While the property has yet to achieve the Pokémon-level popularity here in the States that it’s garnered back home in Japan, my kids and I are already diehard fans of LEVEL-5’s Yo-kai Watch. Between its stellar 3DS debut and a genuinely enjoyable first season of the animated series (available via Disney XD and now streaming on Netflix), we were easily charmed by Whisper, Jibanyan, and the whole Yo-kai crew.
In addition to the video game franchise, the anime, and Hasbro’s growing selection of Yo-kai Watch toys, publisher Scholastic has recently gotten into the act with a number of books for fans of all ages.
Younger fans will love Yo-kai Watch Reader #1: Yo-kai Are Real! This is the first in a series of Yo-kai-centric Level 2 readers, specifically tailored for 4-8-year-olds.
At a tidy 32 full-color pages, this oversized paperback is perfect for shared reading. With its plot and illustrations taken straight from episode one of the cartoon, it introduces Nate Adams, a bug-collecting fifth-grader who finds more than he bargains for when he stumbles across a strange capsule machine deep in the forest.
From this machine springs Whisper, a friendly spirit who explains to Nate that Yo-kai, the traditional Japanese spirits that influence humans’ daily lives, are real and gives him the titular Yo-kai Watch so that he can see, battle, and befriend these mysterious creatures. It’s a simple tale of an otherwise unassuming child discovering that his life has suddenly become an amazing adventure, and the story adaptation by Meredith Rusu makes for a great introduction.
More advanced readers will likely be better engaged by The Misadventures of Jibanyan, the first of the Yo-kai Watch: Chapter Book series. Much like its literary little brother, this book was adapted from the anime fiction (this time by Kate Howard), though it powers through the introduction of the Watch and Nate’s Yo-kai Butler in a single-page preface.
This small, 64-page chapter book is more for independent readers, but its small footprint makes it an excellent take-along item. Across five chapters it introduces a number of new Yo-kai, with the most important, of course, being the cat-like Jibanyan.
Uninitiated parents beware: Jibanyan’s backstory is a little… odd. Specifically, his is the spirit of a cat who was hit by a truck and now haunts the same intersection “inspiriting” human strangers in an attempt to fight oncoming automobiles. On the one hand, it’s a teachable moment about traffic safety. On the other, it can certainly be a bit of a sore spot if your family has ever lost a pet to a motor vehicle accident.
Next, we have the (also Rusu-penned) Yo-kai Watch: Official Guide. While certainly not as robust as Scholastic’s Pokémon Handbook series—which is among the most beloved tomes in my house—this is another easy-reader that ably blends series resource and fun, light reading into a satisfying 112-page paperback.
Like The Misadventures of Jibanyan, this Official Guide is great for 7-10-year-olds, but older and younger fans will still like its vibrant, breezy approach to the world of Yo-kai Watch. It details not only the spirits themselves, but the defining characteristic of the individual Yo-kai tribes (think of them like Pokémon types), the Medals Nate uses to summon allied Yo-kai, and the principal human cast as well.
While it’s far from an exhaustive list of Yo-kai—and then ones it does include are not presented in alphabetical order—it does give each creature a cute, two-page spread that outlines its personality, capabilities, and a couple of solid paragraphs of flavor text to help set the mood. There’s even a bonus mini-poster included.
Lastly, we explore Yo-kai Watch: Epic Showdowns, an interesting kiddie lit diversion that actually won’t be available until later this month—August 30th, to be exact. This oversized book, complete with a full-sized pullout poster, is sort of an exercise in debate, effective rhetoric, and deductive reasoning for the Yo-kai faithful.
Essentially, it’s 47 pages of who-would-win-in-a-fight match-ups between pairs of disparate, dueling Yo-kai. It skips the basics—no doubt assuming that this one is clearly for those already in the know regarding the franchise—and jumps straight into a grudge match between Charming tribe champion Jibanyan and team Eerie’s dog-faced dude Manjimutt.
Each presumptive match is presented across a two-page spread, with the characters in question, their unique backstories, and their stats (including everything from their attack power and Soultimate Moves to their favorite foods and relative easiness to befriend) nicely displayed. Fans are encouraged to compare and contrast and come to their own decisions about who would reign victorious.
In my family, this has already lead to some heated debates during our crosstown commutes, with my 8-year-old—though it’s actually her older brother who’s the real Yo-kai Watch devotee—displaying both keen insight and a commendable understanding of the unfortunate trend of Yo-kai-on-Yo-kai violence.
At the end of the book, the “Yo-Kai Experts” (which, I assume, again includes author Meredith Rusu) have the final say, naming a victor and outlining a rationale behind the outcome of each match. Rather than a cover-to-cover read, this one is really meant to be shared and commented upon by the whole family… and my family seemed more than happy to oblige.
If your kids are crazy for the Yo-kai Watch cartoon but you’re still not quite ready to drop the coin on the video game—and, for the record, Yo-kai Watch 2 is slated for a September 30th release here in North America—then these books are a great and affordable way to indulge your geeklings while also learning a little more about the wonderful world of Yo-kai yourself. The Official Guide retails for $7.99 (currently $6.78 via Amazon), while The Misadventures of Jibanyan and Yo-kai Are Real! come in at a tidy $4.99 and $3.99, respectively (though the former is only $3.33 right now at Amazon). Epic Showdowns is currently available for pre-order through Amazon at the standard MSRP of $6.99.
Review materials provided by: Scholastic