 launched the "Yo-Kai Watch" video game. American fans followed once the animated TV series launched in the U.S. in 2015, supported by the Nintendo 3DS video game launch and a range of toys and games from master toy licensee Hasbro. In less than two years, "Yo-Kai Watch" has become one of the most popular franchises for kids, ages 4- to 12-years-old.

Widening its reach worldwide, the brand recently extended with the global rollout of the Nintendo video game and the animated TV series in Europe in April. VIZ Media Europe, the master licensee for the property in EMEA, began a rollout of the hit property in April 2016 with the launch of the video game in European markets. The animated series rolled out throughout Europe this spring. The franchise also recently launched in Russia, and will debut in Israel in December. By the end of this year, "Yo-Kai Watch" will be seen in more than 85 countries across Europe and Africa.

Headquartered in Paris, VIZ Media Europe specializes in managing the development, marketing and distribution of Japanese animated entertainment and manga (Japanese graphic novels) in the EMEA market. VIZ Media Entertainment serves as a licensing partner for an integrated product line including graphic novels, consumer products, DVDs and music.

"The industry had high expectations for 'Yo-Kai Watch' due to its success in Japan and in the U.S., and our first results are confirming our projections," says Aadil Tayouga, manager, licensing and retail EMEA, VIZ Media Europe. "Our first year has been a foundation-building year with the rollout of the series. We want kids to experience the brand through our two main drivers–video games and toys–and start collecting. Then we will extend the brand through new product categories."

Statistics are further confirming the optimistic outlook for the property.

Tayouga says VIZ Media Europe is focused on giving the series the best exposure possible in each market by broadcasting its series of 26 22-minute episodes on both free and paid stations across Europe. "Yo-Kai Watch" has gained a 42 percent share of the market in France after just three days on-air and is the No. 1 show among boys in its target age group in Spain, says VIZ Media Europe.

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Perhaps its strong showing and appeal is in the series' story lines, which resonate with its audience and have made the show a hit in all of its markets.

"The Level-5 team listened to kids and then identified problems that kids have in their daily lives. The issues Nate faces are universal, and that has helped make the show so relatable across global markets," says Tayouga.

The team has worked with best-in-class licensing partners to develop a "Yo-Kai Watch" world with multiple touchpoints that includes gaming, television, toys and publishing. Partner Hasbro has developed more than 200 collectible medals to correspond to specific Yo-Kai that can be stored in a Medallium collection book and also be used with an interactive Yo-Kai watch toy. When inserted into the product, the medals play the character's tribe song, name and catchphrase. The medals also have a QR code that can be scanned to enable interaction with the "Yo-Kai Watch" Nintendo 3DS game and with a digital app, "Yo-Kai Land."

Hasbro has also launched a line of plush and action figures, and the company will introduce a trading card game with a collectible medal in 2017.

"We have an ecosystem for the franchise that is quite unique," says Tayouga. "The true collectability of the medals and the interaction between all the elements make it a true 360-degree brand. We also have two of the biggest engines, Hasbro and Nintendo, working together as partners in every aspect of the business, from public relations to retail, which has really solidified the success of the brand. Working with these partners has allowed us to provide top-quality products that reflect the core values of the brand."

Tayouga says the brand will be further supported with the release of manga and a DVD in 2017, created by VIZ Media Europe. VIZ Media Europe will produce DVDs and manga in markets in some countries where it is licensed to do so.

VIZ Media Europe also plans to expand the brand even further through a targeted licensing effort.

"It will be a big year for 'Yo-Kai Watch' in 2017," says Tayouga. "We expect to reach 100 licensees by the end of October's Brand Licensing Europe. Publishing will be a big push in 2017 as well as apparel, footwear and food."

And deals are beginning to roll in. In the food and beverage space, fast-casual restaurant McDonald's has already signed a promotional deal for the "Yo-Kai Watch" property for 2017 for a global Happy Meal program.

"We see interest growing on the promotional side. We're having conversations with retail and food partners and will have a number of new deals to announce by the end of the year," says Tayouga.

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But first, more content is coming. In the first half of next year, 50 new episodes will become available in Europe. Also on the docket is a new line of toys from Hasbro, a new Nintendo video game, new licensees across a number of categories and a movie is planned.

"The brand is very visible across Europe already," says Tayouga.

Based on the success of the brand so far, Tayouga has high expectations for 2017 and beyond.

"In Japan, after three years on the market, 'Yo-Kai Watch' is still the No. 1 game property and the franchise is still the No. 1 kids' brand. We think we still have at least three years of solid growth for the brand in other markets," he says.

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