So Pokemania has come yet again to Japan. The headline was “All Japan is a Pokemon festival,” and what a time it was, is, or whatever. The moment Pokemon Go finally came out here, I was at work, and just about to go on a two-hour lunch stroll, so it was quite an agreeable coincidence. I learned what I could about The Game that first day, and the rest over the weekend. We traveled out of the city to my wife’s folks’ place where my niece and nephew live, and played it with them pretty much the whole time. We went on so many walks around the neighborhood, traipsing about local shrines, and up and down the corridors of the nearby shopping mall for the two and a half days we were there. We walked, hit the stops for supplies, caught the little devils, went home, continued to catch, ran out of supplies, and then organized another walk.
This phenomenon is.. well, to be honest, it’s kind of played out but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Exercise is good, my kids love it, and I haven’t had to pay a goddamn dime in spite of the days and days worth of entertainment it has given me. What I realized about The Game, though, is that it is essentially the premise of Yokai Watch brought to life by the Pokemon Company. In the Yokai Watch universe, you use your special device to see and capture creatures that are invisible to our human world. And there’s even a watch coming out for GO to aid Pokemon goers! And to think that less than a week prior, Yokai Watch just released their third main installment of the series. That is huge, y’all. Like a new Dragon Quest was expected to be back in the day. Yokai Watch 2 came out two years ago, and its impact on the youth of Japan was also phenomenal. There was a moment during that time when Yokai Watch was expected to eclipse the popularity of Pokemon, and you could see it in the number of goods and promotions, on children’s clothing, and even in news features trying to cash in on its cultural currency.
But in short, what should have been their grand rollout of their prestigious third generation got hosed by the Blastoise of Pokemon Go. And that’s sad, because I’m playing the new Yokai Watch game, and it is fucking incredible. No seriously – just watch the opening sequence (after the song). And watch the song, too.
Isn’t that great?! It’s Mulder and Scully – and instead of the X-Files, it’s the Y-File! Yokai Watch has been doing mainstream cultural spoofing for years. There are Yokai that look like actual famous people (Steve Jobs, Billy Blanks, and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few), and most of the brands in the game are meant to be cute imitations of familiar trademarks. Now we have Mulder and Scully, er, excuse me, Malder and Cackully. Or Cackully and Malder, if you prefer. If you think the representation above is cheesy and campy, fuck you! Fourth-wall satire is incredibly sophisticated, and to pull it off without offending my sensibilities is no easy feat. I’m not even kidding; I love this and I want to believe the truth is out there. Or whatever these two say in the game. As you can guess they’re two agents in the field investigating a… well.. that would be a spoiler. I’ll bet you anything it has to do with Yokais, though.
I talked before about Yokai Watch 2 and how its representation of a Japanese town is so well done that if I ever repatriated to the States and got homesick for Japan, I could just play the game and be at least halfway spiritually transported back. In 3, the game takes place in both Japan and the United States, with all-new locations to visit, shit to see, and people to meet. I’m not very far in the American portion, but there is a bit of that nostalgia there from home. I can sense it. And I also think that Level 5 must have done a hell of a lot of good research to get the feel of the US correct. Understanding and portraying foreign cultures is a constant struggle for the Japanese. There is a lot of security in stereotypes and very few taboos in generalizing or appropriating other cultures in media over here. But I think that they must have sent actual teams all over the States to re-discover the place Fukuzawa Yukichi style for the 21st century. The neighborhood layouts, the look of facilities like schools and shopping centers, and of course, the English that people speak at your poor immigrant Japanese ass when you get there is all in place, and comes together organically while maintaining its lighthearted anime atmosphere.
That’s right – Keita (or Nate if you’ve played the overseas version of YW1), our original Yokai Watch hero is now in America (dad got an overseas transfer at work), and one of the first major barriers is how the hell does a Japanese character interact with all the English speaking natives in the game? Do they make a backstory that he went to conversation school in the months leading up to the move? Do the people in America magically speak Japanese like aliens speak Basic in Star Wars? No! This is Yokai Watch – and one of the first Stateside Yokai that you meet is a lion who makes people fluent in whatever language they need to speak. Kind of like a babelfish, and it fits into the narrative splendidly.
Also, Keita is without his extensive collection of Yokais that he collected in the previous games (Samus syndrome) and so the collection begins from scratch, once again. The quest is clear – gotta catch ‘em all. No, wait. What’s my quest again?
Ah, who cares. I’m having a blast just running around the towns. St. Peanutsburg in U.S. is not unlike the small Midwestern town where I grew up, and Aobahara is the YW world’s version of Akihabara in Tokyo. There is so much to do and all summer to do it. Over 600 Yokais to collect this time around, too.
As for Pokemon GO, I’ll be collecting those little fuckers all summer, too, but I’ll tell you what – I could give a fuck about new Pokemon. After the 5th generation or so, they all look the same, and I couldn’t name more than a dozen outside of the original 151. Those are the ones I’m limiting myself to, lest my home become more overrun with yet more fictitious creatures.